(cross-posted at the Forward)
Friday, November 23, 2012
One week ago, I was making plans with my family to attend Thanksgiving at my father's New York home. Yet on Wednesday afternoon, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I was on a plane bound for Tel Aviv on a tour of solidarity together with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
When we arrived, we learned that a ceasefire had been declared between Israel and Hamas, ending the eight-day-long Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF’s impressive counter-offensive to the rocket assault from Gaza.
The first phase of the ceasefire brought with it a watchful, tense quiet. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I was grateful for the relative calm, the absence of sirens, the tenuous and possibly temporary peace.
Mindful of these blessings, we embarked upon our tour, heading to Ashkelon to visit with its mayor in the city’s bomb shelter. Since Operation Cast Lead, Ashkelon has suffered from rocket fire on a constant basis. Indeed, more than 200 rockets have fallen on this, Israel’s 10th largest city. We learned of the damage inflicted to schools and residential building. Fulfilling the mitzvah of bikur cholim, we visited injured civilians and soldiers in the local hospital.
From Ashkelon, we went to Beersheva where we also visited its injured and learned of the new normal in southern Israeli hospitals -- moving critical patients to safe rooms, stopping all non-emergent surgeries, preparing for wounded soldiers, civilians and yes, Palestinians.
In both cities, we heard much of the same story: sadness, fear, cynicism that this ceasefire will hold, that normalcy will ever be restored.
The purpose of the on-going rocket assault from Gaza is not to take out Israel’s ports or major facilities but to disrupt daily life and perpetuate a campaign of terror against civilians. Ashkelon, for instance is home to one of Israel's main power plants and the world's largest desalination plants. Strategic targets, yet the missiles are not aimed in their direction. Judging by the damage, they are aimed at the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, patients in hospitals. Since the second intifada, this has been the Palestinian strategy.
Back in Jerusalem, we met with Israeli President Shimon Peres for briefings.
My remarkable day concluded at the Fuchsberg Center for a moving and uplifting Thanksgiving dinner that included 210 people: this year's participants in our Nativ program, Nativ alumi, family and friends. This dinner, at USCJ's Fuchsberg Center, is a much-anticipated annual event and people do not miss it for anything, except for military service, though we were lucky to have a few soldiers able to join us. One reservist show up in his IDF uniform. Our current group of 80 students family members lend great spirit to our gathering, which included A Capella singing and a video in which participants gave statements of what they are thankful for.
This morning, among several speakers we met with Arnon Mantver, the director of JDC Israel and learned about the work JDC is doing to help people affected by war. This important meeting highlighted some of the benefits of our partnership with Jewish Federations of North America and the Union of Reform Judaism.
It enabled me to understand, in an up close and personal way, the important ways in which our funding is helping Israeli civilians cope with the existential threat they face on a daily basis, whether by working with children to counteract the stress, anxiety and fear of being in shelters, providing food, medicine and supplies to the disabled and elderly, helping make what is broken whole.
I am filled with pride when I note the many ways in which the Conservative and Masorti movement is a partner in delivering these important social services.
I did not undertake this Thanksgiving weekend trip to Israel lightly; it was upsetting to leave my family, especially at this time. But once in Israel, I was overwhelmed by how thankful everyone was for our visit and inspired by the solidarity of the Jewish People. In crisis, we relearn an important message: we are one. Our group included a wide range of North American Jewish leaders from United Synagogue to the Union for Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Union to the Jewish Federations of North America and other Zionist groups.
As I go into Shabbat, my feelings are mixed. My American optimism wants to believe that Operation Pillar of Defense will ensure a bright and safe future for Israel, now and forever. The spirit of American thanksgiving still resides in me; reminding me of the innumerable blessings of being a Jew, of having a Jewish State in my lifetime.
This week's Parshah, Vayetze, contains the story of the Sulam – Jacob’s Ladder. Jacobs dream of a ladder connecting Heaven and Earth, with angels going up and down. The significance of the angels originating from earth and rising to heaven is a metaphor for the human quest for sanctity. When we act with holiness in care for others, we become God’s angels.
I saw angels ascending and descending during my solidarity tour of Israel.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Thursday, November 8, 2012
May you live in interesting times, goes the well-known “blessing” whose darker meaning is actually: “may you live in difficult times.” Though often referred to as “the Chinese Curse,” it always struck me as Yiddish in essence.
Those of us who reside in the region of the country affected by Hurricane Sandy last week and yesterday’s Nor’easter have just gotten a super-sized dose of “interesting times,” with death and devastation on one end of the spectrum and discomfort and disruption of our normal lives on the other hand.
And tucked between the bookends of Mother Nature’s fury was a presidential election that revealed how truly divided American society is at this point in time.
We are blessed with living in interesting times, indeed.
Yet, as I drove back to my New Jersey home last night through snow, sleet and freezing rain (worrying about Sandy’s victims and refugees in light of the plummeting temperatures and my own newly-restored power lines in danger of crashing for the second time in a week) I drew comfort from the heroic work being done by the staff and kehillot of United Synagogue who have joined the relief effort spearheaded by emergency personnel and relief organizations, both governmental and private, national and regional.
|The Dix Hills Jewish Center (Dix Hills, New York) |
davened ma'ariv by flashlight in the absence of power.
Within hours after Sandy’s devastating effects were known, our Kehilla Relationship Managers and district leaders reached out to USCJ kehillot in hurricane-affected areas. While most of these kehillot lost power, thankfully most suffered no damage to their facilities; still there are some kehillot that sustained very severe flooding and other damage.
Additionally, in the communities of our kehillot, untold numbers of people remain without power, including heat and hot water. Tens of thousands are now homeless because their houses are either uninhabitable or completely destroyed. On a personal note, my sister and her family – which includes her elderly in-laws – have endured nearly two weeks without power or heat in their Great Neck, LI homes.
Springing into action, United Synagogue took the following steps:
· We created a Disaster Relief Fund. The monies collected will go toward 1) providing modest grants to kehillot for immediate needs that can’t wait for insurance reimbursements; 2) disaster relief groups directly helping people recover and rebuild and 3) in several months, helping kehillot cover expenses they incur that are not covered by insurance or other funds.
· To date, USCJ has made a grant of $10,000 to Nechama, a Jewish disaster relief group now working in the storm zone, and a modest grant for a laptop computer to Temple Beth El of Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, which lost all its office equipment due to flooding. We are also working closely with United Synagogue of Hoboken (NJ) to make sure it has heat for two b’nai mitzvah to be celebrated this Shabbat.
· Because they have canvassed so many synagogues, our staff and lay leaders are making connections among kehillot so that those not affected by the storm can assist those who were. They are also connecting kehillot with agencies that offer disaster relief.
One important take-away from the past week’s activities is that advance planning goes a long way. Rabbi Paul Drazen, United Synagogue’s special assistant to the CEO, has spent the better part of the past eight months planning safety and security guidelines for our organization and our kehillot and that work was critical to our ability to mobilize for this disaster.
Another source of invaluable information on coping with disasters comes from our Torah, in particular the current weekly portions, which detail the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, whose tent was open on all four sides. On a personal note, my family and I have relied on the open tents of friends and neighbors over the past week. I encourage everyone with power and heat to emulate Abraham and Sarah’s model of hachnasat orchim and open their homes to those who are rendered homeless by the extreme weather we are suffering.
The antidote for living through interesting times is the outpouring of caring and fellowship from individuals, organizations and kehillot throughout the world. During this crisis, I could not be more proud that the USCJ synagogues have lived up to their mission as kehillot kedushot -- sacred communities -- embodying the many meanings of sanctuary.
Here are Some Additional Suggestions for Helping Out:
· Donate to United Synagogue’s Disaster Relief Fund so we can continue to help kehillot and communities trying to recover and rebuild. (If you are Canadian and need a tax receipt, send a check to United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1000 Finch Avenue West, Suite 508, Toronto, ON M3J 2V5.)
· Donate to relief organizations (see a list below) or contact local groups to see what they need. Before you collect anything, contact a relief agency to find out what they need and only bring those items.
· Contact a neighboring kehilla and ask how you can help, or contact your Kehilla Relationship Manager to find out who needs help.
If You Need Help or Want to Donate/Volunteer
m.fema.gov (for smartphones/mobile devices)
New Jersey: http://www.lsnj.org/
USCJ Disaster Relief Fund
Jewish Federations of North America
Nechama (To Donate or Volunteer)
Nechama is a Jewish disaster relief organization that provides on-the-ground help. Currently, Nechama is working at three sites in Hoboken, NJ, including United Synagogue of Hoboken.
If you have not done so, please contact your Kehilla Relationship Manager to let him or her know how you’re doing. They will work to connect you with help. You can find contact info for the KRMs here.
Posted by Gila at 1:42 PM