When I was asked to say some words this evening, on behalf of the 2nd Melon group that hosts this dinner, there were many things I thought that should be said. Being a realistic person, it was obvious I cannot satisfy all of my desires without tiring you all to boredom. So, in trying to be brief and interesting, I shall start with דבר תורה and add a short story, in a personal note, that, in my mind says it all.
This week's Parashah isניצבים – וילך at the end of ספר דברים which is the 5th book of the תורה. We are told that Moses summarizes the long journey to the Promised Land knowing that his work of teaching the ,תורה and make a nation out of the slaves that fled Egypt is truly done. But there are going to be lots of difficulties ahead: the people will not observe the מצוות and they will eventually be deported away from ארץ ישראל to the Diaspora. Moses passes the throne of leadership to Joshua, then he writes the whole תורה and puts it in the Arc Of Covenantארון הברית and then orders the priests הכהנים to guard the תורה and to read it all in the gathering of the whole nation, every 7th year – every שנת שמיטה. That is the מצוות הקהל, one of the last 613 מצוות in the תורה.
We can learn from those ,פרשות that the key to the redemption of the nation is the preservation its unique religion, its unique culture. As we often see nowadays, in Israel and in the Diaspora, we fail to preserve our culture. We easily go astray, to other moralities and other cultural values. In my mind, one key to strengthening the Jewish People can be found through acquiring at least some the knowledge of our huge heritage, 3000 years of accumulated wisdom that no one person can conceive or fully comprehend. Another key we can use, is through recreating relationships between distant communities. That actually was the Jewish way for centuries, and that is what kept our people as a nation and our culture for thousands of years.
Remarkably, I didn't realize all this just a short year ago - and here, there is a story to tell:
About one year ago Michal, my wife, suggested that maybe I shall take the Melton course this year. To be honest, I was reluctant. I didn't want to be subjected to any missionary-in-disguise kind of meetings, let alone to take upon myself a full year obligation for that. Having graduated from the previous year's course Michal evidently knew better (should I add: as always?). Since I always have the last word in the house, "we" agreed that I shall participate in the trial meeting.
Shimku did a good job in creating both the interest and the reassurance that none of my previous apprehensions were valid. So I enrolled to the course, not knowing much about that "undefined appendix" – the Community Leadership Program that somehow was not too much emphasized at the beginning.
Throughout the year it became nice to meet the group on a weekly basis, to learn more about the various voices in Judaism and to be enticed to form opinions about issues never before encountered by me.
When the issue of the delegation was discussed, still, I could not understand the relevance. What on earth could be the benefit from traveling half the world away just to meet strangers in their own communities? I clearly stated I am not going to go. Gradually, my friends and my wife made me see that there might be a point or two worth considering in favor of the trip.
Shimku didn't let us neglect the community project we should lead. He told us about the intensive role that the Jewish organizations are taking in the community lives abroad, an example that we are going to witness in our trip to SA. Issues regarding the Jewish versus Israeli identities were largely discussed and finally I was half-convinced to go on the trip.
And what a trip it was.
From the moment we arrived in SA I found myself meeting strangers with whom I strangely felt like family. That happened almost immediately. It shook me. We were all overwhelmed by the warm hospitality and real open talks about so much that we have in common as Jews, as a people, as human beings. There were also mutual enriching Melton classes together, in mixed Hebrew and English. That really changed my perspective. Suddenly I saw new meanings of being a Jew; I realized the strong bond I feel to those not-anymore-strangers next to me. That previously entirely unnoticed notion struck and moved me deeply.
The trip's experience gave me the will to do more in my own community as well as for the communities abroad. I became more aware to the practicality of the known saying: Everybody can do something, everyone can make a difference.
And what a difference that trip made for me and for all of us.
Powered by our experience and the bonds, created during the trip, we eventually led a successful project – a panel-discussion evening about תשעה באב, with more than 100 participants that came from the whole area – from בית שמש, from the מושבים and קיבוצים in the מטה יהודה region, secular and religious, young and old. We also plan to continue this project in the coming year with three more evenings like that within the framework of the 2nd year of Melon joined with the Leadership Program
To our South African משפחה: We first met some three month ago, and then we met again some three weeks ago and again the day before yesterday and today. I must admit it feels like a family reunion, thank you for being such wonderful family. To our American new relatives we say: welcome to the family, we love to have you here.
Following my participation in today's People to People sub-committee meeting I'd like to voice my peers' and my own view that the whole idea of גשר לקשר the People to People Program is to create and nourish such bonds. As we are starting our second year of the Melton Mini School's Curriculum & Community Leadership Program and given the fact that the budget discussion is due for tomorrow, we strongly feel that this year's program should also be crowned with a trip abroad, that funds should be budgeted and should be made available for that important objective of people meet people and the creation of relationships. The cause is right and the people are ready and eager. We challenge you to make it happen.
So, to conclude my part I ask everyone to raise their glasses; I'd like to wish for all of us here – שנת שלום שנה טובה with no more wars or casualties, a year full of successful meetings, gatherings and projects, enriching Melton classes and many happy family reunions, here, there and everywhere.
And for bearing me for such a long speech, I thank you.