Shabbat Vayeira D'var Torah - Ilana Symons

This text was take from Ilana's D'var Torah to the Reform Community on Friday night, November 18th, 2016.

Shabbat Shalom!

My name is Ilana. I’m a sophomore in Liberal Studies.

This week’s parsha is called Vayeira. It is most well-known for the Akedah, Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac. However, it also contains one of my favorite stories in the Torah: the story of Sodom. In it, G-d tells Abraham G-d is planning on destroying the city of Sodom because of their wickedness. Abraham asks if G-d would still destroy the city if it contained fifty righteous people, then 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10. G-d agrees to save the city under these circumstances, but unfortunately, is unable to find these righteous people. I think it’s easy to see this as negative; after all, Abraham worked hard to stand up to G-d, and was still unsuccessful. He lost, it was over. I don’t think we can see it as a failure though.

The most topical theme I’ll point to here is the importance of advocacy. I can only imagine that Abraham was terrified when approaching G-d. After all, G-d had just blessed him with a son and again promised to make his descendants a great nation. Abraham had the courage and humility to approach G-d and say that this is wrong. He did the right thing rather than the easy thing. He advocated on behalf of people he didn’t know sort of for an unknown reason- maybe because his son was just born, maybe for his uncle Lot, or maybe because it was simply the right thing to do.

As Jews in the twenty-first century, we have many texts and events we can point to that make us want to stand up for others. Over and over in Jewish history, we see Jews standing up for ourselves and for other peoples. We look at Moses who, despite his lisp, told the most powerful man in Egypt to “Let my people go.” We point to Hillel who said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for me, what am I? And if not now, when?” We recall Abraham Joshua Heschel who prayed with his feet while marching in Selma and Washington during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. We do the right thing because we were strangers in Egypt and continue to know what it feels like to be a minority voice.

All Abraham knew about the Jewish people at this point is that G-d promised they will be a great nation. He didn’t have Jewish role models or texts or events he could site when asked why he stood up for the people of Sodom. His motivation came solely from the knowledge that his people will be great, and he is in no small part responsible for this greatness. It came from his son who even at just a few days old, Abraham knew would lead the Jewish people.

Midrash teaches us that Sodom’s crime was inhospitality. G-d punished them for closing doors in the face of people who were different, for humiliating their visitors, and for keeping their bountiful crops to themselves. Any of that sound familiar? Abraham was the opposite. He was known for audacious hospitality. Before the time of Jewish role models, Abraham embodied what it meant to stand up for others for the sake of doing the kind and right thing, rather than the cruel and easy one.

After the events of the past few weeks which confirm the hatred and bigotry in our world, it’s easy to feel small and powerless. It’s easy to feel that our voices aren’t being heard and to focus on helping ourselves rather than anyone else. After working so hard maybe for a specific candidate or outcome, some of us feel that we failed and that’s going to mean a lot more pain in the world. Like Abraham, we put ourselves out there and for a second maybe felt that we had won, only to find a crushing defeat. But like Abraham, we must keep going. We must fight on and work for the future and for the great nation we have yet to become. We must be one of those 10, 20, 30, 40, 45, 50 righteous people that G-d couldn’t find in Sodom but could find in America.

Somehow, I think Abraham knew we’d be put in this place. That the Jewish people would have to endure thousands of years of anti-Semitism and that beyond helping ourselves, we’d want to help others. It is Abraham that I look to as a role model in these distressing times. Abraham who was the first Jew and who is most remembered simply for welcoming people into his tent. For standing up for people without a voice. For being promised a great nation and setting up a beautiful legacy for it to fulfill. Abraham teaches us that the best we can do is advocate for a better world for our children and to be kind simply for the sake of kindness. If we do that, we will have succeeded.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reflections on Parashat Devarim

Parashat Devarim

Sefer Devarim (Deuteronomy) consists of Moses’s speech to the people of Israel, as they prepare to enter the land of Canaan. In this first parasha, he describes their journeys in the desert, including the establishment of the judicial system, the incident of the spies, their encounters with the nations of Eisav, Moav, and Ammon and battles with Sichon and Og, and the giving of the Trans-Jordan territory to the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe.

Devarim, Rashi, and God’s Love for Israel
The Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) opens: These are the words which Mosheh spoke to all of Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wildnerness, in the Arava, over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban and Hatzerot, and Di-Zahav.     
Rashi comments: Since these were words of rebuke, and here are listed all the places where they angered God. Therefore the verse condenses these matters and alludes to them only through a hint, on account of the honour of Israel.
From a simple reading of the text one would not have gleaned that concern for Israel’s honour is the guiding principle behind the list of locations. What explains Rashi’s comment?
Before suggesting an answer it is worth considering some of the difficulties of reading Rashi.
Rashi – full name Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki – wrote, arguably, the most significant and beloved of all commentaries to the Torah. And yet, figuring out what Rashi himself actually thinks is particularly difficult.
Firstly, where other medieval Biblical commentators such as Ramban or Seforno wrote, in addition to exegetical works, long essays on topics they deemed significant, Rashi’s work is almost exclusively made up of commentaries to verses. If he is ‘chained’ to the verse, how can we know what topics mattered to him?
Secondly, his comments are almost always brief. If we are to deduce something of his worldview, we have only a few words each time to work from.
Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, the vast majority of Rashi’s words are not even his own! Rather they are select quotes taken from the vast pool of earlier midrashic commentaries. So if Rashi is copying and pasting from elsewhere, what can we usefully say is his own opinion?
Professor Avraham Grossman, in his wonderful book on Rashisuggests a number of tools that lovers of Rashi can use to overcome these problems. One idea is to isolate instances where Rashi consistently inserts a certain theme into the text at various locations, even though the Torah text itself makes no hint at such a theme.
The most striking example of this is Rashi’s first comment to each of the Torah’s five books. In each case Rashi diverts from the simple meaning of the text in order to insert an alien theme – God’s love of Israel.
Bereishit (Genesis) opens with creation – a universal theme – and yet Rashi turns to the land of Israel and God’s gift of it to the Jewish people, conditional upon their righteous behavior.
Shemot (Exodus) begins with an innocuous list of the names of Jacob’s family who went down to Egypt but Rashi notes that the list has already been mentioned at the end of Bereishit, and is repeated here ‘to make known God’s affection for them’.
Vayikra’s (Leviticus) begins, ‘And God called to Mosheh…’ – and goes on to list the various sacrifices. Rashi, however, notes that the language of God ‘calling’, as opposed to the usual language ‘speaking’ denotes the affection and intimacy that God feels for Mosheh and Israel.
Bamidbar (Numbers) opens with the census of the Jewish people, ostensibly to assess their military strength. Yet Rashi explains, ‘on account of His love for them, He counts them at every moment’.
And, as we have seen, Rashi’s first comments on Devarim introduce an identical theme. The Torah passes over God’s rebuke to Israel on account of their honour.
Five times then, at a highly significant juncture in the text Rashi emphasizes God’s love for Israel, and this, despite anything in the actual text, which indicates that this is a theme. What are we to conclude from this?
Rashi lived in France and Germany from 1040 to 1105. Dominated by the Crusades, this period was arguably one of the most miserable in Jewish history. If ever there was a period in which Jews could have been forgiven for thinking that God had forgotten this covenant with Israel – this was it. A religious leader could have told them that God was still their judge or king and would hold them to account if they strayed.
Yet Rashi, put God’s enduring love for Israel front and centre.
Tisha B’Av – the most sombre day of the Jewish calendar – falls this Sunday. Rashi’s example, at the beginning of Devarim and elsewhere, reveals one of the most compelling themes of the day. More noteworthy than the destruction of the Temple and other historical catastrophes, is that despite these catastrophes, Jews did not lose their faith.
Not for nothing was Rashi given the moniker ‘me’or einei hagola’ – he who illuminated the eyes of the exile.

This post was originally posted in Limmud on One Leg's weekly email.

AJC Forum Reflections

AJC Forum Reflections - Yana Yasevich, Bronfman Center Student Leader

At the beginning of June, I attended AJC’s annual Global Forum, a three-day conference devoted to highlighting the committee’s programming and bringing together a diverse collective of thought leaders and visionaries to boldly, passionately and intelligently discuss the greatest issues facing Israel, foreign policy and diplomatic relations today.

To provide full disclosure, my attendance at the conference was my first exposure to AJC – I was unfamiliar with the American Jewish Committee, what they did, and what the goal of the conference was. Though this unfamiliar approach to an extended conference could have gone both ways, I ended up truly blown away by the quality of the event. Several hours after my arrival in Washington D.C., our group of university students, the first of its kind to be assembled, heard from AJC CEO David Harris. In extending a warm welcome, David shared with us the committee’s mission and activities since its inception in 1913, highlighting its incredible advocacy for the Japanese during World War II, African Americans throughout the Civil Rights movement, and women in their push for equality. He proudly conveyed AJC’s devotion to lobbying for those who need the support of a louder voice, regardless of nationality or religious affiliation.

Over the course of the weekend, we attended and participated in various discussion groups and panels. With Hillel’s President Eric Fingerhunt and Stanford’s Rabbi Serena Eisenberg, we examined Jewish life on campus, sharing with one another both our hopes for the future and the challenges we currently face. Through the patient, intelligent and deeply respectful words of Dr. Tal Becker and NSA Susan Rice, we explored in depth the great trials of diplomacy and foreign relations. Listening to panels of exceptional journalists converse, we witnessed the tremendous diversity of thought and opinion even within Israel itself, giving faces to the multitude of opinions we often hear.

At its heart, every discussion and panel was rooted in deep respect and understanding, in awareness that no one had the singular right answer regarding Israel or its relations with others. We were here to learn from another, to kindly engage in challenging discourse. Personally, I regard this pursuit with the highest esteem, and am tremendously thankful to be part of a collective that seeks to confront its existing beliefs, even if doing so is uncomfortable. The AJC Global Forum is, in my humble opinion, an incredible gathering, and I hope to attend once again in the future.  

Elie Wiesel, Mosheh, and Moving on from the Waters of Strife


A piece for Parshat Chukat in memory of Elie Wiesel.

Great books capture something vital about what it is to be human. I feel a debt to an author when their work has given me a new way of thinking about life. The book, once absorbed, becomes a part of the way I look at the world, a new tool with which to decipher mysteries. Few books have had more of an impact on me than Elie Wiesel’s Night, the chronicle of the author’s time in Auschwitz.

Beyond the book’s overall impact on me (which I once wrote about elsewhere) it gave me an insight into understanding a part of the book of Bamidbar and a crucial moment in the life of Mosheh Rabbeinu that had always perturbed me. Whenever I read this portion of the Torah I now remember Night.

In my own internal world, it seemed both eerie and fitting that the Torah passage appears in parshat Chukat, – this week’s reading in the Diaspora and last week’s in Israel – in such close proximity to Wiesel’s passing. Given that he was as much Jewish educator as Holocaust witness, it seems appropriate to share this idea now.

We are twenty chapters and forty years into the desert. The people are hungry and thirsty. They cry out. They would have preferred to have stayed in Egypt rather than die in this wilderness. Mosheh despairs and cries out to God, who responds that water will burst forth from the rock, enough for the whole congregation.

Mosheh berates the people and strikes the rock. The waters flow. And then God’s word comes:

יען לא האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל לכן לא תביאו את הקהל הזה אל הארץ אשר נתתי להם

Since you did not believe in me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel Therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them (Bamidbar 20:12)


And with this one act and response, Mosheh’s career as leader is given its end date. The goal to which he has been working for so many years will not be achieved. Like the generation who he led out of Egypt, and took to Sinai, he too shall die in the desert.

The question most frequently asked about this passage is what exactly did Mosheh do wrong, for on a simple reading, the severity of the punishment is so much greater than that of the crime. Many are the answers given[1], but I would like to approach the story from another perspective, by posing a different question.

What it is that we would expect to be Mosheh’s response at the sudden news that his life’s mission is to end in failure? He could argue with God – surely such a ‘small’ sin does not deserve such a harsh response? He could plead – at least him be given another chance! He could try to compromise – he would pass the mantle of leadership to another but let him at least live to see the promised land! Or, perhaps most likely, when all these efforts come to null, we would expect to see him break down – an emotional collapse as the great ambition towards which he has been working with all his might for the last forty years fades into the desert sands.

And yet we read immediately afterwards:

וישלח משה מלאכים מקדש אל מלך אדום

כה אמר אחיך ישראל, אתה ידעת את כל התלאה אשר מצאתנו

וירדו אבותינו במצרימה ימים רבים, וירעו לנו מצרים ולאבותינו

ונצעק על ה’ וישמע קולנו וישלח מלאך ויצאנו ממצרים והנה אנחנו בקדש עיר קצה גבולך

נעברה נא בארצך, לא נעבור בשדה ובכרם ולא נשתה מי באר

דרך המלך נלך לא נטה ימין ושמאל עד אשר נעבר גבולך

And Mosheh sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom:

Thus does your brother Israel say:

You know all the hardships that have befallen us

How our fathers went down to Egypt for many days,

And that the Egyptians dwelt harshly with us and with our fathers

And we cried out to God and He heard our voice and sent a messenger who freed us from Egypt

Now we are in Kadesh, a town at the edge of your border,

Let us pass through your land. We shall not pass through fields or vineyards and shall not drink water from wells.

We shall follow the king’s highway, turning neither to left or right until we pass through your borders

No remonstrations or recriminations. No pleading or breakdown. Instead Mosheh gets on immediately with the task at hand. He takes concrete steps to fulfil the mission which he has just been told he won’t be able to complete! How does he do this? Where are his emotions? Is the self-restraint superhuman or inhuman? [2]

Primo Levi, one of the few Holocaust writers who can claim to be Wiesel’s equal, writes inThe Drowned And The Saved that one of the key factors that separated those who survived the Holocaust from those who perished was whether they had something else – a political ideology such as Communism or Zionism – or someone else – a relative or friend – that could expand their universe beyond the immediate misery and brutality of the camp, providing a reason to carry on living when everything else told them to give up.

One of the critical characters in Night, is Elie Wiesel’s father. Together throughout their time in the camps each one looked out for the other, frequently giving away their own share of the rations when the other was on the verge of collapse. And throughout the work’s powerful description of their relationship one feels the truth of Levi’s insight – that both father and son carried each other through those years – not in the obvious sense that the stronger one provides for the weaker one, but that the stronger one is himself sustained by the knowledge that another human life is dependent on him.

Thus one of the most poignant and painful moments in Night comes towards the end of the book as the war draws to a close. The Russians are approaching and the Nazis abandon the camp. All the prisoners who are fit to walk will be force marched hundreds of miles as the Germans withdraw, whilst those who are bedridden, including Wiesel’s father,  will be left in the infirmary. Elie Wiesel is confronted with a terrible dilemma: does he take his father with him on brutal journey which he will surely not survive or does he leave him in the infirmary, not knowing whether or not the Nazis will blow up the camp as they retreat. He chooses the former option taking his father with him on the death march. As feared, his terribly ill father cannot make it and perishes on the way with no grave or burial. Wiesel loses his beloved father and the person who had given his life a modicum of meaning in the midst of the nightmare.

And then something amazing happens. Wiesel remarks, almost as a footnote, that he later discovered that the Nazis had left the infirmary untouched, and that the inmates had been liberated by the Russians a few days later with many of them surviving. Had he left his father there, they may well have been reunited after the war!

Here is the critical moment. At this point in the text I was sure Wiesel would break down with an outpouring of self-recrimination. ‘If only I had left him in the infirmary, we could have been reunited, and lived many more years together…

And yet this line never appears. Instead Wiesel moves on straight away with his story, moving to the next encounter in which he needed to navigate his survival.

Over the years I have noticed this when Holocaust survivors tell their stories. So frequently did their families have opportunities to leave Europe before the war, or escape the Nazi clutches at some point or another. They didn’t take the escape route because they assumed that the madness would pass, because they couldn’t stand to lose everything they owned, or because they simply made a wrong calculation. And yet, almost without failure, at the moment when the listener expects them to break down into anguished ‘if onlys…’ they move straight on with their story, not pausing to reflect upon what might have been.

Why do they do this? It seems to me that it must be a condition of those who survive. That in the face of the most devastating setbacks they do not pause to wallow in what-ifs. They pick up. They move on. Their world will never again be complete. But there is still a world there to save, a life to lead – and lead it and save it they must.

Mosheh too must have dreamed of making it to the Promised Land. The decree that he would die in the desert must have been terrible. He could have given up at that point. Remonstrated. Screamed. Broken down.

And yet he carried on. He carried on immediately with the holy task that he had been given, to lead the people through the wilderness even as he knew that he would not make it to their destination. The power of this is remarked on by the Tanchuma (Chukat #33)

וישלח משה מלאכים מקדש אל מלך אדום כה אמר אחיך ישראל וגו’ (במדבר כ יד) …בנוהג שבעולם אדם עוסק בפרקמטיא עם חבירו והפסיד, פירש ממנו ואינו רוצה לראותו, ומשה אע”פ שנענש על ידי ישראל, לא פרק משואן מעליו, אלא וישלח משה מלאכים

And Mosheh sent messangers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, ‘thus does your brother Israel say…’ It is the way of the world that when a man enters into a deal with his fellow and loses, he removes himself from that person and doesn’t wish to see him again. And yet Mosheh, even though he was punished on account of Israel… he did not remove the load (i.e. the task) that was upon him, rather, ‘And Mosheh sent messengers…’

Upon the loss of their greatest hope or their dearest relative, neither Mosheh nor Elie Wiesel gave up. They did not berate themselves for the wrong decision they had made. They both carried on, knowing that there was still so much for them to do.

A Midrashic Afterthought:

In answer to the more frequently asked question, of what Mosheh did that was so heinous as to warrant such harsh punishment the midrashim provide many varied suggestions. One of the most intriguing is a tradition that Mosheh did not in fact sin at all, rather his fate was that of everyman.

ומת בהר אשר אתה עולה שמה, אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם למה אני מת לא טוב שיאמרו טוב משה ממראה משיאמרו טוב משה משמועה לא טוב שיאמרו זה משה שהוציאנו ממצרים וקרע לנו את הים והוריד לנו את המן ועשה לנו נסים וגבורות משיאמרו כך וכך היה משה כך וכך עשה משה אמר לו כלך משה גזירה היא מלפני שהיא שוה בכל אדם שנאמר +במדבר יט יד+ זאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל אמרו מלאכי השרת לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם למה מת אדם הראשון אמר להם שלא עשה פיקודיי אמרו לפניו והרי משה עשה פיקודיך אמר להם גזירה היא מלפני שוה בכל אדם שנאמר זאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל.

‘And you shall die on the mountain which you are ascending…’ Mosheh asked at this time, ‘Master of the Universe – why must I die? Would it not be better that I should continue to live, so that they should better we know Mosheh with our own eyes, rather than knowing him only from hearsay. That they should say, this is Mosheh who took us out of Egypt, who split the sea, who brought the manna down for us, who performed miracles and wonders, than they should say such and such did Mosheh do… God responded, ‘Enough Mosheh! It is a decree equal for all men! As is said, ‘this is the Torah (law) of man, who dies in a tent’

Said the angels before the Holy One. ‘Master of the Universe: why did Adam, the first man, die?’ God responded, ‘Because he did not fulfill My instructions’.

The angels asked again, ‘yet Mosheh fulfilled Your instructions?!’ He responded, ‘it is a gezeira (a decree) before Me that is equal for all men, as it says, ‘This is the Torah (the law) of man, that he shall die in a tent.’ (Bamidbar 19)

Hashem responds to the angels’ question of why Mosheh died not by mentioning the sin of the striking of the rock (which is so clearly the reason mentioned in the Torah itself). Rather, unlike Adam who died on account of not listening to God, Mosheh died ‘because it is a decree that is equal before all men. Everyone must die. The midrash can be understood at various levels.

At its simplest it is that literally all humans, even Mosheh, are mortal whose lives must eventually come to an end. The point may sound obvious but is worth pointing out when we remember that, contemporary to the midrash, certain religious ideas were coming into vogue that on occasion a great religious figures can gain immortality. Against this idea, the midrash argues that all men, even the very greatest, even Mosheh Rabbeinu, must eventually pass away.

At another level the midrash teaches not only that all humans must eventually die, but thatall of us will pass away with unfulfilled ambitions. It is impossible to get 10 out of 10 in life. Mosheh succeeds in breaking Egyptian slavery and in taking the people out of Egypt. He leads the people through the desert, brings them to Sinai and receives the Torah. Yet even he cannot make it past the desert and into Israel. Franz Kafka gives expression to this in a diary entry:

Moses does not enter the Land of Canaan not because his life is too short but because his life is a human life.

For both Kafka and the midrash, this is something essential about what it means to be human: that no one finishes their life having achieved everything they would want to have achieved.

I used to find this idea difficult and depressing. Is trying the first step to failure? But then I read Night and in light of Wiesel’s relationship with his father I understood something new about living in the wake of loss. It would have been completely understandable if Wiesel had broken down when his father perished and if he had spent the rest of his life berating himself for having taken his father out of the infirmary. Similarly, Mosheh could have ceased his work at the moment he was told that he would not lead the people into the land. But instead both of them carried on. Not looking backwards, regretting decisions they had taken. Instead they got on with the task at hand. They knew that they would no longer achieve everything, that their lives and worlds would not be complete. Yet even if they could not have everything there was still so much more for them to accomplish. Mosheh would lead the people to the edge of the land and would climb the mountain to see the place they would inherit. Wiesel would spend the rest of his life teaching the Jewish people and the world about the danger of the hatred of the other.

And now the lesson of the midrash is no longer crushing. It is liberating. Once the message that one will never be completely successful is internalized, a person no longer needs to feel duty-bound to achieve everything. Rather, they are empowered to achieve exalted tasks along the way, knowing that they need not lament or berate themselves for that which they have fallen short on.

It is not upon you to finish the work, but nor are you free to abstain from it.


 Elie Wiesel 1928-2016


[1] The most well-known answers given by the medieval commentators focus on the striking of the rock rather than speaking to it (Rashi) or on Mosheh’s anger (Rambam) as the central problem. I gave a shiur on the midrashic answers to the question here.

[2] Mosheh’s unwillingness to come to terms with the decree is in fact hinted to at the beginning of Parshat Va’etchanan, ‘And I pleaded with God at that time saying… let me cross over and I will see that good land’ (Devarim 3:23,25). According to Professor Gerald Blidstein, in his excellent book B’etzev Nevo, the topic of Mosheh’s death and his responses to it are more greatly elaborated upon than any other topic throughout midrashic literature. In Bamidbar however the text is silent.

Strong Start

Strong Start - Jordan Einhorn, CLIP New York 2016

The first seminar in this year’s CLIP program focused on Jewish identity. Throughout the day we participated in different sessions which provided us opportunities to define our own Jewish identities, create and reflect on visual representations of these Jewish identities, and ultimately hear from and speak to a panel of three young current Jewish professionals about how their identities influence the work that they do. All in all it was a productive day filled with chances for both open discussion as well as introspective analysis on our Jewish identities, even though by the end of the day the word “identity” was used so much that it started to sound less and less like English. Despite this, our first Friday together (other than orientation) provided a great opportunity to learn more about ourselves as individuals and as a cohort. On display throughout the seminar was not only everyone’s willingness to be open and honest with one another about how Judaism plays a role in their lives, but also a prevailing sense of diversity in the different ways in which members of the cohort relate to Judaism. It truly brought to the forefront certain CLIP values such as pluralism, inclusivity, and Jewish engagement.

As great as the first CLIP seminar was, and as much as it allowed us all to really engage and grapple with the idea of Jewish identity, I get the feeling that we as a cohort are still just scraping the surface of in-depth discussions about Judaism, identity, community, pluralism, and other key elements of the CLIP program. We still have a lot of summer left, including multiple Friday seminars, Monday electives and a Shabbaton, and I look forward to getting to delve into these issues as well as others with the rest of the cohort. If we deal with all of these concepts with the same enthusiasm and thoughtfulness that was in the room for our identity seminar, then I am very confident that CLIP 2016 will be an unforgettable experience.

Naaseh V'nishmah

Naaseh V’nishmah - Spencer Perdeck, NYU Student

Usually when I take a trip to Orlando it’s to find a state of happiness; to make wishes and ideate dreams.  This was a different trip. A delegation from the NYU Bronfman Center of two staff members and three students, including myself, went down to Orlando last Wednesday following the horrific act of hatred that took place earlier on that Sunday morning.  We departed not really knowing who we would be able to help or where or even if we would be needed, but we went anyway. Naaseh V’nishmah, or “we will do and we will hear.”  The Jewish approach includes taking an action without necessarily knowing why it’s important or how it will work out, but trusting that it will lead to understanding. We knew we had to go, even though we wouldn’t know who needed our help unless we were there.  Just showing up was the most important thing to do. To “BE” there for another in the flesh is an important principle that keeps inching its way farther from our reality as our technology consumes us and becomes the definitive.

While in Orlando, we visited a few different places. The LGBTQ Center developed into the main headquarter for all things related to helping out the effort. We did a little bit of physical work, but more importantly we listened to the people. We heard them, and we wanted them to know that we heard them and stand in solidarity with them. We listened, and we provided hugs and love from the NYU Jewish Community. Locals were very surprised that we had come from so far to be there and help out and I would like to believe that it brightened the day for those that we encountered. Knowing that people besides the media were there to simply listen and love was hopefully something that made these people smile and gave them hope. I’m glad that we were able to be there for the people of Orlando as well as the LGBTQ and Latin communities and hopefully we provided some comfort in such a troubling and inexplicable time. It’s hard for a community that is shattered to help one another when they are all in need of a shoulder. When something is shattered, there’s an opportunity to reinvent oneself and come back stronger and more beautiful; and that’s exactly how the people of Orlando have responded. They have banded with one another, creating a gorgeous mosaic that is the community: Orlando Strong.

We went to The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts which became the place for leaving memorial messages, items and flowers. A vigil had taken place there a previous night and all over the pavement were candle wax drippings that had permanently melted onto the surface.  The sight of it made me cry. The drops were like tears frozen in time. Tears of a community, fragile and in need of love.

I left Orlando with more wishes and dreams. I’m sure I share these dreams with many of you, and what I will say is that dreams are just that. They are dreams.  But what I’m hoping for are actions. Actions of love, respect, and education. Just as Bigotry and hatred is taught so can love and respect.

Careful the things you say, Children will listen

Careful the things you do, Children will see and learn

Children may not obey, but children will listen

Children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be

Careful before you say “listen to me”, Children will listen.

                  -Stephen Sondheim


Judaism teaches us to treat ourselves and others with Kavod or repsect; even the stranger is to be treated with respect. And we have the Communal Responsibility or Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh for each other. The Jewish Principle that “All Israel is responsible for one another” (Shavuot 39a) means each of us must take action and inspire others to create a community in which we can ALL take pride. It is the responsibility of a religious institution to encourage respect for all people and to love one another no matter what differences we may have. It’s our differences that make the world a more vibrant and colorful place to live. Be a stained glass window; offering protection while allowing light to shine through you and onto others.

We can reignite the power of dreams by turning those dreams into actions. Lead by example. Teach those around you by doing what you know is right. Don’t let time pass and allow you to forget. Something horrific as this shouldn’t mean it’s now time to do good, but rather as a reminder that we should have been doing good all along. Be kind, keep your chin up and go out and create something beautiful, the world needs it.

“It’s not how long the rain falls or how hard the wind blows or how deep is the snow in the road. Nor the balance we fake when we feel the ground shake and we think that our world will explode. It’s the help that we give. It’s the love that we live. It’s our pride in the friendships we form. It’s the courage we show facing things we don’t know. It’s the way that we weather the storm.”

                  -Benjamin Scheuer




First Days in Tel Aviv

First Days in Tel Aviv – Tia Di Salvo, CLIP Onward Israel, Tel Aviv

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since we’ve arrived in Tel Aviv! Time seems to fly when you’re having fun, which is exactly what we’ve been doing. After settling into our apartments, we began to explore the area outside of our new, central TLV homes. Dizengoff street and Sarona market are just two of the many walkable places for us to hangout. Not only did we get to know the area, but we got to know each other. Although we may all have ties to New York (which by the way, doesn’t mean we’re all close to one another) we’re all from different parts of the country. From Boston to Colorado to Miami, our group is demographically spread out and it’s interesting to learn about everyone’s personal neck of the woods.

Tuesday morning, we spent the day at our orientation where we got to really know our madrichas: May and Smadar (who by the way are super awesome). After a tiring day of team bonding and going over program details, we went home to rest for our first day of work Wednesday morning. Because we’re living on our own, it’s up to each individual to figure out how he or she will get to work. Some of us chose to walk, while others ventured to take on the Tel Aviv bus system. The day was filled with a lot of wrong turns, Google maps, and sweaty interns, but at the end of the day we all figured out where we’ll be working for the next two months.

On Wednesday afternoon we left the city for an overnight camping trip up north. After a few too many hours of driving (gotta love Israeli traffic), we made it to the campsite just in time for dinner. This is the first time we got to meet the CLIP Jerusalem group, so it was exciting to once again, meet new people. While we were enjoying our evening together, we received news that a terror attack occurred very close to our apartments in TLV. The shooting took place a Sarona market: a market filled with restaurants ad bars. One of the interns on our program even works in the exact building where the shooting occurred. After assuring our families that we were safe and nowhere near the city, we played ice breakers and sports while remaining thankful to be with one another and have this amazing opportunity. 

While the lack of sleep may have seemed torturous in the moment, it was worth it in the end. We had a jam-packed day full of hiking, rafting, and finally the beach! Living in Tel Aviv definitely has many perks, however it’s always nice to get away and explore everything else that Israel has to offer.

After an exhausting day in the sun on Thursday, it was nice to sleep in Friday morning. Because of Shabbat, we don’t work Fridays or Saturdays. Our first Shabbat in the Holy Land was definitely a special one. Some people went out of the city to spend dinner with friends and family while others organized a potluck style dinner at home. Regardless of what we did for the holiday, we enjoyed each others’ company and had lots of laughs and good food along the way.

This weekend brought an extra special treat because it was also the holiday of Shavuot. Sunday night May and Smadar organized a picnic for us centered around dairy products. The picnic took place in a park overlooking the beach. Our view featured the beach at sunset which was truly breathtaking. It was just another reminder of how lucky we are to be here.

After a very eventful first week, we began to take to a routine going into Week 2. Our mornings and early afternoons were filled with interning while our late afternoons and nights were spent exploring our new home. With Tel Aviv beach being less than a five-minute walk for most of us, we’ve been spending a healthy amount of time catching waves, getting tan, and figuring out every clever way possible to not drag sand into our apartments (where are our moms when we need them). We’ve gotten a look at the cafes, restaurants, and nightlife that Tel Aviv has to offer and I think it’s safe to say that we won’t be getting bored anytime soon!

As you can see, our first few days in Tel Aviv have been nothing less than amazing. We’ve had the opportunity to learn, explore, and begin to create memories along the way. I’m very excited to see what else Tel Aviv and the CLIP program has in store for us.