Sounds of Sirens

FANTASTIC! That is the only way I can describe the opening night of the Food for Thought Festival. Over 600 people from our community came to hear the Wisdom of Davids at the Portland Art Museum. Comedian David Steinberg, Daily Show alum David Javerbaum, and Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn did not disappoint. Funny, illuminating, fantastic stories, and just brilliant. And all for an incredible cause – to help fight hunger in partnership with the Oregon Food Bank.

I urge you…come out…be a part of the Festival…check the schedule at and join our community in an eclectic mix of programs and events that will surely capture your interest and attention.

I look forward to seeing many of you around town over the next three days.

Last Sunday night at 8:00 p.m., a single siren went off in Israel to mark the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s national memorial day. It commemorates the fallen soldiers since 1860, when Jews were first allowed to live outside of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The siren is heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, during which Israelis stop everything (including driving, even on highways) and stand in silence, remembering the fallen and showing respect.

The following day, on Monday at 11:00 a.m. in Israel, a two-minute siren was sounded marking the official opening of the memorial ceremonies and private remembrance gatherings at each cemetery throughout Israel where soldiers are buried. It is a moment that will send chills down your spine.

Unfortunately, this past Monday, the city of Boston (and our entire country) heard its own sirens. Just before 12:00 noon in Portland, two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon – a scary scene to say the least. Sadly, three deaths and over 170 people injured.

The first of two bombs that exploded went off with 4:09:43 on the marathon clock at the finish line, with the second blast following shortly thereafter. Many believe the timing was set to correspond with the highest volume of people massed near the finish line, since the most common completion times for the marathon surround the four-hour mark.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Vice-President at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles wrote, “Those explosions in Boston were meant to terrify, to intimidate, to silence, to disrupt. We turn to mourn the murdered and to grieve with the wounded. But our deepest response is to repudiate the goals of terror. In response to the bombs, let us live more boldly, let us stand tall together, let us speak our peace, and let us love resiliently.”

Juxtaposed with Yom HaZikaron and the Boston tragedy, Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, began late Monday night into Tuesday (our community’s celebration, sponsored by the Jewish Federation, will take place Sunday at 5:00 p.m. at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center as the concluding event to the Food for Thought Festival). The immediate transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut is done to remind people of the price paid for independence and of what was achieved with the soldiers’ sacrifice.

You have to be in Israel to understand how in just one moment Memorial Day ends, like the moment that ends Shabbat and begins the new week. There is an immediate transition from mourning to the happiest day of the year. Israelis (and Jews) emerge from their sadness. We give thanks to those who made it possible for the State of Israel while beginning Independence Day with great celebration.

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In the Jewish calendar, the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot (beginning on the second day of Passover and ending the day before Shavuot) are when we count the Omer. This mitzvah derives from the Torah commandment to count forty-nine days beginning from the day on which theOmer, a sacrifice containing an omer-measure of barley, was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, up until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on Shavuot. The idea of counting each day represents spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Torah, marked on Shavuot.

During the counting of the Omer we learn about the seven basic emotions that make up the spectrum of the human experience. This week is Netzakh – defined as endurance or victory. What is it that keeps you going with the day-to-day demands of life – especially when the going gets rough, when you’re ambushed by physical or emotional pain? Netzakh draws you forward, even when you’ve lost your way, or feel as if you are bogged down in the quicksand of life. It is your ability to sustain your own sense of mission and purpose.

That is what the people of Israel do when a soldier loses his/her life. That is what we must do following the tragedy in Boston. And that is our framework when we hear far too many sirens.

One of those killed in Boston was an 8 year old boy, Martin Richard. His mother (required brain surgery) and sister (lost one leg) were also seriously injured in the bombing. You may have seen the photo of Martin in his school classroom with a sign he made that read, “No more hurting people... peace.”

Let us hope and pray we are no longer caught between mourning and celebration – no more fallen soldiers…no more horrific attacks…and no more sirens.

Shabbat shalom.



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