Thursday, March 12, 2020

As I’ve shared with you in the past, Rav Soloveitchik taught that in response to challenging times, the only useful question to ask is not “Why?” but “What now?” Of course we must do what we can to lower our risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus, and to mitigate its spread. But the real, inspirational response to this unprecedented communal challenge is found in the stories below.
Wishing all of us a Shabbat of recovery, health, and peace.
~ Rabbi Weinstock

From Dozens of volunteers spread out across Westchester County, NY on Purim, to read the Megillah at over 130 locations where Jewish residents are currently in quarantine.
Organized by Chabad of Westchester County, located in New Rochelle, the epicenter of New York’s coronavirus outbreak, groups of bochurim and men were sent to read the Megillah and bring Purim joy to those in quarantine.

Fear of the spread of the coronavirus - 82 people have been infected in Westchester County - had upended Purim plans in the entire area, with Megillah readings and events canceled.
Shlucha Rochel Butman coordinated dozens of volunteers to fan out across the area to make sure anyone who needed would be able to fulfill the Mitzvah of Megillah from their homes.
Working with medical professionals, they devised a set of guidelines for volunteers to make sure they stay safe and protected while doing this Mitzvah.

All volunteer readers remained outside of the home of the quarantined individuals and maintained a distance of 10-15 feet.

Residents were grateful and moved by the volunteer bochurim who took the time to visit and help them fulfill the Mitzvah, many times ending with a festive Purim dance to liven the streets.
“I have never cried during the opening brachos of Megillas Esther before,” Gary Berger, one of the quarantined residents wrote on Facebook. “Overwhelmed with emotions, we are eternally grateful to Chabad of Westchester for pulling off the miracle of having individual readings on hundreds of patios and lawns across New Rochelle.

“May the Zechus of this amazing Mitzvah lead to a complete Refuah shelaima for all of our friends and families.”

“These Chabad boys are amazing! They stopped some people of our street, who they thought were Jewish, unaffiliated, and offered to read to them. They said yes!” another one wrote.
“I just want to let you, Chabad and the community know that we just received a call from our Irish Catholic neighbors. They called to tell us how inspired they were last night by the Chabad boys. (They could hear it from their window at 11:30 pm.) The wife told us she started to cry when she saw and heard it and how amazing our community is and how nice it was,” another wrote.

From The Daily Portion by Sivan Rahav Meir: “Shalom Sivan, this is Levi Mendelzon from Chabad. I am writing on behalf of a Megillat Esther reading project for those quarantined by the coronavirus. When we began this project a week ago, we could not have imagined that so many people would be forced to enter home quarantine and would ask to hear the Megillah. Reading the Megillah under these circumstances was utterly surrealistic: to stand in the stairwell of an apartment building, to press the light switch continuously so it would not go out, and to read the Megillah for just one quarantined listener; to stand under a window and loudly read the Megillah in the street for a single quarantined individual listening from that window. It was extremely emotional to see how these people would not give up on hearing the Megillah. Not on YouTube, but in person.
Today, we are used to sending everything on WhatsApp, but tonight we saw that there is significance in physical proximity, in recitation of the Megillah directly from one person to another. The listeners' emotional reaction to this personal connection reminded me that one of the purposes of Purim is to connect with one another through the mitzvot of the day: the Purim feast, the reading of the Megillah, mishloach manot, and gifts for the poor. I call upon all of us to find those around us who are isolated, and not only because of the coronavirus. This can be someone who is a little neglected, for example, and send that person mishloach manot. Have a Happy Purim."

Thursday, March 5, 2020

AIPAC Policy Conference and the Kohanim’s Inauguration Ritual

In Chapter 29 we read about the inauguration ritual that Moshe performed on the Kohanim to install them into their new status. Part of that ritual included a rather peculiar element (29:20):

“You shall slaughter the ram, take [some] of its blood and put it upon the cartilage of Aaron's right ear and upon the cartilage of Aaron's sons' right ears, upon the thumbs of their right hands, and upon the big toes of their right feet, and you shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar all around.”

Why is blood sprinkled specifically on the Kohen’s ear, thumb and big toe? Perhaps this ritual is meant to teach us three important qualities that a Kohen must have to serve and lead effectively. The ear is singled out because a Kohen must be a good listener. The thumb is highlighted because a Kohen must be willing to act decisively. The big toe is mentioned because a Kohen must stand up and lead.

This week I attended the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington DC along with close to 60 members of the Young Israel of Hollywood – Ft. Lauderdale community. It was great to see a number of our high school and college students in attendance. The theme of this year’s convention was “Today. Tomorrow. Together.” The conference organizers wanted to highlight the strength of the US-Israel relationship in the past, present and future. They also wanted to highlight the bipartisan and broad based support for Israel that exists in the US Congress as well as American society. Though there are individual members of Congress who are against foreign aid to Israel, and others who have expressed anti-Israel sentiment (including support for the Boycott Divest and Sanctions movement), on display at the Policy Conference is the diversity of people who are passionate about the US-Israel alliance.

When it comes to supporting Israel and the US-Israel relationship, we should focus on the qualities that were important for the Kohanim to possess in their leadership role. First we must be willing to listen. One of my favorite aspects of Policy Conference is the opportunity to hear from people that think differently than I do and hold views very different than mine, and yet they are passionate about the work of AIPAC and the US-Israel relationship, just like me. Too often in our lives we live in echo chambers. We listen to the news and read the papers that are slanted to agree with our worldview. Just as the Kohanim had to listen in order to lead, so too we must listen in order to learn and grow the movement of pro-Israel Americans.

Second we must be willing to act. Whether it is lobbying our elected officials on Capitol Hill, calling/ e-mailing our representatives or supporting pro-Israel candidates, we must act in accordance with our beliefs and our ideals.

Third, we must be willing to stand up for what we believe. The big toe provides us with balance. We must be firm in our convictions and willing to stand up and share our views on the importance of the US-Israel relationship; to those who are uninformed as well as to those who currently disagree with us.

Just as the Kohanim were installed into their service through their ears, hands and feet, so too we must listen, act and stand up in our roles as pro-Israel activists.