Celebrations Lost - July 8, 2022

My sister and her family live in Evanston, Illinois – just a few blocks from Northwestern University. Every July 1 at 6:00 a.m., Evanston allows families to put out chairs for their community’s annual July 4th parade. My sister, every year, is on the street right on time to get “the best seats.”
On Monday, we heard the tragic news of at least seven people dead, four of them Jews, and dozens more injured following the mass shooting in Highland Park (some 15 miles from my sister’s house). The city is one of the most heavily Jewish suburbs in the Chicago area, estimated that at least one-third of the residents are Jewish.
By now we have heard the story of Aiden, the two-year-old toddler who lost both his parents, Irina Levberg (z"l) and Kevin McCarthy (z"l). The little boy was found wandering the street after the shooting, bloody, and alone. I cannot even imagine! The strangers who found him enlisted the community to help find his family by sharing the little boy’s photo on social media. Aiden is now with his grandparents.
In addition to Irina, the other Jewish community members who were killed include: Dr. Katherine Goldstein (z"l), Stephen Strauss (z"l), and Jacki Sundheim (z"l), the events and b’nei mitzvah coordinator at North Shore Congregation Israel.
Hearing the news immediately made me think that the shooter could just as easily gone to the parade in Evanston. “What happens in one neighborhood affects our entire community,” the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago posted on Instagram, adding that its multitude of partner agencies are delivering support services to those in need in the wake of the shooting.
As the identities of the victims of the shooting become more widely known, our hearts break once again and our outrage reaches new levels. May the memories of those lost be for a blessing, may their families be comforted among all the mourners of Zion and the world, and may the injured experience a full and complete refuah shlema.
In a very different type of domestic attack, late last week, several dozen Orthodox men and boys entered the egalitarian section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, an area south of the main plaza also known as Robinson’s Arch, equipped with whistles and signs, as a number of families from the United States were holding bar mitzvah ceremonies for their children there. What should have been a joyous celebration turned ugly. The youths attempted to disrupt the egalitarian services, blowing whistles, calling the worshipers “Nazis” and “animals,” and at one point ripping up a prayer book, whereupon one boy used a torn page to wipe his nose.
Leaders from four major international Jewish organizations, including our umbrella organization, Jewish Federations of North America, and our partner agency, the Jewish Agency for Israel, sent a letter and demanded that Prime Minister Yair Lapid take “immediate actions” to address the situation at the Western Wall’s egalitarian section.
They letter states, “We respectfully feel that immediate actions should be taken to — at the very least — ensure the safety, security, and well-being of all those who come to the entire Kotel area, as well as to make certain that all worshipers are accorded the same level of respect we would expect if this were our own families — because it is our own Jewish family!”
Prime Minister Yair Lapid stated, “I am against all violence at the Western Wall against people who want to pray as their faith allows them. This cannot continue.”
On Tuesday, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the current US special envoy on antisemitism who happened to be in Israel, made the observation, “Had such a hateful incident -- such incitement -- happened in any other country, there’d be little hesitation in labeling it antisemitism.” Yizhar Hess, the former head of the Masorti Movement (Israel’s equivalent to the Conservative Movement), called the Orthodox youths’ actions a “hate crime” and echoed Amb. Lipstadt’s comments.
There should be no hesitation in labeling it as such. We will not be intimidated. In fact, on the Centennial Trip to Israel in March 2023
(more information below), we will be holding b'nei mitzvah ceremonies for anyone who wishes at that location. We must end intra-Jewish intolerance and celebrate the myriad of ways people express their Judaism.
Two important reminders:
  • As mentioned the past two weeks, our community is expecting over 1,300 Ukrainian refugees. Before they arrive, it is incumbent upon the community to have financial resources available to provide: Housing, transportation, food, counseling, job training, and legal assistance. As of today, we are less than $20,000 from our goal of $150,000. Please consider donating to this important effort by clicking here or send checks to JFGP, 9900 SW Greenburg Road, Suite 220, Tigard, OR 97223.
  • The Centennial Trip to Israel is set for March 20-28, 2023. Join us in Israel as we celebrate Israel’s 75th. Limited spaces are available at the subsidized cost of $3,600 for adults and $2,500 for children ages 5-17. This will be a trip of a lifetime and we hope you will join us. Click here for more information.
Shabbat shalom and I hope you are enjoying your summer so far.


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