April 14, 2008
Two topics: our Community Passover Seder, and a P.S. on our trip to Israel.
It has come to my attention that some folks are not planning to come to our Community Passover Seder because it costs more than they can afford. I want to encourage you in every way I can to come. The Haggadah insists that we should invite everyone to join us at our Passover Seder, and we take that injunction seriously. We have received a generous donation specifically to underwrite the cost for anyone who is not able to pay the full fee, and we are extending our deadline for reservations until the end of Thursday, April 10. (That’s tomorrow. The caterers absolutely need a count by Friday so that they can order their supplies.) All you need to do is call me (679-2218), leave a message if I am not here, or email me (email@example.com), and let me know what you are able to pay and how many are coming. That’s it, confidential and no questions asked. The caterer gets paid in full, and everybody who wants to gets to come!
And what a Seder we have. Kim Harris is joining us again this year to lead the Seder with me. Kim and her husband Reggie and I recorded a wonderful CD called “Let My People Go: A Jewish and African American Celebration of Freedom” (available at the synagogue or through our website, www.wjcshul.org). As many of you know, Kim and Reggie and I merge the Jewish music of the Seder with African American freedom music that draws on the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Whenever Kim is around expect to be roused in song and moved with storytelling and teaching. Kim is in fact currently working on her doctorate at Union Theological Seminary, with a focus on Passover as a template for “freedom feasts”.
Do join us for this uplifting Seder!
P.S. On our Israel trip
After I sent my dispatch on our trip to Israel a few days ago, I realized that there was one more very personal experience that I wanted to share with you.
In the far north of Israel lies the beautiful Hula Valley, bounded by the Golan Heights on the East, and the escarpment of the mountains of the Upper Galilee on the west. When the early Zionist pioneers arrived in this region in the early 20th century, the Hula Valley was mostly a swamp, or wetland as we now call it, and malarial mosquitoes beset the settlers. My grandfather, Professor Israel Jacob Kligler, had relatively recently received a doctorate in Bacteriology and Hygiene at N.Y.U. (one of the first Jews to reach this milestone at N.Y.U., I have been told). He was a Zionist who moved to Palestine in 1920, and made his mission the eradication of malaria and other infectious diseases in the Land of Israel. He set up a lab in Rosh Pina, near the Hula Valley, and spent his time wandering the Hula collecting mosquitoes and working on potential treatments. (In 1925 he was invited to help found the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and created the department of Bacteriology there.) My grandfather died tragically young in 1944, before he could witness the founding of his beloved Israel, but he left a strong legacy of contributions to the Zionist enterprise.
In 1968, I traveled to Israel with my family for the first time. I was 12. As part of our journey, we traveled up the mountainside above the Hula Valley with a representative of the Jewish National Fund, who guided us along a dirt road to a spot with a gorgeous and commanding view of the Valley and all the mountains beyond. There we dedicated a monument and a forest grove in memory of Israel Jacob Kligler. I still have the photograph of us all kneeling around the little saplings we had just planted.
The last time I visited that grove was over 20 years ago, and I thought I might take our WJC group to see it as part of our itinerary last month. But alas, the bus couldn’t take the dirt road, and the grove was too far in to ask our group to walk. So our guide encouraged me to at least go myself, and as he took to group to another overlook, I trotted up the path. The air was cool and clear, the late afternoon sun slanted over me, and the scent of the spring flowers everywhere was indescribably delicious. The view of the valley (including the bird sanctuary – in time the Israelis realized that by draining the entire wetland they had destroyed important habitat and degraded the topsoil, so they have begun re-flooding parts of the valley) and the mountains beyond was exhilarating. A deer leapt out in front of me on the path and bounded away. It occurred to me that I was on the mountainside that bears the ancient name of Harei Naftali, the mountains of the tribe of Naftali, and that Naftali since ancient times has been symbolized by a deer. I could not remember exactly how far along the grove was, but I knew I would get there eventually. And I did. The monument was intact and in good shape. It read “In Memory of Professor Israel Jacob Kligler, Hebrew University, who fought the scourge of malaria, 1920-1944”. The trees of the grove were immense. It had been 40 years since I planted those saplings with my mom and dad and brothers, and now those saplings were a towering, mature forest, overlooking the verdant valley where my grandfather had labored on behalf of the Jewish People. I paid my silent respects, and trotted on up the hill to rejoin our group. I will be returning to this spot, with my family, and with some of you too, I hope.