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Letter from Rabbi David Wolkenfeld 
11/7/2023

 

ג׳ ימים לפרשת ״וַתֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו גַּם־תֶּ֥בֶן גַּם־מִסְפּ֖וֹא רַ֣ב עִמָּ֑נוּ גַּם־מָק֖וֹם לָלֽוּן״ תשפ׳׳ד                                                                 


 

Dear Ohev Sholom,

Earlier this week, we sent nearly $4,000 that had been collected through my Rabbinic Discretionary Fund to support a family that survived the Shemini Atzeret massacres but lost their home and their jobs and so much more. When the BBC filmed their home boot-marks were still visible on the outside door to their safe room where they sheltered from terrorists attempting to kick down the door before escaping out of a window.. Thank you for your generosity. 

On Monday, November 13th at 8:00 PM, I will be hosting a gathering for high school students. As Israel enters its second month of a war that has transformed Jewish life around the world, students are invited to come to shul to discuss our questions, fears, and grief.  We will serve a pizza dinner for anyone who RSVPs to the Ohev office (info@OhevDC.org) by 12 PM on Monday.

I am sure that many of you have already heard about the March for Israel taking place on Tuesday afternoon, November 14th on the National Mall here in DC. We expect tens of thousands of Jews and supporters of Israel to converge here next week and, as I mentioned in shul last Shabbat,  we have a distinct honor and responsibility as the host community to provide hospitality to people coming to DC from out of town. Please reach out to your friends and family and let them know that they can spend the night in your home to make it easier for them to travel here. Please let your friends and family from the suburbs know if they can park their cars in your driveway and then travel downtown by public transit. 

The shul is trying to organize volunteers who can support the March for Israel in various ways. Please fill out this survey to indicate ways in which you might be able to help. As we learn more, we will let you know about concrete opportunities to promote the success of this march.

With blessings of Torah and Mitzvot and with prayers for the safety of Israel,

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld


 

 

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 Letter from Rabbi David Wolkenfeld 
10/24/2023

 

ד׳ ימים לפרשת ״וַאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָאֲדָמָֽה״ תשפ׳׳ד                                                                                                         


 

Dear Ohev Sholom,

Earlier this week the shul distributed $7,749 through my discretionary fund to help the Kaplun family rebuild their lives and care for their children and grandchildren. Yonadav Kaplun, the patriarch of the family, sent us a WhatsApp voice note to express his gratitude. What follows is a rough translation:

Shalom, Shalom from Yerushalayim. Shalom to Ohev Sholom Congregation in Washington. This is Yonadav, father of Anani and Ahuviah who lost their partners in Hulit in the massacre on Simchat Torah. You have fortified our morale. Each one of you. We can each feel the strength that comes to us from the direction of Ohev Sholom. What a name for a community! What a name to hear mentioned on such awful days….I want to thank you in the name of the entire family. And, in truth, let us see peace! Peace among ourselves, first of all. And then, peace over the entire world. Thank you so much my friends. 

I will continue to collect money in my discretionary fund over the coming two weeks and will make a second disbursement via the Tashtit program at the Nitzanim Organization. This next disbursement will go to a survivor of the massacre on Kibbutz Netiv Ha’Asarah. Her home is destroyed as well as most of her family’s source of income. The BBC filmed her home  in the aftermath of the destruction. One can see boot-prints visible on the door to the safe room where Hamas infiltrators tried to kick down the door. This family needs housing and sources of income to replace kibbutz jobs and they need psychological support. 

In the coming days, I hope to share information about new classes and lectures to help us understand this new reality for Israel and the Jewish People. Please feel free to share your own ideas with me for ways in which we can become better informed about current events and find Torah guidance for dark times. 

In the meantime, please  mark your calendars for this coming Shabbat afternoon, Parashat Lekh Lekha, October 28th, for a special Se’udah Shlishit featuring “slow shirah” - songs of longing and yearning for peace and tefilot for the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel.

With blessings of Torah and Mitzvot,

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld


 

 

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 Letter from Rabbi David Wolkenfeld - We Stand With Israel

10/12/23

 

ה׳ ימים לפרשת ״הֲשֹׁמֵ֥ר אָחִ֖י אָנֹֽכִי״ תשפ׳׳ד                    

 

Dear Ohev Sholom,

 

On Monday, I wrote to you about the ways that our activism, prayer, and tzedakah are a contemporary instantiation of the teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah which can avert the very worst, as we all declared together on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I write now to update you on these three spheres of our communal attention.

I received a phone call yesterday from Janeese Lewis George, our DC councilmember for the 4th Ward. She offered her condolences,  and she offered her support. She also shared with me that she had called upon local law enforcement agencies to provide additional protection of Jewish communal buildings in the district. Her remarks echoed what was said by Mayor Bowser on Tuesday evening at the communal prayer vigil in solidarity with Israel that was hosted by Adas Israel. I have also read a flurry of comments from Israelis, both friends of mine and public figures, appreciating the moral clarity and emotional warmth of President Biden’s statement this week. None of this support can be taken for granted and it is appropriate and important that we show our appreciation and hakarat hatov to our elected officials and make it clear what we expect of them in the future. Those of you with congressional representation should, of course, do the same with those who represent you in Congress. 

Sarah Gerhsman is collecting thank-you notes, cards, or pictures from children in our community at her home (7809 Morningside Drive) which she will send on our behalf to President Biden. Please drop off any letters or cards before Sunday (10/15) at 8 PM. 

Tomorrow afternoon, at 12:15 PM  there will be an outdoor vigil and rally sponsored by our local Federation, JCRC, and other sponsors at Federal Plaza. Information is here

On Sunday morning at 11 AM, Ohev Sholom is joining YCT Rabbinical School and other communities across North America for an online gathering for Prayer, Unity, & Action. 

Although it has long been the custom to omit “Tahanun” prayers until the holiday-filled month of Tishrei has ended, we restored them at Ohev Sholom tefilot this week. This morning, as we said tahanun we sang together the words שׁוֹמֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל! שְׁמֹר שְׁאֵרִית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאַל יֹאבַד יִשְׂרָאֵל, הָאוֹמְרִים: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל “Guardian of Israel, guard the remnant of Israel, and let not Israel perish, who say, “Hear O Israel.” Please remember that our daily tefilot at Ohev are a spiritual and emotional resource available to you and do not underestimate the strength Israelis derive from knowing that we are gathering in our shuls here and praying for their safety. 

Throughout the week I have been so moved to see the participation in the Ohev Tehilim for Israel WhatsApp group. Dozens of members of our community have now completed the recitation of the entire Book of Pslams several times and the reminders throughout the day and night that good people in our community are taking time for prayer and reflection has been a source of solace and strength for me. Last night I advised someone to join the group and told him he would do better with “more Tehilim and less doom-scrolling.” I suspect that is true for most of us.

It has been overwhelming to see the flood of generosity with which American Jews have stepped forward to support a myriad of initiatives in Israel. I encourage you all to respond with open hearts and with open pockets. In the midst of so many opportunities to give, I see the unique role of the shul as providing a way for us to take on a specific tzedakah project together as a community and make a concrete difference in the lives of those we help. Inbal Freund, Director of the "Hatashtit" program at the NGO Nitzanim, and a very dear friend, reached out to share an important need with me. Any money which comes into my discretionary account before Tuesday, October 17, will be made available to help this family:
 

Adi, a 33 years old mother, was separated from her two children, 4-year-old Negev and 6-month-old Eshel, while her husband Anani was on the other side of their kibbutz. The young children survived a harrowing ordeal with a neighbor before being safely returned to their father's arms and to much-needed medical care. Later on we were notified that Adi is no longer alive.

In addition, Anani's brother, Ahuvia, lost his sweet partner - Tehila.

Anani worked as A farmer at Kibbutz Holit and Ahuvia was the caretaker for the Kibbutz facilities. The Kibbutz and the fields were burnt to the ground and both brothers lost their ability to provide for their families. 

They are now in Jerusalem, near their extended family, looking for long term housing while sitting Shiva for their loved ones. It will be a long journey to get this family back on their feet and weare seeking financial help for buying clothing, diapers, paying for rent and therapy etc..

As the Jews throughout the world reel under the burden of grief and fear, our brothers and sisters in Israel, supported by people of good will throughout the world, are marshaling the resolve and determination to mourn the dead, care for those grieving, and organize to protect their lives and their homes.  

Thank you for all that you have done and for all that you will do.

With blessings of Torah and Mitzvot,

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld


 

 

Letter from Rabbi David Wolkenfeld - We Stand With Israel

 

ב׳ ימים לפרשת  ״ק֚וֹל דְּמֵ֣י אָחִ֔יךָ צֹעֲקִ֥ים אֵלַ֖י מִן־הָֽאֲדָמָֽה״ תשפ׳׳ד

Dear Ohev Sholom,


This week has brought tragedy, war, and crisis to Israel on a scale that is without precedent in my lifetime. But if there is no recent precedent, Jewish history is long, and Jewish memory can offer us the wisdom and perspective to show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel even from across an ocean. 

While it is true that no words that we say can be adequate to the crushing blow of the past days, our words and our actions do have an impact. Just weeks ago we declared together “Teshuvah, Tefilah, u’Tzedakah Ma’avirin et Ro’ah Ha’Gezerah” that our repentance, prayer, and tzedakah can avert the worst of the decree. And so too today, our activism and our prayers and our tzedakah will not on their own end the war or bring peace, but they can, perhaps,  avert the worst of the decree and add a measure of kindness and mercy to the world.

Activism
Please take advantage of your rights and responsibilities as American citizens to reach out to elected officials and to share your concern for our brothers and sisters in Israel. Help them understand the existential ties of family and solidarity that join our community in the United States to our brothers and sisters in Israel who, often enough, are our literal brothers and sisters (or cousins or children or students or colleagues).  The specific formulation of the messages you convey will be as unique as each one of you, but this is not a time for silence. In the coming days, the organized Jewish community, in all of its dizzying diversity, will provide us with opportunities to organize politically and it is both a responsibility of American citizenship and a Jewish obligation of solidarity to find a way to join with others whose worldview you share and to amplify your voices.

Prayer
As we begin Sefer Bereishit this week, we will read the earliest stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs and how prayer was a support for them in moments of tragedy, war, and crisis. From those days until today, Jews have turned to the Holy Blessed One for comfort and protection. There is a dispute among the medieval scholars about whether the obligation to pray is a biblical obligation or a rabbinic obligation. Maimonides maintains that the Torah itself creates a biblical obligation to pray whereas Nachmonides and most others maintain that the post-biblical rabbis enacted an obligation to pray. But all agree that there is an obligation from the Torah itself to turn towards God in prayer at moments of danger and crisis and we are faced with just such a moment now.  I know that personally, I have always cherished the opportunity, during times of war or crisis, to anchor my day by attending communal prayers each morning and afternoon and standing in prayer alongside other Jews praying for justice and peace and the safety of Israel. 

  • Please sign up here to attend tefilot at Ohev Sholom this week. We will say Tehilim for Israel after Shacharit and Maariv each day and I know I will recite so many of the words in the Siddur that I recite each day with added intention and focus.
     
  • We are also launching a WhatsApp group for the Ohev Sholom community to recite the entirety of Sefer Tehilim (Psalms) in a coordinated way. As you join the group, you can share a psalm or psalms you are reciting (e.g. 1-3) and then someone else in the group will be able to respond with a next psalm or two (e.g. 4-8). Once all of Sefer Tehilim has been recited in this way, we will begin the cycle again from the beginning. You can join the group here.
     
  • In addition, the Vaad HaRabbanim of Greater Washington is organizing a communal prayer gathering at 8 PM this evening, Monday October 9th at Young Israel Shomrei Emunah in Silver Spring.  
     
  • On Tuesday at 7 PM, our local Federation and JCRC, with the participation of other local and national organizations, are convening a DC Vigil for Israel hosted by Adas Israel Congregation (2850 Quebec St. NW). I intend to participate in that vigil alongside rabbinic colleagues from other congregations in the city.
     
  • On Wednesday, we will conclude the inaugural Wednesday Night Torah shiur with additional prayers and singing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel. 
     

Tzedakah
The generosity of the Jews throughout the world has been on display in an inspiring way this week. Our DC Federation has set up a special emergency fund which you can support 
here. I have been in touch with a close Israeli friend who directs an NGO that is providing hospitality and other basic needs for displaced Israeli civilians who have been evacuated from their homes near Gaza. Any money that comes into my discretionary fund in the next two weeks will be sent to Israel in support of that project and of similar grassroots humanitarian efforts on behalf of Israeli civilians. 

At moments when Israel faces tragedy, war, or crisis it can be a unique challenge to those of us in the diaspora to manage our concern for loved ones in Israel while feeling the distance of thousands of miles and the helplessness of being bystanders at moments when our brothers and sisters in Israel are making history.

I am writing this letter to you on my way to Denver, Colorado, where I will participate on a beit din overseeing conversions to Judaism. While I am sorry to be away from the community at such a fraught and scary time, I hope you can feel some of the inspiration that I derive from knowing that, even in this dark time, there are men and women who are choosing to bind their fate to that of the Jewish people. Our story continues to bring out the best in humanity. 

I am scheduled to return to DC on Tuesday afternoon. I am available via text, email, or phone if you would like to speak to process any of your emotions or to share concerns. I know Sara is available as well and both of us welcome any chance to process and mourn with you.

With blessings of Torah and Mitzvot and prayers for B’sorot Tovot,

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld

Thu, April 25 2024 17 Nisan 5784