Synagogues throughout Greater Philadelphia are coming together on two of the most important issues facing Israel and Jews today: Israel's right to defend itself, and the need to support Israeli citizens as they recover from their confrontation with Hezbollah.
"Our synagogue has a long-standing history of supporting Israel," said Rabbi Saul Grife of the Conservative Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim. "Our membership, and our leaders and staff, stand with Israel in good times and in times of crisis."
With Israel now somewhere between being attacked by state-sponsored terrorists, and rebuilding and enhancing security in the event of new attacks, area synagogues have become a driving force in the Jewish community's response. During this year's High Holiday services, many synagogues are planning to include the opportunity for their members to support Israelis through participating in the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Israel Emergency Fund.
The fund — which joins the United Jewish Communities' North American $500 million campaign to support Israel — has helped thousands of Israelis survive the conflict. It is now fully engaged in rebuilding and rehabilitation programs to revitalize Israel's northern communities and provide human services to its most at-risk populations.
"Federation's Israel Emergency Fund, along with the work of the United Jewish Communities, serves as an umbrella operation for Israel, and has the ability to target and reach many people that desperately need assistance," explained Rabbi Craig Axler of the Reform Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen. "Our synagogue is offering members the opportunity to support Israel through pinpointing their donations to a number of very important and effective programs and Federation's Israel Emergency Fund is at the top of our list."
"Federation and area synagogues have a long history of working together to build upon our local connections with Israel," stated Ira M. Schwartz, Federation's president. "Synagogues play a pivotal role in our community's understanding of and strong support for the Jewish state."
"We are very familiar with Federation's support for Israel," said Rabbi Joshua Waxman of Or Hadash: A Reconstructionist Congregation in Fort Washington. "Several of our religious-school students attended the Bux-Mont community trip to Israel last year and got to see firsthand how Federation is supporting Israel through their visit to Netivot, our Partnership 2000 sister city, and also came away with feeling a tremendous amount of support for Israel and seeing how much Federation does to keep us connected to it."
"We see our relationship with Federation as crucial, particularly at the regional level," added Axler. "Federation brings together individual Jewish organizations to benefit Israel and the Jewish community as a whole. Federation provides a channel for individuals within our congregation to connect to the greater Jewish community in very significant ways."
Local synagogues often exhibit pride in the diversity and uniqueness of their congregations, though often, varying opinions exist among members on Israel's positions and policies. But one thing they do tend to share is a deep concern for and commitment to Israel's future.
Thinking of the Future
"Israel's future is our future," said Rabbi Jay M. Stein of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley. "When it is in crisis our congregation makes Israel's security and the needs of Israelis a major priority."
According to local leaders, Israel is a frontline issue for rabbis, synagogue boards and members, and their efforts are empowering broad community support.
"Once again, Israel was attacked," stated Grife. "And once again, Israel struggled with its response."
"Israel is held to a spectacular position no other country is held to," he continued. "World opinion does not understand Israel and its importance to the world and the values it stands for. It would be among the greatest tragedies for the world to lose [this nation]."
Waxman brought up the fact that "this has been a topic of great concern for our congregation. While there is a range of opinions on the tactics and policies of the Israeli government, there is full agreement on our need to support Israel and on its right to defend itself."
The crisis in Israel has not only united synagogues and strengthened their resolve to provide support for Israelis, it has pushed forward the issue of Israel's survival for many of the congregations, and re-energized their already strong connections with the Jewish state.
"Israel is at the center of what our congregation stands for," said Axler. "You cannot enter the congregation without feeling our connection to her."
"Israel really forms our identity as Jews," he affirmed. "Israel shows up in our prayers, in our tzedakah, in everything we do; the choices that we make must reflect our connection to it. At every moment of crisis, there is a role to play for the congregation, the community and the individual."
For more information on the Israel Emergency Fund, go online to: www.jewishphilly.org or call 215-832-0564. Checks payable to the "Jewish Federation" can be mailed to P.O. Box 57200, Philadelphia, PA 19111-7200. Write "Israel Emergency Fund" in the memo field.
· Beth Chaim Reform Congregation, West Chester
· Congregation Beth El-Ner Tamid (Conservative), Broomall
· Congregation Beth Israel (Reconstructionist), Media
· Congregation Beth Or (Reform), Maple Glen
· Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun (Conservative), Erdenheim
· Congregation B'nai Jacob (Conservative), Phoenixville
· Temple Brith Achim (Reform), King of Prussia
· Chabad Jewish Center of Delaware County, Media
· Chabad Lubavitch of Chester County, Devon
· Har Zion Temple (Conservative), Penn Valley
· Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, Elkins Park and Blue Bell
· Kesher Israel Congregation (Conservative), West Chester
· Lubavitch of Montgomery County, Ambler
· Martins Run (Rabbi on staff), Media
· Congregation Or Ami (Reform), Lafayette Hill
· Or Hadash: A Reconstructionist Congregation, Fort Washington
· Suburban Jewish Community Center–B'nai Aaron (Conservative), Havertown
· Temple Sholom in Broomall (Reform)
· Temple Sinai (Conservative), Dresher
· Congregation Tiferes B'nai Israel (Reconstructionist), Warrington
· Tiferet Bet Israel (Conservative), Blue Bell
· Congregation Tifereth Israel of Lower Bucks County (Conservative), Bensalem