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(Portions of this article appeared 10 years ago in the Jerusalem Post)
Israeli and Polish children filled the air above Warsaw with kites in memory of famed and martyred educator Janusz Korczak, who fervently believed that every child should have a kite. Sixty-five years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and 60 years after the founding of the state of Israel, Education Minister Yuli Tamir led a singular educational event in Warsaw to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of Korczak, who was deported to Treblinka with his students 66 years ago and subsequently killed. Tamir, together with Israeli youth and Polish pupils who are studying Judaism and Israel, visited the original site of Korczak's orphanage, where he taught and cared for his Jewish charges. There, they learned about Korczak and his teaching philosophy, and heard, first hand, accounts from two orphans from Korczak's school who survived the Holocaust, Yitzhak Balfer and Yitzhak Sakalka.
Korczak was a devoted educator who developed an educational technique that placed the child at the center. He loved and respected his students and treated all of them equally, a philosophy that, at the time, was less obvious than it may seem today. He was a pediatrician, author, builder of orphanages, and even had a radio show devoted to education. When the Nazis offered Korczak the opportunity to leave the orphans and save himself, he refused. Instead, he proudly led the 200 orphans to the Umschlagplatz (deportation point to the death camps) and boarded the train to Treblinka and his death. An eyewitness described the scene: "It was not a march to the death train. It was an organized mute protest against the killings! All of the children lined up in rows of four and Korczak walked at their head with eyes lifted to the heavens holding two children's hands." Korczak visited Israel, or Palestine as it was then called, twice. Upon his return from his second trip in 1937, he wrote, "Every single child in the valley must have a kite until there are a hundred different types of kites and at every holiday and festival one should fly the kites. The kite is a type of toy and just like children who live by the sea are wont to launch ships upon it, so too children of the valley must fly kites. [Kites] delight children and adults as one."
On that day, ten years ago, Tamir and the Polish pupils visited the site in the Warsaw Ghetto where the orphanage had stood after its forced relocation, upon which a monument to Korczak now stands. In keeping with his wishes, they made kites and then flew them next to the monument. They then retraced the route from the site of the relocated orphanage to the Umschlagplatz. At the Korczak memorial, Tamir said, "In the face of the Holocaust and the brutal mass murders, Korczak presented an opposing ideal of compassion and love for every child and left behind an educational legacy which is still relevant today… "The kite represented for Korczak the right of every child to freedom and happiness. The joint kite flying of Israeli and Polish children testifies to the victory of hope and love for one's fellow man over the regime of fear and evil."
How very sad that 10 years later the kite is a symbol of hate and aggression for Palestinian children. Gaza’s parents who are mobilized by Hamas, are bragging of how hundreds of their youngsters are building kites as incendiary devices to burn Israel fields in the south. This is part is the “peaceful protests” being organized at the border. A child’s toy weaponized to bring the desired result of arson. Some enterprising youth have designed tails that are Molotov cocktails and others designed swastikas. One has accounted for the burning of a flash fire of 25 acres of land needing to be put out by fire marshals in a five alarm fire.
Naturally this activity doesn’t characterize how all parents and children in Gaza feel. But they are mute and fear being jailed for torture or retribution if they oppose their terrorist regime. Meantime, the media covering this ongoing rioting forgets these scores of incidents and emphasizes the death of militant Gazans seeking to penetrate the border. They highlight these deaths as an example of Israeli aggression in spite of clear warnings that trespassing a certain distance in the border crossing area can result in harm. Sadly there have been incidents where teens were acting to penetrate the border or stone Israeli IDF guards, most of them new trainees in their late teens and early 20s, whose mission it is to prevent a breaching of the borders.
Make no mistake. Successful penetration of Israel’s southern border would lead to imminent danger of Israeli civilian areas close to the border, as Hamas’ avowed aim is the killing of Israelis. It would also accelerate a mass rush of thousands more Gazans, thus leading to more loss of Palestinian life.
But back to the kites. No better way to frame this than to contrast Korschuk’s view of the kite as quintessential toy of children’s imagination creativity and commonality across cultures with the swastika kite / Molotov cocktail kite now a threat to Israeli life. No better way to portray a sick and sociopathic culture and ethos that rules and pervades Israel’s current adversary.
So spare me the sanctimony Ms. Natalie Portman, Hollywood’s apologist graduate of LI’s Solomon Schechter, Mr. Bernie sanders so proud of his Jewish origins, and Ms. Elizabeth Warren, spokeswoman for Progressive values, who appeal to the State of Israel to show restraint. The State of Israel remains responsible for the safety of civilian life on the Israeli side. Speak rather to the adults on the Gazan side and exhort their needed restraint. Appeal to their better nature and their compassion, and ask that they consider using their monies for building the land up that they now occupy, rather than making it a garrison state directed at killing Israelis. And even if you three don’t want to make demands of Hamas to reach across the border in friendship and compromise, at least appeal to them to not weaponize their children and now their children’s toys. The kite, a symbol of the right of kids' hopes and dreams to fly and soar is sacred. The kite and what it represents is sacred. Scold the Hamas and the Gazan parents for cynically quashing of their childrens' childhood. Hold them accountable for making children and teens combatants, which is against the Geneva convention. Hold them accountable for crimes against children, and for crimes against humanity. Read More
Shavuoth and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Unification Day)
We have just passed a momentous 70th anniversary, marking the establishment of the State of Israel, and will be observing Yom Yerushalayim on May 13th this year. I thought it important to comment on these precious milestones.
Our Torah instructs that one must count the 49 days of the Omer, from Passover to Shavuot, beginning from the morrow of the Shabbat. Therein we find a controversy in the Talmud. Do we count the 49 days on the Sabbath after the Passover or the day after Passover? Our Suducean opponents contended that if it says Shabbat, the Torah means the “creation” day of Shabbat (Saturday). This would mean a different number of days each year from Pesach to Shavuoth, depending on what day Saturday falls! "No," said our forebears, the Pharisees. Shabbat can mean a festival, which also requires a cessation from labor, albeit from a few less labors. The counting begins on the day after Pesach.
Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdichev adds to this argument by saying something a bit more philosophically deep. Shabbat may indicate a day which brings Shevet, a return to a sense of radical amazement (to use Heschel’s phrase) about God. In the wake of a profound event, one’s religious mindset gains an enhanced spiritual understanding of God as being present among us. That is shevet, “a return to a sense of amazement and faith” from our normal distracted sense of Divinity.
In the creation story, the first Shabbat after creation implanted this sense of radical amazement into the very first humans; a keen sense of wonder at the power and existence of God. Likewise, the event of the Exodus at Pesach imprinted in our People a profound sense of God in our midst. This, too, is a Shabbat in that it engenders a sense of Divine awe. The sefira, the counting to Shavuoth, is meant to be a cultivation of that wonder and certainty of God to a point wherein we will naturally collectively receive the Torah anew each year.
We have, in contemporary Jewish life, an event which compares to the Exodus of Egypt and even, in a way, to the fashioning of a brave new Jewish world having been fashioned for us before our very eyes. And in this profound event, shouldn't we also feel that sense of radical amazement and sense that the presence of God is vital and operative, every bit as much as did our ancestors at a time of their transforming moments? Look at the survival and flourishing of our precious Medinath Israel.
For all the flaws and shortcomings the world sees in her, she is a democracy that allows free expression of all religions. She has a Supreme Court and legal system that always aims at the highest standards. She has an army as mighty, constrained and commanded by a civilian government, and that values tohar Haneshek–the restraint and concern for civilian life as paramount. After seven wars, the immigration of millions, terrorism, and a foe that refuses to find a solution in compromise–a psychic and physical toll–Israel stands before us as a nation of phenomenal strength, the 11th happiest in world, with a healthy upward youth trend demographically. She struggles with new issues that Jews have not struggled with for millennia, such as issues of Statecraft, security and the ethics of power. Some Israeli policies don’t make the world happy and many times don’t make most Israelis happy. But her presence as a bulwark and a stable democratic ally of the U.S., and her capacity to provide a counterweight to Iran expansionist actions, is a great comfort to the U.S. and now the Sunni "moderate" nations. She has expanded her overtures and ties with African nations. She offers the world advancements in medicine and technology, telecommunications, agriculture, agronomy, urban ecology, mass transportation, and disaster relief. Those that take her up on these advances are glad they have.
And as far as the Jewish world is concerned, miracles abound. Her doors are open to Jews in need everywhere. No longer are Jews stuck when anti-Semitism endangers communities. She doesn’t stop there, making the case each year, as military jets fly over Auschwitz, that Israel’s army is the “Jewish Peoples' Army” and will come to their rescue wherever they are threatened. She has absorbed millions of people and educated them. She is at the center of Jewish creativity, music, art and religious studies. Is Israel perfect? Far from it, as no society is without flaw. She needs more pluralism when it comes to acceptance of liberal Judaism and more enlightened thinking about Jews in the Diaspora. Her government ought not to be in the business of legitimizing one stream of Judaism over another. But her development and evolution from a fledgling state to modern state in the blink of an eye (what is seventy years, after all?) with a robust army and strong economy, from a few hundred thousand to 6 million Jews, is nothing short of miraculous and points to a guiding providential hand.
Now, as we count the Omer and as we mark yet another Yom Yerushalayim marking the transformative victory of the '67 War, may we, in pondering this, experience a “Shevet”–a sense of radical amazement in God’s hand in our lives. May Israel ever remain for us that spiritual gift. We can choose not to live there as our primary residence, but we should make room for her in our hearts. Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, but we might follow the emotions of Judah Halevi who had his heart in the east, in the land of Israel. May her existence ever lend us profound insight into the protecting and enduring presence of God. And may we strive to give back to her concretely in love, in economic support, in watchfulness against those who tarnish her and seek her demise, in lauding her manifold positives, and in visiting her. And to this may we say, Amen. Read More
It is a new year, a time of new beginnings! I hope that everyone had a lovely Chanukkah. As everyone knows, Cantor Nussbaum is now retired. He and Avrille are making arrangements to move closer to their family in New Jersey. He is extremely appreciative of the love and support he has received.
A lot has been happening over the last couple of months, so I would like to give an update of where we stand. We have hired Eliza Zipper as Religious School principal. She is a graduate of the Davidson School at Jewish Theological Seminary and has many years of experience as a Jewish educator and youth leader. She brings a great deal of energy and excitement about Jewish education. We look forward to working with her.
Also in the Religious School, we have hired Rabbi David Shain as the Hay Prayer and Hebrew Skills teacher. Those of you who have spent time at Gurwin may be familiar with Rabbi Shain, who has served there as a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) and their Shabbat Rabbi. Rabbi Shain is very personable and knowledgeable. I am confident that our Hay students are in good hands.
Turning our attention to B’nai Mitzvah preparation, we have hired Dr. Paul Kaplan, a former long-term congregant, to tutor our B’nai Mitzvah students. Dr. Kaplan is a retired college professor with decades of teaching experience. In addition, in his own words, he has prepared “a thousand students” for their Bar and Bat mitzvah including at least one member of our Board of Directors. We are lucky to have him on board.
Finally, the Cantor Search committee has been meeting regularly since mid-November. With input from the Board and committees, a job description for our Cantor position has been developed. We have submitted our job posting to the Cantor Assembly Placement Office and we have begun to receive applications. It is still very early in the process, but we are on course and schedule. Look for future updates as things develop.
Shalom, chaverim! See you in shul! Read More