UJC Chair of the Board
Morton B. Plant
UJC Chair of the Executive Committee
Stephen H. Hoffman
UJC President and CEO
From the UJC President and Chair of the Board
Robert Goldberg, Chair of the Board, and Stephen H. Hoffman, President & CEO
Rabbi as Kaddish
Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, D.Min.
Anticipating the Four Questions
Rabbi Bennett F. Miller, D.Min.
Spring Cleaning for the Soul
Rabbi David Booth
Four Other Questions
Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Finding New Meaning in Old Traditions
Rabbi Bonita E. Taylor and Rabbi David J. Zucker
The Fifth Child
Rabbi Kassel Abelson
Why Matzah and Maror
Hazzan Richard Wolberg
Two Critical Commandments
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein
Guided By the Pillar of Cloud and Pillar Of Fire
Rabbi Shmuel Werzberger, Z"L
Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana
The Measure of Life
Rabbi Solomon Gordon, Z"L
Make Today Count
Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, Z"L
Praying After the Shoah
Rabbi Binny Freedman
An Eternal People
Rabbi Abraham J. Feldman, Z"L
The Bespoke Code
Rabbi Jacob J. Weinstein Z"L
A Tale of Two Mountains
Rabbi Alfred S. Cohen
Rabbi Fishel A. Pearlmutter, Z"L
Zikaron and Atzmaut
Rabbi Noam E. Marans
Make Passover Preparations a Priority
Rabbi David Pinkwasser
The mission of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet is to unite rabbis of all ideologies in the work of kiyum ha'uma and tzedakah, acquaint and involve the North American rabbinate with the goals and activities of UJC, and bring the talents, resources and perspectives of the rabbinate to UJC and its UJA-Federation Annual Campaign.
The cabinet serves as the rabbinic arm of UJC, the major agency of North American Jewry for tzedakah. It promotes the unity of the Jewish people in its 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 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-Federation 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 federations and 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 $1,000 to the Annual Campaign.
4. Participate in a UJC mission.
5. Attend the Annual Meeting of the Rabbinic Cabinet and/or regional conferences and special meetings.
Is it a coincidence that the first observance of our Jewish national consciousness -- Pesach – should occur in the same season as our celebration of modern Jewish sovereignty -- Yom Ha'atzma'ut? Every year at this time we retell our ancient story. At the Passover Seder we attempt to relive the ordeals we experienced in Egypt, prior to the Exodus, the redemption and the great revelation at Mt. Sinai. We continue this tradition with our modern story, remembering the ordeals of the Holocaust when we observe Yom Hashoah, and honoring the sacrifices of the present day on Yom Hazikaron, just before we celebrate Israel's independence.
Our people may struggle, suffer and face many dark moments and challenges, but we prevail. Our ancient covenant with the Almighty is always operating. Yes, we may stray. Yes, others may seek to impede or even stop us, but if we are true to our traditions, steeped in the teachings of the Torah, we look forward to a brighter future.
Our teachers, our rabbis, have the challenge of helping us understand how all this works in our lives today. As we look around we seek to understand the responsible use of modern Jewish power, how we use it to provide help where needed, and how we use it when we need to defend ourselves. We remain humbled by the resilience of our modern Jewish state, even as we recognize the importance of our continued support in these troubled times. We marvel at the Jewish rebirth we are witnessing in the former Soviet Union, even as we are called upon to provide for the basic needs of its elderly. And we are challenged in Argentina, as we watch a once thriving Jewish community struggle to get back on its feet.
Here in North America, it has never been easier to be a Jew. And yet, perhaps more than ever before, we need our educated leadership to help guide us in life. The results of the National Jewish Populations Survey 2000-1 confirm that in the U.S., while more of us than ever are taking part in Jewish experiences like adult education, there is also an increase in alienation and assimilation. How do we reconcile these extremes? Our federation movement, working closely with our rabbis and congregations, provides our people with a way to address these challenges physically and spiritually.
Together, may we go from strength to strength.
Many years ago I shared with my dear father-in-law my willingness one day to be his kaddish'l. He never asked me, but I could tell by his reassuring nod that he appreciated my offer to one day say Kaddish for him, considering that he was an Orthodox Jew and the father of two daughters. He also was a liberal person and considered that his daughters should say Kaddish for him when they could, as well.
Sadly, a few months ago, I began to fulfill the promise I made many years ago. After eight years of fighting, the prostate cancer that attacked him was victorious and this man, who was truly the wind in my sails and a powerful loving presence in our family, surrendered. Now three times a day I run to minyan and often I reflect on the gift that I feel he had given me, the opportunity to show loyalty to the traditions that were so dear to him.
Considering the amount of traveling that I do in my job, there have been days when I have davened Nusach Ashkenaz at Shacharit, Nusach Sefard at Minchah, and Nusach Ari at Maariv, in three different places. Although I have been a rabbi for 19 years, I never have been so aware of the differences of nuschaot, especially in the words of the Kaddish.
The Kaddish has always been the prayer of transition, inserted by the rabbis in various places within the liturgy to separate the major sections of the service. Moving from one part of the service to another invokes a sense of change, and reminds us of those emotionally fearful times when we face the unknown.
Mourners are also in transition, between a time when they could experience the physical and emotional presence of the loved one and a time when they recognize the impact of loss. Reciting Kaddish provides a sense of order in the whirlwind of psychological and spiritual chaos. Recognizing God's presence, stating it aloud and publicly within community, we articulate a hope that the feelings of chaos will subside and a sense of God's protective care will envelop us.
In many ways, a rabbi is like the Kaddish, with a role to play in moments of transition. When I served congregations, I was often the first to be called by a family seeking help after a tragedy or announcing a simcha. All rabbis are called upon in these moments of transition by congregants, because they perceive us as experts in helping them through transitional moments. We provide a safe and reassuring presence in the time of fear of the unknown future.
As rabbis, we need to assert that presence within our local communities as the larger community faces moments of transition. Like the Kaddish -- which trumpets God's
redemptive role in the world, reassuring us that even in the face of chaos, God is present and powerful -- we rabbis have a responsibility to publicly articulate vision and leadership. What was compelling and motivating in the past is often considered uninspiring today. New paradigms need to be explored and new ideas tried to energize the next generation. However obvious that may seem, fear of the unknown future often retards new exploration.
Rabbis need to lead and inspire. With confidence in our commitment to a creative Jewish future, we need to reassure our communities, fearful of change, of our faith in the future. We are the reassuring presence in transition; our presence and our actions, like the Kaddish, will point our people to the path to redemption.
Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, D.Min., UJC Director of Religious and Educational Activities, directs the Rabbinic Cabinet.
Soon we will gather around the Seder table and share in the reading of the Haggadah with all of its interpretations and meaning. No other event on our calendar holds such power, for Pesach and its meaning represent our people's encounter with history, our struggle with tyranny and freedom, and our commitment to a world in which all are free. Through readings, customs and ceremony, through songs and conversation (and even good wine) we discuss and reflect upon our people's past and the fate of our people's future. I cannot think of a year, when sitting at the Seder table, that we did not discuss the contemporary issues of the day with our people's historical encounter with reality as its backdrop. I have no doubt that this year, we will do so again.
That moment when the child asks four questions is always a pregnant one. Who will the child be this year? What is the symbolic meaning of this youngster as he or she begins to utter the sacred words? What power possesses and overwhelms parents and grandparents as the child utters those first words "Mah Nishtanah....?" I cannot think of a more dramatic moment in time, for it symbolically represents a historic moment for the child, for the family, and for our people. It declares the nature of how the child takes on the future of the Jewish people, it determines the role that parents and grandparents play as our people's story continues to unfold, and it celebrates our connection of future to past.
I want to suggest that this year we add a new custom to that moment. This year we should ask the child (all of the children) four questions. If it is fair for them to ask us important questions then we should have the honor to ask questions of them and they should have the privilege to respond. And here are the four questions I offer to the children:
• Since you now sit with us at this Seder table, does it mean that you came out of Egypt with Moses with the rest of us, and if so, for what purpose? (in children's language: Why did God bring you out of Egypt with Moses and the Children of Israel?)
• How will you help to strengthen the Jewish people in carrying out its mission to become "a light unto the nations?" (SInce you stood at Mt. Sinai and heard the Divine word, what responsibilities do you have?)
• In what way will you help to make sure that Israel and its people remain a part of your life and that each day the promise given to our ancestors unfolds into reality? (Since you crossed over the Jordan and celebrated entering the Promised Land and do you connect yourself to Israel's future?)
• How will your daily actions serve to insure our people's future? (Do you want to be a part of the Jewish people's future and what will do to make it a great future?)
Tough Questions? First they must be answered by each of us and then translated in such a way that our children can understand them. They are no different than the traditional four questions for each of them is not about some simple custom or ceremony that they observe. Behind each question is a much larger one, a more fundamental one, that asks (no, it demands an answer) a powerful response from every one of us at the Seder table. For these questions force us to ponder the meaning of our people's past, our present, and our future.
Rabbi Bennett F. Miller, D.Min, Chair of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet, is rabbi of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick, N.J.
My dresser drawers regularly accumulate disorder. From time to time, I take out all my socks, shirts and other clothing and then fold and organize them. For a few shining weeks my dresser is a marvel of order and efficiency. However, entropy quickly overwhelms my good intentions. Shirts are wrinkled again. Socks once again have made their way up to the exercise clothing drawer.
It's my normal state of laziness that I don't bother to keep the drawer organized. After my initial round of cleaning, the mess again accumulates. This time of year, as we thoroughly clean our house of hametz, of leavened items, I am encouraged to get things organized. It's divinely ordained spring cleaning.
Passover stands halfway between last Yom Kippur and next Yom Kippur. I remember last Yom Kippur, being clothed in white and fulfilling the symbolism of Isaiah, "I will make you white like the driven snow." I felt clean and pure at the conclusion of the fast. I intended a true return to God.
Now, six months later, I can see the results. Some of my behaviors changed, while in other areas, I remain on the wrong path. Further, as much as I have grown in positive ways, I have also picked up some negative behaviors that hurt people. If I am honest with myself, it's not just my dresser drawers that have accumulated disorder. It's not just behind my refrigerator and underneath the couch that need to be cleaned.
Rabbi Moses Luzzato hints at the necessity of leaving aside hametz in "The Way of God":
Leaven is a natural element of bread, making it more desirable and filled with flavor. This is symbolic of the human condition, since humans must have an evil urge and an inclination towards the physical. However, at certain times, Israel was required to abstain from leaven and be nourished by matzah. This reduces the strength of the individual's evil inclination, thus enhancing his closeness to the physical.
For Luzzato, hametz is a symbolic of the evil urge.
Maimonides in Sefer HaMitzvot similarly notes that hametz is almost never offered on the altar. For him, it symbolizes that which does not belong, which keeps us away from God's service. Prior to Passover, we try to cleanse our souls of the evil that has accumulated theresince Yom Kippur.
On Yom Kippur, we struggle with the evil in our lives and strive to turn our lives around to God. Passover reminds us of the sins that are like crumbs -- the ordinary irritants and evil we bring into the world. And just as Yom Kippur challenges us to turn our lives around, Pesach asks us to clean out those little impurities and out-of-place behaviors.
That is the hametz in my soul. I never look there -- I willfully fail to notice. And so the hametz accumulates. The pristine beauty of the soul given to me by God gradually becomes polluted, not because I am imperfect but because I fail to clean up the mess that accumulates.
During the week before Pesach, we are all busy cleaning our homes and preparing for our sedarim. It's worthwhile to find a few moments to examine our souls, as well. While we struggle to get our houses in order, I pray all of us are inspired to similarly get our souls in order.
Rabbi David Booth, Temple Beth Torah, Ocean, N.J.
Every Passover, the Haggadah says, I should feel as if I, personally, were being liberated from Egypt. That is always the point of the liberation saga: it is my story. I am becoming free. Therefore, I ask myself four questions.
First Question: Free from what?
The Hebrew for "Egypt" is Mitzrayim, which is a pun -- it means "narrow place." Each year at Passover time, I become a little more free; each year I leave that narrow place that is now too small for me. Mitzrayim, "the narrow place," is also meant to evoke the birth narrows. Freedom is always a rebirth.
Second Question: When does my freedom begin?
R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev asked this question. I might think it begins with leaving Egypt. But here's another way to pose the question: Who made it possible for me to become free? Who taught me to resist the easier way of complacency? Who taught me to dream, who taught me that I could transform and be transformed? Who is part of my freedom chain?
Third Question: What is freedom?
It is written that the Torah was given in the third month after leaving Egypt. The Midrash plays with the word chodesh, which in Hebrew is related to chidush, meaning "something new." That's the form that my freedom takes: every year, I move into something new, a place I haven't yet been. How do I know I have achieved some measure of freedom? Not because I have crossed the border and passed out of Egypt into the wilderness, but because I have learned something new.
Asking the two questions -- when does freedom begin, and how do I know I have
acquired freedom -- focuses my notion of freedom from something that I do or don't have and emphasizes the process, re-envisioning the liberation saga from a story of arrival to a story about a journey.
Fourth Question: What interferes with the freedom journey?
I put out the hametz, all the leavened food, from my life for this journey. What is this hametz that I remove from my life during Pesach? Anything inflatable, all the aspects of self that prevent God: self aggrandizement, narcissism. There is no room for God in a person too full of self (Baal Shem Tov). I get, in a word, humble.
We call humility bittul, which means suppression of self. Less self, more Other -- this is the emerging Jewish spirituality. When I eat matzah, that substance of no hametz, I am reminded that hametz takes me away from God.
Fifth Question (in Chassidut, there is always a hidden fifth concept): So, what is my response to the gift of freedom? Gratitude, because it was a gift. Humility, because I didn't make it happen.
Rabbi James Stone Goodman, Congregation Neve Shalom and the Central Reform
Congregation, St. Louis, Mo.
At Passover, we experience our Haggadah as a living document. While we interact with history through ceremonial acts and ritual foods, we also engage the present. For thousands of our Jewish elderly, who will participate in the Seder in the context of a continuum of care/retirement center, Passover both figuratively and literally "tastes" differently. Among other details, residents in their 80's and 90's (or more) who have suffered physical and emotional losses may listen to "youngsters" in their 70's reciting the fier kashes.
For many of our elders, these four questions -- really four explanations -- reflect a new reality.
The first question/explanation centers upon matzah/unleavened bread. By its very nature, matzah is brittle. Most, if not all of our elders, can relate personally to the brittleness of matzah. Many are stricken with osteoporosis and endure its effects. Yet that is not the whole story. When we say motzi over matzah, we bless God for bringing forth nutrients that nourish us. When we eat matzah, we can recognize that inherent, within each of us -- our bodies, hearts, and spirits -- are strengths and resources. Eating matzah can prompt us to ask God to help us nourish ourselves.
The second question/explanation centers upon maror/bitter herbs. For our elderly, all are experiencing various kinds of loss, including a diminishment of their physical or cognitive ability, as well as the loss of the companionship of loved ones. Even those in relatively good health may feel bitter about not being as agile or self-sufficient as they once were. Eating maror can prompt us to ask God to help us to acknowledge our pain in community with others who are similarly affected, and to transcend it.
The third question/explanation centers upon dipping twice -- karpas into salt water, and then matzah and maror into haroset. This too, connects to the present lives of our z'kenim. Although they have reason to shed tears, our z'kenim can acknowledge that life is a mixture of emotions and events, both sad and sweet. Dipping twice can prompt us to ask God to help us to make the effort to taste the sweetness, in addition to experiencing the sadness
Finally, the fourth question/explanation centers upon leaning. As we move into our senior years, we often grow less flexible, both physically and emotionally. We can seek to be supple and to adapt to the complex process of aging. Leaning can prompt us to ask God to help us to grow in flexibility, understanding and wisdom.
Our Israelite ancestors were able to pass over from a place of pain and narrowness to a new life, but it required attention and intention on their parts. In like manner, our z'kenim can ask God to help them to access their internal strengths and resources so that they can be flexible enough to adapt to the unwanted changes of aging, to mourn their losses and celebrate their victories.
Rabbi Bonita E. Taylor is an ACPE Supervisor and Staff Educator with The Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care, of The HealthCare Chaplaincy, New York City, N.Y. Rabbi David J. Zucker, a member of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet, is Chaplain/Director of Pastoral Care at Shalom Park, a senior continuum of care center, Aurora, Col.
One of the best known passages in the Haggadah describes the four children who are seated about the Seder table. At the modern Seder, however, there is a fifth child; it is this child who poses the real problem, not only to his or her parent, but to all of Jewish life. Unless we learn to deal with him wisely and effectively, we will see the progressive deterioration of American Jewry's will to survive.
Who is the fifth child? He is the one who sits at the Seder table, sees all that is going on, but doesn't ask any questions. He neither mocks nor rejects. He is wise enough to understand and old enough to ask, but he simply doesn't care. He sits through the Seder without too much noticeable impatience, but he leaves as soon as politeness permits, saying, "It's been very nice, thank you very much." But he's only being courteous, for he is really not interested. The fifth child is the indifferent child.
We Jews have learned to cope with almost everything, but what do we do with indifference? In generations past, people were either passionately attached to Judaism or passionately against it. It was not too long ago that an entire generation was in flight from Judaism, in rebellion against what it considered the narrow horizons, the separateness, the ritualism of Judaism. Today, almost nobody is running away, but rather than running toward it with open arms, they are simply standing contentedly right where they are, uninvolved and unconcerned. Judaism is in great danger today of being killed with kindness, for nothing is more fatal to a religion than the kindly and complacent indifference of its adherents.
Today it is respectable to be Jewish. It is respectable to belong to a synagogue. But being respectable and being affiliated seem to have nothing to do with being serious about Judaism.
Like a dutiful grandson paying respect to an aged grandfather, so many come to the synagogue on the High Holidays. They say hello, they politely inquire how things are, and then, reassured, they return home to resume their normal way of doing things. They pay their dues, though often not enough to maintain the vital activities of the synagogue. They send their children to synagogue, until the children either begin to resist or get too serious about it.
If we want Judaism to have a future in our own family, then we must begin to take Judaism seriously. Kindly, well-meaning indifference to Jewish values and observances is just not enough. We cannot consider ourselves worthy Jews unless we live as Jews, consciously living our daily lives guided by the teachings of our Jewish traditions.
If traditional Judaism is to survive, many Jews will have to move from the category of the indifferent fifth child to that of the wise child who takes Judaism seriously.
Unless we do so, the Jewish community as we know it will not long survive in America. For American Jewry can be compared to the man who once had a great fortune, accumulated over many years. He deposited it in the bank and kept on adding to it. When he died, he left it to his children. There seemed to be so much of it that they decided it was hardly necessary to work in order to add more, and they began to draw out the money for their own use. They lived comfortably for a long time, but when their children came of age, they were shocked to discover that the account had been closed for lack of funds.
How long can we expect Judaism to continue on the capital of past generations? If our own generation does not awaken soon from its lethargy and begin to take Judaism seriously, we may be shocked to wake up someday and find that we are leaving our children no heritage at all.
If you are a fifth child, stop being content. Stop being polite and condescending about your Judaism. Live with it; grapple with it; become a part of it. By doing so you will keep it, yourself, and your children alive as Jews.
Rabbi Kassel Abelson, a member of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet, is chair of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover until you have actually tasted the bitterness of bondage and resolved not to inflict it upon another person's spirit or will.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover until you have felt the anguish of those whose daily fare is not much more ample than unleavened bread and have resolved to help alleviate their plight.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover until you have truly said Dayyenu : Thank you O Lord, for the blessings which are mine. Even a fraction of them would excite my gratitude.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover unless like Moses you realize that you are obligated to resist evil that threatens not yourself but others.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover until you have realized that Judaism summons you to sing as well as to sigh, to feast as well as fast, play as well as pray.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover unless you have decided to prove yourself worthy of the suffering, the sacrifice, and the courage of your more far-seeing predecessors.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover until you have sensed again that Judaism is a faith that likes to be explained.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover unless you have understood that the opinions and ideas of your children deserve to be honored.
You haven't fully celebrated Passover until you have sharpened your appetite for freedom -- for yourself, and for other people of the world.
Reprinted from the Bulletin of Congregation Achduth Vesholom, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Rabbi Elliot D. Rosenstock.
The Chiddushei Harim, a great Chassidic Rebbe and one of the outstanding Talmudic scholars of the 19th century, asks, do you know why we eat matzah and maror together on Passover? Matzah represents freedom, while maror represents slavery and embittered times. We eat them together to show that they are really one and the same. Both the good and what appears to be bad are equally necessary for our ultimate benefit.
At the saddest times of our lives, when we have lost a beloved member of our family, we recite the blessing of Dayan Ha'emet. "Praised art Thou, O Lord, King of the universe, the true Judge." Though we are unable to comprehend God's ways, we nevertheless praise him. One of the deservedly imperishable lines is Job 13:15 "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" William James, in his "Varieties of Religious Experience", speaks of this tremendous utterance as the quintessence of the Hebraic spirit of magnificent faith as contrasted with the sullen acquiescence in Fate of the stoic, pagan philosophy. Such a declaration of absolute trust in God is in complete harmony with Job's character.
God tells Moses, "You will see My back, but you cannot see My face" (Exodus 33:23). While events are occurring, "you cannot see My face" -- you won't understand My ways. But "you will see My back" -- in retrospect, you will understand how all history was manipulated just for your benefit and how disparate events fit together.
Hazzan Richard Wolberg is Hazzan of Temple Beth El, Fall River, Mass.
Passover is the great Jewish family holiday -- but with a critical message about our ethics
We eat the Karpas, the green vegetable -- and recall our concern for the environment.
We dip into the salt water of tears -- and remind ourselves to care for the oppressed.
We eat the bitter herbs -- and sharpen our concern for the stranger.
We taste the matzah, the bread of affliction -- and feel the memories of our servitude to Pharaoh.
We note the roasted egg, symbolic of the extra offering in the Temple in ancient days -- and ask ourselves, what are our own sacrifices?
Passover is so real and tangible, because we not only taste our freedom, but we also resolve to work for the liberation of all people. It is a time to ask ourselves: what are we doing to care for those in need? Can we reach out and assist with our tzedakah, our charitable contributions, or through our acts of loving-kindness?
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 who have lived under the heel of the oppressor.
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.
Today the Star of David rises proudly in the former Soviet Union. Yet hundreds of thousands of elderly Jews struggle to survive. In Argentina, families, schools, community centers and synagogues face a difficult economic crisis and we provide basic services and supplies for tens of thousands of our fellow Jews.
Jews who left Ethiopia and other devastated countries experienced a modern exodus to live in freedom. They brought their children and grandchildren to Israel, a land sworn to us by our ancestors and God. Now we are committed to helping them to become full participants in all aspects of Israeli society.
But our work is not done. We need boundless love for the Jewish people in order to continue our efforts at caring for the most vulnerable, supporting of Jewish education, ingathering of the exiles and to rebuilding Israel.
May this Passover be a time of recommitment to our people and our faith.
UJC celebrates the 90th anniversary of the JDC which remains the active, on-the-ground expert in reaching out to Jewish communities in distress and working to enhance Jewish lives and Jewish life in Israel and around the world.
"Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat"
"Last year, we were ashamed to attend the communal seder; we were afraid our friends would see us," says Yvonne, 47, a Jewish homemaker in Buenos Aires. "This year, we started receiving food vouchers and job re-training. We are still in financial trouble, but we will join our friends at the large, open seder for the entire community. If the Jews survived 40 years in the desert, I think we can survive a few years of hardship -- but only together."
For thousands of Jews like Yvonne, left suddenly destitute by Argentina's economic and communal devastation, a family Passover seder is a luxury they cannot afford. Formerly uppermiddle class families who for generations were active in Jewish life -- many sending their children to Jewish day school, JCCs and vibrant synagogues -- are still without resources to prepare a festival meal. To ensure that sudden poverty does not rob them of their tradition, JDC and the local Tzedaka Foundation are organizing 40 communal seders, enabling more than 20,000 impoverished Argentinean Jews to celebrate Pesach and draw strength and hope from their fellow Jews.
As the economic and sociopolitical meltdown in Argentina distressed its 200,000-person Jewish community, so did the fall of Communism in the Former Soviet Union leave shortages of food, insufficient medical care and a dearth of social services in its wake. Offering a global perspective, JDC Executive Vice President Steven Schwager notes, "On the surface, you'd be hard- pressed to find two more disparate communities than Argentina and the Former Soviet Union. But they share a harsh, common reality -- hunger. JDC works to ensure that every Jew who wishes to do so can participate in a seder and join with the entire Jewish people in celebrating Pesach, the Festival of our Freedom."
In Kishinev, Moldova, Rita, a 40-year-old mother of two, is reassured by the hopeful message of celebrating the Pesach holiday. "My husband doesn't earn enough to feed our children. First I sold my jewelry, now I get what work I can, on and off, and sometimes I am forced to go begging. But thank G-d for the food packages and the collective seders. At least I know that my children belong to a strong, proud community."
This year, more than 65,000 Jews around the world will attend communal seders, organized with JDC's help and the support of Federation. Let us all collectively commemorate the deliverance and redemption of the Jewish people. Let us all continually strive to fulfill our commitment to each other by ensuring that "all who are hungry may come and eat" in the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, and around the world.
"You Shall Tell Your Children" [Shemot 13:8]
This spring, as the JDC helps revitalize global Jewish life in the spirit of Passover, Jews gather at tables around the world to tell future generations the story of redemption from slavery to physical and spiritual freedom. The Torah teaches us that children are an integral part of the Pesach seders, commanding that we teach them how G-d delivered the Jewish people from Egypt. Children's traditional participation in the seders -- including the asking of "The Four Questions" and search for the Afikomen -- affirms their vital role in Jewish continuity. JDC has long recognized that securing a bright future for the Jewish community is dependent upon engaging and supporting its youth. Through year-round innovative educational and social programs, JDC provides muchneeded care and resources to ensure that Jewish children around the world have the tools to prosper.
In Argentina, JDC created Baby Help, ("Tinok"), an initiative that provides at-risk pregnant women and their children (ages 0-3) basic needs: food, vitamins, medications, and hygienic supplies. Infants are given all mandatory vaccines not supplied by the Public Health System, and are guaranteed the Jewish ceremonies of Brit Mila or Simchat-Bat – expenses otherwise unaffordable in these hard times. The program, reliant on a network of Jewish pediatricians and psychologists, encourages the healthy development of infants, offers nursery day care to working mothers, and provides temporary access to cradles, toys, and other equipment through a baby-supply bank.
Through the JDC-initiated PACT (Parents and Children Together) program in Israel, a comprehensive set of city-wide services for Ethiopian-Israeli pre-schoolers focus not only on the child, but also on the family and professionals who shape their early years. School principals have reported that, for the first time, Ethiopian-Israeli first graders are excelling in reading. Dr. Gad Abecassis, Senior Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Education, says, "PACT is an exceptional joint effort. The Ministry of Education views this work with young children as a critical opportunity to prevent future problems and negative trends in older school children."
Meanwhile, on a recent snowy Friday in Ukraine, 4-year-old Uri and a dozen of his peers are preparing for a field trip from their home at the State orphanage. Each week, through a pilot program of JDC's ‘Children's Initiative', developed cooperatively by the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk and the municipal authorities, Jewish orphans get their first taste of Jewish culture and heritage through youth activities at the Hesed. "Through no fault of their own, these children have been cut off from the Jewish community. Here, for a few hours each Friday, we make them aware that there is a world of love and acceptance to which they belong," says Irina, a JDC-trained Social Worker at the Hesed. "We want them to know that they do have a family; that we, the Jewish people, are like a big family. And they are an important part of that family."
This year JDC co-sponsored the first regional Bar and Bat Mitzvah Seminar in Budapest, Hungary to help anchor Jewish youth, of Bar Mitzvah age, in values of Jewish community life, Jewish leadership, and family. JDC teamed up with ITIM in Jerusalem to prepare materials and host 31 Jewish educators, ages 19-60, from the Adriatic and Baltic Coasts to the banks of the Danube and even Mumbai, India. Participants learned the use of tallit and tefillin, traditional berachot, the basic format for structuring a d'var torah, and conducted a "mock" Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Inspired by the spirit of this event, these educators have now returned to their homes -- as far as Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Czech Republic -- committed to reviving the invaluable Jewish tradition in their local Jewish communities.
JDC's programs are supported primarily by contributions to the annual campaigns of the Jewish Community Federations throughout North America in partnership with United Jewish Communities (UJC).
Access other profiles &stories from JDC's programs worldwide at www.jdc.org.
The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1) notes the following curiosity in the Jewish calendar: There are four days identified as the beginning of a new year: on the first of Nisan is the new year for kings and festivals. The first of Elul is the new year for tithing cattle [every tenth animal amongst cattle and sheep was to be given to the Temple. The tithed animal had to be born during the same year.] Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Shimon, however, place this on the first of Tishri. The first of Tishri is the new year for years, for sabbatical and jubilee [The counting of years is reckoned from Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah], for planting and vegetables. The first of Shevat is the new year for trees, according to Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel says that this new year is on the fifteenth of that month.
Both Rosh Hashanah and Pesach represent "new years" for the Jewish people. What then distinguishes these two festivals religiously? Rosh Hashanah, which represents the "anniversary of the creation of the world," is the universal new year. It is the day when the entire world is judged. The festival of Pesach is a celebration of the birth of the Jews as a nation. The redemption from Egypt was an event that gave the children of Israel its identity. This identity was manifest in two particular rituals: brit milah (ritual circumcision) and korban pesach (the Passover sacrifice). These two rituals provide the link between the festival's Torah reading and its haftarah. The Torah reading notes the following requirement for those who celebrated the first Pesach: "If a stranger who dwells with you would offer the Passover to the Lord, all his males must be circumcised; then he shall be admitted to offer it; he shall then be a citizen of the country. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it." (Exodus 12:48)
Similarly, Joshua, who led the children of Israel into the land of Canaan at the end of the forty year sojourn in the desert, was commanded by God to circumcise the people before they celebrated the first Pesach upon entering the land. After Joshua had performed this commandment, God pronounced: "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." (Joshua 5:9) What was the "disgrace" that God removed from them? Most of the medieval commentators conclude that the "disgrace of Egypt" refers to being uncircumcised. Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (Ralbag), the 13th-14th century French philosopher and Bible commentator, found deeper significance in God's statement. He asserts that the "disgrace of Egypt" represents the beliefs and immoral behavior of the Egyptians. The commandments of circumcision and the Pesach sacrifice were symbolic representations of the removal of these two impediments to creating a holy people dedicated to God. They represented a means by which the Jews would be able to maintain their distinctiveness in a world ready to swallow them up. The performance of these two commandments was crucial at the beginning of the journey through the desert in order to prepare the children of Israel to receive the Torah. It was also necessary to ready them for their life as a nation in their own land at the end of this journey.
These two commandments, brit milah and Pesach, still serve as a means to celebrate the uniqueness of belief and behavior which are meant to make Jewish people a "nation of priests and a holy people." May they continue to serve this sacred task.
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein teaches Talmud and Midrash at United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva, Jerusalem, Israel. He writes a haftarah commentary which can be
found at www.uscj.org.il/haftarah/index.html.
The Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea and were miraculously saved. While they passed through the middle of the sea on dry land, their enemies were drowned. According to the Midrash, the Egyptian horses were adorned with gold and silver ornaments studded with precious stones; when the soldiers and horses washed ashore, the Children of Israel busily stripped them of their valuables. They were so busy with this "bizat hayam," the collection of spoils from the sea, they did not want to move on. In fact, Moses had to force them to leave the place that a day earlier they would have fled in panic.
Only a week earlier, they had been slaves. Now they were free, and they suddenly possessed more riches than they ever could have imagined. Yet instead of being happy and grateful, they became embittered and rebellious. The Torah says that when they arrived at Marah, they could not drink the water because it was bitter. However, our sages comment that the water tasted bitter because they were bitter. The absence of a purpose, discipline or obligations makes one bitter. It is said that the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was only 45 years old when he commented to his students, "I feel very old. I am mentally empty, so much so that I do not know what I am living for."
Let us compare this with Moses, about whom the Torah writes that at the age of 120, that "his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone." The Midrash comments that Moses, when he was asked why he looked so healthy and young, answered, "Tzuri chai," -- I feel young because I feel God inside me.
Why were the Children of Israel so embittered? Though they were physically free, they were spiritually devoid of purpose. The Torah tells that Moses made their water sweet by throwing into the water a tree that God had shown him. Rabbi Eliezer says that Moses threw into the water the "etz ha-chaim," the "Tree of Life," in other words the Torah. God there and then gave the Children of Israel two mitzvot to give them a purpose.
As we know, the Exodus was just the beginning of a long, eventful, often difficult journey through the desert. The Children of Israel set off with no maps, nor were there roads or signposts. The Torah tells, however, that God was their guide, taking the form of "a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light." (Exodus 13:21).
The Torah points to a fundamental difference between the function of the pillar of cloud, which guided the Children of Israel, and the pillar of fire, which only lit their path. During the day, even when they could see, they were nevertheless guided by the pillar of cloud, to keep them from losing their way—both physically and spiritually. At night, however, when their surroundings were steeped in darkness, the Children of Israel apparently did not need guidance, only a light to prevent them from stumbling off the track they were following.
Our sages comment that this is the nature of the Jewish people: When they are surrounded by darkness, the Jewish people know where to go. They automatically stay on the right track. When, on the other hand, it is light -- in other words when they have a clear view and are free to go where they want -- they need guidance in order not to lose their way. It is in free, enlightened, and liberal societies that assimilation takes its heaviest toll. It is in these societies that the Jews most need the Torah, to protect their identity and to ensure that they will remain an "am segulah" -- a special and singular people.
Rabbi Shmuel Werzberger, z"l
Passover, for Jews living in the land of Israel and for Reform Jews, comes to an end with the setting of the sun on the seventh day of the festival. This is the biblically mandated conclusion. We have eaten our fill of matzah, tasted the affliction of our ancestors and fulfilled the ritual reminders of our history; it is time to move on. But for Orthodox and Conservative Jews outside the land of Israel, there is an additional day of observance. It is a day of sanctity, equal to the seventh day. Traditionally, Passover lingers on the palate for just one day more.
The Torah reading for the eighth day of Passover is identical to the one that concludes the seven-day festival of Sukkot. That festival's eighth day carries with it is own sanctity and observance. The Talmud notes: "The eighth day is a separate festival" (Talmud Succah 47b-48a). It is known as Shemini Atseret -- literally, "the eighth day of lingering."
The midrash explains this curious name: after the people have celebrated a long holiday, rejoicing with God, God says to them, "It is difficult for me to part with you. Tarry awhile longer. Stay, just one more day." And so, too, the eighth day of Passover is traditionally a day of atseret, of lingering.
On the morning of the end of Pesach, we tarry as well, at Yizkor in the remembrance of our departed loved ones. Like Shabbat that ends not at sunset on Saturday, but lingers just a bit beyond the 24 hours until three stars shine clearly in the evening sky, we find ourselves unable to let go quite so easily of our beloved ones. The setting of the sun does not erase their image from our minds or our hearts. "Tarry just a bit longer," we say to them, "For we cannot bear to let you go. Not yet, not yet." We would move heaven and earth, we would command time, to have just one more day together. We would linger, we would tarry, we would squeeze every precious moment together.
But time will not be commanded. Heaven and Earth stay their course. We recite the Yizkor to remember, but we cannot bring our loved ones back to linger with us. Their bodies have returned to the earth of which it was formed; their souls have returned to the source of all being. They are in God's embrace in which time has no meaning. But we who remain earth-bound, time-bound, call on the memories of our beloved ones to linger with us here. They shine like the three stars that end our holidays. May the memories of our departed linger and tarry, stay with us and guide us through the remainder of our days.
Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana, Temple Israel of New Rochelle, N.Y.
Maimonides, in his commentary on the Mishnah, makes these penetrating remarks about life: "People complain that life is too short, that man's life ends before he is done preparing himself for it. The truth is that while our life is short, we live as though we had eternity at our disposal; we waste too much of life. Our lifetime, if we use it properly, is sufficient to accomplish the greatest of achievements. But if we squander our life, we feel as though our years are flying by too quickly, as though we have no time to achieve anything.
The problem is not that we are allotted a short life, but rather that we are extravagant in spending it. Thus, a careless heir will quickly dissipate a huge estate; while a meager inheritance will flourish in the hands of a wise and thrifty person. Of what, then, might we justly complain? That we live as if our life would last forever, and do not wisely use the lifetime that is amply allotted to us."
The measure of life might very well be the number of days we spend developing ourselves to be better and nobler people; the number of days in which we bring love and happiness to others; the number of days in which we can take pride in our work; the number of days in which parents will take pride in their children, and children in their parents; the number of days in which we can go to bed at night and honestly say to ourselves that this was a day well spent. That is how long we will actually live. And one day after we can no longer say these words, in all reality, we are no longer living men and women.
We are all familiar with the platitude, if you want to get something important done, ask a busy person. A busy person, in this context, is one who has mastered the art of using effectively the same time that others dissipate and waste. Let us do a little bit of calculating. Two hours each day, five days per week, over a period of approximately ten years, adds up to well over 5,000 hours.
Now, in 5,000 hours one can accomplish many things. One can certainly pack in a lifetime of reading, especially those books which one always wanted to read, but never did because of lack of time. Our rabbis say: "Who is a wise person? He who learns from all people." (Ethics of the Fathers IV:1) There is only one way to learn from all people -- those who live in the present as well as those who lived in the past -- and that is to read, read, read. Books are our greatest teachers, and the wise person is he or she who is able to say at the end of time: Life has not passed me by too quickly because I have lived with and learned from the greatest teachers.
I have lived with the patriarchs, matriarchs, judges, prophets, and sages of Israel -- they were my teachers. I have lived with the seers, oracles, and philosophers of Greece -- they were my teachers. I have lived with the artists and poets of the Middle Ages -- they, too, were my teachers. I have lived with the thinkers of the past, writers of today, and builders of tomorrow. My life has been full and eventful. It has spanned the ages.
"Our lifetime, if we used it properly, is sufficient to accomplish the greatest of achievements." Maimonides is speaking to all of us. It is never to early to decide that you wish to achieve much in life. It is also never too late.
Rabbi Solomon Gordon, z"l
"You shall count from the day following the day of rest...seven full weeks shall be counted..." (Lev. 23:15-16). The 49 days that separate Pesach from Shavuot are counted days.
This tradition of counting days for so long a period cannot help but convey to us the importance of making each day of our lives count. Almost inevitably we hear in this practice an echo of the prayer of the Psalmist: "Teach us to count our days so that we may acquire a heart of wisdom."
So many of us postpone the business of living. We're so busy preparing for some future goal that we forget to live in the present.
Dr. William Moulton Marston, a psychologist, asked 3,000 people this brief question: "What do you have to live for?" He was shocked to find that 94 percent of his respondents were simply enduring the present while they waited for the future. They were waiting for "something" to happen -- waiting for children to grow up and become independent; waiting to pay off the mortgage; waiting for the day when they could take a long deferred trip; waiting for the leisure that retirement would bring. While they were waiting, life was passing them by, unappreciated.
The question immediately confronting us is: "How shall we use today?" The way we answer this question determines the very texture of our lives.
In Genesis we read different answers given to this crucial question by Esau and his father Isaac at separate junctures in their lives. For Esau, that moment came when he was asked to trade his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. There was surely other food available, but Esau wanted only the lentil soup. He wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it. He did not believe in delayed gratification. Why should he? "Behold, I am going to die," he reasoned, "so of what use is my birthright to me?" (Gen. 25:32). He surely used today to appease his stomach, to gratify his physical needs.
Isaac's response to his human fragility and life's unpredictability was quite different. "I am old now," he said to Esau, "and I do not know how soon I may die. Go bring me something to eat so that I may bless you before I die" (Gen. 27:25). Isaac was going to use today to be a source of blessing to others.
Our tradition has dealt quite harshly with Esau precisely because he trivialized life, reducing its awesome grandeur to the gratification of the stomach and forgetting that he also had a soul that needed nourishment. Esau's descendants are legion. We live in an age when the media excites our appetite for instant gratification, instant relief from pain, instant rise to fame. Multimillion-dollar lotteries stimulate our fantasies about instant riches. Underneath it all, like an uninvited skeleton at the wedding feast, lurks the ominous possibility of the instant destruction of the human race in a nuclear holocaust.
At such a time, the temptation to use today mindlessly and selfishly is more than many can resist. And yet resist it we must, for our own salvation and for the preservation of all that makes us worth saving.
Eldad Ran was killed in Israel's War of Independence at the age of 20. Before he died, he left us a legacy containing wisdom that belies the youthfulness of its author. He wrote: "Lately I've been thinking about what the goal of life should be. At best, man's life is short. The years of life do not satisfy the hunger for life. What then shall we do during this time? We can reach either of two conclusions. The first is that since life is so short, we should enjoy it as much as possible. The second is that precisely because life is short, we should dedicate life to a sacred and worthy goal. I am slowly coming to the conclusion that life by itself is worth little unless it serves something greater than itself. "
Rabbi Sidney Greenberg, z''l was Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sinai, Dresher, Pa.
At the end of World War II, the United States Army liberated the concentration camp of Buchenwald, and began the painstaking process of administering to the survivors. Rabbi Herschel Schechter, who was the chaplain of the U.S. Eighth army, stayed in the camp and attempted, as much as was possible, to create a semblance of Jewish experience for those who had survived. How does one run a prayer service, and encourage people to pray to a God who seemed to have been so absent in those terrible years?
Rabbi Schechter requisitioned one of the barracks and set it up as a makeshift synagogue, and began running services for those who were interested. One day, noticing one of the survivors standing on the side watching the prayers, Rabbi Schechter invited him to join the service, but the man refused. Nonetheless, he remained in the barracks, watching the service with the vacant eyes that were common in the camps in those days.
Realizing he had seen this fellow attending services before, though always as a spectator, Rabbi Schechter approached him again, and offered him a siddur (prayer book). The survivor, whom we now know as Simon Wiesenthal, refused again, and explained:
"One day, one of the men in our barracks succeeded in smuggling a siddur into the camp. I was amazed that someone was willing to risk torture and certain death simply for the opportunity to pray. That a Jew, even in this hell, was willing to defy the Germans, and continue to believe in God, was a testament to the power of the human spirit, and to the Jewish people's survival, against all odds. And I resolved, that if a Jew could continue to pray under such circumstances, then maybe God was still out there, hidden in the indomitable spirit of the human soul, and I, too, would pray.
"I was in awe of this fellow, until I discovered what he was doing with the prayer book he had smuggled in: he refused to lend the siddur to anyone unless they first handed over their meager daily food ration. He was renting the prayer book out for rations, and Jews in the barracks, desperate to hold a siddur in their hands after all this time, were forced to give up their only food for a few minutes with the prayer book.
"And at that moment I decided that if a human being could sink that low, then truly there was no God, and I resolved never to pray again."
After hearing his words, Rabbi Schechter responded with a simple question: "Instead of looking at the fellow who refused to give away his siddur without first taking the food of his fellow prisoners, why don't you look at all the Jews who were willing to give up the only food they had for a chance to pray with a siddur?" Then there was a moment of silence between the two, and something glimmered deep inside those vacant eyes. And then, quietly, Simon Wiesenthal stepped forward, took a prayer book, and began to pray.
Rabbi Binny Freedman, Educational Director, Isralight Institute
The late Arthur Koestler's novel, "Arrival and Departure", tells us about what has come to be called "the Mixed Transport," the Nazi practice of packing their victims into cattle cars, some going to slave labor, some to supply brothels, and some designated as "Useless Jews," consisting of the old and sickly ones, to be killed through asphyxiation in specially constructed vans holding 60 or 70 persons each.
Koestler describes one such occasion when truckload after truckload of "Useless Jews" was thus disposed. Nazi guards lined up in a double row forming a lane through which the victims walked to the gas van. Many of the victims "were old married couples who walked together through the lane of guards, the old woman with her hand on the old man's arm, and her husband bent gallantly toward her like a bridegroom on his wedding day..."
Some of the men walked through the double row of guards saying their prayers in a loud sing-song voice...not humbly but in pride and wrath as if arguing with themselves; they never looked at the guards." And "as each Useless Jew...reached the doors of the ladder, before entering the van, he would turn round, throw up his arms to the sky and yell back towards the carriage:
"What shall we drink when Messiah arrives?"
And the others would sing:
"Wine from Mount Carmel shall we drink,
On Behemoth's meat shall we feast,
Moses, our Rabbi, shall read the law for us,
And we shall make merry when Messiah arrives."
Some of you will recognize this lovely Jewish folk song. Why do I tell you this gruesome tale? Because, gruesome though it be, there is reflected in this story also something of the glorious attitude of the Jewish victims, the so-called "Useless Jews," an attitude which places them in the direct line of the greatest and noblest of our martyrs through all the ages. These "Useless Jews" went to their death as free men, whatever the Nazis thought. They met their end not with groveling, cringing mien. They went to their death proudly, with dignity and reverence. They were not hysterical. They were not broken in spirit. And I said to myself as I read this account: These people possessed their souls! Whatever else they were deprived of, whatever else was taken from them, these -- their human dignity and Jewish spirit, their inner freedom -- these not even the satanic maniacs could destroy!
Whence came that strength, that courage?...whence but from that deep faith, that deep confidence, that strong assurance which comes to those who can feel, as well as say, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for Thou art with me... I dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23) Do you see what I mean when I say that it is possible to save the body and lose the soul and what I mean when I say that it is possible to save the soul even though the body be crushed?
I do not court martyrdom for myself or for any of my people. I crave life and its fulfillment. But I do so yearn for the strength, the faith, the heroic quality, and the grandeur of spirit which, when the occasion arises, can produce men and women who would live and die without hysteria, without terror, without collapse! And this type of heroism comes through faithfulness, through consistent living by and in the faith in the God of our ancestors, the God of history, the God of the universe, and not through total absorption with the threat of anti-Semitism!
...I ask, I plead in the words of the prophet of our people and our God: "Come let us walk in the light of the Lord! " In that light, we shall never fail. By that light we shall remain the people indestructible, the people eternal, a kingdom of priests, indeed, a holy nation!
Dare we aim for less?
Rabbi Abraham J. Feldman, z"l
Maurice Samuel, in his discussion of the Yiddish language, has said that it was the function of Yiddish to serve as a precious preservative medium, keeping the religious terms of the Hebrew language alive until the revival of Hebrew could establish them again in their original tongue. In a similar way, the religious calendar of Judaism has kept alive the nature festivals of Eretz Yisrael until the restoration of Israel made it possible to revive them as a native expression of the land. So Jews in the rain-drenched lands of the northwest prayed for rain, blessed the tropical citron and palm, and symbolically brought the first fruits of the harvest when the fields were still covered with winter snow.
Shavuot is not entirely dependent, however, on the religious symbolism of the harvest. It has been associated with the giving of the Law, the revelation on Sinai.
The architects of Judaism showed profound wisdom in binding the faith with the double bonds of nature and history. As we preserved the natural rhythm of the seasonal festivals of the land with unique and passionate devotion in absentia, so we preserved the tradition of the revelation of the Law. Perhaps it was that same spirit that was devoted to preserving the actual text of the Torah.
The most sensational result of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been the confirmation of the validity of the Masoretic text of our Bible. From the most careful scrutiny of the Isaiah scrolls, it is apparent that the text was already fixed one hundred years before the Common Era and that it has come down to us with but minor variants and changes. Anyone who has dealt with medieval documents, or more recent folios such as Shakespeare's plays or the Canterbury Tales, realizes this borders on the miraculous. Only the utmost dedication and ingenuity could have devised the internal and external controls that preserved the biblical text for us.
It requires no miracle, no dramatic overriding of nature, to make such a document sacred. It has become the measure of our days. Every letter is part of our heritage. We can read them according to our individual light, but understand nevertheless that they are not merely transient syllables of a passing tale, but rather the alphabet of the eternal dialogue between God and humankind. Our ancestors may have been presumptuous when they included their children's children in the oath of commitment at Sinai -- Na'aseh v'nishma -- but it is a presumption for which we shall ever be grateful.
Rabbi Jacob J. Weinstein, z"l
Two mountains play a significant role in Jewish history: Mount Sinai and Mount Moriah. Each pinnacle, in its own time, was crucial to the development of the Jewish nation.
Mount Sinai, of course, is the site for the Giving of the Law, the moment when the word of God was evident to the Children of Israel and one of the greatest moments in all of Jewish history. We commemorate that historic encounter today with the festival of Shavuot. Mount Moriah, which is in Jerusalem, is the site upon which the first and second Holy Temples stood. According to the teachings of our Rabbis, it is the spot upon which the third Beit HaMikdash will also stand.
"The Shechina never departed from the Western Wall of the Beit HaMikdash." For centuries, the Western Wall has been the focus of prayer and devotion, for all Jews perceived that, despite the destruction of the Temple, holiness still clings to those remnants. However, Mount Sinai, after its moment of glory in our history, has lost all meaning for our people. We would be hard put today to say with certainty which of the many peaks in the Sinai desert is the true site of the Giving of the Law.
Why has one mountain should have retained so central a position in our tradition, while the other has retained no importance, in the physical sense?
We revere Mount Moriah today, not for the holiness that was once there, but for the holiness that still imbues it. Kedusha, holiness, is not a nostalgic awareness of the past but a stepping stone to higher and loftier goals. At the time the Torah was given, Mount Sinai was the holiest spot on earth—but only because of the great event that was taking place there. Afterwards, nothing remained. But at Mount Moriah we continue to come to worship God. That is why it forever keeps it holy nature.
We can derive an important lesson from this. It is not enough to be able to point with pride to our sainted ancestors, for we cannot bask in the glow of their righteousness and devotion to God. I cannot claim to be holy, to be a devout Jew, because my ancestors were so. What is essential is that the holy ways our parents and grandparents be continued and fortified by ourselves and our children -- that is the true goal all of us should have.
Rabbi Alfred S. Cohen is Rabbi of Congregation Ohaiv Yisroel, Monsey, N.Y.
Political freedom stands high on the list of important achievements. Pesach celebrates the independence of the Jewish people, its political freedom, its ability to carve out a destiny. Political freedom, crucial as it is, remains only one form of freedom.
To the religious Jew, the celebration of Pesach is more than merely a repetition of ancient practices, warm and rich though they be. Pesach also calls for recognition and celebration of personal freedoms.
We are enslaved not only if our political freedom is circumscribed but if we permit ourselves to be chained to grudges, angers, and hostilities. Our souls soar in a song of freedom when we release ourselves from personal slavery.
An outsider can free us politically or economically. For emancipation from personal slavery, only the individual with the help of God can find freedom. May this Pesach be a celebration of freedom for us all.
Rabbi Fishel A. Pearlmutter, z"l
The juxtaposition of Yom Ha-zikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha-atzmaut (Independence Day) is emblematic of both the history of Israel and the current matzav, situation. The miracle of the State of Israel has been secured with the lives of heroes who have paid the ultimate price. For the last three years, many of those heroes have been civilians, Jews and non-Jews, who died as they tried to lead normal lives, boarding buses or eating pizza. Most were living the Zionist dream as their lives were snuffed out.
It is not a new story for the Jewish people. Jewish history is poignantly characterized by the dichotomy of peril and the promise of salvation. Pesach commemorates both the low of "b'khol dor va-dor omdim aleinu l'khaloteinu," in every generation they rise up to annihilate us, and the high of "mishibbud ligulah," from bondage to redemption. When the glass is broken beneath the huppah, this duality of Jewish experience is ritually confirmed.
Nonetheless, we believe that this polarized course of Jewish history has been changed by the gift of the State of Israel. Zionist power and independence gave birth not only to an unprecedentedly full Jewish life in Israel, but also stimulated a Jewish renaissance in the Diaspora. The Israel experience, a year of study or summer of travel in Eretz Yisrael, became a rite of passage for many of our Jewish young and has left an indelible impression on a new generation of Jewish leadership. (Sadly, with rare exception, many of these programs have been hurt -- temporarily, we trust -- by the ongoing conflict.) For nearly all Jews, Judaism and Zionism have become inseparable.
These sobering times remind us that our best days are yet to arrive. Until then, it is critical that we not lose perspective even as we ponder the seeming insolubility of Israel's matzav, and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East. Although these are daunting challenges, we cannot forget how much has changed in the span of a lifetime. The existence of the State of Israel has formidably improved the resilience of the Jewish people. The responsibility assumed by the Israeli government and armed forces for the welfare of both Israeli and Diaspora Jews, ba'asher hem sham, wherever they may be found, has been demonstrated time and again. And even as we grapple with the Israeli role as a powerful military force and the inherent ethical challenges such power presents, we must never forget that for most of history, Jewish power had been dependent upon others granting it.
Many of us have made a special effort to visit Israel during these difficult times. Of course, we notice that not all is the same. But the lingering feeling is one of pride in a people who have clung to normalcy as an act of defiance. "Od lo avda tikvateinu." Our optimism sustains us.
Rabbi Noam E. Marans is associate national director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department at the American Jewish Committee.
If there is one festival that brings family and friends closer to one another, it is Passover, a liberation that is centered in the home.
The aroma of chicken soup, kneidlach, the joyful voices of mishpacha in the kitchen, the grated horseradish stinging our eyes -- all add to the special feeling that we Jews have when Pesach approaches. It is a time to reunite ourselves with our roots in a biblical sense, a time for close ties with family and friends.
How do you integrate a festival so rich in meaning and spirit into our fast-paced lives when there are rigid dietary laws to be observed?
Many people look for shortcuts. They use disposable dishes and pots, packaged cakes and cookies, matzah ball and latke mixes, gefilte fish in jars and cans, bottled horseradish. They attend public sedarim, or spend Passover week in a kosher resort or at a relative's home.
But there is something unique about the preparation for Passover that comes from your heart. You and your family work together to change the dishes, sharing the experience of washing, drying, and arranging. You search your home for hametz as a team.
Everyone participates in the shopping, with each family member selecting ingredients for favorite dishes considering what others might like to eat during the week. Then you cook. Everyone likes to help with the grating, chopping, and tasting.
How can you accomplish all this and still handle all your other activities and responsibilities? This can be answered in one word: priorities.
Decide what is important in your life. Your other responsibilities can be allotted to 51 weeks a year. The preparation for Passover is an experience you owe your children and yourselves. It lasts a lifetime.
Rabbi David Pinkwasser is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel, Tempe, Ariz.