And Israel camped there opposite the mountain. (19:2) Examining this verse we see that the Torah uses the singular form of the word Vayichan which contrast to previous verses where the plural is used. Rashi, comments that this singular form comes to teach us that they camped “ke’ish ehad be’lev ehad,” like one man with one heart. They were unified as if they were one and this unification elevated the people to a level where they could receive the Torah from Hashem Himself.
The Jewish population is declining and that decline is no longer because of pogroms and holocausts. The decline is a consequence of intermarriage resulting in children who are either not Jewish or become completely indifferent to religion listing themselves as, “none of the above”. This self-inflicted pogrom is diminishing us far more than enemy swords. And the single best tool we have to battle this daily loss is Jewish Education. Yet because of costs, this area too is under siege.
The Israeli government is acutely aware of this and has set aside 500 million shekels in funding. This money and other monies totaling hundreds of millions of dollars is distributed primarily at the direction of the World Jewish Congress. And that’s a place where we have historically had no influence. The vast majority of funds are earmarked by the reform and conservative who control the votes because when it comes to voting we remain as we have been, apathetic. Sitting on the sidelines with no vote, no voice and no seat at the table is more than a shame, it’s a sin.
We have been asking and will continue to ask for each and every one of you to get involved. Log on to www.wszo.org, register and cast a vote for World Sephardic Zionist Organization – Ohavei Zion. We want you to press your organizations, synagogues, schools and rabbis to get involved and take a lead and to make every effort to get members to join and vote. Every single vote is crucial. We need each person to email all of their friends and neighbors and push them to vote. Bring up the subject at the table and get your kids involved.
Someone asked me why we needed to start a new organization with our own delegates. Why not just jump on the bandwagon of the Religious Zionists. My first answer is that the Religious Zionists have not been very successful. And although I can’t be sure of why Hakham Ovadia z’sl initiated this effort four years ago, I must imagine that he felt that our unique communities must be represented. We have 63 diverse candidates from our communities. They include Sephardim and Ashkenazim, men and woman ( about 30% are women), rabbis, elders and youth representing our future leaders ( about 25% are under 30). The more we can vote in, the more control our communities will have over budgets for funding our schools in support of Jewish Education and Identity.
On a personal level I believe that we offer a unique perspective. Last week we read about the Jewish people leaving Egypt all together. All together they march into the sea. All together they witness the final demise of Egypt as the sea crashes in on their enemy. All together they sing the song at the sea. All together they march into the desert accompanied by the clouds of glory. And this week as noted above we read about how they arrive all together at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, one nation with one heart. What a beautiful picture!
Yet today’s Orthodox world is far from a picture of togetherness. Instead of being inclusionary it is typically exclusionary. People don’t feel comfortable in this Synagogue or that Synagogue. And within the Synagogue people only want to worship with those who are like minded and like spirited. Each Synagogue often feels like a “members only” private club. If you’re not like me, than go pray with someone else.
We all know the story about the Jew found after being on a deserted island for thirty years. He gives his rescuers a tour of the village he assembled. This is my house, and this is my supply hut. This is the synagogue, and this is the coconut storage hut. This is the gym and this is the fish drying house. This is the synagogue and …. One of the rescuers stops him. I thought that was your Synagogue, why is there a second? Oh that’s the one I pray in and this is the one I won’t step foot in”.
Our Sephardic Synagogue led by the Rabbi Abittan zs’l for 52 years is an image of diversity and inclusiveness. We pray together Sephardim and Ashkenazim – in fact the split is almost 50-50, we have observant people and not observant people. Many come on Shabbat with suit and tie, others without the tie and others without the jacket. Some even come with jeans and sandals as they might in Israel and everyone feels comfortable together.
The Rabbi’s son Abie told a story of an eighth grade rebbe who came to pay his respects while that sat Shiva nine years ago. The Rebbe was in tears because he didn’t have the chance to thank Rabbi Abittan. He told them of a boy who was in his 8th grade class in Yeshiva. At the time, the boy’s parents went through a terrible divorce. The battle continued for years and as a result the boy left yeshiva and went to a public high school. Although the rebbe tried to keep in touch, the boy moved further and further away from his family, his friends and his religion, finally severing ties with everything but his bed at his mom’s apartment.
Four years later, the boy now 17 showed up at his father’s home at 1AM on a Friday night. The boy was in torn jeans, a line of earrings pierced his ears and he had been drinking and doing drugs. He asked his dad if he could spend the night and the dad made it conditional on the boy joining him at synagogue in the morning. With little choice, the boy agreed.
The next morning still in his t shirt, torn jeans and adorned with his statement jewelry he arrived at the Sephardic Congregation. Rabbi Abittan stepped down from his seat, grabbed a talet, a siddur and a kippah and made his way to the boy giving him a warm smile and handshake and welcoming him. He put his arm around him and walked him to a seat. And when the Torah came out, he gave the boy an aliyah to the Torah, finally giving him a long blessing at the end of the aliyah to the point where the boy shed a tear.
That evening the boy called his eighth grade rebbe and they reconnected. With the rebbe’s help the boy cleaned up and was accepted to a school in Israel. At the Shiva the rebbe lamented that he had never told Rabbi Abittan that because of his smile and warmth and acceptance, this boy was now studying in his second year in Israel and got his life completely together. The boy had told the rebbe that when he became a pawn in the divorce, he lost his family and when he left Yeshiva for public school, he lost his friends who wanted nothing to do with him anymore. And in public school he was an outsider so his only friend was the street. It was Rabbi Abittan who in those few minutes raised him and showed him that he was wanted and loved.
Abie asked how many Synagogues would have given the boy an aliyah? How many Rabbis would have embraced the boy? In many places a security guard would have refused him entry.
Today the pious pray at sunrise. But when Rabbi Jacob Kassin Z’sl, our former chief rabbi, allowed an early minyan each Shabbat morning, it was primarily for those who wanted to pray and then go to work. Wasn’t that sacrilegious people asked? But Rabbi Kassin knew that maintaining the connection, allowing people to remain a part and setting their mind to the fact that they might still be working but could look forward to the time when they wouldn’t have to work, would insure children and grandchildren who would be connected. And he was right. Those same men who opened their stores on Saturday eventually became shomer shabbat. Their children are observant and grandchildren even more so. My father A’h would say that the proper attitude among Sephardim is called “not yet”. It’s an attitude that allows people to replace no with not yet. Does he always eat Kosher outside? Not yet! Does he observe Shabbat fully? Not yet! Does he learn Torah daily? Not yet!
The mind is there. The desire is there. The body must simply follow. And to make that happen we must encourage and include. And this attitude is spreading. So join us in battling exclusiveness and promoting inclusiveness. Join us in supporting Jewish education and directing the future of the Jewish people. Support our party. Join us in spreading this attitude. It’s a mitzvah, “Hakham David Yosef, son of Hakham Ovadia Yosef, a”h writes, “All those who assist in the success of Ohavei Zion in the upcoming elections where delegates will be chosen to represent us in a host of national institutions will be part of the strengthening of Jewish communities living their lives according to Torah and mitzvot based on Sephardic tradition.”
Make sure that World Sephardic Zionist Organization – Ohavei Zion has a large delegation at the next Congress. Vote today. Get your friends and family to vote and spread the message. We are counting on you for 40,000 votes.
Please be in touch with us. Visit our website www.OhaveiZion.com. Email us at info@ OhaveiZion.com. Let us know who would be the ideal contact(s) in your synagogue for the placement of flyers, e-mail distribution of materials, and planning and organization of events. In addition, please point out who would be the most vocal and supportive advocates for the campaign in your community. Get your kids involved where they can register people in their synagogues and schools.
You Can Make a Difference! Every vote counts and what is more important than our future and the future of Israel? Each and every lover of Torah and mitzvot must join in this endeavor. It takes so little to do so. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of us. We can really make a difference. We simply need to register and vote.
Let us prove that we can again be one nation with one heart.