Contributors to this issue:
Statement of Purpose of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet
Stephen H. Hoffman, UJC President and CEO and James S. Tisch, Chairman of the Board
Rabbi Harold J. Berman, Chair, UJC Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, UJC Director of Religious and Educational Activities
Rabbi Murray Saltzman, Rabbi of Temple Bat Yam, Sanibel, FL
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Israel
Rabbi Mordechai (Marc) Gafni, Rosh Bayit Chadash, Jerusalem
Our Promise For Tomorrow
Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, Rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, New York, NY
The Matzah Of Unity
Rabbi Diana Villa, Center for Women in Jewish Law, Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies, Jerusalem
Rabbi Ben Hollander, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, Rabbi Laureate, Temple Israel of Natick, MA
Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, Rabbi, Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, Cote St. Luc, Quebec
Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi of Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, CA
Published in cooperation with the Rabbinic cabinets of local Jewish federations
James S. Tisch
Stephen H. Hoffman
United Jewish Communities Rabbinic Cabinet
111 Eighth Avenue, Suite 11E, New York, NY 10011-5201
Phone: 212.284.6513 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The mission of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet is to unite rabbis of all ideologies in the work of kiyum hauma and tzedaka, acquaint and involve the North American rabbinate with the goals and activities of the UJC, and to bring the talents, resources, and perspectives of the rabbinate to the UJC and its UJA-Federation Annual Campaign.
The cabinet serves as the rabbinic arm of the UJC, the major agency of North American Jewry for tzedaka. It promotes the unity of the Jewish people in their efforts to support the needs of Jews everywhere by including rabbis from every movement in North American Jewish life. The Rabbinic Cabinet further seeks to inform colleagues about the most current developments in Jewish life, the needs of our people, and the techniques for effective utilization of Rabbinic leadership within local communities. In addition, the Rabbinic Cabinet endeavors to apprise the lay Jewish leadership with the concerns of the rabbinate, infuse Jewish values and content into the annual and special campaigns of local federations, and serve Israel and the Jewish people with rabbinical involvement and support.
1. Raise the level of knowledge about the UJC in the rabbinate and community.
2. Stimulate and support rabbinic participation in, and relationships with, UJC and local federations.
3. Assist with and participate in UJC's UJA-Federration Annual Campaign by enlarging the scope and intensity of synagogue involvement.
4. Upgrade rabbinic giving and increase rabbinic solicitations.
5. Identify new donors, leaders and major gifts.
6. Develop programs and educational materials about Israel and the Jewish tradition.
7. Serve as teachers and spiritual resources to the leadership and constituencies of UJC, local federationsand the Jewish community.
8. Serve as a forum for the discussion and resolution of important Jewish issues.
9. Recognize exemplary service of rabbis in the UJA-Federation Annual Campaign.
STANDARDS FOR MEMBERSHIP
Members of the Rabbinic Cabinet should:
1. Be involved in local federation and Campaign activities.
2. Work in harmony with local colleagues.
3. Pledge at least $1000 to the Annual Campaign.
4. Try to participate in a UJC mission.
5. Attend the Annual Meeting of the Rabbinic Cabinet and/or regional conferences and special meetings.
"And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligentlyto your children" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Each year, Passover enables us to tell the story of our people, to our children, and to each other. It is in the telling of our story that we convey our fundamental values‚ namely, that we are partners with the Almighty in what we accomplish, that we are committed to building our homeland, and that we come from very humble beginnings as slaves in Egypt.
As rabbis, you know these facts already. So instead of repeating them, let us remind ourselves of the story of our organization and its great mission.
From humble beginnings in communities across the North American continent, we developed a system that today can assist of any Jew or non-Jew in need, anywhere in the world. It is a system of alliances that succeeds only through the spirit of partnership.
RABBINIC LEADERSHIP FORMS CORNERSTONE
Our relationship with North American rabbinic leadership through the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet has become a cornerstone of our functional structure. Increasingly, our federations across the continent have been seeking and implementing programs to deepen their ties to their natural partners, the synagogues. We rely on the Rabbinic Cabinet, and the network of rabbis it represents, to strengthen these relationships. The work we do begins with developing Jewish identity and sustaining Jewish continuity in local communities. Our rabbis are on the front lines, grappling with these issues every day.
As the "new management" of UJC, we are honored to share space with you in this publication and we thank you for your wisdom and guidance.
We are grateful for the role you play, not only in teaching people about our shared history and values, but also in emphasizing the importance of tzedakah in our daily lives and, in particular, the vital role of the UJA Federation campaign and the federation movement. In these difficult times, rabbis have been critically important in supporting our solidarity missions, reinforcing the connection between the Jewish communities in North America and Israel. Rabbinic Cabinet members have also actively fostered connections with Jewish communities in other parts of the world, such as the former Soviet Union.
We all understand today that strong federations, strong congregations, and strong rabbinic leadership go hand in hand, as we work towards building a strong Jewish people. Together may we go from strength to strength. We wish you all a ziessen Pesach.
I have never lost my fascination with the journey "up" to Jerusalem. On every trip I have made to Israel, I have felt excitement build on the road that leads from the coastal plain into the hills of the holy city.
On my first trip, nearly 40 years ago, I was taught to appreciate some of the modern history that lines the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road. I remember guides explaining the siege of Jerusalem in 1948 and recalling the enormous risks taken and sacrifices made to preserve the capital city as part of the emerging Jewish State. And I remember the trucks, burnt skeletons of convoy vehicles that remind me, and so many others, of the price our people paid to defend its most precious city.
NEED TO KNOW AND REMEMBER
But this past December, while on a UJC Rabbinic mission, I noticed something different. On the familiar road, I looked for the "memorials" that had always been there, and they didn't look the same. Beside the skeletal remains of the vehicles destroyed in 1948 were new signs, labels, recalling their history. Previously, there had been no need for signs. It could be assumed that most people knew what they were, and why they were there. Perhaps someone would explain to those seeing them for the first time. But more than half a century has passed. A generation has grown up.
The War of Independence is history, and its memorials need explanations. To take for granted that people will instantly recognize the symbols that resonated in their parents and grandparents lives is to risk seeing those symbols forgotten. And so it is with us, in a much larger sense, with a much longer history. Some generations could take for granted that the story of our people would be told and its symbols would be understood with minimal explanation. In some generations, the stories were part of a constant dialogue, and people transmitted their Judaism in very immediate and personal terms. "You shall tell your child that this is because of what God did for me when I went out of Egypt." We have to do a lot more explaining.
For a new generation to understand, the labels have to be there. Nothing can be taken for granted. And the task will not get easier. As is often said, we can only build communities by building Jews. And our task is to tell the story, with even more effort required than for those who preceded us, because the story is more remote, and there are fewer people telling it. Being involved in the Rabbinic Cabinet is both a great honor and a great challenge. We tell the most important stories of our people. May we, in our telling of the story, strengthen our people and help raise a generation whose awareness of the past will lead them to build a better future for all.
SETTING A TABLE OF BEAUTY
Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, UJC Director of Religious and Educational Activities
In the Shulchan Aruch, O.H. 472- Hilchot Pesah notes the requirement that for the Sedarim, a Jew is required to set a beautiful table with special dishes according to his ability, "Yesader Shlchano Yafeh BeKalim Naim." The Magen Avraham notes that the unique contribution of this seemingly simple statement is that there is a custom not to use the most beautiful dishes regularly to recall the destruction of the Temple. However, on the Seder nights, this custom is set aside and the most beautiful dishes are used.
Rabbi Yitzhok Sender in his Commentators Haggadah adds an interesting insight to this halacha. He notes that since we recognize that the major purpose of the Seder night is to educate the children, the use of our finest utensils at the Seder teaches our children an important lesson about our financial priorities and our obligation to spare no expense to fulfill the mitzvot.
I often think of the "set table" — a Shulchan Aruch of sortswhen I think of the United Jewish Communities and its mission.
MERGED ORGANIZATION OFFERS UNIFIED APPROACH
When the Council of Jewish Federations, United Israel Appeal, and United Jewish Appeal merged, among its aims was to convene a table of partners to not only raise the funds necessary to strengthen Jewish life but to plan together a confident Jewish future in North America, Israel, and Jewish communities around the world.
As the director of Religious and Educational Activities for the UJC, I have an interesting seat at the table because it is my task to facilitate the relationship between the North American federation system and the religious movements, Rabbinical associations and Rabbinical schools.
By establishing this department last summer, UJC recognized that for this "set table" to truly represent Jewish life, the religious leadership of North American Jewry, including our Rabbinic Cabinet, must be engaged as full partners around that table to help determine priorities, make plans and to help raise the needed resources to meet the community need.
We are pleased that Andrew Groveman, of Memphis, TN, and a leader of the Orthodox Union, sits on the UJC executive committee, representing the four major synagogue congregational arms this year; and Rabbi Vernon Kurtz of Highland Park, IL., immediate past President of the Rabbinical Assembly and past chair of the UJA Rabbinic Cabinet, represents the rabbinical associations. They will be in close consultation with the other religious movement leaders to facilitate a conversation about important deliberations nationally.
RABBINIC CABINET IS KEY
I also recognize, after serving as a congregational rabbi for 14 years in various communities, and as a former regional director in the United Synagogue system, that the members of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet are central to this critical partnership. Rabbis within local federations and Network communities provide critical guidance, important Jewish perspectives. and invaluable energy to motivate and inspire other volunteers. The mitzvot to which we are dedicated extend God's concern in the world.
Just as we must set our table beautifully for the Pesah Sedarim as an example to our children of using our resources to fulfill mitzvot, so, too, we must gather around the "set table" of Jewish life in our local, federation, and independent communities. We must help set priorities for the North American Jewish community and help raise the funds necessary to meet those priorities. Our participation is not only measured by the learning, energy, and creativity we bring to the table, but also by the example that we set for the entire community. That example speaks to our dedication to the life of mitzvot. Let it be said of the table that we set, "Yesader Shlchano Yafeh BeKalim Naim."
There is a tendency to bewail the fact that today's children have no heroes. Or, if they do, their heroes are only the TV stars who have achieved notoriety rather than worthiness.
The coming of Passover reminded me that apparently Judaism does not believe in heroes. Of course, we note that Moses is not mentioned in the Haggadah. We also ought to note that Judah the Maccabee, like Moses, delivered our people, and rescued us against enormous odds. Judah is similarly uncelebrated in Jewish literature. The Talmud makes no reference to him or to his remarkable defeat of the powerful Syrian-Greek Empire.
I think there is an additional factor to explain this scruple on the part of our sages. They not only feared the idolizing of a hero because it might detract from God. They equally refused to indulge in or to encourage hero worship because it could diminish the individual's confidence in himself.
Remember, there is no more beautiful or profound Jewish ideal than that which proclaims the dignity, uniqueness and worth of every human being. Reincarnation, for example, never gained acceptance in Judaism because it lessened the eternal singularity of every sublime soul.
EVERYONE CAN BE A HERO
The elevation of a hero to the status of super human being could imply that an ordinary person is not as worthy as a hero. Furthermore, it might encourage surrender to the hero of our responsibility for the well being of the society in which we live. Every one of us, in some way, is a hero.
The rabbis suggested if we didn't have a Moses, another Jew would have emerged at that time to be our Moses. History, our tradition concludes, does not depend on heroes for its redemption. It is up to you and me.
At the Seder, it might be appropriate to spend a few moments in discussion about Judaism's aversion for heroes. We elevate no one above the humanity of all of us. We each are frail. Nevertheless, we each are capable of growth, of becoming more than any of us think we can be. Each of our lives is infinitely precious!
The Seder celebrates power of mind, spirit, and conscience possessed by everyone at the Seder table. We were redeemed from bondage to freedom because God breathed into the soul of every human form a special, unique worthiness. At the Seder, we rejoice over the liberation of life's promise that is generated in us by our own effort.
The bread of affliction, lechem oni, which we read about on Passover, is the 3,500-year-old means by which we re-experience the flight of our people from Egypt, teaching us that the easy way to remember what it means to be a Jew is that we never forget what it means to be a slave.
Although it may be difficult to fathom why this "cracker" should provide a journey to the past, especially since its price seems so incongruous for "bread of affliction." (Easily more expensive than anything equivalent in the supermarket). There are Jews who can bite into the matzah and trace the path of the Jewish people from under the shadows of the pyramids of Egypt toward the light of the Torah at Sinai.
At the beginning of the Seder we declare, "Here is poor bread that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt," the tasteless, unaesthetic dough bread that an exhausted Jew would bake for himself after a hard day at the pyramids when what he really wanted to do was sleep. But the seder goes on to explain that this same matzah—the not-completely risen dough which the Jews took with them in the middle of the night when they left Egypt, on the road to Sinai and freedom—is also the bread of redemption.
How can the same tasteless cracker be a symbol of both degradation and independence at the very same time?
KEEPING THE FAITH
Did you ever hear the story about a wealthy man who every so often would wear the same ragged clothes he had worn when he was poor? It confused everyone, of course, but he was too wealthy with whom to be disagreed. Sure enough, a day arrived when he was again forced to wear the same rags, but this time out of need. And his children, who had never been allowed to forget where their father had come from, still respected him and didn't feel suddenly alienated by a pauper in their midst. Furthermore, they never lost faith that he would one day regain his wealth.
So it is with us. Even though we're not slaves anymore, we are never out of danger of being enslaved again.
Yet the bread of affliction reminds us not only that Israel was chosen when its fortunes were low, but that our God will never entirely forsake us. That's why this matzah is also a matzah of faith.
Interestingly, the myths of the ancient people who lived at the same time as our forefathers made every attempt to trace their ancestry back to heroes and gods. But we devote a whole book of the Torah to recount our emergence as a people out of slavery and oppression, a fact most other nations would hide in shame. It's our deep belief that the Almighty marked us for 210 years of slavery to teach us that we must understand slavery to comprehend redemption.
BUILDING A BETTER WORLD
As long as this memory is carved into our souls, the suffering of other people becomes meaningful to us as we protect the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the slaves. The matzah you bite into may look like just another cracker, but, in those ridges and slopes are the memories of a nation slaving in the sun, learning from the inside out the meaning of suffering and the pain of slavery. The faith of the Jewish people has been in remembering that degradation and never giving up hope; redemption is what we may be worthy of if we help eliminate slavery from the world.
There is a famous story about Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, who founded the Musar (ethics) movement in the 19th century. During one of Lithuanian's freezing winters, his yeshiva had no money to buy fuel and the students had to study in the numbing cold. Early one morning, dressed in a warm fur coat, Rabbi Yisroel went to the home of a wealthy but not very philanthropic householder. Still in his dressing gown, the man invited the rabbi in, but the sage remained in the doorway and, seemingly unaware, that the householder was shivering from the cold, began a lengthy Talmudic discourse.
The host's teeth were chattering and, before long, his lips had turned blue. Feeling that he was about to faint, the man finally interrupted the rabbi and persuaded him to come in. As they warmed themselves before the stove, Rabbi Yisroel continued, "I am sure that you are wondering about my strange conduct. The students are freezing, we need the money for fuel. If I had asked you to help while you were warm, you would not have even begun to understand what it means to study in an unheated room in subzero weather. Now that you felt what they feel, I am sure that you will help me." And indeed, the wealthy man provided fuel for the yeshiva as long as they lived.
Similarly, if we are to understand the message of Passover, we must identify personally and directly with the Jews who left Egypt, testifying that the great events of Jewish history happened to each of us, that they flow through our blood, and that we are one with our ancestors. Only through this total identification with the Jewish people can we ensure the historical continuation of our legacy from Sinai.
The inner-dynamic of Passover involves the transformation from slavery to freedom and freedom's relationship to speech.
Renaissance mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria reminded us that Pe-Sach, Hebrew for Passover, combines two words—Peh, meaning "mouth," and Sach, meaning "talk." 
Pe- Sach, therefore, means the mouth that talks. For the Rebbe of Slonim,  along with a host of other Hasidic mystics, redemption is identical with the emergence of
speech, reflecting a free mind and spirit.
The master of Slonim cites a stunning passage in the Zohar that describes the Egyptian slavery as the "exile of speech."  In Kabbalah, every biblical nation represents a different organ of the body. Egypt represents the throat.  You recall that the mystics read the Hebrew word "Egypt" literally, as meaning narrowness.  The throat, of course, is the narrow, constricted passage between the wide spaces of the heart and mind. The narrow throat, Egypt, thus symbolizes the exile of speech, with redemption coming with the birth of the word. In the retelling, you reclaim your story. But you must also find the voice you need to tell your story.
THE SILENCE OF SLAVERY
A complex passage in the Zohar,  cited extensively in many 19th-century mystical works, suggests that there are three distinct stages in the continuum from slavery to freedom. The first stage is silence. The second involves moving from silence to sound without speech. And the third is speech—with voice and articulated word.
In slavery, we are mute and dumb. Our daily routines deaden our sense of the injustice, and our passions atrophy.
In the biblical account, the people were silent in the first stage of exile in Egypt. The pain broke their spirits and they became mute—no longer able to even cry out, much less to express their injustices. We can all relate to that experience when, after a protracted argument, we are so worn down that we lack the strength to protest even the most blatant offenses.
Indeed, leprosy in the ancient world was considered horrible, and not just because it caused extreme disfigurement. That was only a side effect. The agent of the disease is a bacteria called Hansen's Bacillus, which destroys the nerve fibers carrying the sensation of pain. Thus, a person could continue walking on a broken leg and cause irreparable damage and further disfigurement—and even greater estrangement from the world at large.
To be numb to pain is to be prone to a deeper damage. The anesthetizing effect of unbearable agony (or apathy) can be the most devastating enemy of all. The biblical slaves were broken bones being pressed with burdens they could not hold—and their nerve endings went numb to the weight. Their enslavement was complete when they "lost their nerve" to act up, and to cry out.
FROM SILENCE TO SOUND
Freedom began with the emergence of voice, expressed both by the initial cry of the Israelite slaves that broke their silence, as well as by Moses' arrival.
"When Moses came, voice came," writes the Zohar.  Moses does what the charismatic revolutionary always does: he gives voice to the people.
Indeed, biblical account records the beginning of redemption with the words: "...It came to pass in that the King of Egypt died and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried out and their cry came up unto God."
The enslaved Israelites are received by the presence of God when they move from the dumb silence of the slave to sound of speech, the characteristic of a free people. This "cry" is not an elegantly articulated protest – it is a cry as in the cry of a wolf, or the cry of an infant. It is primal, impassioned, pre-civilized, a howl of protest that makes it into the halls of heaven, heard by God Himself.
For the first time, the enslaved can express distress. The biblical symbol for the transition from slavery to freedom is the primal blast of a ram's horn. No trumpet of gold, it is rather the rawness of the ram's horn that captures the slave's first fitful sounds. Freedom's beginnings are expressed in the first shouts of protest.
FROM SOUND TO WORD
In the third stage, voice gives birth to word. Now we can tell our story – to speak authentically with each other, to articulate clearly both our needs and our visions of a better world. The ability to speak – to converse is in this Zohar text the essence of redemption. "Messiah" in the original Hebrew is understood by the Kabbalists, quite astoundingly, to mean "conversation." Master Nachum of Chernobyl, mystic and philosopher, points out that the Hebrew word for messiah, Mashiach, can be understood as the Hebrew word Ma-siach – Messiah, meaning "from dialogue" or "of conversation."  His assertion radically implies that the Messiah is potentially present in every human conversation — every mutual act of voice-giving.
All conversation is sacred. The ability to have an honest face-to-face talk in which both sides are true to themselves, vulnerable and powerful at the same time, is messianic. Simply put, sacred conversation is the vessel that receives the light of Messiah. And so as the Seder concludes, we open the door to greet Elijah, harbinger of the Messiah and sacred conversation.
1 Isaac Luria. "Kitvei H'Ari," Shaar Ha'Cavanot, derush aleph, 79 column 2. See also "Peri Eitz Chaim," Shaar Hag HaMatzot, pg. 104, column 4.
2 See Netivot Shalom, Volume 2, section on Passover, essay 7. See also, for example, Baal Shem Tov on the Torah, Shmot section 20. There the Besht sites Luria in terms of Daat B'Galut. The source of the Besht is most probably Zohar Vaera, 25b discussed below. See also Baal Shem Tov, Bereshit 102 and Baal Shem "Amud HaTefillah" 99. In the first source, he talks about the role of dibbur as the vivifying force of spirit and in the second source he links dibbur more explicitly with the Exodus story. See also Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Tradition, 1978. R. Soloveitchik essentially reformulates the same ideas found in the Hassidic masters, albeit with a more overtly existential intonation. I have adopted some of his nomenclature. In general, it would not be inaccurate to say that R. Solovetchik draws heavily on core insights from Hassidut, particularly but not only Habad, and recasts them in existential molding.
4 An association often made by the Hassidic masters, based on the Lurianic readings of Mitzrayim as constriction and narrowness.
5 Isaac Luria "Kitvei HaAri" Shaar HaCavanot, derush aleph, 99 column 2.
6 See Zohar, Vaera 25b
8 Me'or Enayim, Parashat Pinchas.
OUR PROMISE FOR TOMORROW
"JOIN a community, by which alone WORK can be made UNIVERSAL and ETERNAL..." – Samson Raphael Hirsch
Since its inception nearly three years ago, United Jewish Communities (UJC) has embodied the hopes, dreams, and passions of Jews worldwide, dedicated to the strengthening of Jewish peoplehood, community-building, and unity.
Today, we can make these goals a reality on a scale no previous generation could have dreamed. Our generation is blessed to live in a time—for the first time in Jewish history—when we can keep the promise to every Jew in the world.
The goals of UJC and its member federations and independent communities reflect a new conception of the needs of the Jewish people in the 21st century. They embrace a seamless global approach to Jewish caring, community-building, and solidarity—one that represents the best of what our system has always offered but which applies new strategic grounding to our mission.
We are building a stronger, more compelling Jewish community that will attract our people's best and brightest minds.
Our organization's values, objectives, and goals drive our desire to educate our youth, to hold sacred our traditions, and build with our people a true global Kehilla.
KEEPING OUR COMMUNITY VIBRANT, OUR HERITAGE STRONG
For generations, our federated system has engaged in a collaborative effort—one in which the community at large acts to assure the well-being of individuals and families. Today, this effort not only reflects the highest expression of Jewish values, but strengthens our ability to address our community's most pressing challenges.
Indeed, few systems match the breadth and depth of the services our federated and independent communities provide each day. That depth is made possible by the close cooperation of our local, national, and overseas agencies, which share resources and expertise, as well as interact to enhance the quality of life for millions of Jews. From Manhattan to Moldavia, from Buenos Aires to Beersheva, our agencies and beneficiaries house the homeless, feed the hungry, protect the abused, help emotionally and physically disabled people, and provide frail elderly people with healthcare and security.
CHILL WINDS OF FREEDOM
However impressive our achievements and successes, they confer no privileges when confronting terrorism, anti-Semitism, and other acts of hatred directed against Jews.
This is evident than in our community's support and solidarity for Israel's struggle for peace and security. More than a half-century after its rebirth, Israel faces a bitter war of attrition whose goal is to question her legitimacy.
That's why our Israel and overseas goals stress Israel's centrality to world Jewish life by: organizing solidarity missions; and conducting a continental Israel Now and Forever initiative that focuses on education and advocacy in North America and seeks added revenue for expanded educational and human-service programs in Israel.
Israel's most important natural resource is its people, especially new immigrants from countries of distress. That means supporting programs and assistance to help Israel absorb successfully some 75,000 Jews whom we have helped rescue from Ethiopia over the past decade. The goal is to give them the special education and job training they need to become productive and self-sufficient.
In the former Soviet Union, we will continue to work with our overseas partners to fight the twin evils of poverty and hunger among Jews. We're assisting elderly men and women who survived both Nazism and Communism but who now struggle to survive freedom—inadequate food, medicine, housing, or clothing. We are extending other types of assistance to the thousands of former Soviet Jews who have made North America their home and need help experiencing the American dream.
With economic and political chaos threatening the stability of Argentina's once vibrant Jewish community, we must ensure that Israel has an adequate infrastructure for quickly absorbing this population should conditions deteriorate further.
RESTORING A RENAISSANCE
We now have an unprecedented opportunity to focus our resources, energies, and talents on creating a golden age of Jewish culture.
We are reaching out to children and families with programs that: strengthen their identity; help college students and other young adults recognize the value of their Jewish heritage and make positive choices for their future; and enable our youth to experience the power of Jewish life through innovative synagogue programs, Jewish day schools, camps, social action activities, and Israel trips.
We want to extend our heritage-building efforts to Central and Eastern Europe where Jewish life is reemerging. In Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, Moscow, and Bratislava, in hundreds of towns and villages from the Baltic to the Black Sea, we are working to help Jewish communities come together in a kind of continental minyan.
The commitment of our member federations and independent communities is to ensure Jewish continuity and see to the welfare of Jews everywhere. Making good on this promise in the face of rapid global and philanthropic change requires that we, as a people, continually change and grow.
It means ensuring that no member feels left out That's where our vision pays huge human dividends—carrying out programs and initiatives that give our friends and supporters—and the millions who depend on us— not only a place in our shared history, but a chance to
Why is this night different from all other nights? Most of all because it provokes us to question our cherished notions and beliefs to discover if slavery and oppression have
somewhat crept in.
Unless we strenuously interrogate ourselves throughout the eight days of Pesach, we will have let the Seder lapse into another pleasant but meaningless ritual. At the Seder, we must tell our own story, our own experience. Telling the story of others is not enough.
We must relieve slavery and freedom, and we must question our values. We must understand the narrow distinction that separates hametz from matzah and arbitrariness that turns hametz from permitted into forbidden. We must be seared by the knowledge that we were slaves in Egypt. We must know that we rejoiced at the sea when our enemies drowned, and yet to know that the Torah commands, "Do not abhor the Egyptian for you were a stranger..." Until we can accept the alien outside of us, we will not be ready to accept the alien within.
How do we treat the other people in our lives? How many have we helped trap in stereotypes of their personalities ("Oh, she's a barrel of laughs." Or "He's really a facile guy."), thus forcing them to play roles as, i.e. "the jester," "the intellectual," and "the unemotional?" How do we treat those over whom we have authority-our employees, our children? Do we use it as a power trip? How do we feel about those outside our community- the racial minorities and the foreigner? Do we remember that we, too, were once strangers and slaves in the land of Egypt? How do we serve God? Is it a service of the heart, or has it become idolatry?
The importance of questioning explains the central role of children at the Seder. Young and naïve, they ask the basic questions, the ones we thought long settled or the ones so challenging to fundamentalists that we could never risk asking them. The contrast, then, is clear between the wise child of the Haggadah and the wicked.
'WISE' VS 'WICKED'
The wise child asks, "What are these laws, statutes, ordinances which God commanded?" That is, what is the purpose of these laws? We are told to answer by explaining all the Passover laws from beginning to end in order that we understand why we are obeying them. Explaining to the children is as much for our benefit as for theirs.
The wicked child asks, "What is this service to you?" For this child, Pesach has become avodah - slavery; even avodat hashem - the service of God- has become a burdensome task. There are those who think all of Judaism is a meaningless ritual. There is also the wicked child who is so complacent in having perfectly cleaned the stove or having bought "kosher for Passover" potato chips that he or she does not know that his/her avodah has changed from service to the slavery of rote ritual. Therefore, we are told to answer either type of wicked child by slapping the complacent fool and proclaiming that this child would not have survived the purging process of Egypt and would have remained a slave to a pharaoh of his/her own creation.
We should finally locate each of these questioning children in ourselves. As Maimonides states, "If he has no child, then let his wife ask him (the Four Questions); if he has no wife, then let one person ask the other, even if they are all sages. If he is alone, then he asks himself, "Why is this night different?"
Pesach is a wonderful time to be together as one Jewish family, our symbols with our actions, our ritual with our ethics.
We recall springtime as we eat the green vegetable Karpas.
May we remember that it symbolizes a renewal of nature and the human spirit.
We recall our people's tears and suffering as we dip into the saltwater.
May we remember our people's past oppressions and care for those in Israel, Argentina and other lands, who still have tears and pain.
We recall the bitterness of slavery as we eat the Maror.
May we remember the plight of the poor and the downtrodden and alleviate their distress.
We recall our servitude to Pharaoh as we eat the Matzah, the bread of affliction.
May we remember God's redemption of our people and how Matzah became the first food eaten in freedom.
Pesach is a beloved holiday, not only because we recall our freedom, but also because we share our concerns for all in need. We cannot only taste the foods. We have to remember our responsibilities as Jews to reach out and assist others with our tzedakah, our charitable obligations, and through our gemilut hasadim, our acts.
Let us now take the middle Matzah and divide it in half. As we break this Matzah
and set it aside, we link ourselves symbolically with all Jews throughout the world,
especially those in troubled lands and those who were broken from the community
of Israel for so long and have only recently rejoined Klal Yisrael, in Israel.
Our Seder meal will not conclude until the missing piece of Matzah is found and returned to the table. The Matzah, when restored, shows the desire of our people to be together as one, at peace. As Jews, we are a people of sacred fragments; we need help from God to bond together in everlasting unity.
These symbols and rituals at the Seder reconnect us to our sacred past, remind us of our Divine mission, and challenge us to create a future of wholeness for Jews the world over.
We all know the geopolitical importance of having our own State. After 2,000 years in the diaspora, whether living in Israel or not, we have our own country. Nations are defined as people with their own language and territory. We had a common history and heritage that made us a people. We had a language that was used for study and worship –but we lacked the basic element of our own land. For 54 years we have been celebrating this important milestone. That made us a "normal" nation again.
What is the religious significance of Yom Ha'atzmaut? Some celebrate it with special religious services, saying Hallel (with or without a blessing) and yet others celebrate it as a secular holiday, including fireworks that mirror independence day celebrations in most of the Western world.
GENERATIONS DRAWN TO HOLY LAND
But even the most secular Jew, whether in or outside Israel, should stop and think about the spiritual significance this relatively small area of land has had for our people for so many centuries. This, together with the history that transpired here, is ultimately what made our ancestors choose to come back here and eventually establish a modern state.
I'd like to bring to your attention two sources that reflect modern Israel's significance:
1) Tanhuma Kedoshim, section 10: "Just as the navel is set in the middle of a person, so the land of Israel is the navel of the world...The land of Israel sits at the center of the world; Jerusalem is in the center of the land of Israel; the sanctuary [Beit Hamikdash] is in the center of Jerusalem..."
2) Sifrei Deuteronomy, Piska 152: " Then shalt thou arise, and get thee up (17:8): This shows that the Land of Israel is higher than all other lands, and that the Temple is higher than all the Land of Israel." Rabbi David Kimhi (ca. 1160-1235) further develops this idea. In his commentaries he includes Jerusalem as the highest place in the land of Israel and the Holy Temple as the highest place within Jerusalem.
Here are two metaphors by which you can picture Israel—Jerusalem and the Temple as concentric circles or as the most elevated city and country, whose peak is the Holy Temple.
The most poignant expression of this centrality is the daily prayer with its orientation to the land of Israel.
One of the sources addressing this subject is Sifrei Deuteronomy, Piska 29: ‘Get thee up' [Deuteronomy 3:27]. This was the source of the saying , ‘Those who are outside the land must face toward the land of Israel when they pray... Those who are in the Land of Israel must face towards Jerusalem when they pray... Those who are in Jerusalem must face towards the Temple when they pray... Those who are within the Temple must direct their hearts towards the Holy of Holies when they pray...'
Thus, those that are in the north must face the south, those in the south must face the north, those in the east must face the west, those in the west must face the east; thus all Israel will pray towards the same place."
This obligation makes us think about the direction of Israel, Jerusalem, or the Temple three or more (on Rosh Hodesh and the holidays) times a day, especially if we are not in the place where we habitually pray. Synagogues are built with that orientation and Jews everywhere must pause and ponder regarding this issue before they pray. In this way, as the Midrash says "all Israel will pray towards the same place," we are united daily with our brethren throughout the globe.
Nahmanides (1194-1270) is known for his opinion that living in Israel is a separate mitzvah and included it in his list of 613 commandments. Maimonides (1138-1204) didn't consider it a separate mitzvah, but felt it allowed Jews to observe the land–related mitzvot and aided in the fulfillment of mitzvot.
I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere, celebrating Passover in the fall and asking for rain in the summer (I lived in a country where it rained all year round.) It was vividly clear to me that I wasn't meant to be observing these commandments there; it was never exactly fitting. Yet I knew that what I was observing was linked to an existing reality, connecting me to Israel.
As a woman rabbi living in Israel, sometimes I really don't feel in the center of the world, sometimes things seem downright primitive and not spiritual at all. And yet, living in northern Jerusalem, I look out of my window to the south and see the Temple Mount and find myself so close to that little spot that our sages visualized as the navel of the world and as the highest place in the world.
My wish for Yom Ha'atzmaut is for Jews worldwide to discover the centrality of Israel, the importance of being sovereign, and having our own state. This way not only can we be strong and independent in the commonwealth of nations, but we can also relive our spiritual heritage daily, connecting us to our ancestors and our coreligionists and transmitting a sense of unity.
No doubt we will observe July 4th this year a little differently. There will be little of the complacency that so defined American life for a half-century.
Neither will flags and fireworks suffice on Israel's Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Apr.l7-Iyar5)—as she struggles to cope with the second intifada, the anti-Semitic hostility that came out of last year's Durban Conference, as well as the challenges that have followed 9/ll.
For these are critical times when nations must articulate and reaffirm the basic principles on which their independence is based and for which they stake their lives.
Israel's founding documents precede l948—and even l776 and l787. Indeed, her basic principles are first expressed in the Torah, in the lore and law of her founding father and mother, Abraham and Sarah. They were not only the first "Jews," but also the first Zionists, whose life stories point the way for their descendants 4000 years later.
Leaving the Mesopotamian center of civilization, Abraham and Sarah journey to the hills and desert of today's Israel not only for their own good ("lech lecha") but also for the welfare of others.
More specifically, the Torah juxtaposes the divine promise to Abraham of nationhood and land (reiterated to Isaac, to Jacob, and to the children of Israel) with the remarkable charge that "all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you." In fact, the Torah's most-repeated commandment to the Israelites is the just treatment of the stranger and the weak—the lesson learned from their own Egyptian servitude and redemption.
In the Torah, the God who creates heaven and earth and humankind in God's image proceeds to "assign" different portions of the earth to different peoples. The land of Canaan is particularly holy; God has a special relationship to it and requires moral behavior of its inhabitants. Today the Jewish people and her sister monotheistic faiths share this spiritual attachment to the Holy Land and the awesome responsibility to prevent violence from undermining its holiness.
Indeed, through the narratives of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs we see adumbrated the basic principles of life in the Holy Land. The Land belongs to God, who is the ultimate king, the Lord of the land; Abraham and Sarah and their descendants will be God's stewards and partners. We can view the stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs as modeling this relationship for later sovereign periods. In these stories we read of the resolution of conflict and the achieving of amicable relations with neighbors, the sharing of the land, and the teaching of respect for the One God of all humanity.
Thus underlies God's expectation that the descendants of Abraham and Sarah will fulfill "the way of the Lord, doing justice and righteousness." This basic principle is eloquently expressed by the prophet Isaiah: "nation shall not lift up sword against nation" and "Zion will be redeemed by justice and they that return to her in righteousness."
Modern Israel, in its Declaration of Independence, reflects these values: the ingathering of the exiles to establish a Jewish-democratic state; the yearning for peace and willingness to compromise to achieve it, along with the determination to defend itself; the hope to become "a light to the nations" in wisdom and behavior; to bring the blessings of equal rights and progress to all its inhabitants, and to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with neighboring and other nations.
Alas, from the stories of Genesis, as well as from sad experience, we know that violence and conflict continues. But the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs give hope and inspiration that the belief in one God may yet unite and succur succeeding generations.
When Abraham died, we are told by the Torah that both his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried their father together. Rashi suggests that the contentedness with which Abraham went to his death was occasioned by his seeing both sons, who had to be separated in their lives, together at his bedside.
It seems that Isaac and Ishmael today share only destruction and death. But the Torah commands us to "choose life, so that you and your children may live." This then is our fervent hope and prayer for next year's 55th Yom Ha-Atzmaut: that Isaac and Ishmael may celebrate life together in tribute to and emulation of their common father: Abraham/Ibrahim, the Biblical and Koranic "friend of God."
May we all be blessed with a Yom Ha-Atzmaut Sameach.
We will never understand the mind of a Hitler, nor unravel the secret of what causes a person to become an arch-murderer. But what about the many people who followed Hitler—Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians— in carrying out atrocities against their Jewish neighbors?What caused loving husbands and fathers, many of them regular churchgoers to do such things?
You may be familiar with the Millgram experiments at Yale some years ago. Dr. Stanley Millgram, a psychologist at Yale, designed an experiment on obedience to authority. He conscripted several dozen volunteers to allegedly assist him in an experiment in negative reinforcement.
He told them, "Do you see that man in the chair with the wires hooked up to him? He's been studying this material. I'm going to ask him questions about it, and every time he gives a wrong answer, you press this button and you'll give him an electric shock. If he keeps on giving wrong answers, I'll turn up the current and you'll deliver a stronger shock."
Millgram then added, "If at any point, you're not comfortable doing this, just say so, get up, and walk out. I don't want you doing this unless you're comfortable with it."
A WAR OF CONSCIENCE
In truth, the man in the chair was an actor, and the volunteers were the real subjects of the experiment. Millgram wanted to find out whether an ordinary man or woman off the street would be willing to inflict pain on a total stranger whom they had no reason to hate, just because someone in authority instructed them. He hoped that they would not but almost all of them did. The actor in the chair would scream, "Please stop, you're hurting me, I can't take this any more." And Dr. Millgram would say, "Hit the button, this is the point of the whole experiment," and most of his subjects did.
Millgram's concluded: "Now I understand how good Germans became Nazis. They had been raised to obey authority. They may have said to themselves, ‘It doesn't seem right to me, but he must have a good reason for it. If it's really not right, the sin is on his head, not mine."
For many years, I believed that Dr. Millgram was right, that training people to obey authority to have a stable society set them up to obey the Nazi officers who told them to round up the Jews of their town and murder them. Last May, I decided he was wrong.
Last May, my wife and I traveled to Lithuania and Belarus to visit the towns in which our parents were born. We saw the killing fields outside Vilna and Kovno. We read eyewitness accounts by participants, survivors, and bystanders. We saw the photographs taken by the Nazis. And I realized that what these Lithuanian and Ukrainian people did was more than obedience. There was a glee, a sense of abandonment at being given permission not only to kill Jews but to humiliate them in the process, to strip them naked, and make them dig their own graves.
Why did they respond that way? Sometimes, too often, the normal human craving for significance metastasizes into a wish to dominate another human being. Especially someone who has never tasted power over another finds that experience dangerously addictive. That may be why marginal farmers, anonymous clerks, browbeaten husbands relished the opportunity to exercise the power of life and death over people who were generally wealthier and better educated than they.
Who is the schoolyard bully? What sort of man beats his wife and hits his children? Is it the man who feels powerless in the other circumstances of his life and cannot resist exercising power over someone weaker than he?
Maybe we cannot prevent another Hitler. But there are things we can do to minimize the number of people who will follow him because he promises to feed their craving for power over others. Beyond asking religion to teach everyone that certain things are always wrong, we can ask religious institutions to teach everyone that they are important, that each of us is a unique child of God, that we don't have to commit a crime to know that we can change society.
There is holiness in the synagogue that treats each member as if he or she was the most important person in town; that makes them feel special, because they are special in the sight of God; and because people who are taught to think of themselves that way will not become collaborators with evil.
Excuse me for speaking about something happy. I realize how important it is for us, on Yom HaShoah, to remember the tragedies of the Holocaust. We are fortunate to live in a time and place where most people are blessed with abundance, peace, and prosperity. It is extremely important for people who have been brought up in such comfort to learn about the horrors of the Shoah, so they will not become complacent and insensitive, fated to repeat history's lessons.
However, I am different. For me, a part of every day is Yom Hashoah. Ever since I was child, when I found out that my grandparents were murdered during the Holocaust, the Shoah has been a constant companion.
For me, the question isn't whether I will remember the Shoah, but whether I can remember anything else. When I think about the Shoah, I am enveloped in darkness. In my mind, there are times that even celebrations of redemption, like Purim and Passover, seem pointless. At my Seder, I sometimes think about the unasked fifth question: why were the six million not redeemed?
A MOTHER'S HOPE
I said I had something happy to say. There is a Jewish tradition, that even at the saddest moments, there is the faint echo of rejoicing. (For this reason we omit the tachanun prayer at a shiva home, as though it were a holiday.)
In my life, piercing through the darkness of the Shoah, there was one light: my mother, Rochel Steinmetz.
Like many Hungarian Jews, my mother was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. She survived the concentration camps together with her sisters, although her father and much of her extended family did not. After the war, like many survivors, she was determined to rebuild. Like many survivors, my mother understood the importance of kedushat hachaim, the sanctity of life. Like many survivors, she worked hard to ensure that her children and grandchildren would have good lives; lives filled with laughter, happiness, and love.
Even though she returned from the hell of Auschwitz,she clung to her faith in a better future. Even though she had seen the most awful and negative events in human history, she made certain I had a positive view of the world and a positive outlook on life. For this I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude.
FROM ASHES ARISE NEW LIFE
Yom Hashoah is the saddest day on the Jewish calender, or perhaps, to express it more precisely, the saddest day on any calender. We gather to mourn and memorialize the six million, and to inform future generations of the Shoah. It is a day of intense sadness.
But in the distance, I can hear a faint echo of rejoicing, the voices of survivors who have rebuilt families, homes, and communities. As we remember the tragedy of the Shoah, we must also remember the epilogue to this disaster, the determination of the survivors and the miracle of rebuilding.
The Bible is a book pointed toward a destination. From the moment that Adam and Eve are exiled from Eden, we realize that the story is "u" shaped, bracketed, set with Eden on one side, and Israel on the other. The Bible, ultimately, is a tale about losing home, and seeking it again.
However, when the Torah is finished, the Israelites are still in the desert. At the chanting of the end of Deuteronomy, the expected ending has not taken place. We are still wanderers. Perhaps this is the Torah's way of saying that the perfect home, the one free of pain and strife, does not exist in this world.
The sense of being temporary dwellers wove its way into Jewish custom. It is an ancient practice to leave a corner of one's home unpainted as a reminder that we are not permanently at home. The customary conclusion of the Passover Seder "next year in Jerusalem" is another way of insisting that home is still elusive.
HOME TAKES MULTIPLE FORMS
Wandering is partly a geographical condition. If you do not fit with the culture — not speak the language — then you are not home. These are the trials deliberately assumed by those who took on "voluntary exile," common among the mussar students of the 19th century. They would wander from place to place, begging, denying themselves the reassurance of home. But geography is but one feature of home.
What is a home? In Robert Frost's marvelous definition, "home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
Israel is a national home in just this sense. For centuries, no place felt compelled to take Jews in. We were at the whim of others. Now, we have a home.
But if geography were all, once we set foot in Israel, we would be home. Yet in Jerusalem itself, upon ending the Seder, we do not say "next year, here at home." Instead we say "Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem." It is our traditional way of acknowledging the ambiguity in our worldly home. It is not as we wish.
Perhaps that is why home is always most powerful in memory or in dreams. The home that was and the home that will one day beckon us.
As the Chofetz Chaim said: "the trip is never too hard, if you are going home."
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