Sunday, September 04, 2005

Shabbat Katrina

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead (1901 - 1978)
It was an uncomfortable Shabbat. The sense of sanctuary we normally enjoyed, the suspension of work-week pressures and petty stresses was absent. We all knew why, but even that knowledge didn't comfort us. Our group of friends - a collection of families who get together for food, talking, food, socializing, food, Torah study and also a little food -- had been struggling all evening with what we thought about hurricane Katrina and the victims left in the wake of the disaster.

After dinner had been cleared, coffee served, and the kids had beaten their customary hasty retreat to the basement, we turned our attention to Re'eh, the portion for the week. Even though they are found near the end of the portion, the words seemed to scream at us from the page, shocking us back to our earlier conversation.

(Deut) 15:7 When, in a settlement in the land that God your Lord is giving you, any of your brothers is poor, do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother. 15:8 Open your hand generously, and extend to him any credit he needs to take care of his wants. 15:9 Be very careful that you not have an irresponsible idea and say to yourself, 'The seventh year is approaching, and it will be the remission year.' You may then look unkindly at your impoverished brother, and not give him anything. If he then complains to God about you, you will have a sin. 15:10 Therefore, make every effort to give him, and do not feel bad about giving it, since God your Lord will then bless you in all your endeavors, no matter what you do. 15:11 The poor will never cease to exist in the land, so I am commanding you to open your hand generously to your poor and destitute brother in your land.

Abandoning all pretense of Torah study, we began to debate. What could we do - here, now, with the group and resources we had? We're not a rich bunch, to be sure. Nor is any of us politically well-connected. We don't have skills that would warrant a road trip down to the gulf. It didn't appear there were many choices.

Then one of the group got up and pointedly slapped a $100 bill into the Jar.

An old glass jar is always in the center of the Shabbat table, and over the course of the year it is filled with the money we empty out of our pockets as Shabbat begins. Once a year this money is distributed to a variety of charities. We had started this tradition a few years ago, when everyone's kids were too old and too savvy and too numerous to deal with at Chanukah. We wanted to use that time of year to teach about Tikkun Olam. So during the week of Chanukah all the families would gather, and everyone would talk about their charity of choice, and then the "under-18 crowd" would decide which groups should get the money and how much. It was a useful holiday-time lesson in tzedakah.

But here we were, 4 months away from Chanukah. The jar was full, but not as full as it would be. $100 had just dropped into it. As I said before, we're not rich - this got our attention.

"We can do something now," he said from his perch on the couch. "We can do something later, too. But here, right now, we can do something. What's it going to be?"

"Something now" was a $400 donation to The Jewish Federation of Cleveland ( Our jar is empty, but we're building it back up week by week.

"Something later" depends on you. Our group is challenging yours. Like our group, maybe you aren't rich, or politically connected, or gifted with life saving skills in times of disaster. But we're betting you can pull together a small donation. Take this opportunity to teach others that each one of us can change the world.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

A song for you, from far away

This is the first (of hopefully many) notes from my friend Allison, who is visiting friends and family back in Israel...

WOW! The picture is amazing. I miss you guys so much. Mark and I intened to call you last night to wish you all a Happy New Year. Unfortunately, we fell asleep. Being in Israel is amazing. Being with my friends and family is incredible. We have been busy but we are not pushing ourselves to travel. Being with people is my priority.

Wednesday after I arrived we came back to Nina's and took it easy for most of the day. In the early evening we went to see my niece Ronit and her family who live less than 3 minutes from Nina. It was a wonderful reunion. She has three adorable boys, Nir (10) Ran (8) and Guy (5). Her apartment is beautiful.

After that we went to Muss to see Michael and deliver the goodies. I am happy to report that although the stuff that I brought was warmly received, the beef jerky was the hit of the delivery. We stayed for a bout an hour and then came back to Nina's and crashed.

The hext day Mark and I went on our first tiyul (trip). We went to the ancient city of Caesaeria. Pretty amazing. We walked for a couple of hours, stopped in the artsists quarter, then had lunch in a small cafe by the sea. Then we drove further north to Zichron Yaakov. A city built into the side of a mountain by early 20th century settlers. It now houses artists studios and and shops. We found a coffe/wine house had some fabulous Reisling and Cafe Afuk (Afuk means backwards as the coffee is made with hot milk instead of water). We were there till after dark and then drove home (I am doing the driving!).

Friday brought Shabbat. We got up early (which we are doing every day) took showers and then went to the city center to buy some flowers to bring to Safta Feige's house last night and to Ruti today. Then Mark and I went to pick up Mike and his friend Jeremy to bring him back to Ninas. After we got back we had a light lunch of hummus and salad and then we went to the cemetary to see Michael's grandparents grave as well as the new grave of his Uncle Eli (Herzel's brother who died last year). It took us a while to find the graves. I can't put in words what kind of emotions were flowing. Mike and I both broke down. I'll share more with you about this when I return home. I haven't processed it all yet!

Last night was Shabbat at Feige's house in Savyon. Other than the nausea that began to rise in my throat as we passed our old apartment the evening was beyond words. People say that when a Jew comes to Israel she is coming home - for me having Shabbat with the Goldfarbs was coming home. We got home late, sat out on the merpeset (porch) and talked while the boys played sheshbesh (bacgammon) and chess. Then we fell asleep. Today we are going to Ashdod to spend the day with Herzel's sister Ruti and the rest of the Saig family. We are all very excited. Gotta go now, breakfast is calling-