I got a strange phone call from a dear friend in Israel yesterday morning. She asked me, "What do you hear in your American media? When are they going to bomb?" It took me a split second to understand that the topic she was asking about was the civil war in Syria and the chemical bombing of their citizens. I informed her that by this point the media talks about when, not if, the Allies bombing is going to take place.
I placed the phone down, and my emotional being went into "high alert" to the happening in Israel. Late last night when I was finally able to watch my Israeli satellite TV, to my horror, I saw a large gathering of fearful people waiting to get their gas masks. Israel's civil defense unit had created centers for gas mask distribution in post offices and special centers throughout Israel. WHAT??? AGAIN???
Thoughts where running in my head, oh, my God, we just celebrated a family wedding, many of my family members are still here is L.A. All of them had tickets to go back to Israel today or tomorrow. I called them and asked them to delay their return just for one week... they were laughing. "What are you worried about?" they asked me. "We are not worried. Remember the Yom-Kippur War? It has happened before that they wanted to kill us. God is on our side, don't worry." Wow, this is a lesson in life, I thought. This is what we need in a relationship, complete trust. This is a relationship of conviction. This is the faith one needs to have in a covenantal relationship between God and His people.
Yet, my heart, and my emotional alert system called me to watch my Israeli satellite TV this morning. The focus of the Israeli media this time was on the Patriot anti-missile rockets the army already placed all over Israel; the frightening fact that there are only enough gas masks for six out of ten Israelis; and the growing crowds in the gas mask distribution centers. Suddenly, while being in one of these mask centers, almost by accident, the camera scanned the growing crowd and scanned the back of a worker's T-Shirt, it read, "Gas Mask Center. Choose Life!"
Shivers went up my spine. This line is in our Torah portion this week!!! "I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life!" Deut. 30:19. At this point, tears were running down my face. Later, trying to console myself, I took a deep breath and thought about the pleading words of the Avinu Malkenu prayer, when we are beseeching God,
"Avinu Malkenu let the gates of heaven be open to our plea...
do not turn us away empty handed from Your presence...
have compassion on us and on our children...
give strength to Your people of Israel...
make an end to all oppression...
treat us generously and with kindness, and be our help."
As we gather this coming Saturday for early learning (see separate flier), Shabbat service, evening Slihot-Healing service (see separate flier), and Wednesday evening and Thursday morning in honor of Rosh HaShanah, we, your loving Rabbi, Gary, Kimberly and other holiday guests wish you a Shanah Tovah. May God bless you with a good year, a year of good health and peace. Amen.
Next Saturday evening we will be getting together for our special program of Selihot.
This week, I attended the Board of Rabbis’ Yom Iyun (day of study). Every year, rabbis from the larger Los Angeles metropolitan area gather before the High Holy Days for a day of study. It is always a wonderful day, filled with camaraderie and stimulating study topics.
One of the workshops I attended was about immigration. A panel of four colleagues discussed the need to change some of the current U.S. immigration laws. One common denominator was our responsibility to remember that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were immigrants to Egypt, looking for food for their families because of famine in their own country of Canaan. Many immigrants today are leaving their home for the same reason. They are looking for food.
Each one of us has an American family immigration story. Some of us are blessed to possess four generations of stories, while others have very current immigration stories. Some are sad, having to be separated from the family, and some are very happy, where families after many years of separation finally reunite. The question we are challenged with is whether our own families would have made it to the U.S., under the current immigration laws?
Our Jewish memory is strong. In our Torah portion this week, we are asked, once we are in Israel to take a basket of the first fruits to the Temple and make a declaration that is somewhat troubling. Moses instructs the people to say, “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there… The Egyptians dealt harshly with us… We cried to God and God heard our plea and freed us from Egypt… and gave us this land.”
Many commentators have asked why the Israelites need to constantly relive the immigration history of their ancestors, even while they are living in a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’, such as the “Golden Medina”? We all know the answer, right? It is gratitude!
Yes, we should help make immigration laws caring and kind and, at the same time, also accountable and responsible. I would not want to see the U.S. in a few years in the same predicament that England, Sweden, and other European countries are facing. Yet, when we remember our immigrant ancestors and their life transforming experiences coming here, we identify with their sacrifices, which guarantee us, their next generation, to have it better than they had it. My basket is full with fruits of gratitude, I know yours is also. May we continue to enjoy gratitude through God’s love, grace and mercy. Amen.
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.