Vandals Destroyed Our Sanctuary, but Not Our Spirit
This past Shabbat we read from the Torah portion Mishpatim about the ordinances set before the Israelites. Apparently, the Ten Commandments, important as they may be, are insufficient to guide a proper social structure. For a better understanding of what is expected of us, the text offers clear guidance on a wide variety of circumstances that differ in complexity and nuance.
For example: “If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.” In this case, the underlying presumption is that oxen normally are timid and do not pose a threat to the people around them. When this presumption is challenged, the ox is killed and its flesh may not be consumed. The owner of the ox remains innocent, however, with no responsibility for the incident whatsoever.
The text offers us another case involving an ox: “If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.” Here we are dealing with an ox that is known to behave like a bully. The owner of that bullying ox has already had early warnings and is therefore expected to restrain his beast for it is a danger to others around it.
On the last Saturday night in January, after reading in the morning from Yitro, a modern-day bully found it appropriate to breach the fence surrounding the “Natan Ya” congregation’s synagogue, took the water hose, stuck it through a window and flooded the sanctuary with water. Water penetrated deep into the soil underneath the historic structure. The building, received from the Netanya municipality by the community after a long court battle, housed the town’s Haganah headquarters before the establishment of the State of Israel, and then served for several decades as its Magan David Adom emergency station.
It is hard to believe that anyone in a country so concerned about its water supply found it acceptable to perpetrate this act of vandalism. That person is certainly like an ox that is known to have done damage. Of course I am not suggesting stoning such a person, God forbid, but I do expect the police to act swiftly and decisively to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice. If the police refrain from doing so, there is a good chance that this person or persons will do so again, somewhere sometime, with potentially devastating results.
This Shabbat, we will read the offering of contributions in Parashat T’rumah. The Eternal speaks to Moses and says, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution.” The reasons for raising these contributions is to support the building of the Tabernacle. It is a contribution that comes from the heart, there is no specific amount that is required or demanded. People assist in any way they can.
At the “Natan Ya” congregation, the congregation my parents founded together with others, despair is not an option. Cleaning and pumping out water, which took five days to complete, enabled us to hold services this past Friday. We maintained the tradition, unbroken since the founding of the congregation; no services are ever cancelled, even in the darkest of times. The members of the congregation, led by Rabbi Edgar Nof and I, are extremely appreciative of the support and generosity that we are experiencing these days. It is a true manifestation of the heart that brings contributions. We especially value the partnership and support we receive from the Reform Movement in North America. It is our work together, between our Movement in Israel and in North America, that strengthens us in times like these.
Be assured, we shall not be deterred by the acts of such wrongdoers. “Floods” of water shall not “drown” our resilience nor our competence. Where they will destroy, we shall build; where they spread hate, we shall spray love; where they scorch, we shall plant; where they will silence, we will raise our voices. Our congregation, now in its Jubilee year, has experienced hardship. More than once we have wiped a tear or two, brushed away drops of sweat, mended the broken, and repaired the troubled. He who tried to cause us damage on International Holocaust Remembrance Day does not understand that our march is loud, visible, and strong, and we proudly call out “Anakhnu poh!” (“We are here!”) Together, we will continue to nourish and sustain Reform Judaism in Israel.
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