We are all aware of the terrible divisions among Israel’s Jewish population. My friends and colleagues in Israel tell me they cannot remember a time in recent years where so much fragmentation existed. All this when the external threats facing Israel grow greater by the day.
If there ever was a time we could not afford to be splintered, it is now. But how can we help bridge some of the gaping chasms that exist in our extended Jewish family?
I recently learned about a wonderful organization called A Package From Home (www.apackagefromhome.org), started by an American woman. From its website:
Our mission is to strengthen the spirit and resolve of each Israeli soldier, and to show our appreciation for the sacrifices they are making in securing our safety and the survival of the Jewish People. Our care packages are not only a warm reminder of the love and esteem we hold for our soldiers but also are items that they truly need.
Packages are sent first to Chayelim Bodedim (male and female combat soldiers that have no immediate family in Israel) and severely wounded soldiers who are receiving long term hospital care.
Winter packages include a fleece jacket, 2 piece long underwear, bath towel, fleece blanket, ski hat, gloves, socks, boxer shorts, neck warmer, individual packets of coffee and sugar, candies, chocolates, and snacks, travel size toiletries, and 4 letters written by people from all over the world offering the soldiers thanks and encouragement.
These packages aren’t just about sending soldiers candy and treats. They include essential items Israeli soldiers need in order to get through the cold winter months. Apparently, the IDF does not equip its soldiers with all those items – that’s left up to their families.
What if a soldier has no immediate family in Israel? This organization makes sure that soldier still ends up with those winter essentials. Each package costs $30 to sponsor. Last month, the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund of my shul, Kesher Israel of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, sponsored 12 winter packages.
If I had my way, those packages from Kesher Israel would have been delivered to completely non-observant soldiers. I would love to let them know our Orthodox synagogue loves, supports, and appreciates them for being our Jewish brothers and sisters – regardless of their level of observance.
There’s a second wonderful cause our Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund recently contributed to. We are all aware of the horrible news coming out of Beit Shemesh, where students of Orot Banot, a girls’ school aligned with the Religious Zionist community, have been subjected to inexcusable intimidation, harassment, and violence.
All responsible Jews have condemned those who treat little Jewish girls in such an abhorrent fashion. However, I recently asked myself what I had done – other than condemning the thuggish behavior of some and commenting on one angle or another of this terrible story – to try to comfort those wonderful children traumatized by this terrible situation.
I reached out to several friends and colleagues in the greater Beit Shemesh area. I asked for their help in making sure this e-mail reached its intended destination:
Dear Orot Banot of Beit Shemesh, I hope you are well. My name is Akiva Males. I am the rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA. (An OU synagogue.) All of us here feel terrible about the violence, intimidation, and harassment that your wonderful students have had to deal with. We’d like to help put smiles on their beautiful faces. Can you please tell us how we can do this? We would like to make a modest contribution. Can we donate funds for a school Shabbat party, or something? Please let me know as soon as possible.
I received the following e-mail response from the principal of the Orot Banot girl’s school, Mrs. Pirchiya Nachmani:
Dear Rabbi Males, Firstly, thank you for your note and support. It is very appreciated. At this point, we believe that the best way to counter the intimidation that has been aimed at our school, is by continuing to do what we have been mandated to do. That is, educating our young girls with a passion for learning, teaching them to strive for excellence in all areas,and developing in them a strong love for Israel…
To that end, we would be grateful if you would consider a donation towards our library or our science lab. This would react to destruction with building, it is something that will stay with our students and as you wrote “put a smile on their beautiful faces”.
We invite you to come visit our school so you can see personally how our students themselves are the “living response” to the situation.
Again, thank you so much for your support.
Needless to say, a check from our Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund was sent, and our entire congregation feels proud to support the wonderful students of Orot Banot.
I sincerely hope we will always look for ways to reduce the terrible rifts that exist among our people. I also hope that when we learn of someone who has been wronged we will do more than just comment. Let us always try to bring some degree of comfort to those who have been mistreated.
I know it’s just a start, but I’m glad my shul is trying to do its part.
Rabbi Akiva Males is spiritual leader of Kesher Israel Congregation in Harrisburg, PA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Rabbi Akiva Males
About the Author: Rabbi Akiva Males served as rabbi of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s Kesher Israel Congregation from 2007 to 2016. He and his wife have just relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, where he will serve as rabbi of the Young Israel of Memphis.
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