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Be a Jew

10/03/17 15:17:47


On Wednesday, UIA held a community afternoon tea in our Sukiert Shule Hall. The guest speakers were Professor Raphael and Dr Tsvia Walden who are both distinguished representatives of Israel. Raphael, born in France, studied medicine at Hebrew University; he was doctor for the Israeli Paratroopers and is now Deputy Director of the Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv. Tsvia has been deeply involved in education in Israel and is currently Director of Youth Studies at Ben Gurion University. She is also daughter of late PM and President of Israel, Shimon Peres.

Listening to the two speakers, I was struck by their passion for Israel, their social activism and their commitment to Jewish education and continuity. They both had great personal stories to tell. Professor Raphael told about a silver family menorah that had survived the war as his family were in hiding. It was the only heirloom to survive and had been taken to Israel. He proudly related how it had been lent to the White House last Chanukah and had illuminated the stately house.

Tsvia spoke about her famous and storied father and his long journey from Vishnier, Bellarusia to Israel. Shimon Peres had a close and loving relationships with his grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer. Shimon immigrated to Israel with the rest of his immediate family to join his father who had already moved to Palestine. In 1934 his grandfather saw him off at the train station; he hugged him and said, “My child, always be a Jew”. Tzvia said of her father at his funeral: “He immigrated to Israel as a boy before the Holocaust. From nothing, there became a state, which was a miracle in his eyes. And he lived with this sense of the miraculous, and never ceased to be in wonder that we have a state. He never took that for granted, and he never forgot the alternatives, what came before… And true to his grandfather’s wishes, he always stayed a Jew.”  Even though Shimon (like his daughter and son-in-law) was a universalist, a global Jew with a humanistic perspective, a man dedicated to “tikkun olam”, he was also a particularist Jew. He had regular Shabbat dinners with his family, recited Kiddush, and stipulated in his will that the one song he wanted sung at his funeral was Avinu Malkeinu, one of the most beloved and central prayers of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  

To be a Jew today is not only to promote tikun olam, to have a social conscience and to be involved in social action. It’s also to know what it is to be a Jew, to study and to practice or as in the bracha before the morning Shema: ללמד וללמד, לשמר ולעשות ולקים “to listen, learn, teach, perform and fulfil all the words of your Torah’s teachings with love”. Shimon’s daughter Tsvia is not Orthodox, but she is a dedicated Jew engaged in the study and teaching of Jewish texts. Raphael is Chairman for Physicians of Human Rights and leads teams of Israeli doctors to help victims of natural disasters across the world as well as the Palestinians who don’t have access to adequate medical treatment. They both have a strong commitment to their Jewishness.

Tsvia reminisced that after Shimon’s death her granddaughter poignantly remarked, “Had I known this was the last time I was with Saba what would he have said, what would I have said” Tsvia replied “Had he known, he would surely have said the same thing his grandfather said to him: Stay Jewish, be a Jew… and I think you would have said: I will continue your legacy with pride”

At Purim time the imperative to be a Jew has a special relevance and urgency. Haman sought to destroy us; he was followed by the Romans who wanted to vanquish us, the Inquisition to convert us. In August 1942 Shimon Peres’s grandfather was marched by the Nazis along with more than 2000 Jews of Vishneva into the town’s wooden shule where they were burned alive. Yet for all this we affirm our Jewishness. We will not be vanquished, we will sing and dance and celebrate the privilege of being Jewish. To be a Jew today is not only to be part of a persecuted people. It is to be a positive, proud member of a resilient people, it’s being part of Medinat Yisrael a nation filled with creativity and compassion. So join us at Caulfield Shule this Purim for the terrific celebrations we have to offer!

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach

Rabbi Ralph

Tue, 14 July 2020 22 Tammuz 5780