March 4, 2022: Senseless wars of the Jews

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 MARIA TAMANA (photo credit: Courtesy Maria Tamana)
(photo credit: Courtesy Maria Tamana)

When a new Hebrew calendar month falls on a Friday, larger crowds than usual come to pray at the Western Wall.

This Friday, March 4, is exactly such an occasion, but unfortunately prayers will not be conducted in peace and tranquility. The reason: Among the worshippers congregating in the plaza by the Western Wall will be relatively large numbers of Conservative and Reform Jews from Israel and the United States, some of whom met this week with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to once again try to advance the establishment of an egalitarian section by the Wall. The Conservative and Reform congregants will be led by Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, the chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism in the United States.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis, among them Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein, have called on their followers to do all that is possible to prevent Conservative and Reform Jews from congregating at the Wall and “defiling” its sanctity by holding a mixed-gender service. They seem to have forgotten that the Wall belongs to all of the Jewish people.

MKs belonging to Orthodox parties are furious with Bennett because he openly met with a Conservative and Reform delegation, but Bennett is a perfect example of what was frequently said by the late Rabbi Herman Sanger, the chief rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne, to his Orthodox colleagues: “You people always see us as the last door on the way out, instead of the first door on the way back.” In other words, any form of identification with Judaism is better than no identification at all.

Bennett, in fact, is proof of that. The youngest son of American-Jewish parents who were secular, but who became Modern Orthodox in Israel, Bennett is Modern Orthodox, and is on equally good terms with people from all streams of Judaism.

 DANIEL ABE with his baby brother during a visit to Kyiv. (credit: Courtesy Daniel Abe) DANIEL ABE with his baby brother during a visit to Kyiv. (credit: Courtesy Daniel Abe)

As for the Western Wall, it has become a latter-day “golden calf’ in that it is not a remnant of the Second Temple but a retaining wall surrounding the Temple Mount. As such, it is not exactly holy, but merely a symbol of holiness.

■ ACCORDING TO one of the most recent online issues of Chabad Magazine, 350,000 Jews are served by 200 Chabad couples in 35 cities and towns in Ukraine. While some of these couples stayed in the towns and cities where they are stationed to look after the resident Jewish population, and some shepherded members of their respective communities to border countries and even to Israel, in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the director of Chabad of Rehavia, presided over the completion of a new Torah scroll dedicated to the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and to the Jews of Ukraine.

In addition to a moral and humane reason, Goldberg has a personal reason for concern. His brother-in-law and sister in-law are among the Chabad emissaries serving in Ukraine.

Goldberg has an excellent relationship with the executive boards of other synagogues in the area, so the writing of the last letters of the scroll took place in the plaza of the neighboring Great Synagogue, and the dinner to celebrate the completion of the scroll was held at Yeshurun Synagogue.

Torah scribe Rabbi Shmuel Bernstein radiated joy as men and women, including Ofer Berkowitz, the opposition leader in the Jerusalem City Council, approached him so as to be among those who helped to complete the scroll. On the previous evening, Goldberg posted a message on social media, stating that anyone who wished to dedicate a letter in the scroll to Ukrainian Jewry was welcome to do so. He received 1,059 worldwide responses.

Berkowitz had high praise for what Chabad is doing in Ukraine and elsewhere around the globe, and lauded Goldberg for what he is doing to help build up Jerusalem.

Following completion of the last letter in the scroll, Goldberg led everyone in a special prayer for the safety of the Jews of Ukraine.

Then the dancing started. The first person to dance with the new Torah was Robert Glick (aka Reuven HaCohen), who had donated its silver crown.

The dancers, followed by a procession of men, women and children ranging from babies to senior citizens, marched and danced along King George Avenue, then into Ramban Street and through Rehavia, till the scroll was brought to its permanent home. The dancers followed a truck fitted out with colored lights, a huge crown and music. In addition, there was a bridal canopy, and as the scroll was passed from hand to hand, the person who held it danced under the canopy.

Among those who were in the procession were Goldberg’s parents, who had specially come from Canada for the occasion.

■ THE PUBLIC is being constantly warned about the dangers of succumbing to fake news, and this week, literally millions of people, including world leaders, fell into the fake news trap. Veteran Yediot Aharonot journalist Ron Ben Yishai went to Babyn Yar to see for himself the extent of the reported damage to the monument to the tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews who were massacred there during the Second World War. He traversed the whole area, and found no sign of damage. It had not been hit by a missile, he reported. Meanwhile, leaders of Jewish organizations around the world had been quick to condemn the Russians for something that did not happen.

■ UKRAINIAN-BORN Israelis and Ukrainians who are currently in Israel for a variety of reasons have been the focus of media attention.

There are currently 14 students from Ukraine at Reichman University’s Recanati International School. Though safe in Israel, their thoughts and prayers are naturally with their families and friends back home.

Reichman University also has two exchange students, Anastasia and Alina, who began their exchange program a few months ago and are currently in shelters in Ukraine. With the outbreak of the conflict, RU established a remote psychological support system, including daily contact and attempts to transfer the two young women to a safe place.

Jonathan Davis, RU vice president and head of its international school, who has spoken to the two students who are in Kyiv and Kharkov, as well as to those who are in Israel, has pledged that RU will continue to do everything possible to help the students and their families during this period of physical and emotional hardship.

Among the Ukrainian students in Israel are Daniel Abe, 22, originally from Kyiv, who migrated on his own four-and-a-half years ago; Maria Tamana, 21, originally from Zaporizhzhia, who has been in Israel for a year and a half; and Sonia Shapirovska, 21, originally from Kyiv, who immigrated to Israel seven years ago.

Abe’s parents, grandparents and siblings are still in Ukraine. He decided to move to Israel after graduating from high school, and his family supported his decision. His father has three restaurants in Kyiv, but Abe did not consider the restaurant business to be his vocation. Following his aliyah, he enlisted in the IDF as a lone soldier. He heard about RU through a friend in the army, applied, and was given scholarships and significant support from the university.

He returned to Kyiv for a brief visit less than a month ago, following the birth of his baby brother. Now his family is stuck there, unable to leave. They have no fuel, and travel to the border is dangerous. He has been pushing for his family to come to Israel, but they are afraid to leave the house with small children.

Since arriving in Israel, Abe experienced Operation Guardian of the Walls, and knows what it means to have missiles fall near one’s home. But his fear for his family is completely different. It’s a feeling that he’s just discovered. He talks to his family several times a day, and the situation is very difficult for him.

Tamana, who is studying business administration and digital innovation, is more fortunate. Her mother also lives in Israel, but many of her friends are in Ukraine, and her heart is with them. Through her studies she has made many friends from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, who are all concerned for the safety of loved ones.

On February 24, Tamana talked to friends in Ukraine. Everything was normal. They discussed life and studies and exams. Then, a few hours later, at 4 a.m., the invasion began. Tamana acknowledges that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of this in advance, but no one took him seriously.

After the bombing began. Tamana contacted her friends. They were helpless and did not know where to go and what to do. She has continued to remain in touch with them, and has learned that no place is really safe. Some of her friends enlisted in the Ukrainian army, and went to Kyiv to get weapons.

Tamana says that her own experience and the fact that she lives in Israel help her to help them. She can understand the situation and tries to calm her friends. But the reality in Israel is different, she says, because in Israel people are more accustomed to such a situation, and there is a strong army that protects the citizens. In addition, in Ukraine there are severe food shortages.

Shapirovska and her parents immigrated to Israel from Kyiv because of the fragile situation in 2015. Both her parents had successful businesses in Ukraine but felt insecure. Her father still has a business in Ukraine. Some of her relatives stayed in Kyiv.

Her many Russian friends have been “wonderful and supportive.” She and they understand that this is not a war between people but a war between countries. Her family in Kyiv now understands what she and her parents went through in the conflicts in Israel. “But in Israel the situation is different. Even though missiles were sent to Tel Aviv, we always felt protected.”

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