Rabbi Jamie’s Corner
We’ve asked Rabbi Jamie Hyams (our Development Director) to periodically share her perspective with our community.
The past month has been excruciating. Israel is engaged in an existential war, and I ask myself, “As Israel battles for the safety of its citizens, and by extension the safety of the American Jewish community, what is our role in this battle?” While the war may be thousands of miles away, the scary truth is that these attacks were against the Jewish people, all of us.
I spent much of my 20’s in Israel. I have friends and family across the political spectrum and across the spectrum of religious practice. An old friend lives in Tekoa, in the West Bank. My cousin Leah lives in the south in Yeruham, and her husband has been working closely with the Bedouin community for the last 20 years. Another friend, whose only child is serving in the army, lives in Givatayim near Tel Aviv. This isn’t some far-off war happening to someone else for me. These are my friends and family, and I think about each one of them multiple times a day.
The atrocities of Oct. 7 occurred as we were about to celebrate the holiday of Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah celebrates the joy of Jewish life and its continuity. It is customary to joyfully dance with our Torah scrolls, but how can we be asked to dance in the face of such horror? How can our tradition ask us to move forward in celebration and not crawl into bed and pull the sheets over our heads?
The Talmud teaches that if a funeral procession and wedding procession meet at a crossroads, the wedding procession has the right of way and should proceed first. Judaism asserts that even in the face of death, we must lead with life. Leading with life helps me to understand our role as American Jews in the saga of the Jewish people at this moment. While times are scary with rising antisemitism, the answer is not to crawl under the covers, but to thrive.
In addition to financial, political, and moral support of Israel, all of which are critical, the role of the American Jewish community is to ensure that the vibrant Jewish life that we have grown here continues to flourish. In times like these, as the Talmud teaches, we need to affirm life, whether by marrying and celebrating the new union, even when we have recently lost someone, or by dancing with the Torah scrolls, even in the face of tragedy.
The Talmud teaches us “Kol yisrael aravim zeh bazeh” … All Jews are responsible for one another (Shevuot 39a). Hebrew Free Loan was established over 125 years ago when Jews in Northern California were unable to obtain credit from the general community. We created a community loan fund in response, to provide our fellow Jews with the support they couldn’t get elsewhere. Over the last century, Hebrew Free Loan has helped hundreds of thousands of people become self-sufficient, and they in turn have helped to grow a strong, functioning Jewish community that is now in a position to help the Israeli community in its time of need.
To this end, we have broadened our Disaster Relief loans to provide interest-free Israeli Assistance loans to assist family and friends with humanitarian needs caused by the war in Israel. Funds are available to Jewish residents of Northern California who need help to support their loved ones impacted by the devastating events taking place in Israel. We are also assisting local Jewish-owned businesses, synagogues, and Jewish organizations continue to thrive by offering loans to meet their increased security needs.
Israel is many things to the worldwide Jewish community. It is our historical homeland. It is a place where Jews have lived continuously for the past 3,000 years. It is the only country on the planet where Jews are not a minority, and where Jewish culture and the Jewish calendar are the societal framework. For many of us, it is where our family members, friends, and colleagues chose to live after our families were decimated in the Shoah (Holocaust). Others chose Israel as their home to help build a Jewish state where the beauty and diversity of Jewish expression could flourish.
By supporting Israel, and by building a vibrant Jewish community here in Northern California, we ensure that Am Yisrael Chai, that the people of Israel, all of us, will thrive. A vibrant community is one that meets the needs of its members in ways that go beyond just being reactive in tough times. By educating our children and ourselves in Jewish tradition, by visiting Jewish museums, film festivals and other cultural events, and by donating to the myriad of Jewish causes here and in Israel that are building a better world for everyone, we ensure that the Jewish people thrive, in good times and in difficult times.
Ken y’hi ratzon; May it be so.
~ Rabbi Jamie