Shabbat Candlelighting 5:30 p.m.                                             Friday, February 25, 2011/21 Adar 5771

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Tools for Young Adults in Relating to Israel
Given the anti-Israel sentiment on campus and in the media, it is important that high school students are able to debate controversial issues effectively. Jewish Federation’s Annual High School Debates gives them an opportunity to do so in a safe setting. This year we had the largest turnout in years, with over 100 students from King David High School, Pacific Torah Institute and Shalhevet participating.

With Israel Apartheid Week taking place on various university and college campuses, Hillel and our national advocacy partners have been working on a variety of strategies to counter the negative and inaccurate images conjured by the use of the term “apartheid”. Vancouver Hillel is hosting Israel A-Party Week, with a range of positive and fun events about Israel that provide a different picture. As part of that effort Hillel is hosting a delegation of Israeli college students who represent the diversity of Israeli life, including Ethiopian, GLBTQ and Arab students. The community has an opportunity to meet these students and hear their stories about Israel’s diversity at an open event hosted by TAG, our community supplemental high school program this coming Monday night.

Mideast Tensions Continue to Boil
The latest Middle Eastern leader to face severe pressure to abdicate power is Libya’s Muamar Qaddafi, one of the world’s most brutal dictators, who has been a tremendously destabilizing force in the Arab and African worlds over many years. The Qaddafi family and regime have vowed to fight to the death to maintain their hold on power, perhaps just as well, as yesterday Switzerland froze the extensive assets they’ve plundered from Libya’s oil wealth during their reign. There is no longer a Jewish community in Libya as the last Jews were expelled after the Six Day War. But there was a long, rich and proud Jewish history and culture there; learn more at the JIMENA website.

Conflicting analyses of the seismic changes unfolding day by day have different pundits voicing optimistic and pessimistic pictures of what could unfold in the weeks, months and years to come. There is little doubt that we are witnessing an extraordinary moment in history and so, of course, it is impossible to predict what the landscape will look like down the road.

In the midst of the turmoil, the Hamas government is literally playing with fire, as terrorists from Gaza launched long-range missiles into Israel, hitting the centre of Beersheva. While Sderot and other communities along the Gaza border have seen 58 rockets hit already in 2011, this is the first rocket fire targeted at Beersheva, a major population centre, since Operation Cast Lead in 2010. Israel’s leadership faces a terrible choice in the face of such provocation: show restraint and thus appear weak, inviting further provocations, or, respond and risk further world opprobrium for defending herself, and also risk further inflammation of violence in the region. Given Iran’s own internal difficulties, there is little doubt that her leadership would love to see attention diverted to a flare up Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Sudanese Refugees Repatriated from Israel to South Sudan
In the midst of the regional tensions, some people are leaving Israel to return to Southern Sudan. Israel has accepted many Sudanese refugees over the past few years. A little known program is focused on providing them with skills and resources that would allow them to return home. With the recent vote and move towards independence for Southern Sudan, some refugees are returning home to rebuild their lives and country.

Jewish Community in New Zealand Picking Up the Pieces
Also big news this week was the massive earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. The damage toll included the Chabad building, which was completely destroyed, and another synagogue which suffered extensive damage. As usual, our overseas relief partner, the Joint Distribution Committee, has been in touch with the community leadership to assess the situation and offer assistance. The New Zealand community is proud and strong, and has indicated that despite their losses, they are not looking to world Jewry for assistance at this time. Between their own resources and with support from Israel, they expect to address their needs.

Parashat Vayakhel
This week’s parasha details extensively the furnishings and decorations of the Tabernacle, God’s permanent home among the Israelite community. The people are commanded to bring gifts of various kinds to provide the raw materials that will be needed – precious jewels, metals, and fabrics. On the one hand everyone is commanded to bring forward gifts, but it is qualified with the statement that “everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them” (Exodus 35:5). It was everyone’s responsibility, but fulfillment of the command was really dependent on a “coalition of the willing”.

It isn’t so different today. We all share the responsibility to contribute to make sure our community has the resources it needs. And if everyone participated, perhaps we too would experience what happened in this parasha, where the workers tell Moses that too many donations have come in. We’re not there quite yet. And so we depend on those generous members who contribute, at whatever level they can, to meet the needs. Our thanks again to our community’s “coalition of the willing” who brought their open hearts to the task of meeting our community’s needs this year.

Shabbat Shalom!

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