I am certain that no one reading this page is untouched by the devastating events of recent days. On Mondays and Thursdays – on which days a passage of the Torah is traditionally read during morning services – a prayer is recited before returning the Torah to the ark. It reads, in part: “Our brethren, the whole house of Israel, such of them as are given over to trouble or captivity … may the Omnipresent have mercy upon them, and bring them forth from trouble to deliverance, from darkness to light, and from bondage to redemption, now, speedily, and at a near time.”
The prayer is an expression of areivut, mutual responsibility, describing the sense of kinship that has, throughout the ages, connected Jews across the globe to one another. As I write, there are emergency campaigns, rallies, and prayer gatherings planned or underway, inviting those of us physically removed from the scene to express solidarity in ways that speak to different individuals. The work of BJE includes ensuring that successive generations never remain indifferent; that that sense of kinship and mutual responsibility is abiding.
BJE’s statement of vision, throughout the year, is, in part, to “ensure present and future generations of knowledgeable Jews who are committed to their religious and cultural heritage and an enduring connection with Israel.” This is something that Jewish schools take seriously. At this challenging time, BJE educators are sharing resources appropriate to helping children relate to the current situation with colleagues in the field.
The brutal attack and murder of hundreds of Israeli civilians took place on what, in Israel, was Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. On that day, the closing chapter of Deuteronomy is read and the Book of Genesis is begun, anew. Nearly one thousand years ago, the great medieval Jewish commentator on the Torah, Rashi, opened his commentary on Genesis with the question: Why does the Torah, a book of instruction, begin with Genesis, rather than with passages of law that start in Exodus? Rashi suggests that there would come a time when nations of the world would question what sort of claim Jews have to Israel. The answer: It is longstanding.
After a brief introduction, Genesis chapters 12-50 (there are 50 chapters in the book) are all about the relationship of the ancestors of the Jewish people with the land of Israel. The patriarchs and matriarchs pitch tent in various parts of the land; they interact with local inhabitants, dig wells, build altars, assign names to numerous places, and most are buried in an area purchased by Abraham as the final resting place of the matriarch Sarah. Jacob, who dies in Egypt, asks to be buried in his family’s ancestral burial cave. Joseph, who lived most of his life in Egypt and was buried there, asks his surviving family to re-inter him when, one day, they will collectively return to the land of Israel. The modern State of Israel is grounded not only in a United Nations decision of November 29, 1947, it is a contemporary expression of a millennia-old relationship, including periods of sovereignty in the land.
There is no simple resolution of the current crisis, nor of the conflicting claims associated with the land of Israel. The present moment calls for us to do what we can for our distressed family in Israel. May our small contributions, in whatever ways we are moved and able to participate, help transform trouble to deliverance, and darkness to light.