Shabbat Candlelighting 8:53 p.m.                                                Friday, June 4, 2010/22 Sivan 5770

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Thoughts on the Gaza Floatilla
Since news of the Israeli commando raid on the Gaza flotilla broke it has been a tense and difficult week. The loss of life is tragic and was, at least from my limited perspective, probably avoidable. The consequences of failing to prevent violence are enormous. The reflexive response from most of the world to condemn Israel, and even from some within our own community, without waiting for the facts, and in spite the facts, is unsurprising but no less distressing. Instead, there is the rush to prejudge before all the facts are known.

I believe Israel has a right to enforce a blockade, and that its action to interdict the flotilla was justifiable and legal. Israel and Gaza are in a state of conflict. The Hamas regime has expended considerable effort over many years to smuggle arms into Gaza. I’ve seen the empty rocket casings piled up behind the Sderot police station, dates dutifully recorded in chalk. More than 10,000 rockets have been launched from Gaza aimed at civilian populations since Israel withdrew both military forces and civilians from Gaza in 2005. Therefore, the blockade and the screening of materials being shipped into Gaza is a legitimate security measure on the part of Israel.

It is certainly worth noting that five of the six ships were peacefully boarded, and only one erupted into violence. A choice was made to provoke. During the interception of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF naval personnel with live gunfire as well as light weaponry including knives, crowbars and clubs.

I also feel that there was a failure on the part of the Israelis to manage the situation. The intent of the leaders of the flotilla was known. The desire of some participants to provoke violence was known. Different strategies were needed to thwart a landing in Gaza and uphold the blockade. Instead, the Israelis fell right into the hands of those who sought exactly this result.

Jewish Federations of North America and our advocacy partner the Canada-Israel Committee have a selection of resources on their websites, which I invite you to explore as you try to keep pace with current information.

Women’s Philanthropy Power Week
Sunday morning, 30 women participated in the first Women’s Philanthropy Mitzvah Day. In an effort to go beyond fundraising to foster community engagement, the women fanned out to participate in hands-on volunteer activities both within and beyond the Jewish community. The participants found themselves energized by the opportunity to get involved in such a direct way in helping others. Hopefully, this year’s event will lay the groundwork for future, larger such programs.

Also this week, more than 50 Lions of Judah, the women who support our Annual Campaign with gifts of $5,000 or more, gathered together for an evening of inspiration. Co-hosted by Michelle Pollock and Susan Mendelson, the guests were treated to a beautiful dinner and a truly outstanding presentation by Judy Feld Carr. This extraordinary Canadian Jewish woman masterminded the secret rescue of more than 3,200 Syrian Jews over a period of more than 20 years. Today, there are 26 elderly Jews remaining in all of Syria. The rest live in freedom in Israel and other western nations because of Judy’s determination, stealth and chutzpah. Her story is featured in Harold Troper’s, The Rescuers, but I suspect much of the real story will never fully be told. What we heard was truly astounding and inspiring.

Jewish Federation Board Approves 2010-2011 Local Allocations
At our board meeting on Monday, our board approved the recommendations of our Allocations Planning Committee (APC), which recently completed its intensive review of 68 funding applications from local constituent agencies. As we are still in the process of contacting agencies with the details of their allocations for the next fiscal year, I’ll just share some highlights.

The APC was faced with requests totaling $4.6 million, which is $1.4 million more than the funds available from the Annual Campaign for local allocations. It is great news that our campaign grew by 2% this past fall, which translated into about $300,000 in new funding for local agencies. But we haven’t yet returned to our 2008 level, and still must work to generate the kind of growth that can truly address the needs our agencies are trying to meet.

Most agencies are receiving increased funding that restores most of the reductions that we had to institute this past year. However, we have also started addressing a significant historic underfunding of supplementary Jewish education programs, and will be supporting a new family education initiative among local synagogues. The APC’s full report will be posted on our website shortly.

We are deeply indebted to the volunteer committee members who have invested many hours over the past few months tackling the inherently difficult challenge of too few resources to address too many needs. I want to particularly recognize Rob Greenwald, who is completing his three-year term as vice chair, allocations, which followed a lengthy tenure as a committee member. Rob brought an amazing mastery of the complex issues involved to his service as chair, coupled with a fair and wise approach to managing the process and the occasionally difficult dialogues with constituent agencies. And because of the impact of the recession on our fundraising, the biennial cycle became a continuous process over his three years. Todah rabah v’kol hakavod!

Parashat Shelach-Lecha
This week’s parasha includes to story of the twelve spies who are sent by Moses to scout out the promised land. Ten return with reports of a land full of milk and honey, but also with enemies too powerful to overcome. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, disagree with the majority assessment and urge the Israelites to conquer the land.

One of the earliest commentaries on the story of the spies is from Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai from the 2nd century CE. He told his students that “the spies went up to the Land of Israel with evil thoughts and returned with evil thoughts.” They had already made up their minds and, therefore, failed their people by bringing their own prejudice to their task. If ever there was a commentary that reflected the prevailing political culture of our times, reflected in the events of this week and so many other issues in our world today, this is it.

Shabbat Shalom!

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