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Rabbi Neal Gold

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Envelope containing a note from Renee and a two dollar bill

Even a poor person – one who is sustained by tzedakah funds – is required to give tzedakah to another person. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah Laws of Giving to Poor People 10:5

My friend Renee was a character. She was well known in our town; you couldn’t miss her. Her frizzy salt-and-pepper hair was often bound in a pigtail like a schoolgirl’s. She drove an SUV that was constantly breaking down, packed to the roof with the telltale possessions of an inveterate hoarder. She had weary eyes that conveyed years of adventures.

She lived on the precipice of homelessness. For a while...

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Picture of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun from the 1950s, when it was located in Newark, NJ

I am one of the Exiles of Newark, New Jersey.

My father was raised on Goldsmith Avenue, became a bar mitzvah at Young Israel, and went to Weequahic High School, class of ’59. His mother was born in Newark; both she and my grandfather spent their careers teaching in the Newark public school system. My great-grandparents’ graves are in Newark, in the McClellan Street cemeteries.

No doubt I would have been there too. Except that, to bastardize the words of the words of Agnon, through an historical accident – the upward mobility of postwar Jews, the riots of 1967—I was born in...

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View of coastal Netanya Israel with both industrial buildings and lush beaches in view

It’s almost Shabbat in Netanya, a coastal town in central Israel, and I’m with Rabbi Edgar Nof, the Energizer Bunny of mitzvot and inclusion.

The synagogue where Edgar works, named simply Natan-Ya, is a boxy building that was Haganah headquarters in the days before the Independence. Next door is a school that, in those pre-state days, was occupied by the radical Zionist organization Lehi. The mainstream Haganah and the extremist Lehi were bitter rivals. Edgar smiles: “Even then, left and right were fighting each other.”

Netanya doesn’t seem like the cutting-edge of...

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Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “I would like to go to the fields and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone who may show me kindness.” “Yes, daughter, go,” she replied. -- Ruth 2:2

It was summer 2014, and Israel was at war. Tourists were sparse and so were volunteers. I was in a field outside Rehovot, picking daloriyot (butternut squash) alongside a dozen other visitors. And I was thinking of Ruth the Moabite.

In the Book of Ruth, which is read on Shavuot, Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem from their tragic sojourn in Moab, and Ruth goes to the fields to collect...

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Four young children, each on his/her stomach resting arms on a book

The Land of Israel is a ghost throughout the haggadah, even as it is a constant presence in the background of the Passover story. Liberation isn’t solely freedom from Egyptian bondage; it’s also intentional direction toward Sinai and the ultimate arrival in the Promised Land. Yet Eretz Yisrael itself is rarely mentioned in the haggadah text.

But the whole mission of the seder is to interpolate our questions, values, and thoughts about freedom into the story. As the haggadah itself says, “The more you expand on the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the more praiseworthy you are.”...

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