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BRS Emergency Solidarity Mission to Israel

on Thursday, July 17 2014. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Dear BRS Family,

Like you, my heart weighs extremely heavily by the announcement of the IDF’s ground offensive in Gaza and the danger it poses to our courageous and heroic soldiers in addition to the likely collateral loss of life that tragically occurs in every war.   Over the last month, as events in Israel have unfolded, there are two feelings that pervade nearly my every waking moment.

Firstly, though I am away for my summer vacation, it has been incredibly difficult being apart from you, my beloved community and my cherished family.  I have longed to daven with you, hope with you, cry with you and stand with you in support of our brothers and sisters in Israel.  From a distance, I have drawn tremendous inspiration by the large BRS participation in two Boca Raton community events.  We are all so fortunate for Rabbi Moskowitz’s capable and sincere leadership during this difficult time and I want to personally thank him for all that he has done. I greatly look forward to returning next week and rejoining you, my BRS family.

Secondly, like you, I continue to feel extremely anxious to help Israel in meaningful ways during this time. Some of the things we could do include:

  • Regularly recite tehillim as well as ask the Almighty in our own words to protect our brothers and sisters in Israel, guard the brave members of the IDF from harm, and enable them to complete their mission of bringing peace and serenity to Israel. Never underestimate the value and impact of genuine, sincere and heartfelt prayer.
  • Advocate for Israel to the media, on social media and to all you meet.   Engage your co-workers, neighbors, those at the gym or fellow shoppers at the supermarket and share the truth about Israel’s just operation to protect her citizens from terrorist attacks. Let them know that Israel has one of the most moral armies in the world and takes exemplary measures to protect civilians in Gaza.
  • Contact elected officials – thank those that have been vocally supportive and challenge the others to publicly support Israel’s right to take all measures necessary to protect her citizens against Hamas, a terror organization that is violating human rights by firing rockets at civilians while at the same time using their own civilians as shields. Ask them to be clear and unequivocal in their message and to issue a press release, as well as post on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Feel solidarity and empathy for those under attack by being alerted in real time of falling rockets. Download the Red Alert app in itunes or Android to gain a very small insight into what they are enduring.
  • Support communities in the south who have been traumatized by the incessant fall of rockets. You can donate to the OU emergency fund that is directly benefitting the citizens of Sderot, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, Beit Shemesh and Ofakim here.
  • Provide packages and necessities for members of the Israeli Defense Forces who are on the front line of this war. Donate to Friends of the IDF here, and/or Yashar L’Chayal here.

There is one more thing we can do for Israel, though understandably, it isn’t for everyone. There is no greater expression of “imo anochi b’tzara, I am with you in pain,” than actually being b’tzara with our brothers and sisters. We can show our family in Israel that when the going gets tough, we, and our children, still go to Israel.

Last week, my daughter left to Israel on a summer program. I understand it is not a simple decision to send a child to Israel while rockets are falling across the width and breadth of the country. God forbid, I would never judge or criticize those who have cancelled plans to go. I personally feel that Israel is not just a place you visit when all is calm and peaceful. We don’t just go for Sukkos, summer tours, or to make a Bar Mitzvah.

On a recent conference call with the leadership of the RCA, when asked what we can do to help, a high level Israeli official encouraged us to come to Israel and show support.

Our community has always stood strongly with Israel and there is no greater way to stand with Israel than to stand in Israel. With our President, Dr. Wolgin’s full endorsement, we are organizing a BRS Emergency Solidarity Mission to Israel from approximately July 27th to August 3rd , with the option to leave early or stay later. In Israel we will visit communities in the South and meet with their mayors, rabbis and community members. We will visit army bases on the border and bring packages. With tens of thousands of reservists now called up, there are volunteers needed in other parts of the country.

In this week’s parsha, when the tribes of Reuvein, Gad and half of Menashe express interest in residing outside of Israel, Moshe turns to them and asks – “Ha’acheichem ya’vou l’milchama, v’ atem teishvu poh? Will your brothers go to war, and you sit here?” Today, thousands of years later, Moshe’s words from our very parsha, ring in our ears.

Please email me as soon as possible if you are interested in participating so we can assess pricing and planning  – reg@brsonline.org

Understandably, not everybody has the time, means or good health to travel to Israel on such short notice. If you can go but cannot afford the cost or you can contribute to helping someone else go, but you personally cannot, please be in touch with me.

By the time our trip takes place, may it be to show solidarity after a sweeping victory in which Israel achieves the peace, quiet and serenity she longs for.

 

Sincerely,

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Be Israel’s Iron Dome

on Thursday, July 10 2014. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Watching the short clip you cannot help but feel you are seeing a fictional scene produced by Hollywood. A rocket is fired at civilians and a missile immediately launches swirling through the sky until it calculates the trajectory of the incoming missile, changing course to meet it high in the sky where it explodes without damaging or threatening anyone below. But this scene isn’t computer generated or the result of special effects. It is a reality playing itself out every few minutes throughout almost the entire width and breadth of our beloved Israel, thanks to the miracle of Iron Dome.

When the researchers at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, an Israeli defense company suggested that they could create a system that would launch missiles to meet rockets in the sky and explode them they were laughed at by their colleagues in America and around the world. Yet their resolve didn’t diminish, for as they say- necessity is the mother of invention.

Early versions of Iron Dome required great improvisation. One of the creators described, “As scientists we dream to sit in our offices without limitations of time and budget and to develop perfect products. But the reality is different, and these constraints forced us to think hard. There are parts in the system forty times cheaper than the parts we buy normally. I can give you even a scoop – it contains the world’s only missile components from Toys R Us…One day I brought to work my son’s toy car. We passed it among us, and we saw that there were actually components suitable for us. More than that I can not tell.”

Manufacturing and operating Iron Dome installations is not inexpensive. The original funding came from Israel, but since then, the United States has provided over one billion dollars of funding to provide more installations and support the cost of operating the system. A tremendous debt of gratitude is owed to Congress and the Administration who have been overwhelmingly supportive in providing the funding necessary to allow Iron Dome to be the protective shield in the sky that Israel sadly needs.

In the last few days alone, hundreds and hundreds of rockets have been launched at Israel, some reaching far distances and cities that have not yet been vulnerable to rocket attacks from Gaza. Remarkably, in this latest escalation, the Iron Dome system has over a 90% success rate of taking out rockets on trajectories towards populated areas. Indeed, it has been reported that Hamas is growingly frustrated with Iron Dome’s success rendering their rocket attacks futile.

Bli ayin ha’rah, despite the enormous amount of rockets fired over the last week there have been no casualties. This extraordinary fact is nothing short of miraculous. We must not take the kindness of the Almighty for granted, nor the ingenuity of Israel or the generosity of the American government and people.

While Iron Dome is doing an incredible job defending the State of Israel from the rocket offensive, there is a second front to Israel’s war even before a ground attack is potentially launched. It is easy to dismiss the lies, distortions and bias against Israel prevalent today in some of the media and among much of the world. One is tempted to remember the prophecy from last week’s parsha (Balak 23:9), “Hein am levadad yishkon, they are a nation destined to be isolated and alone,” and to not even bother to demand accurate, fair and just reporting.

But, Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men teaches (Mishlei 18:21) “Maves v’chaim b’yad halashon, death and life are in the power of the tongue.” It goes without saying that we need to use our power of speech to daven from the depths of our hearts and beseech the Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe to guard and protect our brothers and sisters in Israel and the members of the IDF.  But the pasuk means something more.  Words, articles, op-eds, interviews, blogs and posts matter. They shape popular opinion, which in turn shapes policy, policies like funding for Iron Dome, military cooperation and international lawsuits.

Verbal rockets are being launched at Israel hourly in the form of moral equivalencies, doctored images, misinformation, criticism, and unfair calls for restraint. Some flinging these dangerous and at times lethal missiles do so intentionally and strategically while others are simply poorly informed and ignorant.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, was interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper who asked him about the civilian deaths in the current operation. Dermer asks him, “What do you think America would do if over 200 million Americans were in bomb shelters? What do you think the American people would demand that their government do? Do you think that America would use less force than Israel is using now?” Tapper responds, “The hypothetical is essentially meaningless because is America building housing in Mexico at the time?” Dermer, who somehow remains calm, explains that Israel removed 10,000 of its citizens from Gaza and don’t occupy one inch of it. Yet, since we left, there have been over 8,000 rockets. One can’t help but wonder, in offering the absurd parallel to Mexico, is Tapper just ignorant or is he slanted?

The New York Times bias towards Israel has already been demonstrated before, but this week they hit a new low. Their coverage has been egregiously misleading to the point that they had to issue a correction after misrepresenting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction to the murder of a Palestinian teenager.

While there is nothing we can do to shoot down rockets flying into Israel, there is much we can and must do to be the Iron Dome protecting Israel from verbal rockets from around the world. Part of the genius of Iron Dome is that it calculates the anticipated target of the rocket and only shoots it down if it is headed towards a populated area.   We too need to be judicious and thoughtful in our effort to defend from verbal attacks.

We should not waste time, energy or resources pursuing futile avenues like debating people in the comments sections of online articles or being drawn into endless Facebook and Twitter discussions that serve either as echo chambers of like-minded individuals, or escalations of counterproductive vitriol and rhetoric.

Instead, like Iron Dome, we need to respond in efficient and meaningful ways. Write letters to the editor of local, national and international newspapers and submit op-eds and editorials.   Engage your co-workers, neighbors, people at the gym or fellow shoppers at the supermarket and share the truth about Israel’s just operation to protect her citizens from terrorist attacks. Let them know that Israel has one of the most moral armies in the world and takes exemplary measures to protect civilians in Gaza.  Encourage them to take the time to learn the facts, not just rely on headlines as a source of information. If you need help articulating Israel’s position or learning more about the facts, not just the headlines, AIPAC has wonderful talking points on their website AIPAC.org

Reach out to government officials from the administration, your senators and representatives, down to your local elected officials like your city’s mayor and others. Challenge them to publicly support Israel’s right to take all measures necessary to protect her citizens against Hamas, a terror organization that is violating human rights by firing rockets at civilians while at the same time using their own civilians as shields. Ask them to be clear and unequivocal in their message and to issue a press release, post on Twitter and Facebook and make a speech from the floor if appropriate.

The creators of Iron Dome were told it could not be done, but they persevered because the safety of Israel needed them. Don’t believe that nothing can be done to fight back against the distortions, bias and verbal attacks against Israel.  Your phone call, letter, conversation or post could influence policy and public opinion in real and meaningful ways. Persevere, because the safety of Israel needs all of us.

“Ema, Was it Very Meaningful?” (Guest Post)

on Wednesday, July 2 2014. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

My sister in law, Shayna Goldberg, who lives in Alon Shvut near where the boys were kidnapped, shared her reflections upon attending the tragic funeral for Eyal, Naftali and Gil-ad z’l this week.  I found her words incredibly powerful, inspirational and worth sharing:

“Are they dead?” Asked my 8 year old Tuesday morning after we gathered our children in our bed and told them that we have “something very sad to tell you.”  “Who? Naftali?” asked my 4 year old with big open eyes because of course he knows the names of all three boys. He has been davening for them every day in gan. (My 6 year old can tell you their mothers’ names as well.)  Meanwhile our 10 year old who had been to the rally on Sunday night buried his face in the pillow bracing himself to hear the horrible news that he knew was about to be shared. When his worst fears were confirmed he asked us if Hashem has a plan that somehow this is for the good.  He himself returned from the rally with new found feelings of closeness to his chiloni counterparts.  “They really are a big part of our Am” he told us that night.

My 4 year old wants to know if it was the Romans who killed them.  “No”, I tell him “other very very bad people.”  But as if he somehow understands the inherent message of Maoz Tzur and V’hi Sheamda he often confuses the “Romans”, the “Mitzrim” and the “Naatzim.”  I quietly thank G-d that he has no name for or sense of  our current enemies because I don’t want him to develop a fear or a hatred for those he often sees around him.  My children have a lot of questions.  The same questions we all have.  Why? How could this happen? Why would Hashem want this?  What should I daven for now in my tefilah ishit because this is what I have been thinking about for the last couple of weeks? We tried to answer what we could and explain to them that we don’t always understand but that our tefilot were not a waste…and then we hugged them and cried…and got them dressed for their first day of camp and sent them on their way.  They absorbed the news, processed it each in their own way and then continued on with what they were scheduled to do. Late that night when I returned home from the funeral and went to kiss my kids in their sleep my 10 year old stirred and asked me with his eyes closed “Ema, was it very meaningful?” Yes, I answered.

Yes, it is meaningful to be part of a nation where thousands upon thousands of people came from across the country, walked miles from where their buses unloaded them and then stood hours in the hot sun to be there to comfort and to honor strangers that they had never met.

Yes, it is meaningful that in the heat, squished together, no one pushed, shoved, even raised their voice.  People fainted and others rushed to help.  Water bottles were shared, snacks were given away from those who brought extra to those in need.  Cell phones were passed around when batteries died.

Yes, it is meaningful to sing words of Tehillim and tefila that have been said in every generation by Jews all over the world and feel like somehow we continue to find the strength to have emuna in terrible times.

Yes, it is meaningful to see and hear three bereft fathers recite kaddish together and still be able to praise Hashem’s name after everything they have gone through.

And yes, it is meaningful to be here, to live here, to raise children even right here in Alon Shvut, right now.  Where else would I want to be but here? In a country where you feel cared for and loved by and connected to complete strangers because they are your people and together you share a crazy history and a common destiny.  Together you cry and daven and sing. Together you hope for a happier time, a better day.  And together you know it will come because our morality, our humanity, our decency, our care and kindness and deeply held beliefs and commitments are intact. Our children know it, they feel it, they couldn’t be prouder to be in Israel and to feel a part of this very special people in a very special land.

Feel Empathy With, Not Sympathy For the Families of our 3 Boys

on Friday, June 20 2014. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

It is hard to believe that a week has already passed since we first heard the shocking news that three teenage Israeli boys had been kidnapped by terrorists.   There is a collective pain and agony we all feel, Jews around the world united by our worry, fear and concern. It is truly tragic that it takes a crisis to breed the unity that countless calls and efforts failed to achieve. If only we could capture the sense of togetherness, shared destiny and peoplehood pervasive across the Jewish globe right now so that we could strengthen it and expand upon it, long after our boys are please God home, safe and secure.

The excruciating pain we feel not only for the boys, but also for the Frankel, Shaar and Yifrach families, is compounded by the sense of helplessness and powerlessness to impact the situation. The brave and courageous members of the IDF are conducting a house-to-house manhunt. Undoubtedly diplomacy is being pursued behind the scenes. What is left for us to do? How can we possibly impact the situation positively? What can we do to help these three families whose pain we cannot even imagine?

I once asked Dr. David Pelcovitz, a noted Psychologist, a difficult question and he responded by sharing with me a study he had just read. The study showed that when a person stands at the base of a mountain that they are about to climb, if they are alone, the slope seems much steeper than if they are going to climb it with others. He described that he didn’t have a solution to the question I posed, but that I should know that he is happy to climb the mountain together so at least it won’t seem as steep.

We don’t know how or when these boys will come home. Their families, their friends and their communities have a steep hill to climb. The absolute least we can do is make it clear to them that we are here to climb with them and hopefully, in some way, make the climb a little less steep. In the last chapter of Pirkei Avos, our Rabbis included feeling empathy in the forty-eight ways that the Torah is acquired. A prerequisite to living a life of Torah is having the capacity to be nosei b’ol im chaveiro, carry our friend’s burden, feel their pain and climb the mountain with them.

There is a fundamental difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is felt by a spectator, an observer to someone else’s predicament. Sympathy is genuinely feeling bad for another, but only as an outsider. Empathy is felt by someone who identifies with the one suffering to the extent that he himself is suffering as well. If someone is in a dark and deep hole, sympathy means stopping to look down the hole and feel bad for the plight of another. Empathy means climbing down to be in the hole and suffer together with them.

The least we can do for the three families whose sons are being held hostage is to be nosei b’ol, carry their burden, share their pain, and climb the hill with them. Feeling empathy means waking up in the middle of the night to check our phones to see if there is any news or any updates. Empathy means to have these boys on our minds and in our thoughts throughout the day.   Empathy means feeling the ache, the acute pain, and the hole in our hearts as we contemplate what these boys are going through.

Nosei b’ol means to daven from the depths of our hearts and from the deepest parts of our souls and to plead with the Almighty to intervene. The gemara (Berachos 12b) quotes Rav who teaches that anybody who has the ability to pray for someone who is suffering and chooses not to, is called a chotei, a sinner.

Empathy also means one more thing.

I have been stunned and deeply disturbed by a series of articles that have emerged while yet in the heart of this crisis, all by authors who say they feel the pain of these families. One article provocatively proclaimed “Prayer Won’t #BringBackOurBoys.” Another article partially places responsibility for the kidnapping on the boy’s school and brazenly tells its leaders “Faith can’t substitute safe transport for their children.” Lastly, while yet prayer rallies were taking place everywhere, one blogger couldn’t help himself from divisively pointing a finger at a segment of the Jewish community he falsely accused of not caring enough about this tragic situation.

Genuine empathy means we follow the lead of the parents as they live through this ordeal. These parents have displayed extraordinary faith, courage and resolve. They have not called for revenge, they have not criticized segments of the Jewish community they think should be doing more, and they have not held their son’s yeshiva responsible for their policy on hitchhiking.

All that they have done consistently is proclaim tremendous gratitude to members of the IDF, profess great thanks to the Israeli government and most emphatically encourage us all to keep praying.

When this is all over, there will be plenty of time for analysis, accountability, criticism and evaluation. When the boys come home, everyone can share their insights with the world. If we truly feel empathy, if we are really sick to our stomachs over what happened, now is the time to show restraint and only write articles and post messages that will promote unity, faith and prayer, the values these incredible parents keep spreading in the most remarkable ways.

We should follow their lead and example and that’s all. Support the IDF in their efforts to find the boys. Express gratitude and encouragement to the Israeli government to take whatever measures necessary. And, keep praying. Pray when you are all alone, pray in communal prayer and pray at special prayer rallies.

We cannot directly assist in bringing our boys home, but we can be nosei b’ol im chaveirenu, we can seek to share in the pain of these families and displaying empathy with them, make their unimaginable climb, a little less steep.