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A View from Jerusalem – September 2017

Days of Awe

The last days of Israel’s hot and steamy summer finally shorten. The air with cooler winds, heralding the longed for fall.

Wandering birds fly high above, escaping Europe’s oncoming winter, looking for warmth and serenity. We are surrounded by the Days of Awe, days of self-reflection and examination, days of hope. Hopes to be blessed with a better year, to leave the miseries and pain of 5777 behind.

Human evil, natural disasters and unfortunate political acts this past year all had their moment. They provided their share of desolateness, locally and worldwide.

In order to be worthy of grace, entitled of a better new year, and in the spirit of the High Holidays and the Days of Awe, we must try to learn the lesson from painful events and find optimism for a better future.

This past June the Israeli government voted to freeze the implementation of constructing an egalitarian section at the Western Wall to serve the needs of all Jewish streams and denominations, liberal and more Orthodox, as one.

This unfortunate decision rocked the Jewish world, leading to endless articles, speeches and other acts of protest, all sharing a great frustration and concern that the divide between Israel and the Jewish world is growing and deepening.

And yet, more than anything, the Kotel—the holiest place for Jews, ALL Jews—is a source of pride, a galvanizing force, a reflection of our shared past, present and future. These eternal stones reflect our common future and give me hope—that this hurtful, unnecessary crisis carries within it an old promise, an ancient commitment to build the Jewish state, the homeland of all Jews, together.

I choose to see in the Israeli government’s terrible decision as an opportunity. As the Jewish world prepares to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary—with great pride in the joint efforts to establish, build and maintain our home—these kinds of cultural, theological and identity crises should be seen as an opportunity.

From the time Israel was established, through the years when we were threatened by the Arab world, when our existence was at risk, the entire Jewish world stood by Israel’s side, hand-in-hand, supporting it by all means, jointly building this amazing nation.

And now, thanks to these ongoing efforts, our Jewish home is solid, a source of pride. But our work hasn’t ended. The last few bricks of pluralism, identity, tolerance and acceptance still need to be placed. These essential building blocks are made of discussions, honest conversations, some fruitful respectful arguments, all in the sake of heaven, to find our common spiritual grounds and allow them to glue the divides and hold our home, to be complete.

It is no easy task. It will take acts of protest, endless articles, and speeches to get the point across, but it’s a shared task. So this miserable decision of the Israeli government invites us to role our sleeves and work together as one, hand in hand, side by side to complete the holiest mission of all, build our Jewish home

And just before 5777 joins the books of history, Mother Nature steps in with all her mighty powers, forcing us again to acknowledge our limits, and recognize that we are just that, human, bound by human strength—and frailty. It’s a great lesson in modesty, humbleness. But being human is actually not limited at all. Our technology may be limited, restricted to science and facts, but our hearts and souls have no borders.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma may have caused devastating damage, taken lives, washed away homes and left millions without power for days, but it once again allowed human kindness and mercy to light the darkness of the stormy skies.

It was devastating to see images and videos of the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, just a few weeks ago a state of the art facility with outstanding programs and services, flooded with debris, ruined. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time uplifting. For the JCC, even though severely damaged, was there for its community. We watched  volunteers coordinate their Meals on Wheels services to those in need, providing food, supplies and most of all, care and sympathy. It is a great demonstration of the unlimited capacity of human beings to care.

The Jewish world stands by Houston, as it has by others in all past times of crisis. JCC Association helped coordinate an eGift card fundraiser and our communities launched fundraising campaigns, sent aid and support, hosted and prayed for the well-being of all Houstonians.

The state of Israel raised $1 million and sent a few support delegations to the storm ravaged community, returning to Houston the support it—and other Jewish communities—have granted to us so many times before.

It’s clear, 5777 wasn’t the best of years, but perhaps was one with lessons, opportunities that arose from crises, and allowed us to take pride in our capacity to overcome challenges of all sorts.

May wandering birds find serenity, may we all find serenity. May 5778 be blessed and may peace, spiritual, physical and emotional peace come upon us and the entire world. Amen.

“Lord our God, hear our voice, pity and be compassionate to us, and accept—with compassion and favor our prayer.  Lord our God, bless this year.”

“אבינו מלכינו, שמע קולנו, חדש עלינו שנה טובה”

Shana tovah


Leah Garber , Vice President, JCC Israel Center

[email protected]

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