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This week's Shabbat message

Keeping the Fire Burning

I had the privilege of being in Israel two weeks ago on a very special trip. A number of people asked me what solidarity mission or volunteer mission I was joining and I explained that my trip was neither of those. It was a kibud eim (honoring one’s mother) mission instead. I went to spend time with my mom after my stepdad’s passing to help her start to adjust to her new reality.

I’ll admit that, when I booked my plane ticket, it seemed somewhat dissonant to me to spend time in Israel during this war and not visit places like the site of the Nova music festival or Kibbutz Be’eri. I wasn’t going to spend time picking produce, putting together Shabbat meals for soldiers or contributing to any of the incredible organizations that have been set up in the aftermath of October 7th. Part of me felt disappointed about that. 

But I should have known that God had lessons in store for me that I could never have envisioned. Just by living in Israel for a week, I was surrounded by people telling me their stories from the last few months.

Oren, the taxi driver, who shared that he and his wife did not sleep for the 2 months that their son was out of contact with them in Gaza. Each morning, they anxiously looked at the names of the soldiers who had been killed the night before and cried --with relief that their son’s name wasn’t on the list, and with heartbreak because “these are also our children.” Justine and Yamin, my cousins who have 3 sons and 2 sons-in-law in combat. They currently have two daughters and their kids living with them because one gave birth last week and the other is due this coming week. This is on top of their full time jobs and Justine’s 95-year-old dad who recently had a stroke. 

We went to a hotel in the Carmel mountains for Shabbat which had just reopened as the evacuees it had housed had moved, not to their homes which are gone, but to another community which has permanently taken them in. The hotel was full of Israelis -- many of them shared that they were there to support the hotel so it wouldn’t go out of business while there are so few tourists in the country. This included a lovely couple from Ashdod who spent hours in their safe room right after October 7th while terrorists were in the sand dunes outside their home. Their 14-year-old is still scared to go outside by himself but there they were celebrating Shabbat and their 20th wedding anniversary with much simcha (joy)!

And my aunt who has been in Israel since 1970 through many wars and can’t imagine why a Jew would live anywhere else. She expressed worry about me living in the US “far away from my people.”

This week I returned, I noticed that the Torah portion, Tzav, included the following verse: “And the fire upon the altar shall remain burning on it; it shall not be put out.” The Kohanim (priests) have a positive commandment to place enough wood on the fire to keep it burning at all times, including the entire night. 

This is exactly what God showed me during my week in Israel. Every Jew I met and talked to is "keeping that fire burning"  even during this time of tremendous darkness and sadness. Jews in Israel are supporting each other and playing their part for our nation in any number of different ways. I saw firsthand that our whole homeland is holy ground and our people are a holy people. Just exactly as the Torah teaches us.

Shabbat shalom! 

Ramblings of 2024

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784