This morning we departed Haifa just before 9:00am. (What an amazing group! I say 9:00am on the bus, and they were loaded up, in their seats and ready to go at 8:55! Maybe they were totally pumped by Linda’s Torah reading from the Sephardic scroll?)
In any event, by 10:00am we had arrived at Beit Lid junction just outside of Netanya, meeting up there with a group of young teens from Kfar Ahava who had been rewarded with this experience for their outstanding personal and academic performances. The junction was the site of a terrorist attack on January 22, 1995, when two suicide bombers targeted a bus stop crowded by young soldiers returning to their bases early on a Sunday morning. Twenty one soldiers and one civilian were murdered that morning, with more than sixty wounded. A crude but powerful memorial was erected within days, leaves that had fallen too early representing lives that had been cut far too short.
We learned about the long process that the community undertook to establish a permanent memorial. the site, just a few hundred feet away from the location of the bombing would become a memorial and a community center. The goals of the creators and the community were to remember the tragedy, empower the living, and bring to life the stories of the victims. The impressive sculpture ultimately created was inspired by the Biblical verse that describes Jacob’s ladder with “the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12).
Twenty two figures ascend the ladder. Each victim is represented by one of the ascending figures; each family of the victims knows which figure represents its loved one. The ladder ascends to the heavens with no supports, representing the strength of the Jewish nation to support its fallen and its survivors. In completing a mosaic of a flower with the teens from Ahava, we felt empowered to create beauty, and we reaffirmed together our sense of responsibility to give life to the legacies of the fallen. One young man shared with me his feelings that, upon reaching young adulthood, he appreciated the newfound sense of responsibility to remember, to serve, and to make choices that will improve his world.
After an exciting off-road adventure that afforded us a quaint picnic lunch with the teens, it was on to Jerusalem. We arrived at Mount Scopus, Har Hatzofim, with the sunset. We cried a little (surprise!) for the sacrifices Israel demands of her children; we reflected on the hope and love that we share for a land that is far from perfect. Like our feelings for our children, though we may not always like everything she does, we still love her and believe that she represents the best possibility for getting it right. We bask in her glow even as we commit to rebuilding her atop her ruins.
An evening of shopping and enjoying the beginning of the weekend was topped off with a visit (one planned, one purely by chance!) with two of our synagogue teens spending their year in Israel. Jessica’s and Sarah’s smiles said it all. Content, happy, innocent, care-free and learning about themselves and their Jewish identities, they represent our hope so well.
This is what every child deserves. God, they are so precious. Please God, spread your shelter of peace over them. Protect them from any harm or pain. Let the Hope be realized soon, and may Your word go out from Jerusalem to the rest of the world, so that no more of our children need be depicted as angels ascending a ladder in return to You.
Rabbi Craig Scheff
Our Day 3 experience kicked off in the early morning with a prayer service at Azarat Yisrael, the portion of the Kotel that our community calls home. Eliana Pressman, our Bat Mitzvah celebrant, led us in prayer, read from the Torah, and taught us about treating people according to their needs. Her words were a fitting lesson for a day of meeting others’ needs. Amidst so much celebration (the naming of a 3-month old girl in absentia; conferring a Hebrew name upon Jack and Janet Miller’s granddaughter Julia; Marvin Shapiro’s upcoming 90th birthday; Michael and Bryna Schoenbarts’ 35th anniversary; and Mark Katz’s birthday), we had reminders throughout our day that the best way we can show our gratitude for blessings is by being there for others in need.
Today we marveled at the majesty and mystery of Jerusalem’s holy sites and history. We walked the length of the Western Wall underground, appreciating the architectural feats of 2 thousand years ago in the construction of mikvahs, cisterns and towering walls.
It was the simple acts of kindness, however–literally raising up the fallen, celebrating special moments in life’s cycles, restoring lost items, comforting the bereaved, and feeding the hungry–that truly made this day what it was.
Today, our group of pilgrims and tourists became a community.
As I hand over the group to Rabbi Drill after Shabbat, I am so comforted by the knowledge that a new community within our community has been born. Thank you, God, for giving us life, sustaining us, and bringing us to this moment in time.
Rabbi Craig Scheff
At 6:00 this morning, I returned to the Orangetown Jewish Center after participating for five days on the Jewish Federation of Rockland County Lily Steuer ATID Leadership Mission. Atid means future and this mission fulfilled its call to set our sights on the future. As I write this, I am filled with tikvah (hope) that the future of Jewish Rockland and of Israel is bright.
I felt tikvah when we visited Susan’s House, an on-the-job training workshop for youth at risk in Jerusalem. Teens learn to make jewelry, glass plates, wooden objects and macramé as they learn life skills and self esteem. There I met a young woman named Aliana who slouched in her chair as the other teens brightly showed off the art that they were creating. When we started shopping, many of us chose beautiful wire jewelry, the work of Aliana, who joined us in the shop and proudly took pictures with each of us who were purchasing her creations. Aliana was standing up straight. I felt tikvah because I know that thanks to our Jewish Federation dollars, the vulnerable in Israel won’t be left behind.
I felt tikvah when we visited Har Hertzl, the national military cemetery of Israel. We stood, weeping, before a line of new graves from this past summer’s Protective Edge Operation. We stood before the grave of American lone soldier Max Steinberg. I felt tikvah because I know that Israel will defend our right to a Jewish home. Thanks to the support of Jews world wide, Israel will never stand alone.
I felt tikvah when we danced at the Sol and Bea Kramer Senior Center in Kiryat Ata. Elders enjoy support, socialization, hot meals and warmth thanks to Elana, the dedicated and passionate director, and thanks to Rockland Federation support from the Kramer family and from the Lily Steuer Fund. Languages from all over the world – Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Hungarian, Spanish – could be heard as Day Center participants sang and danced with us. I felt tikvah because I know that thanks to our Jewish Federation dollars, the mitzvah of honoring our elders will be fulfilled in Israel just as it is here in Rockland County.
I felt tikvah when we visited the Mevaseret Tzion Absorption Center to meet with new olim (immigrants to Israel) from Ethiopia. We experienced awe as we watched Mission Mentor and Federation Campaign Chair Bob Silverman meet family members with whom he flew from Ethiopia to Israel one and a half years ago. I felt tikvah because I know that we in Rockland County help to ensure that all Jews are responsible one for the other.
The experience of our trip was heightened for all of us (but for me most of all!) by the participation on the mission of my son Josh, a student in Mechinat Rabin (a preparation year for the Israel Defense Forces). Josh’s passion for Israel, his questions and many conversations with mission participants made me proud as a mom and made me feel tikvah for the future of the Jewish people.
I thank Diane Sloyer and the staff of Jewish Federation of Rockland County for educating us, lifting us and giving us hope.
It is easy to be a cynic. Things go wrong and one can say, “See, I told you so.” But it takes courage to be an optimist. We continue, against all odds, to find hope and possibility in our world. Our plans and dreams might fail and we are often disappointed, but still we get up the next day and start again. It takes courage to be an optimist.
The 2014 ATID Mission gave us all many reasons to be optimists.
Shabbat shalom, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
The news this morning from Jerusalem was shocking and tragic. As soon as I woke up, I checked the news from Israel as I always do. Reading about a brutal murder of four Jews davenning their morning prayers in their shul, I called my friend Rena in Jerusalem. “What a long, lonely day this has been,” she told me. “I have been alone here in Israel with this news since 7:00 this morning, while all of my loved ones in America were sleeping. Now that morning is arriving in America, I have to go through the story again and again, as you wake up on the East Coast, then my family in the Midwest, and then on to California.”
By now you have read Rabbi Scheff’s blog, so you know that our fellow OJCers on the Volunteer Work Mission are far from Jerusalem, up in the North. They are all safe, but like us, their hearts are broken. Truly, this is the meaning of Am Echad, One People: When one of us is hurt, we are all hurt.
Call your friends and family in Israel today. Tell them that we are thinking of them. We are well aware of the shocking terrorist attacks that have been happening in these last few weeks, and we care deeply about the people of Israel. As my friend Rena said, they are feeling lonely.
Closer to home, last evening the State Appointed Monitor, Hank Greenberg, gave his report to the Chancellery in Albany after months of research into the crisis in the East Ramapo Central School District. As I listened to the live broadcast, I felt both proud of the work that the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice has done and undaunted, knowing how much work lies ahead. You can view an archive of the broadcast for a limited period of time. Copy and paste this link into your browser:
Please consider the dozen volunteers who are spending time at the Early Childhood Center at the Kakiat School. When I go to help in Mrs. Greenwood’s classroom, I experience in my very being the urgency of the issue of the education of the children of our county. Contact Sally Kagan: email@example.com or call 845-290-0085.
With prayers for peace and blessings, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
If we say, “Next year in Jerusalem” at a seder in New York, what do we say when we make a seder in Jerusalem? The answer is that we still say, “Next year in Jerusalem” because we pray to be in Yerusalayim L’Malah, Jerusalem on High, the future Utopian time when all will be peace. Singing about being in Jerusalem is a moment of hope and open-heartedness every year at the end of the seder, but this year, actually sitting at a seder in Jerusalem, I felt even more optimistic.
We made our seder with my brother Eric and lots of my cousins at a hotel in Jerusalem. As I looked around the large ballroom, I saw tables of thirty and tables of three. There were Jews in white shirts and black pants, Jews dressed in high fashion, and Jews in jeans. As each table began to sing “Dayenu,” we heard more different tunes than I thought possible. There were tables that were being served dinner before our table asked even the second of the four questions. While we sat at the table singing for a long time, we still were not the last table in the room. Every kind of Jew in Israel celebrates Pesach. Walking back through the streets of French Hill to our apartment at close to 1:00 a.m. I felt that anything is possible. Next year in Jerusalem.
We have been spending Chol HaMoed (the middle days of Passover) with Sarah’s boyfriend Sagi’s family on Kibbutz Mefalsim (next to Sederot, in the south), mountain biking and hiking. Everywhere we go, we see Israeli families enjoying the Passover vacation. It is the gift of Israel to be on the same calendar with everyone else! If I am hoping for next year in Jerusalem, so are all the other Jews I see.
Our youngest, Joshua, announced his intention to make aliya and follow his sister’s footsteps into the IDF. We couldn’t be more proud. With the great possibility of two out of four of the Drill children making lives in Israel, it will really be true for many years to come that we’ll be saying, in a real way, “Next year in Jerusalem.” As a Jew with faith, optimism and a belief in Jewish destiny, I will always say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” I’ll say it when I am here for Pesach, here among people living according to the Jewish calendar, here as a mother of Israeli offspring. I’ll say it when I am with all of you at the OJC for Pesach, among the people in the congregation that I love. My task never sways from working to bring about a better day for all humanity. Bashana haba-ah B’Yerushalayim.
L’hitraot, See you all soon! B’yedidut, with friendship,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill