A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 4.21.23

A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine


This coming week, we will observe Israeli Memorial Day and Israeli Independence Day. Memorial Day is perhaps the most solemn day on the Israeli calendar – it is a time for remembering fallen IDF soldiers and those who were lost to acts of terror. There is hardly a family in Israel untouched by one or the other of these.
In the midst of Israel’s political turmoil, even Memorial Day has become politicized – there has been a general call for politicians not to speak at the sacred Memorial Day commemorations – the day should focus on those who were lost and should not become yet another opportunity for grandstanding. The bereaved families, as well as prominent Israelis (like Defense Minister Yoav Gallant) have spoken out, urging politicians to stay away from military cemeteries and from other remembrance events. Likewise, those IDF reservists who have been protesting the judicial overhaul have urged activists (on both sides) not to use Memorial Day as an opportunity for political protest. As with everything in Israel right now, we’ll see how it goes. I am hopeful that the day will come off without incident.
EMJC is a co-sponsor of a Memorial Day event that will take place this year at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue on Monday night at 7:00 pm. I participated in last year’s event at Park Slope Jewish Center and it was one of the most moving evenings I can remember. It will be worth the trip to Brooklyn Heights (a short walk from the Borough Hall 2/3 train). (See information below)
If you can’t make that, you’ll have another opportunity the following night to attend a tekes ma’avar – a transition ceremony. It is no accident that Independence Day immediately follows Memorial Day. The symbolism is poignant. There is a standing tradition in Israel to mark the passage of the one day into the next, to move from solemnity to celebration, through the tekes ma’avar. This year, we are co-sponsors of the first-ever Brooklyn Tekes Ma’avar, which will take place at Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill at 7:00 pm (a short walk from the Bergen Street F/G train – see blurb below). This event (titled North American Jews and Israelis in Transition: Sadness & Celebration – Exploring the In-Between) will feature a conversation between Rabbi Michelle Dardashti and Maital Freidman, a Vice President at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, and will also include comments from several Brooklyn Rabbis (including me). Another important aspect of this event is that it will dig in, to some degree, to the complexities of “this particularly tumultuous and challenging moment in Israel’s history,” something that is on the minds of so many of us.
On Wednesday, we will celebrate the culmination of the Israeli holidays with a Yom HaAtzma’ut party at Hannah Senesh Community Day School from 5:30-7:30 (F/G train to Carroll Street). I have been involved in the planning of this community-wide event, so I can say without reservation that it promises fun for the entire family. Please make every effort to join the community for the festivities. See below for details.
One last point. Given the political situation in Israel, the real threat to democracy that the country is facing, the bitter divisions, the idea that Israel is on the way to becoming a less tolerant, less pluralistic, less liberal society, the question for so many North American Jews has been: how do we celebrate Israel right now? Frankly, I understand the sentiment behind the question. This is a watershed moment in Jewish history, and there is a great deal of mortification and fear as to what the outcome will be. The implications of the “judicial overhaul” present a tangible threat to the much-vaunted “shared values” between the US and Israel, and between the North American Jewish Community and our Israeli siblings.
But if your instinct in this moment is to draw back in anger or exasperation, to pull away from engagement with Israel, let me urge you to reconsider. Despite the political mess, I feel more pride in Israel now than I have in many years. If there was any question about the vibrancy of Israeli civic life, of the vitality of the voice of the people, all such questions have been put to rest. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have made their voices heard, week after week, in peaceful protest. The government has responded in a largely measured fashion. And while we must continue to qualify the term “democracy” in a more nuanced discussion (not all its residents experience Israel as a democracy), the Israeli democratic instinct is yelling at the top of its lungs. This is a moment of unmitigated pride that we should celebrate. More than ever, this is the year to come to these events and show your support.
I hope to see you at some or all of these events.
Let me wish you a Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.
Rabbi Sam Levine
1. Monday, Apr. 24, 7:00 pm
Tekes Yom Hazikaron – Israeli Remembrance Day Ceremony
Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
131 Remsen Street, Brooklyn
2. Tuesday, Apr. 25, 7:00 – 8:30 pm,
Tekes Ma’avar – Transition Ceremony from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut
Kane Street Synagogue
236 Kane Street, Brooklyn
Live event. STREAMING available here: kanestreet.org/livestream
North American Jews and Israelis in Transition:
Sadness & Celebration, Exploring the In-Between
The time between Yom Ha-Zikaron (Day of Remembrance) and Yom Ha-atzmaut (Independence Day) is a time of transition for Israeli Jews: from mourning to joy, from sadness to celebration. Maital Friedman, a Vice President at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and Rabbi Michelle Dardashti of Kane Street Synagogue–together with Rabbis Carie Carter, Sam Levine, Serge Lippe, Amichai Lau Lavie & Brooklyn JAFI Shaliach, Elad Bar Ilan –will reflect on this transitional moment on the calendar and what it means for us as North American Jews. Together, we will consider our personal and communal connections to Israel as the country turns 75 and during this particularly tumultuous and challenging moment in Israel’s history. Join in this evening of transition as we remember, reflect and rejoice. The evening will include study, ceremony, and celebration; we’ll usher in Yom Ha-atzmaut together with festive music and kibud (Israeli nosh!)!  Please register HERE.
3. Wednesday Apr. 26, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Yom HaAtzma’ut – Israel Independence Day
Hannah Senesh Community Day School
342 Smith Street, Brooklyn
Live event only