MAKE MORE SHAAREI SHOMAYIM JEWS

I shared the follwoing remarks on Kol Nidre evening 5779:

A thousand years of Jewish history in Europe added certain words to the human vocabulary: forced conversion, inquisition, expulsion, ghetto, pogrom, Holocaust. Once hate goes unchecked, the road to tragedy is short.

One of the enduring facts of history is that most antisemites do not think of themselves as antisemites. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the Middle Ages, just their religion. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the nineteenth century, just their race. We don’t hate Jews, they say now, just their nation state.

Antisemitism is the hardest of all hatreds to defeat because, like a virus, it mutates, but one thing stays the same. Jews, whether as a religion or a race or as the State of Israel, are made the scapegoat for problems for which all sides are responsible. That is how the road to tragedy begins.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke these words in Britain’s House of Lords, last week.

On Sunday, a 45-year-old Jewish man was stabbed to death while entering his local supermarket. Suffering a mortal wound, he pursued his attacker and neutralized him – preventing any additional casualties. His name was Ari Fuld. He was a former IDF tzanchan who had made Aliyah from New York. He engaged in advocacy for Israel and the IDF – often conducting vigorous debates within Israel regarding the policies of the state. In the hours that followed his death, leaders of Shalom Achshav – (his political opponents) – posted on social media describing their sadness upon Ari’s passing and their admiration for his character and his friendship. Yet, an American Jewish writer, named Daniel Solomon, posted a different message (it’s hard for me to even voice these words):

“I think it shows a kind of charmed, modern naïveté that people who occupy the lands of others expect to walk around unmolested. Hard to feel much sympathy when this happens to settlers.” (It breaks my heart to repeat these horrible sentiments).

As we pray together today, we think of our individual souls; we think of our families; we think of our Shaarei Shomayim community; we think of the well-being of our people. We immerse ourselves in the narrative of Jewish survival and meaning.

Rabbi Sacks has outlined a clear problem. Our people are in trouble. Modern society has changed nothing. We are hated now, as we have always been hated.

What can you or I do about it? What can we do to help our people during this time of need?

At this moment of our people’s history, we witness and experience two competing narratives:

Rabbi Sacks describes the scourge of anti-Semitism. He uses it to explain attacks on the State of Israel. His description applies equally to a possible future British PM and to a 17-year-old terrorist. 

Daniel Solomon expresses the story of powerful forces arrayed against the weak. Jews are powerful. Power is evil. Therefore, Jews are evil. He and many others would divest themselves of parts of their Jewish identity in order to take the side of the weak. “Why cry for an IDF soldier?” they shout.

If Judaism is to survive – if Israel is to win, then Rabbi Sacks’ narrative must succeed and Daniel Solomon’s narrative must fail.

When Israel first began as a modern state, we understood what we could do to help it. As Jews in North America, we could support the state through the purchase of Israel Bonds. We could support the nascent public and private institutions of what - thank God - has become a thriving modern nation state.

Israel Bonds have become like prayers. God doesn’t need our prayers – but we do. Israel doesn’t need us to give money – but we do. Now let me clarify: Israel can raise money on the international bond market. Yet, Israel preserves the selling of its bonds to diaspora Jews – so that we can have a stake in Israel’s success. Everyone should make this important investment in our future – in Israel’s future.

Please Pray. Please buy bonds. We need to preserve both these connections.

Yet, Israel needs more. Israel needs us to support and spread Rabbi Sacks’ narrative, and Israel needs us to do everything we can to defeat Daniel Solomon’s narrative.

Israel understands that it needs us – Jews in Canada - just as we need it. At a conference of Israeli and North American rabbis, this past February, a representative of Israel’s government told us North American rabbis not to make Aliyah. He asked us to develop strong communities that help Jews be Jews. We can help Israel by preserving and growing our communities. On some level, every shul is a small embassy of Jewish sovereignty. When Israelis come to Canada and join us for Yom Haatzmaut – I get a consistent comment. “In the streets of Toronto, yom haatzmaut is like any other day – but inside your building – rabbi – it is like Israel. “ By supporting Shaarei Shomayim, we are supporting the well-being of our people and our state.

But, are our Canadian synagogues doing enough to preserve Jewish identity into the coming generations? In this respect, we again have problems:

According to leading demographers, the North American Jewish landscape will undergo a seismic shift over the next fifty to seventy years. Orthodox Jews, who currently represent approximately 10 to 12 percent of the North American Jewish population will—if current projections hold—become the majority of North American Jewry. Within 40 years, there will be more Jews affiliated with Orthodox institutions, than with Reform and Conservative institutions combined. And before the end of this century the Orthodox will outnumber all other North American Jews combined, including those who belong to no denomination.

We cannot gloat, because we have no right to gloat. Our brothers are our brothers, and our sisters are our sisters. Every lost Jew is a voice crying out from the ground. Where were you? What did you do to help me?

We have a method by which to preserve Jewish identity and the Jewish story. I am not speaking of kiruv. We just said in our prayers the words - anu matirim l’hitpallel im haavrayanim – we permit praying with sinners. Most people read it as speaking about those people. Today we the holy ones, we let those sinners join us. It can be read differently. We are the avaryanim - the fallen. We recognize that we can open ourselves to others and welcome them in. We are spiritually strengthened when we welcome others. Even if we aren’t perfect, we must bring others in.

Israel needs us. We can help Israel by creating more Shaarei Shomayim Jews.

We fill a special place on the spectrum of Jewish engagement today. We have a distinct role to play along the continuum of Jewish history. We show that you can be fully engaged in society and deeply invested in the Jewish narrative (including a deep love for the State of Israel). We can offer this opportunity to others. When we approach a colleague or friend, we don’t have to threaten. We only have to open our hearts and share. We have a methodology that is replicable.

Let’s talk about our methodology.

Shabbat is a special day for you. You come to shul. You have a special Friday night meal. For some it may not be every week, but it’s what our community does.

You have friends here / whom you care about / and who care about you. You would not be friends with these people if not for this place. We are family in a way that matters. You are a modern person who is linked to your ancient people. There’s no contradiction.

The following story illustrates my point:

Many years ago at the Young Israel of Great Neck, a ba’al teshuvah couple made a brit for their second son. More than 200 people showed up. The father got up during the simchah and said, “At the brit milah of our first son, there were about fifteen people in our living room. Now that we’ve become Orthodox, at this brit there are 200 people here, and I know everybody! No one tells you that when you become Orthodox, you suddenly have a whole family around you. Those outside can’t even begin to understand what kind of life change this is.

Sociologist Robert Putnam called this social capital. It’s good for the psychological health of every modern person to have these types of relationships. It’s good for the spiritual health of every Jew to have these relationships.

We come to synagogue and we connect to our friends. We also pray.  Prayer is a healthy activity for our souls and our minds. We think about our needs and our purpose. One member of our congregation commented to me after Rosh Hashanah davening – that she feels like she just finished a psychological spa treatment – she described how she came out of davening refreshed, even if some of her treatments were a little uncomfortable in the moment. 

This is what I want you to say to your colleague, neighbour, friend or relative. Join me in shul – come for lunch afterwards – you may love it or you may hate it – but it will be good for you and your children. You don’t have to be the best Jew to do this. You don’t have to be a rabbi. We need to preserve Rabbi Sacks’ narrative. The State of Israel needs us to do this. The State of Israel needs more Shaarei Shomayim Jews.

One of the enduring facts of history is that most antisemites do not think of themselves as antisemites. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the Middle Ages, just their religion. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the nineteenth century, just their race. We don’t hate Jews, they say now, just their nation state.

But what do we Jews say. We do not allow haters to determine our destiny. We do not fall prey to fear.

Throughout this past month, we have said the prayer l’david hashem ori.  In this prayer, David speaks about fear: The fear of long arduous battles – and the fear of devious enemies. David overcomes his fear. He dreams of the beit hashem – the sanctuary (and the community) where he can gain the nourishment and confidence to face an insecure future. We have David’s tools in this beit hashem. We must share them with as many of our brothers and sisters, as we can. We must do so for their sake, for Israel’s sake, and ultimately for the sake of our children.