Shabbat Shalom!

Friends, Renana and I return to La Crosse this week, in time for Shabbat morning services. We hope you will join us now that our two-week vacation in Arizona is coming to an end. What a pretty place! Of course, our bluffs are beautiful year-round and hard to beat. So are the opportunities for hiking and biking, except for winter! On the other hand, Tucson and Phoenix had record highs for the summer, reaching up to 116 degrees or more. Yuck!

There is nothing like a long vacation for recharging one’s spiritual batteries.  We got to see what other congregations are doing – activities, communications, celebrations – and get new ideas for our own shul.  We went hiking in northern Arizona with members of Prescott’s B’rith Shalom, attended a Bat Mitzvah at our “sister” congregation Anshei Israel in Tucson, and enjoyed an Oneg Shabbat and birthday celebration in Oracle.

Although we have been gone for a while, we have been following closely each day the news from Israel, where 81 number of hostages have been freed, as I write this. These 81 innocent Israeli and other civilians were abducted during a horrific terrorist attack on October 7.

None of the 180 Palestinians released from Israeli jails were “innocent” victims of anything. Every one of them had been convicted in a court of law of committing violent crimes against Israelis and others, and are in Israeli prisons for a reason.

However, Israelis and Jews value each and every life much more highly than any possible political gain. They are doing what they must do to get our people back, and a substantial part of the world is supporting them. Others in the world are clamoring for Israel to continue the ceasefire, or even withdraw entirely from Gaza, instead of their stated goal of dismantling Hamas and preventing future wars and murders from happening. We must continue to support Israel and to encourage our senators and congressmen to do so as well.

In this period of extra gratitude, we are so grateful for this “miracle” that these innocent people are being returned to their families. One of the greatest mitzvot is (from Wikipedia) “Pidyon shvuyim” (Hebrew: פִּדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִים, literally: Redemption of Captives) There is a religious duty in Judaism to bring about the release of a fellow Jew captured by slave dealers or robbers, or imprisoned unjustly by the authorities. The release of the prisoner is typically secured by a ransom paid by the Jewish community. It is considered an important commandment in Jewish law.

We pray that this hostage swap continues until they release ALL the rest of the hostages, and for Israel to achieve its objective of ending Hamas’s control of the Palestinians and of Gaza. Instead, the ONLY way a two-state solution is going to work is if both Jews and Palestinians can live in peace, and Israelis can no longer be attacked, raped, murdered or abducted from their homes. This very concept of safety and security for its citizens is the only way two nations can live next door to each other.

I have been asked to speak at local churches and other organizations about our response to the huge increase in antisemitism here in the U.S., and how we are dealing with the aftermath of the horrific October 7 Hamas attacks.  I have been stopped 3 times by people in the aisles of Woodman’s or Festival Foods who want us to know they are praying for our community and for the Israelis.  I am so grateful to hear that.  I get voice mails and e-mails from so many neighbors in our interfaith community here in La Crosse with the same message.  This is so gratifying to hear.  We are fortunate to live among so many supportive neighbors.

We look forward to seeing you this week at services and in coming weeks, but especially at our big annual Hanukkah celebration on Sunday, December 10 at 4:15 PM.  Please be sure to respond to the invite you received, so you can register for the gala event!