Showing posts with label Beth Tikvah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beth Tikvah. Show all posts

Monday, March 30, 2020

Israel Update - Government, Covid-19 and General Lockdown

Hi.  I have a bit of time so this blog might be a bit longer than usual.   I have divided this post  into three parts - the government, the virus and some miscellaneous stuff.  Lots going on, I guess....

Israeli Government

As you might  have read, we finally have a government in Israel after three elections.  It is quite similar to the government we have had up until this point, with the addition of about 18 members of the now splintered Blue and White opposition party.  Netanyahu is still the Prime Minister, for at least the next year and a half and the ultra-religious parties are still part of the government.  Yamina, the right wing nationalist party, is also still part of the new coalition.

As you probably know, we went through three elections and we were still mired in a stalemate.  Netanyahu and his right wing bloc had a total of 58 Knesset seats, leaving them 3 short of being able to form a government.  The opposition included 15 members of the Arab Joint List party, some of whom are virulently anti-Zionist.  But with the Joint List members, the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz was able to cobble together 62 seats and was attempting to move ahead with a new government.

This plan created quite a bit of uproar in Israel.  Many of Gantz's critics and even some of his supporters noted that he and other Blue and White members had promised that they would not form a government relying on the support of the Joint List.  Of course Blue and White had also promised that it would not join a government that was led by Netanyahu.  The Likud party figured that Gantz was bluffing and there was no way Gantz could go ahead and build a government relying on the Arab parties.  So the Likud party stuck with Netanyahu and the full right wing bloc and insisted that Gantz's only move was to give up and join them.  Netanyahu stated over and over again that if Gantz did not join him, there would be a fourth election.  He also stated that because of the Covid-19 outbreak, the nation was in a crisis and that the only thing Gantz could do to help save the country would be  to join Netanyahu, on Netanyahu's terms.

For Blue and White, many of its members hoped that by proceeding to take certain steps towards forming a government with the Joint List, the  Likud and/or its right wing bloc would start to crack under the pressure. At some point, the Likud bloc members would realize that unless they made significant concessions towards a genuine unity government, they would all be out of power and Israel would be controlled by a left centre government with support from 15 Joint List members.  Gantz moved things along in this direction.  He developed a plan to replace the speaker of the house, Yuri Edelstein, with a new speaker from the Yesh Atid faction of his party and he also planned to introduce some new legislation including a bill that would prevent Netanyahu from being Prime Minister in the next government until his criminal charges were addressed.

But as the new Knesset members were sworn in, Edelstein, acting under Netanyahu's direction, closed the Knesset  and refused to hold the vote that would have led to his replacement.  The Blue and White party sought direction from the Supreme Court of Israel, which ruled that Edelstein had to open the Knesset.  But Edelstein refused.  Instead, he tendered his resignation along with a 48 hour window for it to take effect.  This meant that the Knesset would continue to be closed and he could not be replaced.  It was a calculated move by Bibi to buy more time and continue negotiating with Gantz while he was still in a position of power.  Bibi continued to threaten that if Gantz did not give in to his demands, that would create a fourth election.  He also called on Gantz to "put Israel above all else" and join his government.  Bibi and his bloc members were prepared to openly disregarded the order of the Supreme Court as a delay tactic to put more pressure on the opposition.

At  the same time, Gantz lost considerable bargaining power.  Two Blue and White members, Zvi Hauser and Yoav Hendel, decided that they would not agree to support a government that was relying on the support of the Arab parties.  Another member, Orly Levy, also stated that she would vote against any proposal that would include the Joint List.  So the Blue and White party was now left with the potential support of only 59 with considerable confusion about what Hauser and Hendel might do in the event of any given vote.  One additional member of Blue and White started to indicate that he would defect as well.  Faced with all of this internal pressure along with the pressure from Bibi and political pressure from the right, Gantz conceded defeat and agreed to join Bibi's government, against the wishes of about half of the members of his own coalition group.

To try to paint the rosiest picture possible, Gantz claimed that he had extracted genuine concessions and that this was a necessary move for Israel at this challenging time.  Although the deal includes equality between the number of Blue and White cabinet ministers and the number from the entire right wing bloc - 14 or 15 each initially and now maybe up to 17, it leaves Netanyahu in place as the Prime Minister for at least 18 more months.  It also includes a provision to change the law and allow Netanyahu to serve as a cabinet minister while facing indictment.

A significant number of Blue and White members were outraged.  The Blue and White party itself had been made up of three different factions.  Two  of them rejected this deal and decided to split.  Yair Lapid's party Yesh Atid and the Telem party led by Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon both left Gantz's party, taking 18 members with them.  That left Gantz with 16 to join Netanyahu's government, of whom 15 will be cabinet ministers.   The government will have a massive cabinet with between 28 and 34 cabinet ministers to try and keep as many Knesset members as possible happy.

Meanwhile, Lieberman, who had held the balance of power with 7 seats, has been left out in the cold.  He is not part of the new government and was unable to force the Likud to agree to a true national coalition government between the two big parties without the ultra-religious parties.  This new government is likely to continue the same direction with respect to state-religion issues, which is a major defeat for the Blue and White party and its supporters and for Lieberman.

Meanwhile, the left wing coalition between the Meretz (secular democratic) and Labour (socialist) party has also fractured.  Before the election, a key Labour Party member, former Labour leader Amir Peretz, said he would shave his trademark moustache so that people could "read his lips"  to prove that he would not join a Bibi-led government.  Today he seems poised to join the Netanyahu government, leading his coalition partners to split off into another faction.  It is unclear why Peretz feels that it is so urgent to abandon his party's principles and join this government but that is what appears to be taking shape.

Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party will stay with the Telem party and look like they will be the official opposition.  Yesh Atid and Telem both broke away from the Blue and White party as a result of this deal.  Only Lapid and Ya'alon seem to have been prepared to  weather the pressure from Netanyahu and stay the course towards trying to bring about genuine change in the Israeli government.

In the end, after three elections, Israel has another right wing-ultra-religious government, led by Netanyahu, who continues to await the start of his criminal proceedings.  A major defeat for the centre and the left in Israel and another big win for Netanyahu who is truly a master politician and an unrivaled manipulator.  Like many other politicians, he is ready willing and able to use every trick in the book to retain power.

Covid-19 Update

Like the rest of the world, Israel continues to grapple with the spread of Covid-19.  As of yesterday, there were about 4,300 cases in Israel.  There have been 16 deaths and there are about 80 people in serious or critical condition.  The government, led by direction from the Ministry of Health, has implemented wide-spread restrictions on movement across the country.  Many businesses are closed including most non-essential retail establishments, restaurants (other than for take-out and delivery) and all forms of entertainment.  These restrictions may have helped to limit the spread and allow the hospitals to prepare for the impending onslaught of patients who will require respirators and ventilators in the coming weeks.  It is unclear whether the combination of restrictions and preparations will suffice but Israel is doing everything it can to stay ahead of the curve.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone on TV regularly to introduce new, increasingly harsh restrictions.  He has also been warning Israelis that the steps are necessary to ensure that Israel does not turn into Italy, Spain, or the United States.  In one TV appearance last week, he suggested that the U.S. may wind up with close to 500,000 fatalities and that Israel would likely wind up with more than 10,000.  We will continue to hope that these predictions are not accurate and that we will soon find a vaccine or a cure for this disease.

Miscellaneous Other

I saw the meme that is circulating  - "I miss those days when I could voluntarily choose to skip going to synagogue."  Well, our shul, Kehillat Hod VeHadar, has been building up a series of Zoom shul meetings.  Our shul has not implemented Zoom services on Shabbat for halachic reasons but it has been running Kabbalat Shabbat (before Shabbat) and havdalah (after Shabbat) with more than 50 different zoom windows open and somewhere between 50 and 100 people attending.  Not bad for a shul with only a few hundred families.  Like Synagogues around the world, the Kehillah will continue to develop online learning opportunities, classes and other meetings while in-person attendance is not feasible.  I see that Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto is also headed down that path as are many other congregations.  Families are gearing up for Zoom Pesach seders.  I think we are likely to hold an intimate Pesach Seder for just the five of us rather than a Zoom event.  But I guess we have a bit of time to decide.

Israeli TV station, channel 12, has been broadcasting concerts each night at midnight on TV as well as other concerts at different times on its website.  We have seen some terrific concerts  including Idan Raichel, Rami Kleinstein, Amir Dadon and Keren Peles.  Others have been less memorable but it is a great initiative.  All of the concerts are performed live at an empty Zappa Club in Tel-Aviv.

Like many other people, we have been doing lots of cooking.  Trying out some new recipes.  We made some homemade pizza - even the sauce was from scratch.  Tried out a recipe for long ribs, a Spanish Frittata, and a whole roasted chicken (mixed recipes from a friend and a family member).  Lots of other ideas coming up.  I have a humus recipe from one good friend and a channa masala recipe from another.  And it is nice barbecue weather.  Trying to keep the recipes reasonably healthy and limit the amount of wine that is consumed with the meals.  And trying to do some exercise using a phone app - to keep off the weight.  We haven't really made a dent in the whisky collection yet but if this isolation period continues long enough - we might start.

Israel has made great efforts to bring Israelis home from all over the world.  El Al has played a significant role in this - despite the enormous financial and existential difficulties it is now facing.  Some flights were sponsored by donors, businesses and other contributors to ensure that people could come back home for free or at a greatly reduced rate.  Other flights were were arranged by El Al itself or by travel agencies or other airlines.  Everyone arriving home (including our family member...) has had to go into a two week self-isolation.  So we are grateful for all of the efforts of these airlines and travel agencies and happy to be going through that now with our self-isolated family member.  We are looking forward to the end of the two week period - right before Pesach.

Obviously there will be no travelling for  me (or anyone else) for a while - who knows for how long - but hopefully there will be clients  who are happy to meet virtually.   I hope that my friends with big family events including bnei-mitzvoth and weddings will see all of this subside super quickly or will find ways to make alternate arrangements that are equally meaningful.

It is a strange world without any sports events, entertainment outings or other of the usual events that we have been so accustomed to enjoying.  Our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs will once again be denied the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup (they haven't won since 1967 and they probably weren't going to win this year...).

How quickly everything can change.  We take so many things for granted and we realize now how suddenly everything can be so different.  It brings ever increasing meaning to so much of the liturgy that we read on Yom Kippur.

I wish everyone the best of health and hope to try to keep in touch regularly with as many of you as possible.  Let's hope that we got through this much quicker than expected.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Rabbi Avraham Feder Z"L

Rabbi Avraham Feder Z"L
It was a difficult day today.  We attended the funeral of Rabbi Avraham Feder Z"L at Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem.  Rabbi Feder was a great Rabbi - a Rabbi of a generation - a terrific Chazzan and a wonderful man.  He was our Rabbi, teacher and friend and touched the lives of so many people.

Rabbi Feder was the founding Rabbi of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto in 1967, a Synagogue which later expanded and grew into a shul of more than 1,000 families.  He was energetic and passionate in his approach to Judaism, Zionism, music and social activism, among other passions.  He worked on building a community, not just a shul.  He pushed his congregants towards spiritual growth, greater halachic observance, wide ranging musical experience and Zionism.

I first came to know him in 1979 soon after our family moved to Toronto.  He taught a Pirkei Avot  class to a group of High School Students.  More than 30 of us joined him weekly for an in-depth discussion of a wide range of ethical issues.  He would always arrive early and get to know whichever students had shown up.  He was happy to speak about politics, baseball, ethical issues, or whatever other topic might create some common interest between him and the students.  In class, he would constantly try to find ways to engage each individual student.  Though his expectations were high, he was respectful, thoughtful and, often, funny.

As the congregation Rabbi, he would push congregants to try adding new observances.  For example, he implored more people to attend services for Sukkot - and to try building their own Sukkah.  When he saw that many families accepted his challenge and came to shul on Sukkot, he decided that he had to reward them by making Sukkot the fun and happy holiday that it was supposed to be.  He wanted to make "Zman Simchateinu" a reality - so he told adventurous stories of his heroic cousin who was serving in the Israel Defence Forces.

Rabbi Feder was an ardent Zionist who fervently believed that the mission for the current generation of Jews around the world was to do everything they could to rebuild the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.   He followed what he preached and left Toronto to make Aliyah in the early 1980s.  Some Beth Tikvah families joined him at that time.  Other families came later and still others - children and grandchildren of the original founding families of the shul - joined him in Israel many years later.

Rabbi Feder continued to return to Beth Tikvah each year to conduct High Holy Day auxiliary services at Beth Tikvah.  He had a passionate group of followers.  He led services, as the Chazzan, with beautiful, inspired davening.  The congregants came to know all of his melodies and sang along throughout.  These High Holy Day services were a spiritual treat, intense, uplifting and fulfilling.

He would sometimes bring new songs to teach to the congregation.  One year, after facing down some particularly difficult challenges, he asked the congregation to sing "LaKum Machar Baboker," the classic Naomi Shemer song about waking up to start a new day.  In remembering this type of approach, one person described him today as a "radical optimist."

In his role as the Rabbi at these services, he also delivered lengthy, powerful sermons, sometimes laced with musical interludes in Hebrew, English or Yiddish.  Since he was both the Rabbi and the Chazzan, he knew that the Chazzan would not complain if the sermons were too lengthy.  His sermons were fascinating works.  They touched on a wide variety of sources - the Torah and Talmud and other sources of Jewish law, contemporary and classic literature, current works of fiction and non-fiction, cinema, plays and personal anecdotes.  Some were sewn together meticulously.  Others might wander into unforeseen and provocative areas.  Many of these sermons generated vigorous responses.  But they always left us with ample fuel for discussion over Yom Tov lunch, whether we agreed or disagreed with what he said.

Over the years, we spoke and exchanged emails with him constantly.  He attended and shared "a few words" at each of our kids' b'nei mitzvah in Israel and we got together with him several other times.  He always asked about all of our family members, children, parents, brothers, sisters - he genuinely cared.  He was particularly proud of our children's accomplishments - as bar and bat mitzvah teachers, as shlichei Tzibbur and with their roles in the IDF.

At his funeral this morning - several people spoke.  Family members, friends and others.  If there was a common thread that ran through all of these eulogies - it was Rabbi Feder's passion and his love.  He was passionate about Judaism, Zionism, literature, Music, learning and had many other passions.  But each person who spoke about him - shared the thought that in all of their interactions with him - they always felt love and respect going in both directions.  They all felt that they had a special personal connection with him - and that this special connection touched and impacted on their lives in a unique way. This love of people and ability to connect with them - together with his true menschlikeit was what came through most powerfully from all those who spoke.

Aside from Jewish sources and classic literature (he was a Shakespeare expert), Rabbi Feder greatly enjoyed musicals - particularly classic Broadway musicals.  He would often sing snippets from some of his favourite pieces.  A few of the speakers today recognized this - and alluded to certain pieces - that were some of his favourites.  As much as he enjoyed the "classics," he opened his mind to new music, movies and books. And he continued to try to accomplish as much as he could - reading, writing and exchanging ideas with so many people.

Apparently, he had been working feverishly on a 250 page memoir which he completed very recently.  I have not yet seen it.  But when I heard about it today - I thought about how much he might have enjoyed Hamilton - and its blend of American history, Broadway music, contemporary music and social justices ideas.  And what more apt a line - than a line from Hamilton describing Rabbi Feder's efforts to complete his memoirs...."how do you write when you're running out of time..."  and, from the finale of Hamilton - "time...if I only had more time..."

For many of his - his family members, friends, congregants....we all wish he had more time.

I hope and pray that his legacy will inspire others to emulate many of his examples - whether in the area of yiddishkeit, Zionism, Judaism - or above all else - Menschlekeit.  

Published Announcement for Rabbi Feder Z"L

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Simchat Torah Twice...

I decided to try to celebrate one of my favourite holidays twice this year - which is like celebrating a birthday two days in a row or going to see one of your favourite bands twice in a row.

Some technical details make this a rare possibility. Simchat Torah, "rejoicing of the Torah" celebrates the end of the Torah reading cycle. It involves finishing the annual Torah reading, giving each person in the synagogue the chance to be called up to the Torah for an "aliyah" - and, of course, having any number of scotch shots during the service - usually starting around 10 a.m....

In Israel, Simchat Torah is celebrated on the 8th day of Sukkot - and is also called "Shmini Atzret." It is a holiday on its own - and quite a festive one at that. Outside of Israel - Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are two separate holidays - occurring on consecutive days. Observant Israeli Jews only celebrate according to the Israeli calendar - so the day after Shmini Atzeret is not a holiday in Israel.

On Thursday, September 30th, we celebrated Simchat Torah at Hod v'Hadar - a Conservative synagogue in K'far Saba, Israel. The service began at 9 a.m. By 9:45, we were dancing "hakafot" - taking the Torah scrolls out and dancing around the synagogue -while singing festive songs and having the odd shot of scotch...All this to mark the completion of the annual cycle of reading the entire Torah - and then rewinding it and starting the cycle again from the beginning.

After finishing the rounds of hakaftot - we divided up into groups to read through the 5 Torah readings that are read over and over on Simchat Torah until each person has had a chance to come up and say the blessings. It was wonderful to share a table with my daughter for the first time - and read the 5 sections of the Torah portion over and over while the various synagogue members came up for their aliyot - which is done at this synagogue by family. Our family was the last to be called up as a group - and then we wrapped up this part of the service and rejoined the rest of the congregation for the remainder of the service - which ended at about 1:00 p.m. followed by a pot luck lunch - with a wide variety of food - all dairy and vegetarian - brought by the various members. The celebrations were fun and family oriented with a real sense of community.

Simchat Torah ended in Israel at 6:10 p.m. -bringing to a close the week long festival of Sukkot - and the season of "chaggim" in Israel - where the kids were off school and many people work only half days.

I left Israel that evening on late night flight to Philadelphia and from there to Toronto - arriving in the morning - in time to join some Toronto festivities. Although it was now not really a holiday for me - I had to be back in Toronto for a variety of reasons. So why not enjoy celebrations twice in a row?

I arrived in time to join the "Hakafot" - 8 of them here in Toronto - and then helped share the Torah reading - reading the same sections over and over in Toronto that I had read the previous day in Ra'anana with my daugter. The scotch wasn't as good at Beth Tivkah - since the members hadn't brought their own fine single malts as they had in Ra'anana - but the ruach was exciting and there were many participants in the Torah readings and other aspects of the service. Disappointingly, it seemed to me that the number of congregants had gone down quite a bit over previous years' turnouts - particularly in the young family demographic - but the service was still vibrant and energetic.

Like Hod v'Hadar in Ra'anana, Beth Tikvah finished with a well attended kiddush lunch - since the service ends around 1:00 p.m. - rivalling Rosh Hashanah and Shmini Atzeret as one of the longest mornings in synagogue on the annual calendar - other than Yom Kippur.

In both places, Toronto and Ra'anana - I was able to participate in joyful Simchat Torah celebrations - carry the Torah, sing, dance and even have a few scotches. A great couple of consecutive holidays - to mark the end of the Jewish New Year - and this year's Jewish holiday season.

And now - to finish off the New Year - Styx in Niagara Falls, Ontario...

Shana Tova!