Rabbi’s Message on Rosh Hashanah 2015/5776

A Call to Action

Rosh Hashanah


Israel, our historic homeland, was created for the well-being of the Jewish people. Any Jew can go to Israel and claim citizenship. Genocide is taking place in Syria and Iraq and not a word spoken or a hand extended by any Arab nation save Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

The tragedies unfolding in the Middle East tear my heart. The nation of Syria does not exist any longer. The country is divided in quadrants controlled by different warring factions: ISIS, Hezbollah (a faction controlled by Iran), President Assads army, Kurds, Druses and just recently Russian and Iranian forces. Over 250,000 have been killed and more than 4 million have been displaced from their homes. Iraq faces a similar situation, awash with Taliban, ISIS and Iranian forces. Jordan has provided a safe haven to 672,000 refugees and asylum seekers. This number represents more than 10% of Jordans total population.

It provides me no pleasure that Israels neighbors and historic enemies are suffering. Years of totalitarian leadership, the lack of human rights, pluralistic thinking, gender equality and peace have set aflame these nation states and the people suffer.

Im reminded of the famous Midrash concerning the drowning of the Egyptians during our ancestors Exodus.

When the Holy One was about to drown the Egyptians in the sea, Uzza, heavenly prince of Egypt, rose up and prostrated himself before the Holy One, saying: Master of the Universe, You created the world by the measure of mercy. Why then do You wish to drown my children? The Holy One gathered the entire heavenly household and said to them: You be the judge between me and Uzza prince of Egypt. At that, the heavenly princes of the other nations began to speak up in behalf of Egypt. When Michael perceived this, he gave the sign to Gabriel, who in one swoop darted down to Egypt, where he pulled out a brick with its clay enclosing a dead infant who had been immured alive in the structure. He then came back, stood before the Holy One, and said: Master of the Universe, thus did the Egyptians enslave your children. Whereupon the Holy One sat in judgement over the Egyptians in accord with the measure of justice and drowned them in the sea.

In that instant the ministering angels wished to utter song before the Holy One, but he rebuked them, saying, The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you would utter song in My presence!

There is no joy in the suffering of our enemies. As we watch this tragedy unfold its impossible not to see the striking similarities between it and the catastrophic genocide that befell our own people seventy years ago, millions displaced, the innocent murdered, nations unwilling to accept those seeking asylum, being herded into camps and numbers being written on their arms.

In news reports from Germany, many of the asylum seekers are being housed in Buchenwald Concentration camp. The contradictions between good and evil in this scenario are too much for the mind to fully comprehend. The ground of the camp still cries out the anguish of thousands and yet those Syrians who now reside there have been given safe haven from the murderous storm. This could only happen in Germany.

As Jews, the clarion call of the shofar reminds us of the sacred work that lies ahead. What heart was not moved by the sight of a lifeless little boy being retrieved from the oceans watery edge? Who among us cannot feel the anguish of parents marching endlessly with children in tow?

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society or more commonly known as HIAS fully endorses the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. Thirty years ago, it was HIAS that partnered with us in the resettlement of Soviet Jews. Some thirty-four families were welcomed to the Greater Burlington area by a joint effort of all the local congregations.

We are told to care for the stranger 36 times throughout the Torah, to love the stranger, to welcome the stranger, to protect the stranger. This is not just a commandment but also central Jewish value. Our forefather Abraham and foremother Sarah opened their tent wide and welcomed guests to take refuge in their home, providing them with food and drink and a place to rest.

As a  people, this is our story. From the biblical Israelites to the Jews of the Soviet Union, time and time again, we had to flee our homelands in search of safety due to violence and persecution. Based on our values and rooted in our own history, we have a responsibility to respond to today’s refugees.

What are we to do? HIAS has three recommendations.

Advocate: This High Holiday season, ask President Obama and Congress to take bold action on the Syrian crisis.

Go to support.hias.org/syrianrefugees to sign a petition calling on the President to resettle and additional 100,000 Syrian refugees into the United States. Presently we are allowing only 10,000 refugees from Syria. And to call upon the President to provide considerable aid to the severely underfunded humanitarian efforts abroad, and to make the resolution to the Syrian crisis a top foreign policy.

Second: Let’s volunteer. Let’s commit ourselves to welcoming refugees in our community. It is my hope to find interested people in the Jewish and Moslem community who are willing to do the work of resettlement.

And third: We need to learn more about the global refugee crisis in general and the Syrian refugee crisis in particular. The war in Syria has been raging for years and the world has done nothing more than gaze upon it from a distant. It’s little wonder refugees are now flooding Europe and eventually the United States.

I’ve asked that you take home the fliers available at the end of this service. On them is all the contact information that I spoke about this morning. In the coming weeks this humanity crisis will only get worse. In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal President Assad of Syria was accused of using increased torture and terror in order to encourage more of his opponents out of the country and making sure they never return.

While President Assad must go and go quickly, the task before us is to address the human tragedy. So I ask for your help. If you want to be a part of a resettlement initiative, please email as soon as possible.

In nearly two and a half years, around 2,000 Syrians have been admitted to Israeli hospitals. While the vast majority are male up to 90 percent at Ziv, the hospital closest to the border there are women, too, and 17 percent of all patients are children.

Word has spread that Syrians can access medical help over the border from people they’ve long believed are the enemy. Medics say more patients, and less urgent cases, are filling the beds of publicly-funded Israeli hospitals. As these patients flow in, questions are being raised about the ethics of filling a hospital’s limited beds with Syrians and how comfortable Israelis are helping their old enemy so close to home.

We don’t know who our patients are Jabhat al-Nusra, the FSA, the Syrian Army. We can’t tell, and it wouldn’t make a difference,” said Solomon, Ziv’s vascular surgeon.

“When you are a doctor, you don’t get to know who is good and who is bad. You treat everyone,” explained another Israeli doctor.

“It’s very hard for an Israeli to say, but it’s a Holocaust what happens in Syria now. And the world doesn’t take a side. And as a doctor, you can’t take a side.” “This is a humanitarian mission and I am very proud to do it.”

Lets be proud as well. Happy New Year!

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