Tu B’Sh’vat: A Personal Reflection

by Barbara Kavadias

While we have been having a relatively warm winter in the United States, it cannot compare to what winter is like in Israel.  It is the rainy season there, the time of year that Israel greens up, with cooler temperatures and rain (which feels like a miracle every time I experience it) in between wonderfully sunny days. In Israel’s climate, it is easy to understand how Tu B’Sh’vat, this year starting on the evening of February 7th, is celebrated as the birthday of the trees. By Tu B’Sh’vat, trees throughout Israel are blooming, getting ready to set fruit and there is a festive, hopeful feeling in the air. Continue reading

Spread over us the Sukkah of Peace

Sukkot is Zeman Simchatenu– “The Time of our Rejoicing.” We celebrate our bounty even while acknowledging that we are not ultimately in charge. Why else would we dwell in a flimsy booth, with a see-through roof, often times in the cold? We do so to acknowledge that only God can truly provide protection from harm.

This year, we may have an extra reason to rejoice. Israel and Hamas have reportedly arrived at an agreement that should free Gilad Shalit, held prisoner by Hamas for over five years. Gilad has been held against all international standards, without any contact with family, international aid groups, or independent verification of his care or well being. His capture and mistreatment has been a major impediment to peaceful relations or trust. The Israeli Press office has reported that Israel is agreeing to the release of 1000 prisoners to gain the Gilad’s release. Our prayers have been ;and are for Gilad and for peace. It appears that at least one set of prayers may soon be answered.

HeChag (the holiday) is how Sukkot is known in the Talmud. The fall harvest festival, the prayers for rain for the coming year, and the prayers for all the nations of the world make Sukkot the premier Jewish festival.

Sure, Pesach has all that hide and seek fun connected to the Afikomen. Chanukah has presents and lights even though it has always been viewed as a minor holiday. Purim costumes and meals can be outrageous but is still just another victory over a tyrant. And the High Holy Days, with all the tension around the book of life being written and sealed for the coming year, is enough to cause real anxiety.

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Na’aseh V’nishmah – Tikkun Leil Shavuot and Israel

Shavuot is traditionally observed through study. Tikkun Leil Shavuot, now with many variations, is a time of learning text throughout the night in order to more fully engage with Jewish law and tradition. Shavuot is linked with Pesach as the next logical step on the path from liberation to sovereignty. That natural link is law, a way to govern our Jewish society. Shavuot brings the message that society must have rules by which it is governed and that liberation to be effective cannot be anarchy or dictatorship. So it is appropriate that each year we learn and relearn Jewish law in order to more fully participate in Jewish society.

On Sunday, June 5, 2011 more than 1,000,000 people watched or paraded down Fifth Avenue in New York City for the annual Celebrate Israel Parade. With colorful tee-shirts, music blaring, and no sign of partisan politics this is the largest celebration of Israel in the world. It almost resembles the scene in the movie Exodus as the Jews leave Egypt. The good news is that instead of wandering for 40 years to receive the law, Shavuot usually arrives quickly after the parade.

Our Movement was well represented by many congregational groups including the congregations whose members totaled more than 350 under the ARZA banner. The parade is one more example that Israel advocacy can be done well.

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Celebrating Reform Zionism for the Sake of Heaven

Chag Sameach. Today, we celebrated the newest holiday of the Jewish people- Israel Independence Day. Our efforts to re-establish a Jewish sovereign state are the culmination of nearly 2,000 years of prayers but of just over 100 years of political activism.

It is Jewish/Zionist activism more than prayer that was the tipping point allowing for the creation of Israel. It was not always easy externally or even internally within the Zionist movement.

In 1939 the British issued the infamous White Paper which restricted Jewish immigration and the rights of Jews to buy land in Palestine.  World War II had started. David Ben Gurion summarized mainstream Zionist policy saying: “We will assist the British in the war as if there were no White Paper and we must resist the White Paper as if there were no war.”


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This Year in Jerusalem

For centuries we have written our own personal versions of the Pesach Haggadah. We reflect different world views; different religious perspectives, all the while focusing on the retelling of our great liberation from slavery to the freedom of our own sovereignty in the distance.

As American Jews we often struggle with the ideas of Zionism and Israel precisely because we live in a great, open, generally welcoming society. We are part of America and so the idea that we can be active participants in the greatest national project of our people in the past 2,000 years sometimes does not resonate loudly for us. Passover, recalling the Zionist enterprise, gives us an opportunity to reflect on these ideas. We traditionally read about the four sons. In our Seder we also read the four daughters and about four kinds of Jews.

The first is the Responsible Jew. On April 1, 1933, the Jewish Review of Berlin, a Zionist newspaper, editorialized concerning what the Jewish response should be to the new Nazi law that all Jews were required to wear a yellow star;

“The answer must be clear. It must be that briefest of sentences Moses spoke to the Egyptians: Ivri Anochi, I am a Jew.

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Be Happy It’s Adar

“There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples….Their laws are different from those of every other people’s, and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.”

      — Haman to the Persian King Achashveros.

“With the help of God and the people’s resistance, the new Middle East will turn into a region without the United States and the Zionist regime, and the arrogant powers will have no place in this Middle East. Soon, the entire world will experience the sweet taste of a world without Zionists and thugs.”
— President of Iran Ahmadinejad February 11, 2011.

Our response, among others, then and now, is Be Happy It’s Adar. To the best of my knowledge we are the only people in the world who are commanded to be happy for a whole month as part of our celebration of victory. Adar II, which began Monday, brings us Purim, a primary example of Jewish History; they wanted to kill us, we won, let’s eat.
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Life is Fragile

Chanukah in Israel for years to come may never be the same. Life is fragile. It is a reality we often ignore until we are faced with tragedy. Israel, indeed our whole people, is in the midst of the Carmel Fire tragedy. In the past two days more than 40 souls have been lost. 25,000 people have been evacuated, homes are destroyed and more than 7,000 acres of forests are on fire or already lost which constitutes half of the Carmel Forest.

Like a terrorist attack, nearly everyone has a connection to the dead, injured or impacted. I have heard already of several victims who I can link to by no more than two degrees of separation. Israel is a little country. 40 dead for her is the equivalent of more than 1700 for the United States, half the number who died on 9/11.

The dead reflect Israel; men and women, Jews and non Jews, almost all under 30, mostly married with young children.  For many of the prison guard cadets who perished, becoming a civil servant was an opportunity for upward mobility.

Israel has asked and is receiving assistance from Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Egypt, Italy, Russia, Spain, America and the list is growing.

We love fellow Jews unconditionally. We are commanded that each Jew is responsible for every other Jew, indeed for humanity in general. These values motivate our Movement in the United States and in Israel. Our holy work is to help build an ever more tolerant, pluralistic Israel; an Israel for all Jews and all its citizens.

The ARZA Carmel Israel Emergency Fund is one more expression of our values, one more way to help our people. The funds will assist displaced residents and the families of those who died. We will also participate in caring for the Carmel forest. ARZA funds will be part of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) Humanitarian Fund efforts.

Tishah B’Av and Our Israel

I will hear Parshat D’varim on Shabbat and Lamentations on Tuesday in Jerusalem. I am here to participate in the effort to stop the Rotem Conversion Bill from passing in the Knesset. How ironic it is that the bill was voted out of committee on the first of Av and will be brought for first reading just after Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), the fast day on which the Jewish world commemorates the loss of the two ancient Temples. One of the reasons our ancient Rabbis gave for their destruction was sinat chinam – the internal arguing of one Jew with another.

Rabbi David Saperstein and I are in Israel to represent our Reform Movement organizations that are working alongside the Conservative Movement, the Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel to stop the Conversion legislation. Our joint efforts have involved the URJ, ARZA, CCAR, WUPJ, WRJ, MRJ, and of course, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and its Israel Religious Action Center.

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