Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – March, 2015

I want to thank all those who took on extra tasks while I was on Sabbatical, including:

  • Stuart Rapaport, for taking on extra service-leading and funeral responsibilities;
  • Deb Johnston, for all the additional hours finding answers to phone calls and email and handling emergencies;
  • Guy De Jager, for working hard as president to enhance synagogue life;
  • David Reifler, Elisabeth Rosewall, and the Religious Life committee for coordinating extra Shabbat morning responsibilities; and
  • Buddy Joseph, Annaflora Somers, Sheryl Siegel, Marsha Plafkin, Diane Baum, Paula Bojsen, Moe Kleiman, Joanna Bojsen, and Diane Rayor for sharing divre Torah.

The main focus of my Sabbatical was writing. I participated in a weekly writing group, sharing various things I was working on, to improve the quality and clarity of my written communication.

I shared a booklet I was working on entitled, “Death and Mourning in the Jewish Tradition: A Guide for Mourners.” In addition to explaining Jewish traditions, it also provides clear instructions for what to do when a loved one dies – who you call and what decisions you need to make. The booklet is available in the synagogue office or downloadable as a .pdf from AhavasIsraelGR.org, under “Jewish burial in Grand Rapids.”

I also shared several of my Psalm reflections from embodiedtorah.wordpress.com with the writer’s group. Seven of the reflections will be published in an anthology of material from the Grand Rapids Writer’s Exchange. If all goes according to plan, the book will come out sometime in the next year.

I appreciate the congregation’s willingness to give me this Sabbatical. It gave me time to write and read and reflect on some goals for myself and for Ahavas Israel. More on this in coming months.


The World Zionist Organization (WZO) is a coalition of a number of Zionist organization. Approximately every five years it meets as the World Zionist Congress, established by Theodor Herzl, which met for the first time in 1897. At this meeting, delegates vote on policy proposals for the organization, including financial policy, and discuss issues of vital importance to the global Jewish community such as Jewish identity, peace and security, anti-semitism, civil society in Israel, and the future of the State of Israel. Annually the WZO and Jewish Agency for Israel allocate approximately $300 million in support of aliyah, Jewish education and other programs in Israel and abroad.

The WZO election is one way that we can influence how those funds are disbursed. Funds are distributed in proportion with the number of votes received by each organization. Therefore, the more votes an organization receives, the greater the amount of communal funding it can secure for its programs and institutions. Hence for the Conservative Movement, it becomes imperative to secure a large vote in order to direct more money to our movement in Israel.

As a result, if we in the Diaspora want to make a difference in Israel, each and every one of us should vote in the elections of the World Zionist Congress. The cost to register is only $10, or $5 if you are age 30 or under. The benefit to our movement and to religious pluralism in Israel is many times that.

The Zionist organization of the Conservative movement is Mercaz (slate #2). The platform is:

  1. 1. Pluralism —MERCAZ is celebrates Jewish values without limiting itself to one particular stream of Judaism.
  2. 2. Encouraging Aliyah, Hebrew and Zionist Education – Mercaz joins in the effort to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and it encourages Aliyah from all countries. It opposes all attempts to restrict the Law of Return. It also calls for the strengthening of Jewish/Zionist education in the United States and throughout the world.
  3. 3. A Negotiated Two-State Settlement between Israel and the Palestinians – MERCAZ supports a two-state solution – one Jewish and one Palestinian Arab – that is the declared policy of the current Israeli prime minister and of every other Israeli administration for the past ten years.
  1. 4. Pro-Active Concern for Israel’s Environment. As caretaker of the land of Israel we have a responsibility to protect the environment of Israel for future generations.
  2. 5. Support for the Conservative/Masorti Movement: This is really where the rubber hits the road. The number of members affiliated with Mercaz will determine how much money is given to our Masorti Congregations in Israel, and how much recognition they receive. Your vote then is a vote of support for our brothers and sisters in Israel – and it has economic implications.

The registration form can be found at https://www.myvoteourisrael.com. More information about Mercaz can be found at http://votemercaz.org. Voting end on April 30, 2015. The 37th World Zionist Congress will take place in Jerusalem in October, 2015.

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