I just returned from four days in New York City following meetings with my Federation colleagues in similar-sized Jewish communities. My plan was to write about the substance of those meetings, but I will save that for another time. Instead, I want to reflect on what has been a difficult week.
Last Friday, just as I was finalizing my weekly email, the news reports of a massive earthquake in Japan came out. The magnitude of the earthquake was enormous, and today we continue to see the damage that has and is being done. Japan is struggling with the nuclear reactors, the unfortunate loss of life (6,400 people and growing), and a massive clean-up effort. Federation quickly opened a “mailbox” for those who wished to contribute funds for the disaster relief effort through our partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Thank you to those of you who have already supported these efforts or click here if you want to make your donation.
Late Friday night we learned that five Israeli family members were found murdered in their home in the Jewish community of Itamar in a horrific attack. The Fogel family, the two parents along with three of their five children, were found dead in their home from stab wounds. Two of the Fogel children who escaped are now being taken care of by relatives. I am proud to let you know that through our partner, the Jewish Agency For Israel and its Victims of Terror Emergency Fund, money has already been provided to the children for immediate needs and educational trust funds will be set-up for each. Our thoughts at this time go out to the Fogel children and the people of Israel.
On Tuesday morning, Israeli Navy commandoes boarded and seized a Gaza-bound ship carrying anti-ship missiles and mortar shells totaling over 50 million tons of weaponry. The Victoria cargo ship was carrying advanced Chinese-made anti-ship missiles that would have threatened Israeli sea-based strategic installations and navy vessels. The ship was sailing from Turkey to the Egyptian port of Alexandria. It had originated in the Port of Latakia in Syria where the weaponry was likely loaded. As we continue to search for peace in Israel and the Middle East, it is news like this that adds to the difficulty.
We conclude this week, on Saturday night, with the holiday of Purim. In brief, the Purim story…Esther, a Jewish girl (unbeknownst to anyone) wins a beauty contest, marries the gentile King of Persia (King Ahasuesrus), and ultimately uses her position to save the Jews from a brilliantly conceived program of extermination. The plan is developed by the evil Haman (BOO!) who is angered that Esther’s cousin, Mordechai, does not bow before him. Haman says to the king, “There is a certain people…whose laws are different from any other people and it is not in your majesty’s interest to tolerate them” (Esther 3:8). Eventually Haman’s plot becomes known and Mordechai urges Esther to intervene with the king. Finally, after being nudged, she goes to the king and succeeds in turning him against Haman, who is hanged and the Jews are saved.
One of the commandments during Purim is to send mishloach manot, gifts of food and drink that are sent to friends, relatives, neighbors, teachers, and other acquaintances on Purim day. The mitzvah of giving mishloach manot is spelled out in the Book of Esther, which enjoins the Jewish people to observe the days of Purim "as days of feasting and gladness, and sending portions of food to one another, and gifts to the poor" (9:22). This verse refers to two different mitzvot: the sending of two different, ready-to-eat foods and/or drinks to one friend, and the distribution of two charitable donations (either money or food) to two poor people. I hope you will join in this beautiful tradition of sharing with others, especially in light of world events.
Rabbi Marci Bellows wrote in today’s New York Jewish Week, “While you are putting on your Purim masks, I hope you will take off other masks. The masks that separate Jew from Jew, person from person. The masks that make you feel that you are too busy to reach out beyond your comfort zone. The masks that create distance between you and other cultures, religions, lands, or peoples. As we learn in Midrash Tehillim, “"What is might? When you see people about to fall, and you rescue them." Perhaps, once our masks are removed, we will see those who are falling; we can be the ones to rescue them.”
Let us rejoice during Purim, wear our costumes, and raise our spirits to a level where we can no longer differentiate between “blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman.” Perhaps this will help us wipe away for a moment the challenges of this past week and we can begin to see better weeks ahead for all humanity.
Have a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Purim Sameach (joyous Purim)!