June 27, 2008
Were I to describe every moving event that has taken place at our synagogue this month I might have to take up many pages. I will restrain myself and only tell you about several. Before I launch in, I would like to remind you that noted author Rodger Kamenetz is our guest speaker at services this Friday at 7:30 pm, that our new art gallery, Gallery Lev Shalem, opens with the art of Durga Bernhard following services on Saturday morning, and that our huge yard sale is this coming Sunday and Monday (just another weekend of joy, prayer, art, intellectual stimulation, community, and fundraising at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation!)
Our Exquisite New Ark
Last year we received a wonderful offer from Michael and Sandra Mandel. In honor of their son Glenn’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah, the Mandels pledged the funds to create a new, custom-made ark to house our Torah scrolls. A task force was formed at the synagogue to ask for proposals and to choose a craftsman and a design. The number and quality of the proposals we received was impressive, and testified to the high quality of craftspeople and artists in our region. We ultimately chose the proposal of Stephen Robin, a fine woodworker with 40 years experience whose workshop was just a mile and a half down the road from the synagogue. Stephen and his coworkers came through with flying colors. The ark was dedicated at the joint Bar Mitzvah of Glenn Mandel and Salem Hoffman on June 7, 2008. Almost everyone who enters the sanctuary and sees the new ark for the first time pauses, draws in a breath, and exclaims in wonder. For me, the beautiful cherry and walnut woods, the elegantly curved and contoured woodwork, the carefully considered dimensions, and the gentle light filtering from behind add up to a deeply satisfying experience. Our new ark uplifts and helps complete our sanctuary. Come see for yourselves! I want to thank the Mandels for their generosity, our task force of Laurie Schwartz, Karen Levine, Bill Weissman, Kari Feuer, Ellen Triebwasser, Karen Martin and Patricia Mitchell for their hard work and good judgment, and Stephen Robin and his crew for their exquisite craftsmanship. Our communal life has been greatly enhanced with the addition of our new Holy Ark.
A Torah Fragment from the Streets of Berlin
Ruth Samuels Hirsch offered to donate a precious family heirloom to the WJC. It is a framed fragment of parchment from a Torah scroll, a torn column of text that has been in her family since 1938. Here is what Ruth wrote to me:
“Kristallnacht was a pogrom in Nazi Germany November 9th-10th, 1938. During the rampage of Kristallnacht more than 1,000 Synagogues were destroyed, tens of thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked. It marked the beginning of the systematic eradication of Jewish - and other - people in Germany.
We now possess this remnant of Torah scooped up from the streets of Germany and hustled to safety along with the remnant of Jews who escaped the Nazi death machine. Ruth’s family treasure will hang in our synagogue as a witness and testament to the ongoing life of the Jewish People.
There is one more facet of this story that I must tell: we decided that the most fitting time to formally welcome Ruth’s gift would be during Shavuot, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah. During our Shavuot learning and festivities on June 8 I was holding the Torah fragment and scanning it, trying to piece together from the torn sentences what section of Torah I was holding. To my amazement, I discovered that it is the section from Deuteronomy that explains how we are to celebrate Shavuot! Yet another “Holy Coincidence” to sustain my intimations that our lives are linked by invisible lines of connection. What a joy!
A Very Quick Trip to Israel
My nephew Eitan and his fianc Shir scheduled their wedding for this past June 3. My family couldn’t join me because of school and finals, and I had many commitments, too, but I wouldn’t miss it. So I flew to Israel on Sunday night, went directly to the Dan Keysaria hotel on the Mediterranean coast, and returned on Wednesday night, for a mind- and body-bending 3-day trip. To my surprise, though of course tiring, the trip was a complete joy. I would like to share just a couple of scenarios from the wedding.
Israeli weddings tend to be large. There were 800 people at this one. Shir’s father is a man named Effi Stenzler, and he is the Director of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (The Jewish National Fund). The JNF is a quasi-governmental organization that controls all of Israel’s water and forest resources, and much of Israel’s land. You may know about it, because of the well-known little blue pushke, or charity box, that many of you may remember dropping coins into to support the effort to build up the Land of Israel. After the ceremony, when it was my brother Dan’s turn to make a little speech, he stood with his new machatin (in-law) Effi, and said: “This feels unreal, a sort-of Zionist fantasy come true. When I was a boy in New York, I would put my coins in the little blue JNF box. Now, my son is married to the daughter of the man who holds the blue box!”
Effi holds a prominent government-appointed position, so there were a significant number of government ministers and Members of Knesset in attendance. The former chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Lau, officiated. I was invited under the chuppah to sing one of the Sheva Brachot, the wedding blessings, which was very sweet. Afterwards I found myself standing next to Shaul Mofaz, current Transport Minister and former Minister of Defense and head of the Israel Defense Forces. He was just a person, a few years older than me. He and Effi had been in the paratroopers together, which is where many of Israel’s future leaders meet each other and are groomed for leadership.
I mention Shaul Mofaz because when I returned to the States 2 days later, I read the following in the paper: “’If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective,’ Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz told the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.” According to analysts, Mofaz’s comments were the main reason that the price of a barrel of oil jumped $11 a barrel that day, and the Dow Jones Average dropped 400 points! I was flabbergasted. The comments of one government official to a Hebrew language newspaper in Israel can cause the entire global market to shudder. It is difficult to fathom how truly interconnected we have become around the globe. And like it or not, Israel sits on one of the main nerve centers of our global civilization. It is so odd that a tiny country with 7 million inhabitants should occupy such an outsized place of importance, but so it is. (It is even odder for me that I was standing next to the guy who caused all the markets to hiccough the next day. I lost some money on the market because of him! I should have told him to tone it down!)
I share this story because it is another useful snapshot of Israel. It is a country that matters too much. It is a country in which everybody knows everybody, where you are always just one or two degrees removed from all the other folks you meet, including the powerful ones. It is a country positively brimming with life, but also always courting death. Like it or not, that is the reality of Israel. Most of the time, I like it. Or, as my mother commented in her refreshing, no-bull manner at some point during the festivities: “I love being Jewish, except when I hate it.” We all laughed – it sure beats crying.
It was a great wedding.
Praying (and working) for a world filled with more understanding and less violence,
Rabbi Jonathan Kligler