Praying with the PMO en route to Washington

Reporter's Notebook: Expect Netanyahu to link Haman to that other Persian tyrant intent on killing Jews.

Netanyahu shakes hands with Candian counterpart R 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu shakes hands with Candian counterpart R 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
OTTAWA – “Our Father who art in Heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless Thou the State of Israel which marks the dawn of our deliverance,” the prayer leader, a pro-Israel lobbyist on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, recited in Hebrew Saturday morning in the Marriott Hotel’s Orchard Room, which had been temporarily turned into a synagogue.
“Shield it beneath the wings of Thy love. Spread over it Thy canopy of peace; send Thy light and Thy truth to its leaders, officers and counsellors, and direct them with Thy good counsel,” he continued.
Just then, during the recitation of the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, one of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s top advisers closed his eyes and bent his head, like someone concentrating fiercely when receiving a blessing.
This past weekend was Shabbat Parshat Zachor, the Shabbat preceding Purim when there is an additional reading from Deuteronomy (25:17-19) – obligatory for religious Jews to hear read from the Torah – dealing with the command to remember what the Amalek nation did to the Jewish people when they left Egypt, how they killed the stragglers and the enfeebled. It is a paradigmatic passage relating to anti-Semitism, telling of an obsessive, all-consuming hatred of the Jews. In that passage, the Jews are commanded to later blot out Amalek’s memory.
Somewhat ironically, Netanyahu – stopping in Ottawa on his way to Washington – will meet with US President Barack Obama on Monday to discuss how to stop a Persian tyrant interested in killing Jews. The meeting is just two days before Purim, a holiday retelling a similar tale, involving a Persian tyrant intent on killing Jews thousands of years earlier. Do not be surprised if Netanyahu somehow connects those two dots during public comments he will make in Washington.
The religious obligation to hear this particular passage from Deuteronomy last Shabbat provided a bit of a dilemma for the religiously observant advisers in Netanyahu’s entourage staying in a hotel in downtown Ottawa – new chief of staff Gil Sheffer, National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror, and senior adviser Ron Dermer. The Prime Minister’s Office found the solution by doing what thousands of other Jewish travelers do when they find themselves abroad and in need of something Jewish: call Chabad.
And Chabad delivered.
Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky of the Chabad Student Network of Ottawa, located downtown, moved the regular Shabbat morning minyan from his home to the Marriott.
Boyarsky brought a tiny Torah scroll no bigger than a bread box; prayer books; prayer shawls; grape juice for the kiddush blessing; and enough hallot, gefilte fish, chopped liver and cold cuts for lunch for 40. The night before he provided Shabbat dinner in the hotel for 15 (Netanyahu was not there as he was staying at the Canadian government’s official guest house).
At Shabbat dinner, Amidror said a few words about the Torah portion, and how the Amalekites who attacked the Jews had no reason to do so – as the Jews were not going through their territory or bothering them in any way. Iran was not mentioned, but it was in the air.
The next morning, one of the group’s journalists led the morning services, Amidror read the haftorah, Israel Radio’s Ronen Pollak hoisted the Torah, and Dermer, Sheffer, cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser and Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev were called up to recite blessings over the Torah. Neither Hauser nor Regev are observant, but they joined to ensure there was a minyan.
Hauser, a Levite, was called to the Torah. “A Levite – I never knew. His status in the office has just been upgraded,” Amidror quipped.
And Regev – well, Regev was a star, with Parshat Zachor marking the 39th anniversary of his bar mitzva.
After the spokesman concluded the recitation of the blessing, Sheffer started the “lei-lei-leis” of the song customarily sung to bar mitzva boys called to the Torah for the first time. Someone found candies left in the room by a previous party, and tossed them at Regev.
One of the rabbi’s children scrambled to get them, only to be told not to eat them because they were not kosher.
Israel’s strength, Dermer said upon being asked to say a few words at lunch, is based on two pillars. The first is the strength and dedication of the Israelis themselves, and the second is the support from Jewish communities and supporters abroad. Both were uniquely in evidence on Shabbat Zachor in the Orchard Room of Ottawa’s Marriott, as Netanyahu headed for his fateful meeting with Obama on Iran.