This past week I have been on and part of various journeys – both professional and personal, let me explain.
On Sunday, I travelled to Manchester for a very special event. We were saying goodbye to Rav Ari and Laura Silbermann, our Mizrachi Shlichim there. In the three years that they have been in Manchester, they have transformed the community. Working in the schools, across the communities, demonstrating the power of Torat Yisrael and becoming a vital part of the kehillah.
Since their arrival, the north of England has been transformed, with several Mizrachi couples working in communities and schools. We now have Shlichim in Leeds, Hale and Salford.
Similarly in London we are saying farewell to Rav Joel and Sarah Kenigsberg. For four years they have lit up the Magen Avot kehillah, Bnei Akiva and various Jewish schools. In today’s ever confusing world, that Bnei Akiva leaders have had such wonderful role models to inspire them has been so important.
Both the Silbermannns and the Kenigsbergs were here during the pandemic and both families created unique and creative ways to stay connected to their respective communities. We will miss them and are so grateful for the time and Torah they shared.
And then there was Monday.
I flew with my youngest son from Manchester to Dublin.
We went to see and stay with my Uncle. He is our last family member still in Dublin. My family came to Ireland in the early 1900’s. Now, over a century later, that connection is still in place. My stay there brought back a lot of memories, as we had come many times with my family to stay with him and his late wife when we were children.
We visited Adelaide Road Synagogue, the shul where my Grandfather Eli was the Life President – it closed in the 1990’s. We davened in the Terenure Shul, where my Uncle is a member – the last remaining working shul in Dublin. The shul told the story of a wonderful community that is now being increased with Israelis and others moving to Dublin to work for Google, Linkedin and other companies. We are hopefully working with them to help with the new challenges!
As I have written once before, there is a beautiful idea in the parsha which links to the above and to Rosh Chodesh Av in a powerful way.
The question is asked. Why does God command Moshe to document the resting spots when they are already documented in the narratives of Shemot and Bamidbar?
The Ba’al Shem Tov says that the significance of the record of stations is not just historical but internal and spiritual.
“These are the journeys…all the stops along the way apply to every human being from the day of birth until death.” (Sefer Ba’al Shem Tov: Massei).
Consistent with this approach of the Baal Shem Tov, symbolic significance was given to the names of the places where the Israelites camped.
Mordechai Yosef Leiner – the Ishbitzer Rebbe follows the assumptions of the Ba’al Shem Tov with a teaching on two of the names of the encampments.
“And they camped in Harada “. This means that whenever a person is uncertain what Hashem wants then the best advice is to remain passive; this is the meaning of camping in Harada (trepidation). This is the situation today (mid 19th century Poland) when we are prohibited by oath not to agitate for the End of Days.
“And they departed from Harada and they camped in Makhelot” (meaning a place of ingathering): This means that when Hashem will desire to gather us in then he will instil within our hearts the courage and self-confidence so that we will not fear. May this come to be speedily in our day.” (Mei HaShiloah, Mas’ei)
The Ishbitzer is seeing his current (19th century) history as relating to the journeys in the Parsha. We can take that idea and apply it to the history of our wanderings as a people in totality – they journeyed from Israel and camped in Babylon, they journeyed from Babylon and camped in Spain they journeyed from Spain and camped in Poland.
Such is our story, such is the story of exile, moving from country to country – finding fleeting peace before packing up and moving to our next destination.
As I remark at weddings before the chatan smashes the glass. The reason that we break the glass is not simply to remember the destruction of the temples, but to realise what it led to – 2000 years of exile, persecutions, expulsions, pogroms and the Holocaust. That has been the terrible price of exile. Al Elieh ani bochiah – over these things I weep.
And here we are on Rosh Chodesh Av leading up to Tisha b Av, the day when both temples were destroyed.
However, this generation is a little different, which the Ishbitzer never lived to see. We have made one more journey.
We camped in Yemen and journeyed to Israel.
We camped in Russia and journeyed to Israel.
We camped in Ethiopia and journeyed to Israel.
The Ishbitzer wrote his words 200 years ago, and remarkably 100 years after he wrote those words, Hashem did gather us back to the land of Israel.
We have come home.
And in the modern era that has allowed us to add one more journey.
For family Kenigsberg:
We camped in South Africa and journeyed to Israel. We then journeyed as Shlichim of Medinat Yisrael to London – we now return to our homeland Israel.
For family Silbermann:
We camped in Australia and journeyed to Israel. We then journeyed as Shlichim of Medinat Yisrael to Manchester – we now return to our homeland Israel.
Ki Mitzion Teitzei Torah, u dvar Hashem M’Yerushalayim – From Zion comes forth Torah and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim. Israel is our spiritual home, not only have we come home, but that home is powering the Jewish world.
And then we turn to Dublin. As I said we went to Adelaide Rd Shul. The shul that closed in the 1990’s as the community shrunk and dwindled. This quote is from the book Jewish Ireland:
‘With Adelaide Road Synagogue now closed, its Aron Kodesh, its Bimah and its Pulpit from which the Rabbi had preached, were defunct. Too historically valuable to discard, they were placed in storage pending the need in the future by some other synagogue with an Irish connection. The future became the present in 2008, when, through the strenuous efforts of Estelle Menton and Martin Simmonds, the artifacts were shipped to Israel, restored by Martin and his wife Rebecca, in memory of their parents and incorporated into Kehillat Ahavat Tzion in Ramat Bet Shemesh. The Irish connection could not have been more pronounced. The Rabbi of Ahavat Tzion, Dayan Menachem Cooperman, is the son of former congregant of Adelaide Road who made Aliyah, while Eli Shaw, son of Keith Shaw, a lay leader of Ahavat Tzion, was able to make his Bar Mitzvah standing on the same bimah that his grandfather Rikki Shaw, had used when called to the Torah many years ago in Adelaide Road. The Dayan addressed the Bar Mitzvah boy from the same pulpit used to address his Grandfather.’
I will never forget that Bar Mitzvah in November 2010.
My father told me how remarkable it was to be standing on the bimah next to his Grandsons on the Bar Mitzvah in Medinat Yisrael which was the same bimah he had stood on 58 years ago and over 3000 miles away.
We camped in Poland and journeyed to Dublin.
We camped in Dublin and journeyed to Israel.
This is our story, a story of a rebirth of a people in a land, a story of an undying love for that land.
A land which the Kenigsbergs and the Silbermanns came to us from and inspired us.
A land where my family now lives.
A land where the pain of 2000 years has been transformed into joy.
But we are not fully there, that is why we have the three weeks, the nine days and Tisha B Av. Hashem has given us so much, but there is still so much to do.
That is why we will continue to bring Shlichim, continue to send our Mizrachi fellows to obtain semicha and continue to send our young men and women to Yeshiva and Sem.
So they will be strengthened and come to the UK and give us the strength we need.