A Pope, A Rabbi and A Hero

I must be honest, I was unsure of what to write about this week. More about Cuba? Another (hopefully) thought-provoking email about our Jewish future? Or, perhaps, a d’var Torah on this week’s Torah portion? Instead, let me tell you about the Pope, a Rabbi, and a hero…

* Pope Benedict XVI shockingly announced his resignation effective February 28. He is the first Pope to resign since the 15th century. The Roman Catholic Church will convene the “conclave” – the process by which the next pope will be chosen – starting the week after March 15. The selection of the new Pope is one of those worldwide “must see” events as everyone waits for the white smoke to come from the Vatican.

As historian Adam Gregerman, wrote, “The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI will symbolically bring to an end a remarkable period in Catholic-Jewish relations. Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, were personally involved in two 20th-century events that had a profound effect on this relationship – the Shoah and the Second Vatican Council. It is nearly certain that the next pope will have little if any personal connection to these events, and probably a different relationship to Jews and Judaism.” We will wait and see who is selected.

* Rabbi David Hartman (z”l), an incredible Jewish scholar who founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, a pluralistic center for advanced Jewish studies, passed away in Jerusalem. I had the fortunate opportunity to meet with Rabbi Hartman on several occasions and listen to him share his eloquent and challenging views on the relationship between Judaism and modernity. In many ways, he helped shaped my own thinking on the subject.

He was well known for challenging Orthodox Judaism to broaden itself while simultaneously challenging liberal Judaism to deepen its perspective. He was an inspiring man who was willing to share his thoughts, positive or not, about the Jewish people and the State of Israel. He once famously said, as an appeal to those disillusioned with Israeli policies, “Criticize us like a mother, not a mother-in-law.”

* Sarah Braverman (z”l), a founder of the Israel Defense Force Women’s Army Corps, passed away this week at the age of 95.

“Surika,” as she was known, was one of the first women to join the Palmach, the elite striking arm of the Haganah militia, the forerunner of the Israeli army. She was also one of only three women among a select group of 37 volunteers who were parachuted into Nazi controlled territory during World War II. Braverman was part of the ill-fated 1943 parachuting mission into Hungary by Palmach fighters who sought to aid Jews before they were taken by the Nazis to be murdered. She joined the parachute group, led by Hannah Senesh and Haviva Reich, both of whom were caught by the Nazis and killed. She managed to escape and make her way back to Palestine.

One of the founders of the Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee, Braverman was born in Botosani, Romania in 1918 and studied agriculture after making aliyah in 1938, during the period of the British Mandate. She was heavily involved in the Zionist liberation movement and was a member of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement.

When I saw the article about Surika’s death, I immediately recalled meeting her in 1986 during my first trip to Israel. I can remember it as though it was yesterday – we visited her kibbutz, sat under a tree, and she shared her personal story about her love and commitment to the State of Israel. You could have heard a pin drop as a group of 16 and 17 year olds were fascinated by her heroism and bravery.

At the end of our time together, she asked us all to stand in a circle. She talked about her dear friend, Hannah Senesh, and we all joined together in singing one of her most famous poems, Eli Eli. For Surika, it was her way to honor Hannah and our way to never forget the sacrifices people made to save Jews during the Holocaust and later create the State of Israel.

My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rush of the waters,
The crash of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.

This past Monday night, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, PJ Library and the Portland Jewish Academy – with the generosity of Priscilla and Tony Kostiner and the Kostiner Cultural Education Fund – were able to create A Jewish Night at the Museum. We rented out OMSI, provided total access to the museum’s exhibits, and developed Jewish-themed companion activities. 380 people joined us for a fun-filled evening. As we continue to provide affordable, accessible outreach activities to our community, we hope to build on this formula in the months and years ahead.

On Tuesday evening, the Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Committee sponsored a program regarding emergency preparedness. Tyler Grant from the American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter provided an in-depth overview to some 120 people in attendance. The question is no longer “if” – it is “when” will a major natural disaster occur. It is imperative that each of us think about and plan accordingly in case of any natural disaster. If you would like copies of the information shared at the program, please click here.

I want to give a special thanks to Steve Sirkin who initiated the conversation between the American Red Cross and the Jewish Federation and we hope that we can continue to work together.

We have entered the Jewish month of Adar, the happiest, most joyous month of the Hebrew calendar. In fact, its motto is "When Adar comes, joy is increased."

The abundance of joy in Adar is primarily due to being the month when we celebrate Purim – we commemorate the salvation of the Jewish People from a genocidal plot by the wicked Haman. I encourage you all to hear the reading of the Megillat Esther next Saturday night and Sunday. We are blessed that our local community has so many fun and joyous Purim shpiels, celebrations, and carnivals ready for you and your family. Go and enjoy! Click here and check the Community Calendar on February 23 and 24 for the various activities.

Shabbat shalom.



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