Tuesday, January 30, 2024

In This Moment: The Face of UNRWA; the Face of the Stranger; TBE's B'nai Mitzvah Booklets


In This Moment

The Face of UNRWA

The latest from Eretz Nehederet

Here's the problem with the UNRWA scandal. There is documented proof that at least a dozen of these UN workers participated in the massacres of October 7. Like the clergy sex-abuse scandals that have struck the Boston archdiocese and other religious groups, it is almost impossible to gain trust back after such a betrayal. If relief agencies moonlight in terrorism, the ultimate losers are the innocent people whose lives depend on them. For that reveals a painful truth. Now that we've got the goods on them, we can't live without them. As Ha'aretz's Anshel Pfeiffer noted, UNRWA Is riddled with Hamas, but Israel has no alternative.

Israel is not about to suspend its ties with UNRWA. It certainly can't do that after the International Court of Justice ruling on Friday, warning Israel that denying humanitarian assistance to Gaza could be constituted as an act of genocide. Unless the Israel Defense Forces decides it wants to distribute the food, water and medical supplies to over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, it needs UNRWA to do it.

So how can Israel work with these people? It will happen because it has to happen. But a world that now has seen the evidence of this complicity, as well as the complicity of hospitals, schools and mosques, is shifting the ground, even as Israel fights off false accusations of genocide. Nine countries paused funding when this news came out. Last I checked, nine is nine more than zero. Beneath the surface - literally - the truth of Hamas's reign of terror is slowly emerging, being flushed out by this filthy but necessary operation, just as the tunnels are themselves being flushed out with seawater. And the weary Gazans themselves are starting to say the quiet part out loud. They want to be rid of Hamas.

I don't know whether the P.A. can be reformed - but can the U.N.?

Wed on JBS / Cablevision channel 138

Remembering Mark Golub

See the preview below. I was honored to participate in this tribute, which will be aired on Mark's first yahrzeit, Wed Jan. 31 from 8-10 PM on JBS (Optimum channel 138).

Wednesday's Front Pages

Jerusalem Post


Yediot Ahronot

The Face of the Stranger

This Friday at services, join us as we welcome

guests from Building One Community.

On Refugee Shabbat, we pause to acknowledge and honor the hard work of pursuing justice, and to recommit our resources moving forward. As always, we raise our voices together as a Jewish community to say that we will welcome and protect those seeking safety from violence and persecution.

At the beginning of this week's Torah portion of Yitro, we meet Moses’ children: Gershom and Eliezer. Gershom’s name is explicitly from the Hebrew words “ger” and “sham” – glossed in the text as meaning, “I was a stranger in a foreign land.” Moses’s “strangeness” – an Israelite among the Egyptians, an Egyptian among the Midianites, is highlighted here, just before he facilitates the most profound experience of human-Divine connection in the Bible, the giving of the Torah. Following in the path of Moses, Jews have been “strangers” in many lands and over many centuries. 

And now in Israel, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are displaced and unable to return to their homes, in the south and along the northern border. Many have no home left to go back to.

At a time when 110 million are displaced worldwide, from wars, persecution, poverty or climate - we need, more than ever, to see God in the face of the stranger. Join us this Friday evening as we, along with many other synagogues, observe HIAS Refugee Shabbat.

Another TBE Memory

B'nai Mitzvah Booklets

I'm a collector, and I don't think anything I've collected during my time at TBE has as much personal meaning as all the B'nai Mitzvah booklets created by our families over the years. I was inspired to incorporate this family project into the experience by a mentor, Rabbi Gary Glickstein, who did something similar in Worcester, Mass.

My goal was to use the booklets to help introduce this newly minted Jewish adult to their family and to the community in a way that could be fun and deeply meaningful. Few congregations that I knew of were doing this, at least so elaborately, so I felt like we were inventing the wheel. From the start (which was in my prior congregation), we had the "All About Me" (autobiographical sketch), a family tree, letters, artwork, photos, a "scorecard" of the honors, a description of the mitzvah project which in the early years would also include a Soviet or Holocaust "twin." I'd usually put in a summary of the Torah portion and possibly some supplementary background material about an upcoming holiday or historical anniversary.

As you can see from the montage above, each booklet is unique - as unique and special as each of our precious students. And not just the kids. The personal letters written by parents and grandparents found in these booklets are also collector's items. I often refer to them at other lifecycle moments.

When parents first heard about them, a few complained, but once they saw the results, they loved it, despite the toil. I know I spent hours and hours working on my kids' booklets. We've had families research their family trees back to the middle ages; my favorite was the family that had the medieval sage Rashi on one side of their tree - and Daniel Boone on the other!

Here's a call out to all our TBE b'nai mitzvah from the past four decades: Let me know how you are doing! What is your favorite memory of your TBE B'nai Mitzvah?

One thing all those students share is having had a booklet; THE hallmark of a TBE B'nai Mitzvah. Believe it or not, I fit the hundreds of booklets I've saved into a single large box, each and every one. While many files and books will be remaining at my new office in TBE, these booklets will be coming with me to Madison. I'll reach over from time to time and pick out a few randomly, flip through the pages, think of the kids, and smile.

Recommended Reading

  • GAZA WAR DAY 116: Hostage Deal? Water in the Tunnels, Jenin (Marc Schulman) - There now appears to be a genuine possibility to make a deal, albeit only a possibility. The current discussion is focused on the first phase, which would involve a significant reduction in hostilities. In exchange, the sick, elderly, and women would be released. In return, a certain number of prisoners held in Israeli jails would be freed, although the exact number is unclear. Foreign media reports suggest around 2,000 prisoners in the first stage. At this moment, right-wing elements of the government, namely Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, have stated their intent to bring down the coalition if terrorists with blood on their hands are released. They also threaten to topple the government if Israel’s military action in Gaza is halted. As a result of these threats, Netanyahu delivered a speech today asserting that Israel will not cease fighting in Gaza until achieving complete victory over Hamas and will not release thousands of prisoners. As usual, Netanyahu seems to be telling different people different things: on the one hand, Netanyahu allowed negotiators to potentially consider an agreement that would allow the release of a significant numbers of prisoners; on the other hand, this same Netanyahu, in speaking to the right-wing audiences declares that such releases will not happen.

  • Trapped by Trauma: Transcending the Dragon’s Gaze (Irwin Kula) - We can not fix the issues around this violent conflict with explicit first-level correctives because that is not where these issues live – though stopping the present eruption of violence is an absolute priority. The issues inhabit raw scars of previous generations, in things that happened so that we could actually be here and now…alas, we are here and now in trauma, suspicion, and bitterness that has grown in wounds that have never healed.

  • The International Court of Justice ruling on Israel got it right (Forward - Jay Michaelson) - Israel is neither the genocidal demon I see regularly depicted in far-left social media posts, nor the blameless angel I see depicted in many pro-Israel ones. Oct. 7 was a horror, Hamas’s use of sexual violence was a horror, all civilian hostages should be immediately released without conditions and an Israeli military response is justified. And also: the suffering in Gaza is appalling, and millions of Israelis and American Jews are rightly dismayed at the ways in which this response has unfolded. There is plausible cause for concern. And if both sides can find something wrong with today’s ICJ ruling, that’s a good sign that it’s correct.

My argument with Michaelson is that, yes, the suffering in Gaza is appalling, but that Hamas deserved a large proportion of the blame for that as well. Any suggestion that acts of genocide are happening there (and they aren't) must take Hamas's complicity into account. But we should not be arguing either that the Gazans aren't suffering as. much as claimed (even if the death counts come from questionable sources) or that Israel is blameless.

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