Friday, November 25, 2016

Israel: Fires of Destruction, Fires of Hatred.

Dear Friends,
I write this from Chicago where I am celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. While it is wonderful to be with loved ones - giving thanks for the bounty with which we have been bestowed - as Shabbat approaches, my thoughts are far away.  I know that many of you have been watching with horror at the news of the wildfires that are engulfing Israel. The city of Haifa, where I spent a semester during my Junior Year in High School, has been particularly hard hit. Tens of thousands of families have been displaced as they have seen their homes and neighborhoods destroyed.
Reports that  many of these fires may have been deliberately set by arsonists makes the tragedy all the more horrific. At the same time, we are also hearing about acts of compassion and courage from within the Palestinian community who are also affected by the fires and have have opened their homes and institutions to victims - regardless of religious, ethnic or political background. 
This week's Torah portion, Chaye Sarah, speaks of how Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah as a burial place for his beloved wife, Sarah. The ancient Rabbis, in their commentary on the text, wrote how this was the first time that land was legally and publicly purchased in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) by Jews. Many of the forests and cities in the State of Israel that are currently on fire were also purchased - this time by the Chaltuzim (pioneers) of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Building on and settling the land of our ancestors has always been a priority and an important mitzvah.
News reports have highlighted how some in the Arab and Palestinian communities rejoiced at the news of the devastating fires.  At the same time, however, we are also hearing how many Arab governments  and the Palestinian Authority have come forward with offers of aid.  Nothing is simple in Israel.
On this shabbat following Thanksgiving we are all aware of the many difficult tasks that lie ahead.  At the same time that we hear news of the fires, we are also seeing reports of vicious attacks on Reform and Conservative synagogues.  Death threats have been levied against Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Gilad Kariv - head of the Israel Movement for Reform Judaism, and Anat Hoffman- a friend of our congregation and the head of both Women of the Wall and the Israel Religious Action Center.
Tragically, these threats did not originate from foreign entities, they come from extremist Jewish terrorist cells who have been fueled by vicious hatred and rhetoric - some of which has its origins from within the far Rightist Israeli government itself.
Fires are burning in Israel this Shabbat- fires of arson and fires of self-destructive hatred. May our prayers for peace find their way to the  source of peace.
For more information on the fires in Israel, go to the Jewish National Fund.
For more information on the attacks against the Reform Movement and its institutions, click here.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Joe Black

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