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News Highlights Blessing for the Month of Iyar

By Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

Dear friends,

As we enter the month of Iyar, I am grateful to be writing to you from Haifa, the city where my mother was born 90 years ago, and where my hope for the future has been rekindled today.

SCA-Susie-Idit-Spark_CJPI am here traveling, along with 300 other members of the Greater Boston Jewish community, as part of CJP’s inspiring Spark journey. (Right: Rabbi Anisfeld, Keshet President & CEO Idit Klein, and Hebrew College Vice President Dr. Susie Tanchel.)

We are here to honor the 75th anniversary of the day Israel’s independence was declared on the 5th of Iyar in 1948. We are also here, in the words of one of the Haifa University students we met with today – a quiet and serious Ethiopian Israeli young man — to try to really “look, listen, and learn.” To witness what is unfolding on the ground here today, to listen carefully to diverse and passionate voices, to learn about the hard, heroic, and hopeful work people are doing every day to try to create a better future for all the inhabitants of this land.

I have been moved to tears more than once over the course of the day:

  • As we listened to Arab and Jewish doctors and scientists from Rambam hospital talking about their shared commitment to the highest quality of clinical care and to collaboration on innovative medical research.
  • As we listened to teachers and students from Haifa University — Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze — talking about their personal and professional aspirations, expressing their fears for this country, and their fierce devotion to a shared society based on democracy, pluralism, and equality. Someone from our group asked what message they would like us to take back to the States with us. A young Druze woman, a first-year student from a mixed village of Druze, Muslims, and Christians, said: “Just be human. No matter who you are, or where you are, try to be human.”
  • As we listened to students from Yemin Orde Youth Village — Ukrainian, Russian, French, and Ethiopian — talking about what the village has meant to them. And as we listened to their teachers talk about the radical and sacred mission at the heart of their work — to help these kids trust themselves and each other enough to dare to dream. To feel they are worthy. To know that there are people who will be there for them, for the rest of their lives.

Over the last forty-four years, I have spent thirty summers bringing North American teens to Israel — first through NFTY in Israel for many years and then through the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel. These visits and the friendships and connections created through them have been a profound source of meaning, learning, and joy in my own life. I have come with groups – and with my own family — in times of great violence and fear and in times of great hope for peace. I have done so out of love, and out of a sense of shared destiny. I have done so because I feel deeply that our lives as Jews — inside and outside of the land of Israel — are bound up with one another.

This is why I will attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America on Sunday evening in Tel Aviv, and it is why I will join other participants who plan to walk out when Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks — not as an act of distancing myself from Israel, but on the contrary, as an act of devotion, solidarity, and support.

I will be walking out to stand in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have been protesting with such enormous heart and hope for months now, who have been resisting the dangerous racist, extremist, and anti-democratic actions and rhetoric of this government, and who are showing no signs of letting up, thank God. And after today, I will also be walking out with love and gratitude for the remarkable young people we met today, whose future in this land is at stake.

All of them have given renewed meaning to the words of Hatikvah that I will sing this Yom Ha’atzma’ut —

Od lo avda tikvateinu.
Our hope is not lost.
We will not lose hope and we will not let it be taken away from us.

On this Rosh Hodesh Iyar, may we stand together with all those in this land who are insisting on hope.

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld is President of Hebrew College in Newton, Ma.

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