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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

February 27, 2015  RSS feed
Federation

Text: T T T

The message holds true Where are you?

Karen Reich

I recently made the following remarks at Congregation B’nai Israel on the occasion of its Federation Shabbat. I spoke as the current president of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, serving my second term, as well as a congregant of CBI. I believe the message is just as important today – especially in light of current events – and felt it necessary to share it with the community as a whole.

In 2001 during the horrible challenges of the 2nd Intifada, I traveled with a delegation, coordinated by our Federation, to join in a “Solidarity Mission to Stand with Israel.” I was there, in Israel with all the 550 Jews on the mission, when we witnessed the 9-11 attacks back here in America.

I know that there isn’t a person I have met who doesn’t have a crystalized image of exactly where they were at that time. For me, it was a crisis of feeling betwixt and between. I had left my homeland in the U.S. to stand with my Jewish homeland in Israel and to bring our support and presence to our fellow Jews there – only to find myself struggling to get back home to my family in the U.S. This seemed like the quintessential challenge of the diaspora Jew. At the same time, I realized it is also a blessing – finding ourselves able to claim a home here and there.

Once again in 2003, I was a delegate on another Solidarity Mission along with my husband, Cary, with Barry Augenbraun of blessed memory, and his wife, Janet, and with several others, also coordinated by our Jewish Federation. As most of these trips are, it was incredibly impactful for all of us. Upon our return, it was Barry’s honor to offer the Federation message from the CBI pulpit, and I would like to share some of the thoughts and words he conveyed that day back in 2003.

What is amazing about the remarks he made is how little things have changed in the past decade and what an important role Federation still plays.

Barry saw himself as a messenger. Here is part of what he had to say:

The role of the messenger, the shaliach, is a traditional one in Jewish life, even when the message he or she brings is not one we want to hear, and my message today is not a happy message.

It is a necessary message.

It is an urgent message. But it is not a happy message.

As we look around the world today – nearly 60 years after the remnant of the Jewish people emerged from the Holocaust – we find

Jews under attack – everywhere:

In Israel, a thousand Jews have lost their lives – 10,000 crippled and maimed – by a cruel war designed to crush the spirit of the people of Israel.

In Belgium and Germany – Jews are beaten on the streets. Germany, mind you – where the smell of Jewish ashes still lingers in the air.

In France – synagogues are vandalized and burned – and a leading rabbi was stabbed at the door of his Paris synagogue.

In Argentina – a wealthy, successful Jewish community – one that supported an entire galaxy of Jewish institutions: schools, hospitals, synagogues, charities – now impoverished. Today, 60,000 Argentine Jews – one third of the population – are living below the poverty line. Men and women who – like you, sitting here – were once proud contributors to Jewish charities are now forced to seek out charity from the very institutions they funded.

And here – here in America – here in the Golden Medinah – Jewish boys and girls walk in fear at our major universities, while Palestinian supporters rampage – and faculty members call for strangulation of Israel’s economy through boycotts and disinvestment – and vicious anti-Semites are honored with invitations to deliver lectures and speeches.

And now, today, we know too many other examples, all too familiar, of Jews under attack in recent months.

It is time for the American Jewish community to stand up…to speak out…to respond…

But how do we respond? What should we do?

Barry went on to share his perspective that he believed each person, in fact even one person, makes a difference, and he cited examples in the Torah, noting the story of Joseph and even in the story Hanukkah. – one person makes a difference.

So, to what are we called as Jews today?

When I think about this question, it strikes me that we have to back up to a time before the call and to prepare ourselves first to be open to it. When we are open to the possibility of the call, we can then listen out for it. If we listen, really listen, then we can hear it when it comes. If we hear it, we can then acknowledge the call. If we acknowledge the call, we might then be prepared to respond. As we consider how we will respond to the call, we must find a way to be fully present and be there. Once we can be fully present, we must help others to be open, listen, hear, acknowledge, and respond and be there.

As I reflect on the meaning of my life as a Jewish woman in the 21st century, I am reminded of a single word that is repeated 22 times in the Hebrew Bible. It reflects our ancestors’ readiness to do God’s work, to take up what- ever task was theirs. That word is “hineni – Here I am.” The word “Hineni” was first spoken by Abraham when he was commanded by God in Genesis 22 to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham’s response to God’s call was one word: “Hineni, Here I am.” The word “hineni” appears twice more in the story of the Binding of Isaac and five more times in the stories of Jacob, Esau and Joseph. In each instance, the word connotes something more than mere physical presence. “Hineni” means that I am here with all of my being, physically and spiritually, ready to do what I need to do and fully present in the moment.

During the remaining part of his remarks in 2003, Barry shared reflections of the evidence he saw of one person making a difference by committing to Hineni during that mission trip and how this could change lives:

At Hadera, the community in Northern Israel that our Federation has adopted as a sister city, we visited a geriatric center where the Pinellas Federation’s Maimonides Society contributed a ventilator that will be used to treat dozens of patients. That ventilator cost $2,000 – and that $2,000 will make a huge difference in the lives of many people.

Later that day at the Hadera High School, the Pinellas Federation delivered a check for $9,000 to an agency that will feed hundreds of people who can no longer count on government assistance during the present economic crisis.

“There aren’t too many of us who could have written checks in that amount, but he was sure that there are nine of us here who could have written a check for $1,000 – and made a difference in the lives of hundreds of Jews.”

That is the message I have been entrusted with today. Jews are under attack still – Miami, Paris, Israel – and we have a duty to respond – as a community. But one of the ways we do it is to take that message personally, and act on it individually.

Each of us needs to commit to Hineni.

You need to make a difference this year – it is not business as usual.

Not for the state of Israel.

Not for the Jewish people around the world,

Not for you and me and our communities right here in Pinellas/ Pasco counties.

Each of us here, by contributing to the Federation campaign, can make a difference.

This year, your response can’t be “just put me down for what I gave last year.” This year, you must make a difference. And I say that not only because the need is great, I say that because the world is looking at us. Now is the very time when we have to make a difference in the lives of our fellow Jews – here at home, in Israel, and throughout the world where our dollars can reach.

And we need to show the rest of the world, because, believe me, they notice.

When 5,000 Jews came from America and Canada to march through the streets of Jerusalem, they noticed.

And when the National UJC/ Federation announced in 2003 that we were the only major charity in America to increase its charitable contributions over 2002 – they noticed.

And when this year we will announce, with your help, that we raised 20 or 25 percent more than last year, believe me, they will notice.

And it is not just our enemies who need to notice. Even our friends – even our friends here in the United States government – for all their economic and military support of Israel – believe me, they are looking at us too.

And if God forbid – we falter – and if in this year our enemies – and even our friends – should see that Jewish support of Israel and the Jewish people through the Federation is diminishing – believe me, they will notice.

So I am asking you – this year – to make a difference. I am asking you this year – to make your Federation pledge a statement. Hineni to the People of Israel – Hineni to Jews around the whole world – Hineni to Jews in need here in our own community.

Many of you generously heeded the call to make an extra pledge last year for the Israel emergency campaign. Please consider increasing your annual pledge by this amount. Consider what impact such an increase in your support of the Federation would have on your own life.

And if your answer is, “No, not really. It would not make a difference in my life.” Then I ask you to really think about that before you make your final your decision.

I ask you to make your commitment. I ask you to make a difference.

Will you join me in making a difference?

Join me in answering the call and join our ancestors who time and time again through trials and tribulations continued to answer that call responding: Hineni!

To make a donation to the Federation’s Annual Campaign, go to www.jewishpinellas.org or call, (727) 530-3223.


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