Rabbi’s Corner: Finding Hope – By Being a “Good Neighbor”

Earlier this week, I finished preparing my paperwork to send to my accountant for my 2022 tax filing. Among my papers was a tax receipt for a donation made for relief efforts to help those in Ukraine affected by the war with Russia.

This war has now been going on for over one year: one year of a continued multi-pronged attacks by the Russian forces on Ukraine. One year of overwhelming numbers of refugees, many of them women and children, trying to flee to safety, often on foot. One year of watching the strength, heroism, fortitude, and stamina of Ukraine’s President Volodymry Zelensky relentlessly standing alongside his people, fighting on their behalf, never giving up hope. Last year he urged the Jewish community around the world to speak up as he accused Russia of seeking to erase Ukrainians, their country and their history. He wrote in a Hebrew post to his Facebook page: “We were all bombed last night in Kyiv, and we all died again at Babyn Yar from the missile attack, even though the world pledges, “Never again,” he wrote. “Nazism is born in silence. So shout about killings of civilians. Shout about the murders of Ukrainians.”

Ukraine is only one country where hope seems elusive, like trying to light a candle outside in a gust of wind. Other examples:

  • The ongoing civil war in Syria is still ongoing. This war began in 2011 and created one of the largest refugee crises since WWII.
  • The February 6thearthquake which devastated both Turkey and Syria, leaving over 47,000 dead and destroying hundreds of thousands buildings, communities and so much more.
  • The wars in Afghanistan, S. Sudan, the political turmoil in the Middle East and the list of other situations seems never ending.

I begin my search for hope in the middle of this darkness, as my eyes metaphorically slowly adjust to the realities of our world. I am not one who gives up easily.  I am inspired by these poignant words: “I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining. I believe in love, even when there’s no one there. I believe in God, even when He is silent.” (author: an anonymous Jewish prisoner written on a cellar wall in the concentration camp in Cologne, Germany during WWII).

I look to Torah for inspiration and begin with the second half of this week’s portion: Vayakhel-Pekudei. In this parasha, the Israelites completed the construction of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary they constructed to bring God’s presence into their midst. They joined together for sacred purpose after the debacle of the golden calf.

The Hebrew word for “miskkan” has the same three-letter root as the word for “neighbor – sha-chein” and “God’s indwelling presence – “Shechinah.” God-neighbor-sanctuary are all interconnected. When we work with our neighbors to build a sanctuary, a place for God’s presence and a safe haven for all, we will bring God’s presence into our midst.

This Torah portion has much to teach us about how to confront humanitarian crises. I see glimmers of hope that make me lift my head, including:

  • Participating in sacred community can bring unparalleled meaning and help us transcend evil even the darkest of times when we work together with our neighbors.
  • Relief efforts for Syria and Turkey include those countries like Israel, who have no relationship with Syria. Israel is often the first country literally “on the ground” after a disaster, leading the way and  providing field hospitals, search-and-rescue operations, disaster support and expertise that only they have. Organizations such as IsraAid make this kind of relief support their number one priority, regardless of a country’s relationship status with Israel.
  • Countries around Europe who previously were either neutral or sided with Russia have taken a strong stand against Russia’s invasion into Ukraine and joined together as “shecheinim– good neighbors”, especially as Russia’s siege of key cities fuels a humanitarian crisis of dire proportions (millions people have fled Ukraine with many more still sheltering in subways, basements and other places within the country).
  • HIAS of Orange County sponsors the Welcome Circle Program– this would be a wonderful opportunity for our Temple Beth Sholom community to become “good neighbors,” get involved, and make a difference in the lives of refugees locally. Let’s work with our TBS Social Action Committee to make this a reality.
  • International relief efforts are ramping up rapidly. You can make a difference here: World Union for Progressive Judaism Ukraine Crisis Fund
    IsraAid Relief Fun

There is so much we can do. If each of us does one thing to make a difference, each of our small actions will add up to make monumental impact.

I invite you to stand by my side in our TBS  Chapel tonight (our small mishkan) and let’s bring God’s presence (Shechinah) into our midst together. Together we will be good neighbors (sh’cheinim) and make a difference in our world.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel, Senior Rabbi
Temple Beth Sholom


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