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WEEK ENDING 3rd DECEMBER 2016
The weather is not normally a topic of conversation here in Israel. Occasionally when there is a Sharav, the hot dry wind that blows from the desert which is also called a Hamsin, the conversation can become almost English. People exchange predictions of how hot dry and uncomfortable it’s going to be.
What we have not been complaining about recently has been the lack of rain, and the fact that the weather now is mild and pleasant although it recently dropped to a somewhat chilly 18°!
However the events of last week have put all that into perspective. The country has been unbelievably dry for months, and although major water shortages seem to be a thing of the past, and we are almost self-sufficient in water, sometimes nature overwhelms us.
Dry conditions coupled with a strong wind caused a major outbreak of fires throughout the country. Firefighting aircraft were sent to Israel from Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Croatia, Russia and the USA. Large areas of Haifa had to be evacuated and about 60,000 people removed from their homes. Other areas were very badly hit. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed.
Netanya seems to have escaped the worst, but a village inland from the city was subject to a large fire. On Shabbat one could see aircraft landing in the sea to take on water and then flying inland to douse the flames. The PA sent 8 firetrucks and 40 men to assist in the fires near Haifa, and they also fought fires in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.
Members of the public right across the religious and political spectrum have opened their houses to the homeless. Residents of the Arab village of Kfar Yassif circulated all Israelis offering them accommodation.
In Haifa, Arabs risked their lives to save Jews and vice versa. Firemen from Ramallah doused blazes in West Bank settlements. The fire has brought a renewed spirit of mutual respect and toleration which hopefully will survive the end of the flames.
And most miraculously, there was no loss of life.
Please note that service reminders aim to build a bridge between the last Saturday service two weeks before and the one being announced. They will therefore often focus on the previous parshah rather than on the one in the title.
The Torah has loads of contradictions…. Now, before everyone gathers together into a furious band, comes round to our house with pitchforks and scythes to skewer and shred me to pieces, please read a little further. The Torah has loads of contradictions through which it reveals the profundity and fineness of its moral vision. Take the creation. Man and woman are the last to appear, as the pinnacle of God’s work, yet, no sooner are they securely installed in the most beautiful place imaginable, than they disobey God’s command. The first two children are born and one of them dies before his parents. Abraham is promised numerous times that he and Sarah will parent a blessed people more numerous than the stars in the sky and the sand on the earth, yet Abraham remains childless until his old age, and he is even older when his wife finally gives birth to a single and only child. Abraham is also promised a land, but he wanders for most of his life and only ever owns a burial plot. Such contradictions continue long after the death of the parents of the Jewish people. Jacob is heir to the Covenant, but he is the younger brother. Moses, the best of his people, never enters the Promised Land. David, our greatest ever king, starts life as a shepherd boy. Samson is humbled in his strength, but then is partially triumphant in his weakness. Jonah only understands the will of God when his prophesy is rendered obsolete. There is not time to go into these things in more detail at present, but all of them provide ways through which the protagonists are able to become greater than they could otherwise have been and to learn that to serve God, we have to be free to make choices and to own these choices.
Let us return to Abraham. One of the contradictions in his life is that he lives as a wanderer, but the impression he makes on us is of a deep and gently stillness of being. Picture him sitting at the door of his tent in the hottest part of the day, as the beginning of Va-yeira presents him. Three strangers appear and he immediately jumps up to offer them hospitality. He modestly understates this hospitality by mentioning a morsel of bread, but, in fact, with Sarah’s help, prepares rolls of the finest flour, cheese and the tenderest calf in his herd. Who could wish for a better grandfather? Abraham continues in his forthright, just and ever courteous manner when he argues with God over the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, when he makes a treaty with Abimelech and when he reluctantly sends away Hagar and Ishmael.
Then we come to the Akedah, that most disturbing yet central of episodes. Much has been written about it. It provides proof of Abraham’s faith, but could his faith have been in God not allowing the sacrifice to happen? After all, God had already demonstrated to Abraham that he would not kill the innocent.
Chayyei Sarah brings us back to one of the contradictions I began from. Abraham has great difficulty in obtaining a parcel of land to bury his wife in. It takes us to Isaac and Ishmael, who are the future: the one for the Jewish people, the other for the Arabs. To hear more and to join with others in communal prayer and conversation, come along this Saturday to Three Bridges School at 10.30. Adam Feldman will be leading us.
At the November 20th AGM meeting where 18 members of our community gathered, Harvey Kurzfield officially stepped down as chairman of Kehillat Kernow. Jeremy Jacobson was unanimously voted in as our new chairman. During the meeting at the Liperts house in Rosudgeon, both Harvey and Jeremy gave moving speeches about the community and the contributions made by various members.
Harvey’s spoke about how eventful his years as chairman of KK were, the numbers of people he was privileged to meet (including Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks), and how much the experiences had meant to him. He paid tributes to various KK members but most especially to Jacqueline for all the love and support he has received over the years. He spoke of how lucky we are as a community to have Jeremy as our new chairman.
Jeremy elaborated on some of those themes but concentrated most of his remarks on Harvey noting how his humanity and quiet authority during his 16 years as chairman had made such a difference to the success, harmony, and growth of Kehillat Kernow.
In an elegant tribute to a man he obviously greatly respects and admires, Jeremy’s remarks underlined the gratitude felt by all of us for what Harvey has accomplished during his chairmanship. A letter of support, tribute and good wishes from Rev. Elkan Levy was read out by Leslie Lipert at this important occasion. A champagne luncheon followed.