I’ve spent much of the holiday sitting on a beach in Herzliya, but I wanted to share a powerful experience I had earlier this week. While this isn’t a UJA story per se, the ultimate lesson resonates deeply with our mission.
The story starts with a philanthropic project undertaken by my wife Tamar’s family. Ever since Israel’s voluntary disengagement from Gaza in 2005, they’ve been helping to build synagogues for families forced to relocate from settlements along the Gaza Strip.
One of these synagogues, which we dedicated earlier this week, was built in Palmachim, a kibbutz that borders a breathtakingly beautiful slice of the Mediterranean coast, just south of Tel Aviv. Established in 1949 by members of the Palmach, the elite forces of the Haganah, the kibbutz gave the former soldiers a new purpose after the War of Independence. But over time, as is the case with many kibbutzim, the children grew up and largely moved away, and new members were in short supply. That is, until 2005, when Palmachim opened its doors to a number of families from Elei Sinai, a community previously part of Gush Katif on the Gaza coast.
Like many traditional kibbutzim, Palmachim had always been overwhelmingly secular; it never even had a synagogue. Now, for the first time ever, it does.
At the dedication, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, the recently appointed chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, framed the moment as “a small miracle.” As he told it, every one of the people involved, past and present, lived through highly uncertain times: The original members of the Palmach, who helped build the fledgling state of Israel. The families from Gush Katif, uprooted from their homes and forced to start over. And Tamar’s family, Holocaust survivors, who immigrated to Canada after the Shoah. None of them knew where life would lead them or what the future would hold. But here they all were, building something together, to serve a community that, in the process of opening its doors to others, had become more diverse.
That development was readily apparent at the dedication ceremony, which began with a secular woman singing a song from Psalms and included remarks by the synagogue’s Chabad rabbi, Tamar’s nephew from North America, and a Haredi rabbi from the area. Together, we had built something new — not just a synagogue, but a new chapter.
Taking in these different voices, I was reminded of the four species of plants we use during Sukkot: etrog, lulav, hadas, and aravah. Each is said to represent a different dimension of Jewish life, and each is absolutely necessary to the whole. The mitzvah would be incomplete if any one were missing.
I was reminded, too, that we may not always know what the future holds for ourselves, for Israel, for the Jewish community, but when we come together, anything and everything is possible.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach