Category Archives: April
TODAY WE COMMEMORATE THE MILLIONS OF JEWS WHO PERISHED IN THE HOLOCAUST, BY RABBI GILAD KARIV, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF IMPJ
In Hebrew years that do not have the extra month of Adar II, such as the present year, “Memorial Day for the Shoah and Heroism” takes place close to the Shabbat during which we read from the Torah, Parshat “Shemini”.
This Torah portion opens with a description of the day of dedication of the Holy Tabernacle and how it became a tragedy and disaster when Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, die in front of his eyes after they sacrificed “strange fire” on the altar (which they had been commanded not to do). Only two words are used to describe the reaction of Aaron their father, when the day of joy became one of sorrow: “and Aaron became silent” (Leviticus: 10; 3).
For many long years, most of the refugees and survivors of the atrocities of the Holocaust chose silence. Moses, Aaron’s brother, did not try to penetrate the silence of his brother on that day. Today we have the mission of respecting the silence of those survivors who chose to continue that path, but at the same time to invite them with love and sensitivity, to find the key to their hearts and memories and end their silence. Unlike Moses, we have to convince them that we are more attentive than ever and that their experiences and stories will be treated as a rich treasure, rather than a mere footnote of history.
Throughout the book of Leviticus, the ritual and spiritual role of the Kohanim (High Priests) is described. At the same time, we learn about the material remuneration they receive for carrying out their mission. This teaches us that we cannot ask the survivors of the Holocaust to raise their voices, to bear witness, and to bestow their legacy, without being totally committed to their wellbeing and dignity.
Yom HaShoah is commemorated this year in the shadow of the Coronavirus pandemic. Not all of the senior citizens who lost their lives in assisted living facilities and homes for the aged were Holocaust survivors; but many were and are. Regardless of this terrible crisis that we are all dealing with, it has had an increased impact on the elderly.
The lack of effective measures in those locations, especially at the beginning of the pandemic (and, to a great degree, to this day) must be prominent in our minds this week when we remember the Shoah. Holocaust survivors are living the past months with heightened anxiety and are in significant danger. The same is true of their cohorts, the generation who founded the state of Israel who didn’t suffer the terror of the Holocaust, but who laid the foundation for life here in Israel for all of us. Like Aaron HaKohen, many of them cannot raise their voices – it is our responsibility to do it for them.
Reform Rabbi and Professor Emil Fackenheim, coined the phrase: “the 614th Mitzvah” – the commandment obligated by all Jews not to give the Nazis victory after their defeat, to guarantee the continuation of the Jewish people, to renew our ability to give hope and to act towards Tikkun Olam; and most of all not to be silent and close off our hearts.
We must maintain the ability to listen to what the survivors have to tell us during their last years of life and have the wisdom to help them and their counterparts escape the silence and feel protected and respected during normal times, and especially during days of crises – this is the foundation of the 614th Mitzvah. Regardless, this terrible crisis has had a devastating impact on the elderly. We must each do our part to take the lessons of past generations into future ones.
I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy during this unsure time.
IMPJ President & CEO Rabbi Gilad Kariv
I want to wish everyone a safe and meaningful Pesach during this challenging time. Finding meaning in comfort at the Seder this year will be hard for us all, myself included. I look forward to better days together, and hope you are all doing well!
Love, Rabbi Ruz
Join us Wednesday, April 8, 2020, at 4:30 PM Israel time (9:30 AM on the U.S. East Coast; 11:30 PM in Australia; 2:30 PM in the U.K.), as Student-Rabbi Naomi Efrat of Kehilat Ha Lev (part of the Daniel Center for Progressive Judaism) will be conducting a virtual Seder in English hosted here on our Facebook Page, Reform Judaism in Israel!
“שָׁמוֹר֙ אֶת־חֹ֣דֶשׁ הָֽאָבִ֔יב וְעָשִׂ֣יתָ פֶּ֔סַח לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֞י בְּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הָֽאָבִ֗יב הוֹצִ֨יאֲךָ֜ יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם לָֽיְלָה”: (דברים, ט”ז; א)
“Keep the month of spring, and make the Passover offering to the Lord your G-d, for in the month of spring, the Lord, your G-d, brought you out of Egypt at night.” (Deuteronomy, 16; 1)
Each year, at the core of celebrating the holiday of Pesach, we are commanded to recall and retell the saga of our peoples’ Exodus from Egypt. It is auspiciously fitting that Pesach falls this week, as the world finds itself grappling with the Coronavirus pandemic. Here in Israel, shops and streets that would normally be bustling with activity in preparation for the holiday are empty and bare. On its surface, it may seem odd – to be preparing for such a celebratory holiday during a time of deep uncertainty and trepidation. However, there is a significant parallel between the Biblical story of Pesach and the times we find ourselves in today.
The night of Pesach, when we hold the Seder and recount the story of the Exodus, is a night that appears to focus on the past. It is, after all, an old story that recounts an event that took place thousands of years ago. But it is also an opportunity for perspective on the present and the future.
Matzah, the unleavened bread we eat each year at the Seder and throughout Pesach, has several names. The most common is “lechem oni” – the” bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy, 16; 3). This seems appropriate, as is says: “For in haste you went out of the land of Egypt, so that you shall remember the day when you went out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Deuteronomy, 16; 1). There are two other translations, however: the “bread of healing” and the “bread of faith” (Zohar II, 41a. Ibid, 183b).
Healing and faith? These seem to be contrary to affliction, what we remind ourselves that we suffered of so long ago. On the contrary, these two seemingly out-of-place elements remind us that Pesach is not just about the past: it is about the past, the present and the future. We need healing right now – at present, the world is in a state of near upheaval, with no corner of the globe left untouched. We need faith right now – that the future will stabilize, for ourselves, for our children and for our children’s children.
This past Shabbat, we had two joint Kabbalot Shabbat between congregations in Israel and around the world: the first between the Sha’ar HaNegev congregation and the Reform congregations in San-Diego, California; and the second between Kehilat Brit Olam in Kiryat Ono and Temple Israel in Johannesburg, South Africa. Other congregations in Israel, such as Ramot Shalom in Be’er Shava, Kehilat Ramot Negev and Kehillat Tzur Hadassah, are holding joint sessions with their DOMIM partners abroad, for both adults and teens.
Now more than ever, it is vital that we stay connected to each other by whatever means are available to us. We send a prayer of Refuah Shelemah to communities around the world who are grappling with this pandemic and to all those who are in need of healing and comfort.
Wishing you all a Chag Pesach Sameach,
Keren b’Kavod, the Israeli Reform Movement’s Center for Social and Communal Activity, continues to assist disadvantaged populations in Israel, including new Olim, immigrants from the Ethiopian community, the elderly, lone soldiers and deprived women.
The Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism
13 King David Street
Jerusalem, Israel, 94101
HELPING SMALL JEWISH CONGREGATIONS HONOR THEIR PAST WHILE PLANNING FOR THEIR FUTURES: JCLP NEWSLETTER, SPRING, 2020
JCLP The Legacy Spring 2020 http://www.jclproject.org
The apocryphal Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” is sometimes misattributed as a Yiddish expression.
Whether Chinese or Yiddish or something else, there’s no denying that our times are unprecedented.
JCLP cares about its community of congregations. No one should feel alone. Thanks to The Union for Reform Judaism and The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, two of our national partners, we shared online and streaming resources in order to provide spiritual comfort and guidance during the early days of finding ourselves coping with an unsettled present and hoping for a stable future.
Each day brings changes. Rabbi David Lyon, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Houston and JCLP Board Member, encourages heeding words of the Psalmist and the Sages that are both timely and timeless. They are worth keeping in mind when the status quo has been upended:
When God seems far away, Psalm 139
When you feel discouraged, Psalm 40
When you are lonely or fearful, Psalm 23
When you want courage for your task, Joshua 1
When people fail or disappoint you, Psalm 27
When you feel that you’re in danger, Psalm 91
When you feel sad or despairing, Psalm 34
One Tree of Life Torah is now in Brazil and another is in the Philippines. That placement ended up being what might be called bashert since Kulanu was unaware of the Thalkars’ intensely felt connection to that country. Their son and daughter-in-law spent three years in the Philippines as Peace Corps Volunteers, returned to be married on the island of Bohol, and were back for a visit just last year. The Thalkar family longs for and will treasure the moment when they can again travel to the Philippines and join in a service with the community now reading from a Torah steeped in the history of the Oil City, Pennsylvania, Jewish community.
Additional regional planning meetings are being developed to bring like communities together to share their experiences. Congregations continue to navigate the planning process. Jewish life continues to comfort and sustain.
This edition of The Legacy introduces one of our first members of the board, the wonderful Etta Raye Hirsch, tells about precious Torahs being transferred from one generation to the next, and relates the story of a man whose collection of gold coins was a surprise source of a donation.
If you choose to join the foundations and individuals continuing to support JCLP as the only organization working exclusively on behalf of historic, small-town Jewish communities, please consider a donation.
Even though we may be separated by circumstances and distance,
JCLP embraces each of you as part of one community—Klal Yisrael—and we hope for your health and safety always but especially now.
We wish you a sweet Passover, however outside of the usual this year’s celebrations might be.
Senior Vice President, JCLP
MEET ETTA RAYE HIRSCH, MEMBER OF THE BOARD
Mention the name Etta Raye Hirsch in Atlanta and expect to see smiles and hear appreciation for the sunny and energetic woman who was honored last spring as Philanthropist of the Year by the local chapter of The Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Etta Raye was born and raised on a farm in Pulaski, a small Tennessee town 75 miles from Nashville also known as the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. Even without a synagogue in the town, Jewish heritage was an integral part of her upbringing.
She is a tireless supporter of charitable organizations in Atlanta, both in the Jewish community and also those benefiting the general public. Her contributions have supported programs that care for vulnerable populations, such as those facing illness, children with special needs, the elderly, immigrants, and the homeless.
Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has celebrated Etta Raye for “passion for people and Jewish education and a life lived with an exceptional level of menschlickeit (humanity).” Their children and grandchildren follow the philanthropic path she and her late husband, Henry, set out with the Henry and Etta Raye Hirsch Heritage Foundation.
Etta Raye has served on many boards in the Atlanta region and has the busy schedule of someone who gives both time and money to causes she cares about.
So why become one of the initial board members of the Jewish Community Legacy Project?
“I am Jewish and from a small town,” she says. “When I first heard about JCLP I felt the importance of the project. The small town congregations served by JCLP are real and important and no one else is helping them the way that JCLP does.”
“The Jewish Community Project touched my heart,” she adds.
FROM PENNSYLVANIA AND WITHIN TO THE PHILIPPINES AND BEYOND
Jewish settlers arrived in Oil City, Pennsylvania, shortly after discovery of the eponymous fossil fuel in nearby Titusville in 1859 led to the development of the petroleum industry in the northeast corner of the state.
In 1892, Tree of Life Synagogue was founded and—much like similar synagogues in other small towns—was a spiritual, social, and educational center throughout its existence. The synagogue flourished through the 1920s but began to decline in the post-World War II years.
By the end of the 2010s, Tree of Life’s and its leaders Barry Lang and Menahem and Tania Thalkar, acknowledged that the community had dwindled to the point where the remaining few members could no longer sustain the building. The halls now resonate with the sound of children in pre-school and after-school programs since the building was sold to the local YMCA.
In addition to the sale of the building, Tree of Life had historic Torahs and other religious articles that needed new homes. For the Torahs, JCLP made a connection with Kulanu, an organization that supports isolated, emerging, and returning Jewish communities around the world.
One Tree of Life Torah is now in Brazil and another is in the Philippines. That placement ended up being what might be called bashert since Kulanu was unaware of the Thalkar intensely felt connection to that country via their son and daughter-in-law who spent three years there as Peace Corps Volunteers, returned to be married on the island of Bohol and were back for a visit just last year. The Thalkar family longs for and will treasure the moment when they can again travel to the Philippines and join in a service with the community now reading from a Torah steeped in the history of Oil City, Pennsylvania.
A Torah from a different part of the state will soon be used for worship in a new home within the state. Beth Sholom Congregation, a small but robust historic community in Johnstown, worked with JCLP to facilitate the gift of this sacred scroll to Hillel at Gettysburg College. JCLP responds to the needs of its communities with specificity.
OLEAN JEWISH COMMUNITY HELPS OTHERS LIKE IT
Everyone in town knew Joe Bear.
His job with the municipal government of Olean, New York, earned him the title “Mr. Public Works.” He was a stalwart of the Olean Jewish community from the very beginning, even though the association that eventually turned into his beloved Temple B’Nai Israel formed 14 years before his birth in 1912.
The B’Nai Israel building is a dramatic structure built in 1929 in what is known as Moorish style, with a massive arched terra cotta portal encircling a round stained glass window. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Faith and spirituality informed Joe Bear’s life and he was a lifelong and very involved member of the temple. He taught religious school classes and was also an officer. On Yom Kippur he was known for sitting in the foyer all day. Many people called him “Rabbi.”
He and his wife had no children. They provided hospitality for Temple B’Nai Israel’s ordained visiting rabbis and were always the model of Jewish lives lived honestly and openly. He was a singular figure and especially devoted to the synagogue after his wife’s death in 1982.
Joe Bear was a dapper dresser with a penchant for hats, a proudly patriotic WW II veteran, and a collector.
One of those collections recently became the source of the Joseph Bear Fund at JCLP.
He was ill for a number of years before his death in 2009. The Olean Jewish community gave him emotional support during that time and his memory is a treasured one.
Like many similar communities, Temple B’Nai Israel has dealt with changing demographics and declining membership. The congregation’s engagement with JCLP laid the groundwork for a legacy plan that included the recent sale of the building to a local community theater group, the transfer of a Torah to a youth camp in Northern California with a connection to four generations of B’Nai Israel members, and attention to the religious life of members still in Olean among other considerations.
“JCLP was instrumental in what was a long and detailed task,” says Marcia Storch, one of the B’Nai Israel leaders who worked with JCLP, “and one that was without a fee.”
She adds, “JCLP is a blessed process.”
Marcia Storch was also a confidante of Joe Bear and overseer of his estate. When a late inventory of his possessions uncovered a collection of gold coins, it was a clear choice to sell them to benefit the Jewish life he cherished.
Funds from the sale of Joe Bear’s long-ago collected treasure joined contributions to JCLP from other former and present B’Nai Israel members who feel affection for small-town American Jewish life, and value how JCLP’s kind and objective counsel can help comparable communities.
Will We Be Having Our Seder?
To the tune of “Will you still love me tomorrow” by Carole King and Jerry Goffin
I’m feeling grumpy and grouchy
So tell me please, Dr. Fauci,
Can my friends come for matzah and maror?
Will we be having our Seder?
Is there a Pesach exemption
So we can mark our redemption?
And must Elijah stay outside my door?
Will we be having our Seder?
I should be shopping for brisket.
I should clean up my dining room.
But I’m not sure I should risk it.
Would a night with my crowd spell doom?
I know we have to be wary
In times so scrambled and scary.
So tell me now what April has in store.
Will we be having our Seder?
Lyrics by Barbara Sarshik, Copyright 2020
You’ll find many more songs, along with a complete Seder songbook, at http://www.passoversongparodies.com. All of these songs are freely available. Share them with your family, friends, and religious congregations. Make copies for everyone at your Seder and post them on social media. Happy Pesach, everyone! Barbara Sarshik
How do you solve a problem like the seder plate?
Whether you’re replacing the shank bone or adding some new foods, we’ve got plenty of ideas – including ginger, spices & more.
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Friends Seder Haggadah A short, fun Haggadah for a friendly gathering.