As Purim approaches, thousands of Israeli children and families grapple with poverty
A friend of mine likes to say the High Holiday season is for pulpit rabbis what the tax season is for accountants. Well, my “tax season” was a bit busier than usual this year. Just days before Rosh Hashanah, I was privileged to be part of the Orthodox Union’s Leadership Mission to Washington, which took place September 14-15.
While in the capital, our group of about a hundred OU rabbis and lay leaders was warmly welcomed and addressed by an array of senior administration officials, senators, and members of congress.
Though my head is still swimming from all that went on during those two busy days, I would like to share one thought that hit me during the mission and has been on my mind ever since.
I cannot get over the contrast between what I saw and experienced in Washington and what another group of Orthodox Jewish leaders experienced in the very same place sixty-six years ago almost to the day.
The year was 1943, and together with its allies the United States was fully engaged in an epic battle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
As Jews, we are all painfully aware that during World War II millions of our people were in the process of being rounded up and slaughtered in the most horrific of fashions.
Although communication in those days was not as instantaneous as it is today, by 1943 the brutal reality of what was happening to European Jewry had become well known in Jewish communities throughout America.
Surprisingly, there were then few figures in the American Jewish Establishment willing to lobby the U.S. government to focus more of its energies on the genocide being committed against our people.
Difficult as it is to believe today, throughout all of World War II there was just one rally held in Washington seeking to raise awareness of our people’s plight. This rally is now known as the Rabbis’ March on Washington and it occurred just three days before Yom Kippur 1943, with some 400 Orthodox rabbis converging on our nation’s capital.
One can find much information and many pictures of that march online. My own shul, Kesher Israel Congregation of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, can be proud of its role in that rally; one of the most prominent figures leading the march was Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the synagogue’s first rabbi. His son, Rabbi David Silver, who led Kesher Israel for more than 50 years, took part as well.
The group was hoping for an audience with President Roosevelt, but FDR was told by a number of his advisers (some of them Jewish) not to meet with the rabbinic mission. As such, just three days before Yom Kippur, those 400 rabbis who had traveled to Washington made it no further than the steps of the U.S. Capitol where they were met by high-ranking members of the administration, plus some senators and congressmen.
On those stairs, they cried and begged their elected officials to take a greater interest in European Jewry before millions more would be slaughtered.
A 22-year-year-old Arthur Hertzberg (who later became a leading intellectual and Conservative rabbi) took part in the march with his elderly father, an Orthodox rabbi. He wrote:
I could not get up to the fence of the White House so I had to look on from the park across the road. Eventually someone came out of the White House. He took a letter from the rabbis to the president, but the president himself never greeted them. We were soon told that several of his Jewish advisers had told FDR that these immigrant rabbis were not the official leaders of the Jewish community…. All of us who had been there that day left feeling very bitter; America was our last great hope. If the president of the United States could not take the lead in this effort, or more precisely, if he chose not to be identified with the kind of activist effort that the rabbis were requesting, where could we now go? Was there some other address for our outcry?
That was October 1943. Fast forward to September 2009.
I was overwhelmed by how much has changed in sixty-six years. Whereas in 1943 the greatest Orthodox rabbis in the country could not gain access to the White House, in 2009 our OU mission was warmly welcomed to the White House campus for a briefing by the most senior officials about matters of concern to the Jewish people. (This has been the norm during the past several presidential administrations as well.)
The American Orthodox rabbinic leadership of 1943 was given a cold shoulder and made it only to the stairs of the Capitol. Our group, however, was ushered into the Capitol and given a magnificent room where we enjoyed a kosher lunch buffet. A small parade of senators and representatives were eager to address us and let us know what they were doing to ensure the security of our beloved Israel.
In the decades since World War II, thanks to the hard work of groups like the OU, Orthodox Jewry’s relationship with our American government has improved radically. For this, all Jews should be thankful.
May God answer our prayers and see that our efforts on behalf of the entire Jewish people are blessed with success.
About the Author: Kesher Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Akiva Males can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ultimately, Esther, Netanyahu, and we, the Jewish people, must and will rely on the true King, God, for our salvation from this genocidal threat.
Netanyahu addresses a clear, present & lethal threat to the US/Israel/WORLD; NOT political bickering
Buried in the tax-returns of the JCF is millions of dollars funneled to NIF in the last few years.
Obama & Putin have handwriting/signature clues indicating differences between public & private life
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“GETT’s” being screened for Israeli Rabbinical Court judges at their annual convention.
If Jackson were alive he’d denounce Democratic party’s silence towards virulent anti-Semitism
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March 2013: Arabs hurled stones hitting the Biton’s car; Adele’s mother swerved the car-into a truck
I can tell you that Cablevision has been astonished at how high we rank.
The real issue is that in many respects the president has sought to recalibrate American values and our system of government.
Former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, writing in the Washington Post on Sunday, provided one of the clearest and most compelling analyses we’ve seen of the importance of the prime minister’s speech.
The power of “positive campaigning;” Nothing quenches your soul’s thirst like Torah.
In a short span of time our shul raised and distributed thousands of dollars for relief organizations.
In 2007 my parents decided it was time to downsize and sell their home of more than thirty years. To help them pack up and move into their new apartment, I returned to Cleveland to offer my assistance.
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“Rabbi, is there any religious requirement for Jewish men to wear mezuzahs around their necks?”
“Rabbi, if you yourself are clean-shaven, why does this inmate claim his Jewish religion prohibits him from using a razor on his face?”
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.
No matter our stage in life, one is seldom comfortable feeling left out. Unfortunately, many American Jews experience exactly that feeling each year as Christmas approaches. The term “December Dilemma” is used to describe the tension many Jews feel sitting on the sidelines, unable to fully enjoy or participate in the distinctly Christian themes and activities occurring all around.
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