This is a special Shabbat in general and especially for me, because this Shabbat Shekalim is also the very Shabbat when I was called to the Torah for the first time. Then, in February 1969 there was no Reform congregation in Netanya, and I suppose that we were not even aware of its existence in Israel. It is therefore that I had my Bar Mitzvah at the Orthodox synagogue uphill from where I live also today. I learned the Maftir and Haftorah from a pleasant voiced teacher. My mother, sister, grandmother and aunts, as well as the rest of the women and girls were not allowed beside me to celebrate together this special moment in my life. They were segregated up there at the ladies section of the synagogue, where it was practically impossible to see them. I could not receive the warm hug from my mother to accompany the one I got from my father, who also was not just by me at that very moment. I also vividly remember making the inevitable error reciting the blessing saying “Adoshem” instead of “Adonai”, a result of endless rehearsals. Be assured that the participants corrected me immediately. However, this Shabbat is way too important to be talking about my memories of my adolescence – today we must talk of the here and now.
stop the expulsion of African asylum seekers from Israel.
On this Shabbat the Maftir is read from the portion of “Kee Tisa” which says, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the Lord… The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.” The English translation loses the meaning of the Hebrew words. Once the word כֹּפֶר is translated as ‘ransom’ and then the word לְכַפֵּר is translated as ‘atonement”. With both coming from the same Hebrew root they can also mean, like in the story of Noah’s ark, a way of covering something up. The Israelites are called to give a donation to take care of the needs of the Mishkan. The money collected allows to cover the soul and isolate it from what is bad and improper which otherwise wraps our hearts and souls. The effect of the donation impact each person and the entire community because, “Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the Lord.”
The tent of the Mishkan is no longer and one may feel exempt from providing this donation of half a shekel. But this comes at the expense of exposing our hearts and souls over and over again to the ugly faces of reality, eventually becoming indifferent to it. The chair of the Reform rabbis in Israel wrote to us (my translation): “Hundreds of millions wish to immigrate these days. Many seek refuge from hunger and poverty imposed upon them by ruthless globalization, that boasts with slogans of freedom of a capitalistic economy. Others seek refuge from the terror of merciless wars, ethnic cleansing, struggles lead by extreme religious fanaticism, and more. The leave their dwellings and risk their lives and those whom they love in the hope to find a place of comfort, begin a life worthy of living, to bequeath hope for generations to come… Like all countries of fortune, have a prospering economy and a stable political system, Israel too must take part in addressing this human anguish. Like all other nations we also know that we cannot be the solution for everyone who needs it; we too closed our borders at a moment in time and practically put an end to the stream or refugees entering the country. Like all these countries we also tend to forget that this act of closing the borders will be legitimate only if we take part in changing the world.”
The board of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), following a discussion at its Israel Reform Action Center (IRAC) lead by lay-leader Professor Ronen Beeri and attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski, adopted a resolution regarding the asylum seekers’ issue in Israel that among others states: “The Israel Reform Movement calls upon the Government of the State of Israel to withdraw from its plan to deport asylum seekers to foreign African states, and rather develop a proper and proportionate policy to address their migration in a manner that reflects the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State, the sensitivity of our heritage towards the stranger and refuge seeker, and International Law, and that also addresses satisfactorily the plight of deprived neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in the country… The IMPJ shall strive to forward this stand and its implementation… collaborating with other organizations holding similar views and which are committed to the values of the State as a Jewish and Democratic state. The IMPJ shall further cooperate with other bodies in the Jewish world, within and outside of the Reform Movement circles. This shall be done in parallel to IMPJ’s continued efforts to address the needs of weakened groups of the Israeli society so that government response to such needs is increased. The IMPJ further call upon its congregations, institutions, leaders and members to: study the issue including from the Jewish perspective and establish a congregational discussion thereon; raise a rabbinical and congregational voice in the spirit of the movement’s position on the issue; be available and support concrete activities such as assisting asylum seekers to place their petitions before the authorities; donate to those Israeli organizations that directly support such asylum seekers; and, increase the support provided by the congregation to those weakened people and groups in the Israeli society and demand the governments active involvement in making progress in this area.”
Our contribution today must be different from that of yesteryear. Our half Shekel may come as a demand to the Israeli government to listen to the refugee, give an opportunity to the asylum seeker to state their need, and listen to them with an open heart and soul. We must further assist those places that the government has left behind, purposefully or negligently. There is no doubt that the Israeli government may and must have a proper immigration policy as well as a proper and just way to address demands for foreign workers in Israel. Nevertheless it must first consider those who are already here and not follow policies that seem to only enrich certain middlemen who cut a share at the expense of many others.
During this time of the year we put our minds and souls towards the raising of funds from donations and it is now the time to ask you to give your share. You can donate to our congregations to these and other pressing topics, or the Movement and “Keren BeKavod”, or to those organization who day-in and day-out do good open heartedly, a heart that gives the half Shekel, a heart covered with a layer of generosity that puts it apart from those who are heartless and build themselves of xenophobia, depression of the poor, and exclusion of he or her who is different. We can do better.
Shabbat Shalom and best wishes for a good month of Adar.
Reuven Marko, 9 February 2018, 25 Shvat, 5778