The Need of Appreciation for One Another

2013ftv_terrillAs we look back on the tumultuous year for our city, I am reminded of the inspired leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. This was a man of action who brought hope and healing to our country and whose values of truth, justice and compassion brought about the civil rights conversation so important at that time.

It is these values of King, whose  accomplishments we celebrated and rededicated on Jan. 18, that are at the very heart of who we are as a Jewish community. These values empower us to improve our world and foster our ongoing commitment to social justice, equality, ensuring dignity and the value of every human being.

Perhaps that is why so many Jews were instrumental in the fight for civil rights, standing side by side with King, often risking their lives, marching for equality.  And it is why, with  Baltimore facing a fragile future — as we await the trials of the six police officers in the Freddie Grey case — we must once again count on these values to build a better community for all.

It’s a tall order but one that can begin at the grassroots level in our own communities. Through sustained dialogue across interfaith and interethnic groups, we can establish respect, dispel stereotypes and develop a mutual level of trust and collaboration.

For years, The Associated, through its agencies, has been a prominent convener of these conversations. The Baltimore Jewish Council hosts dialogues between educators, religious leaders and other residents, building personal relationships and understanding, while discussing the myriad needs of Baltimore City and the region. At the same time, CHAI’s Community Conversations brings together neighbors of various ethnicities, offering a safe space to  be open and honest and building  cultural awareness.

One of the most powerful projects implemented through CHAI’s Community Conversations was a Girls’ Photography Project. It changed perceptions among Jewish and African-American teen girls, who learned from one another through the process of taking photos together — photos that reflected their unique life experiences.

Hearing one Jewish teen remark that the program helped her learn “how special my neighborhood is  and how we have a lot in common with our neighbors even if we do not go to the same schools and have the same customs” brought home the  importance of these dialogues.

In fact, it is that very statement that our Jewish teens participating in  Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Students Taking Action for Change  program echo after meeting with their Elijah Cummings Youth Program counterparts. Although they may live in different communities and attend different schools, they  ultimately share the same concerns about what the future of our community might hold and how they can make an impact for a better tomorrow.

As King said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”  On Jan. 18, as we commemorated Martin Luther King Jr., we not only remembered our mutual fight for civil rights, but recognized the need for continued appreciation for the other.

 

Marc Terrill is president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Obama’s Efforts Are Not Enough

In the well-known story from the opening chapters of Genesis, we read the sparse narrative of an intimate  relationship that turns violent.

Writing of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, Russel Jacoby, author of “Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence from Cain and Abel to the Present,” points out that victims are most at risk in their intimate relationships.

“Cain knew his brother — he talked with Abel — and [yet] slew him afterward,” Jacoby writes.

Statistics show not only that guns in the hands of those who commit domestic violence often lead to murder, but that violence is more often perpetrated by family members or intimate acquaintances than by strangers. Fifty-five percent of women murdered by   intimate partners are killed with a gun. Yet, current federal law fails to protect a growing population of victims and survivors of domestic violence, children as well as adults.

President Barack Obama’s recent effort through executive action to  improve enforcement and clarify definitions regarding existing regulations on the sale of firearms is a welcome step toward changing the direction of the national discussion on gun violence. We support what the president has ordered: more effective enforcement of existing laws and a clarification of language that defines who is “engaged in the business” of gun sales.

But as welcome as these steps are, Congress still needs to address the dangerous and often lethal connection between domestic violence and guns. Federal law currently prohibits only some convicted abusers from buying or owning guns. Those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence against a current or former dating partner, or misdemeanor stalking, can still legally buy and own guns. And the presence of a gun in an abusive relationship increases the homicide risk for a woman by 500 percent.

The Jewish textual tradition has long grappled with the roots of violence among intimates. But our tradition also understands that such intellectual wrestling is not enough — we also have an obligation to act.

That is why, as religious leaders, we are supporting two pending pieces of legislation — the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act in the U.S. Senate — that would prohibit the purchase or possession of guns by those convicted of any acts of domestic violence.

Perhaps Americans, still recovering from the shock of one mass killing after another and bruised by polarizing political rhetoric, will yet reach areas of consensus and cooperation.

By closing loopholes in existing laws, where the scope and intent of the act is clear, we are not engaging in polemics or in politically motivated rhetoric. Rather we are seeking to strengthen existing laws designed to protect victims of domestic violence.

Given what is known about how guns can quickly escalate domestic disputes into murder, we urge Congress to pass these bills. If Americans may still learn any lesson from the tragic story of Cain and Abel, it is that we are, in fact, our brother’s — and sister’s and partner’s and parent’s and children’s — keeper.

 

Rabbi Marla Hornsten of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Mich., and Rabbi Ari Lorge of  Central Synagogue in New York are co-chairs of the Jewish Women International’s clergy task force on domestic abuse in the Jewish community.

The Anti-Israel Trend You’ve Never Heard Of

If you want to understand why the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) has gained so much ground in the past two years, look no further than intersectionality, the study of related systems of oppression.

Intersectionality holds that various forms of oppression — racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and homophobia — constitute an intersecting system of oppression. In this worldview, a transcendent white, male, heterosexual power structure keeps down marginalized groups. Uniting oppressed groups, the theory goes, strengthens them against the dominant power structure.

As you might have guessed, the BDS movement has successfully injected the anti-Israel cause into these intersecting forms of oppression and itself into the interlocking communities of people who hold by them. So it’s increasingly likely that if a group sees itself as  oppressed, it will see Israel as part of the dominant power structure doing the oppressing and Palestinians as fellow victims. That oppressed group will be susceptible to joining forces with the BDS movement.

At Columbia University, Students for Justice in Palestine managed to form an alliance with No Red Tape, a student group fighting sexual violence. What does opposing sexual violence have to do with Israel and the Palestinians?

Intersectionality with the anti-Israel cause, unfortunately, has not been  limited to groups working against sexual violence at Columbia. The anti-Israel website Mondoweiss recently declared that “since Mike Brown was shot by police in Ferguson … solidarity between the Black Lives Matter and Palestine movements has become an increasingly central tenet of both struggles.”

While anti-Israelism has long found a sympathetic ear among segments of the far left, it has not, until recently, enjoyed much popularity among ethnic minorities. Moreover, until recently, BDS supporters probably weren’t  organized enough to do the necessary outreach to and stewardship of fellow marginalized groups. Now, evidently, they are.

While he never uses the term intersectionality, Mark Yudof,  chair of the recently established Academic Engagement Network, which aims to fight anti-Israel sentiment on campus, ominously describes efforts to “connect the dots” and “co-opt the language of human rights.” The BDS movement is “moving to integrate itself with nearly every progressive campus cause,” Yudof said.

The growing acceptance of intersectionality arguably poses the most  significant community relations challenge of our time. Ultimately, how popular — and threatening — intersectionality becomes depends on the degree to which the far left is successful in inculcating its black-and-white worldview, simplistic perspectives and resentment toward those perceived as powerful with the mainstream left. But we can influence the direction of this discussion.

The Jewish community must do more to establish our own intersectionality with groups on the mainstream left, which is not nearly as prone to radical currents. Strengthening ties to these more moderate groups will erect a firewall between the far left and mainstream left on Israel, making it far less likely that the latter will ever take the bait from the BDS movement.

David Bernstein is president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the representative voice of the Jewish community relations movement.

A Turning Point for Area’s Jewish Community

When my son, Charlie, now a sophomore at Friends School of Baltimore, asked to join BBYO last year, I swelled with pride. As an alum myself some 50 years ago in Hibbing, Minn. — a town of only 17,000 people and fewer than 10 Jewish teens — BBYO was my lifeblood in connecting with Jewish teens outside our area.

As soon as Charlie joined, he immediately valued the teen-driven focus and the social connections he developed throughout the Baltimore area and beyond. He is vice president of membership of his local BBYO chapter and is also working on his leadership role for BBYO International Convention (IC) 2016, a five-day convention that will be hosted in Baltimore over Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 11-15.

More than 4,000 of the Jewish community’s top teen leaders, educators, professionals and philanthropists from around the world are coming to the Inner Harbor for IC 2016 to  experience the community that BBYO creates. And this is just a taste of the BBYO experience. This year, BBYO will reach more than 80,000 teens in 35 countries with an AZA and BBG membership that will surpass 19,000 leaders. These teens plus more than 400,000 alumni make up the BBYO family. Playing host to this powerful movement is a turning point for BBYO in Baltimore.

While BBYO is supporting Charlie in developing leadership skills, social responsibility and connections throughout the world, I am working with fellow Baltimore community members Robb Cohen and Laurel Freedman to support IC and the BBYO experience in Baltimore. Robb and Laurel have also seen the value of BBYO through their teens’ involvement.

Robb’s daughters, Lizzie and Alex, a junior and freshman at Roland Park School in Baltimore respectively, are members of BBYO in Baltimore. It’s clear every day: BBYO has helped strengthen their Jewish identity, given them leadership skills and made them part of a global network of Jewish teens. Lizzie particularly loves being on BBYO’s Global Networking Committee, a group of Jewish teens from around the world who meet regularly online to work together through a unique partnership between BBYO and the JDC.

Laurel’s twins, Alanna and Rebecca, are juniors also at Roland Park School. The twins found BBYO as they were transitioning out of a Jewish day school and into a secular high school. Today, Alanna and Rebecca hold multiple leadership roles at both the chapter and regional levels, and, like Lizzie, Rebecca is on the IC 2016 Teen Steering Committee. BBYO has helped them find their voices — as teens, as Jews, as young women and  as members of the Baltimore and worldwide Jewish communitiess.

Seeing the impact BBYO has had on Charlie, Lizzie, Alex, Alanna and Rebecca has brought me back full  circle and inspired me to get involved in supporting the BBYO experience here in Baltimore — most immediately by helping to host IC. As Robb often shares, having IC in Baltimore is an invaluable opportunity to unite Jewish teens and give them leadership skills, Jewish community and connections for life. We can leverage IC to  build long-term Jewish community  engagement in Baltimore and beyond.

Join us online in following the pre-IC excitement at bbyo.org/azabbgic/host and on social media through @BBYOInsider and #AZABBGIC2016.

Bob Hallock, a BBYO alum from Hibbing, Minn., and a Baltimore community member for the past 35 years, is a consultant who helps companies and organizations grow their  businesses.

Don’t Endanger Americans

Syrian immigrants pose a grave  danger to all Americans —  and  especially to American Jews and gays.

Top Obama administration officials testified that Syrian refugees cannot be properly vetted. As FBI Director James Comey stated, “We can query our databases until the cows come home, but nothing will show up because we have no record of them.”

Homeland Security Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) added: “There is absolutely no real way of vetting these refugees coming in. … There is no intelligence on the ground. … There’s obviously no government records we can go to. Syria is a totally chaotic country, and it’s a hotbed of al-Qaeda and ISIS. And we have no idea who’s coming out of Syria. … It definitely puts the United States at risk.”

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that U.S. intelligence officials have a “huge concern” about ISIS’s ability to infiltrate Syrian refugees. A top Lebanese minister warned that two in every 100 Syrian migrants are ISIS fighters. An ISIS operative admitted that 4,000 ISIS fighters have been smuggled into Western nations, hidden among refugees. King wrote, “We know that [ISIS] will attempt to  infiltrate its members into the United States with these refugees. … ISIS perpetrators of the Paris massacre traveled hidden among refugees.”

An Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies poll of 900 Syrian refugees in November showed that  a third of Syrian refugees are ISIS  sympathizers, and 13 percent support it.  In addition, according to a 2007 poll cited in the article, “Opposing Syrian Muslim Refugees is a Jewish Value,”  a staggering 77 percent of Syrians  support Hamas —  a terrorist organization whose charter calls for murdering every Jew.

Syrian Muslims are indoctrinated from an early age to celebrate martyrdom, act violently toward “enemies,” and hate Jews and Israel. A chilling  recent study of Syrian textbooks found vicious anti-Semitic teachings.

The violence perpetrated by Muslim immigrants in Europe —  especially  toward European Jews —  portends what America has in store if we bring more such immigrants here. A recent ISGAP survey noted: “Perpetrators of the most extreme cases of violence against European Jews in recent years were Muslims.” In the wake of numerous Muslim attacks on German Jews, the leader of Germany’s Jewish community, Dr. Josef Schuster, warned that many refugees are from cultures marked by “hate towards Jews and  intolerance,” and implored German Chancellor Angela Merkel to limit refugees. Schuster also reminded Merkel of the Islamists’ mistreatment of women and homosexuals.

An influx of Syrian Muslims would further strengthen the Arab anti-Israel lobby, thereby weakening U.S.-Israel  relations.

Shockingly, despite these grave perils, HIAS, the Anti-Defamation League, AJC, the Union for Reform Judaism and the national JCRCs signed a joint letter with such organizations as the Muslim Public Affairs Council, CAIR and the pro-BDS Presbyterians supporting dangerous Syrian immigration, opposing additional  restrictions and security measures on  Syrian refugees and giving credibility to these terrible anti-Israel groups.

Even before the San Bernadino  massacre, a Bloomberg poll showed that 53 percent of Americans want to completely stop accepting Syrian refugees.

American Jews and the pro-Israel community should join ZOA and most Americans in opposing bringing more ISIS-infiltrated, Jew-hating  Syrian refugees here.

Breaking Our Silence

The body of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh, surrounded by relatives, is carried at her funeral in the Palestinian village of Duma. (Oren Ziv/Getty Images)

The body of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh, surrounded by relatives, is carried at her funeral in the Palestinian village of Duma. (Oren Ziv/Getty Images)

The images are shocking. Celebrants at a Jewish wedding in Jerusalem dance to a rock band while brandishing assault rifles, guns, knives and a fake Molotov cocktail, and repeatedly stab a photograph of Ali Dawabsheh, the 18-month-old Palestinian toddler who was murdered along with his parents by Jewish  terrorists in the West Bank village of Duma five months ago. (The alleged perpetrators are under investigation by the Shin Bet, the Israeli security services.)

The song to which the revelers were dancing is a well-known “revenge song,” “Zachreni Na,” based on  Samson’s final words: “Remember me … let me take one vengeance for my two eyes on the Philistines.” In  Hebrew, Philistine and Palestinian derive from the same root and are  essentially the same word. This song is played regularly at bar mitzvahs and weddings in the religious Zionist community, so it cannot be dismissed as some sort of extremist anthem, and its playing unfortunately cannot be viewed as an aberration.

The video, taped on a wedding guest’s smartphone, originally aired on Israeli TV news Channel 10 last week and has since gone viral. Israeli leaders across the political spectrum have strongly condemned the “wedding of hate.” Yet, Ayelet Shaked, a star in Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party and current justice minister, told Israeli Army Radio a day after the video first aired that she “regretted” that the video was released because it “hurts the State of Israel.”

Actually, Minister Shaked, what is hurting the State of Israel is the  atmosphere in which this kind of blood lust — something we are used to seeing with the Islamic State, even with Palestinians celebrating the deaths of terrorist martyrs, but not from fellow Jews — finds expression in one of the holiest of Jewish life cycle events, a wedding. It should be noted that the bride and groom belong to an extremist group, The Rebellion, whose aim is to topple the Israeli  government and replace it with a monarchy, and expel all non-Jewish inhabitants in the process. The newlyweds are friends with the two settler youths who were indicted Jan. 3 in the murder of the Dawabsheh family. Though the groom claimed to be  unaware of the hateful demonstration taking place at his own wedding, the guests included the lawyer for the suspects, Itamar Ben Gvir, and Bentzi Gopstein, leader of the virulently anti-Arab group Lehava. Even the rabbi who officiated at the wedding, Rabbi Daniel Stavsky, has weighed in by stating that the Duma killings were perpetrated by the Shin Bet and Arabs.

As Anshel Pfeffer wrote recently in Ha’aretz, “This is what a climate of tolerance and acceptance of violence, hatred and racism looks like.” For too long, it appears that the security services did not act aggressively enough to staunch the growing Jewish terror underground movement by investigating its crimes, such as church and mosque burnings, “price tag” actions, illegal outposts established by the “hilltop youth,” and so on. Former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon, who headed the security services when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, has described the threat to Israel by the far-right Jewish terrorist underground as even greater than that which existed during the period leading up to Rabin’s murder at the hand of a Jewish extremist.  In chilling reminders of that time, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been depicted recently in social media in Nazi and Arab garb, just as Rabin once was vilified.

Clearly, these extremists do not represent the vast majority of Israelis, and all countries, including our own, have to contend with intolerant, racist, violent elements in our midst. But the suggestion of Shaked that the video should not have been publicized is naïve and absurd in the  extreme in this day and age when every smartphone is now a potential TV camera. Moreover, “keeping it in the family” or out of the international public view is merely an ill-conceived (and completely ineffectual) attempt to counter efforts to defame and delegitimize Israel through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. When we witness the  Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, whose members are Israeli army  reservists, being criticized and marginalized by Israeli public officials for publicizing experiences during army service in the West Bank and Gaza, we must ask ourselves who is protecting whom and from what. Sunshine is still the best disinfectant.

Israelis have good reason to feel  beleaguered — the instability of the region, the threats from Iran, Hezbollah and the Islamic State, and, of course, the latest wave of violence against  innocent civilians that shows no sign of abating. But the idea of keeping  Israel’s challenges and less than positive aspects “in the family” is beyond antiquated; it harms Israel’s own interests. I sometimes get the feeling that  Israeli officials are surprised that American Jews follow developments in Israel as closely as many of us do. But we have access to Israeli print and television news in Hebrew and in English and in real time, so this should come as no surprise. The days of characterizing Diaspora Jews as disloyal to the State of Israel for  expressing our concerns about societal trends in Israel are over, and those of us who still believe in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state need to speak up and support those in Israel who share a deep distress about a growing atmosphere of intolerance and hatred that leads to scenes like the “wedding of hate.” After all, we’re still family, and it’s time to break our own silence.

 

Susie Gelman is a member of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Why ‘Good for the Jews’ Is Bad for the Jews

Ever wonder if Bernie Sanders is good for the Jews? How about Andy Warhol? The pope? 9/11? The Diaspora? Alexander the Great? Drake? The year 5775?

“Is it good for the Jews?” is as much a punchline as a question. And yet, whether the question is asked explicitly or not, there remains a corner of our community that brings a “good for the Jews” mentality to every concern.

A recent opinion piece was titled “Why campus anti-racism protests are bad for the Jews.” The headline is problematic because it assumes that Jews want to do what is good for the Jews. And once these Jews understand #BlackLivesMatter is bad for the Jews — because, the op-ed argues, some of its activists support Palestinian claims against Israel or there’s been pressure on campus administrators to silence similar Jewish demands  — well, they will oppose #BlackLivesMatter.

This is an excellent example of the dangers of “good for the Jews.” First, it suggests that Jews have uniform interests. Second, it prioritizes how something impacts Jews over how it affects others. Third, it reinforces a communal identity built around isolation, vulnerability and fear; genocide hovers, always.

Viewing life through a “good for the Jews” prism encourages us to place our multivalent selves at the center of every conversation. But it’s often true that what’s “good for the Jews” doesn’t necessarily help Jews all that much — and can be downright harmful to those who need a hand most.

Given our unprecedented standing and influence, denying our collective privilege can lead to complicity in oppression. This is painfully true when we do so in disputes with communities that might understandably be guided by a sense of their own precariousness.

The “good for the Jews” mentality is particularly troubling when applied to issues with a racial component. Take affirmative action, which is back in the news. In the 1970s, every major Jewish civil rights group opposed affirmative action in the landmark case Bakke v. the University of California, which banned the use of racial quotas to increase university enrollment of students of color. Tipping the college admission scales in support of “minority” students, male Jewish leaders declared, was bad for the Jews.

These same Jewish leaders assumed affirmative action helped blacks at the expense of whites; after all, Jews had benefited from “merit-based” admissions. Yet, not all Jews are white. And, to date, the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action are women, including Jewish women — whose exclusion from Jewish leadership gave lie to the notion that a singular entity known as “the Jews” exists in the first place. Even on its own terms, affirmative action was both good and bad for Jews.

So what’s the bottom line? When we focus on what is “good for the Jews,” we often get it wrong. For us and for others.

It is past time that we retire this mentality. It limits a community that does amazing things when it looks past its own nose. And that would be good for … everyone.

Why I’m Moving My Family to Israel

I can tell that some friends and relatives think my decision to move my family to Israel for a year is, well, questionable. “So you’re really going to do this?” one friend asked over coffee, eyes widening.

My father suggested that we†might consider somewhere in the country less “tense” than Jerusalem —Tel Aviv, perhaps?

Other than that I’m transplanting my family — uprooting my young children from the familiar comforts of their home and dropping them into a new culture and language — what concerns my loved ones about the move is, of course, the security situation in Israel. And while I understand their worries, and†to some extent share them, I’ve mostly been able to shrug them off.

Until last month, that is. My husband and I skipped Thanksgiving turkey and instead spent a few days in Jerusalem, planning our upcoming move for his sabbatical year. We arrived amid a surge of violence in Israel, and I worried I might find a country fraught with tension, people looking over their shoulder at every turn. But it was the same country I remembered from my summers as a teenager —the same open-hearted people, the same buzzing energy, the same golden light.

A couple days into our trip, over breakfast at our hotel, I opened the newspaper and read that there had been a stabbing at the Mahane Yedudah market the day before. Two Palestinian teenage girls had chased market-goers with scissors, and one of them stabbed a Palestinian man she mistook for an Israeli. Just the other day, a man from Hebron plowed his car into a group of civilians waiting at a bus stop, injuring 14 people, including an 18-month-old whose leg had to be amputated.

That last detail rattled me the most. It’s one thing to take risks as an individual but another thing to do so as a parent. Was I really going to take my two young children to live in a city where things like this happen?

The answer is yes. Instead of worrying about these what-ifs, I’m trying to focus on the reasons we’re choosing to live in Israel. Over the years, my husband and I developed a deep love for the country. For my husband, living on a kibbutz for a year during high school was a formative experience. For me, it was summers spent teaching English to children in underprivileged Israeli communities. We want to instill that connection to Israel in our children while they’re still young. We also want them to delight, as we do, in Israeli culture: the language, the food and, above all, the people. Yes, the people —who are always in your business, always giving you their opinions, but in the warmest possible way.

Since returning from our Thanksgiving trip, I’ve found that my once blurry images of our lives in Israel are starting to come into focus.

I like the way they look: my kids, tanned from all that time in the sun, licking ice cream cones from the shop on the corner; my husband and I enjoying a leisurely hour together at the neighborhood café on Friday morning before picking the kids up from school. I know there will be hard times too, probably even scary times. But we’ll get through them, just like
Israelis do.

At Hillel, Fostering a Culture of Disabilities Inclusion

Standing before the burning bush, Moses asks of God, “Mi anochi?” “Who am I to be the one who goes to Pharaoh?” Though there are many reasons why Moses may have asked the question, a tip-off to what is really on Moses’ mind comes just a few verses later when Moses reminds God that he is “slow of speech and tongue.”

In most commentaries, this is interpreted to mean that Moses has a severe speech impediment. God’s
response to Moses’ disability is powerful. God wants him for his leadership qualities notwithstanding his disability, and Moses draws strength from having his brother, Aaron, stand beside him and support him.

Noah Weiss is a 2015 graduate from a doctoral program at my alma mater, Northwestern University. Noah writes in the new issue of Hillel College Guide magazine that his Asperger’s syndrome had often stood in the way of building strong connections with his peers, but the community he found at Hillel helped change that.

“Hillel events helped me to break out of my Aspie shell,” he writes. “I could feel a sense of community that didn’t discriminate against others because of their background or human conditions.”

That’s why Hillel International is launching a multiyear campaign, through a generous partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, to build cultures of inclusion on college campuses. We can all be Aarons who make it possible for students with disabilities, including mental illness, to find their voice. We can work together with all students to break down barriers to participation in the Jewish community and on the broader campus. And we can be among the ones who students turn to as a resource when they are grappling with mental illness, depression, anxiety and trauma. We can create welcoming spaces, and we can make it clear that they too are Jewish leaders.

With Hillel staff from around the world gathering this week in Orlando, Fla., for the second annual Hillel International Global Assembly, inclusion of students with disabilities and mental illnesses will be top among our major focuses. Research shows that the college years are the time when many mental illnesses first manifest, the result of both biological and environmental changes and stresses.

This year, we are undertaking a series of trainings to equip Hillel staff with the skills to recognize and lower barriers to inclusion and be a partner for students struggling with mental illness. In addition to skills training, the Hillel International Global Assembly will feature a session on inclusion of students with disabilities and mental health awareness, featuring several recent graduates sharing their stories about mental illness on campus. These stories include themes of depression, anxiety, suicide and
eating disorders.

Moses was certainly not alone among our forebears having a disability that could make it difficult for him to connect with and lead the Jewish community. Today, there are still plenty of people like Moses, plenty of young Jews with disabilities waiting to take leadership. We all must be Aarons and commit ourselves to helping them do just that.

Kaddish and My Dad: a Celebration of Life

When I embarked upon the sad journey facing a new life after losing my Dad, Neil Israel, one year ago, I was nervous about the necessity to recite the mourner’s Kaddish multiple times every day as an avel (mourner). However, I found that its rote repetition never became a burden; but rather a bracha (blessing). The ancient Kaddish prayer is an affirmation of G-d’s presence in this world and a call to G-d to bestow peace upon us.  Personally, Kaddish became a yearning for a structured connection to spiritually talk to Dad, as I had almost every day of his living life.

Although I felt early on, and certainly feel now, that Dad’s neshomah (soul) is in a better place, closer with G-d, I still had to face that he was now distanced from me.  But each time I said Kaddish, I was
enveloped in warm memories of Dad’s encouraging, loving support, as it conjured my childhood memories of sitting next to Dad in shul (synagogue), where he was a lifetime regular
attendee.

Fortunately, I never had to bear the responsibility of remembering Dad alone, as my journey was shared with my mother, brother and sister; I was lovingly supported by my life partner, Suzy, and tolerated by my six children. I also remembered Dad with my fellow mourners. I came to better appreciate the phrase, “Bitoch shaar evlay tzion v’yerushalayim” (amid the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem) that we commonly recite to an avel in a shiva house. Each new avel was
welcomed in to our Kaddish Zugger’s (reciter’s) club, and together, we set the tempo and emotional pace of Kaddish recitation, lifted each other’s spirits and recalled our loved ones.

But alas, after the year-long journey that provided me so much comfort from and within Jewish Tradition ended on Dad’s first yartzeit (the anniversary of his death), Jewish law demanded of me that I abruptly cease my ritualistic mourning. All I felt was an empty chasm and faced a void of emptiness. Although I was no longer inconsolable in the emotional sense, my entire being and neshomah cried out to keep going, to retain a strong connection to my Dad through the medium of prayer kavannah (focused intent).

Over the past few weeks, I shifted from simply reciting words to internalizing their message. I comprehended that Kaddish is much more than a spiritual slogan, but rather it’s a call to action. Not just believing in Kaddish’s power of Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name) as I confidently feel my Dad did on a daily basis through his honesty; not just reciting about Kiddush Hashem as so many of my dad’s friends and relatives shared with me about him. But by
living for Kiddush Hashem.

While my tears of grief have slowly dried up and been replaced by loving memories of my Dad that inspire me to celebrate and live a fuller life, I can no longer simply remember Dad during tefillah (prayer), but must emulate his life in everything I do. I need to transfer my mourner’s journey of words from my lips to my hands and from my tongue to my feet: to incorporate Dad’s life lessons into action for all upcoming voyages that lie ahead.