Shabbat Candlelighting 4:22 p.m.                                             Friday, January 14, 2011/9 Shevat 5771

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Down By The Bay
Earlier this week, we sent out an email alert on behalf of the Canada-Israel Committee in response to a boycott that was launched because they carry the Israeli cosmetic line, Ahava. Many community members attempted to counter the boycott by going to the store to purchase Ahava cosmetics, and found the products already pulled from the shelves. Many have shared a strong message with The Bay’s corporate leadership about the importance of standing up against such economic boycott methods. We also heard from a few community members who are supportive of such boycott efforts or this particular one.

Yesterday a joint statement was issued by Bonnie Brooks, CEO of The Bay, and Moshe Ronen, chair of the Canada-Israel Committee, clarifying what is going on. The Bay pulled the products recently as the result of a routine product review; not due to pressure from boycott proponents. Ahava is repackaging their products, and The Bay looks forward to restocking the new line when launched.

It is nice to know that an iconic Canadian commercial institution such as The Bay (even if under American ownership) is not playing into an economic boycott of Israel. If you wrote them a letter or spoke to their personnel on this issue, it would help to follow up with a letter of appreciation for the public statement.

In the meantime, Ahava products are still available at Sears, the Temple Sholom gift shop, and other retailers in our region.

It is important to recognize that there are and always will be discordant voices on Israel-related issues, and the best way to debate the issues. One of the people I count on for thoughtful reflection on these kinds of things, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, wrote yesterday on a related theme – I encourage you to check out what he had to say.

On Bullets and Blood Libel
The tragic mass shooting in Tucson earlier this week has sparked much debate about political rhetoric, toxic public speech, gun control, etc. As an American citizen, I’ve become increasingly concerned over the years about the declining civility of American political life. From my vantage point, this is of concern in the Canadian polity as well, although things are not as extreme here. (Are they ever?)

Former American vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin threw fuel on the fire by using the term “blood libel” to cast herself as a victim in the situation. One of the other people I count on for thoughtful parsing of moral issues is Rabbi Brad Hirschfeld, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Here’s his recent post on the reactions to Palin’s language:

Remembering Debbie Friedman
Growing up within the Reform congregational youth movement, music was an important part of the experience at regional retreats and summer camps. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, a new generation of musicians and song leaders composed countless new melodies for traditional Jewish liturgy and text that brought the experience of prayer to life, and built tremendous ruach (spirit). Among the most important contributors to this creative development in Jewish life was Debbie Friedman.

Her impact spread beyond the Reform Jewish movement as her music was embraced by other denominations and Jewish groups. Her most famous composition, Mi Shebeirach, has become part of the worship experience in many congregations as a prayer for healing. She touched literally hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives through her music. Her passing this week has produced an outpouring of remembrances; here is the obituary posted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Moratorium on Conversion Issues Extended Another Six Months
Last spring, new legislation on the status of converts in Israel threatened to undermine cohesion among Jews around the world and their relationship with Israel. The issues continue to percolate, but there are intense efforts guided by Prime Minister Netanyahu and led by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to broker a set of understandings and agreements that can address the varied perspectives and desires that many different constituencies have. For more information on the moratorium click here.

JDC Monitoring Tunisian Jewish Community
Political unrest in Tunisia has our overseas partner agency, the Joint Distribution Committee, closely monitoring the potential impact on the small but historic Jewish community there. Tunisia is essentially shut down by a general strike, with massive anti-government demonstrations taking place everywhere. However, the Jewish community (300-500 in Tunis, 100 in Zarzis, 60-80 living in Sfax and Sousse, and approximately 1,000 Jews on the island of Djerba) is not the focus of any demonstrations thus far.

The government has intensified heavy police protection for some Jewish institutions, but in other areas the police presence has disappeared completely. Yesterday, four non-Jewish civilians were killed during the protests and a Jewish shop was among the many that were looted in the city center. Their funerals today will most probably be followed by an outpouring of public grief and anger. Hopefully, that won’t turn against the small Jewish community. Some Jews living in “hotter” areas of conflict have taken temporary refuge in communities where it is quieter.

JDC has been active in Tunisia since 1950, but Jewish communal life there dates back at least 2,300 years, when 30,000 Jews were forced to move from Palestine to Tunisia by the Romans under the Emperor Titus. After World War II, estimates of the size of the Jewish population in Tunisia ranged from 105,000 to several times that number, but many left after the creation of the State of Israel. The community declined to 23,000 by the end of 1967 and to about 1,500 today – a small, but proud community.

Looking Back at the Haiti Earthquake
The first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti a year ago has prompted many reflections back on what has been done over the past year, and the many reasons why there has been so little progress in addressing the needs of the Haitian people. It is a complex environment, certainly, but the explanations provide cold comfort for those whose lives have been shattered, and who need a pathway out of darkness. To read a report on how funds contributed to the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund have been directed, click here.

Parashat Beshallach
In this week's reading, the Israelites are leaving Egypt. Pharaoh and his forces are in pursuit, and the Israelites are trapped at the edge of the Sea of Reeds. God intervenes, causing the sea to split and the Israelites to cross to safety, while Pharaoh's army is drowned in the sea. In celebration, the Israelites recite the Song at the Sea - a song of praise. It is introduced with the phrase, "Then Moses and the Israelites sang..." (Exodus 15:1). The Etz Chayim commentary notes that from the moment of creation, this was the first instance in which people sang praises to God. Certainly, up until now the Israelites had cause to feel God's presence in their lives, but the splitting of the sea and the ultimate deliverance from Egyptian slavery was a miracle of a different order. It created a break in our historic narrative, setting in motion the events that ultimately laid the foundation of our Jewish faith. And so it led to a different manifestation in the relationship between the people and their God.

Shabbat Shalom!

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