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A Spiritual Shelter

Based on remarks that I gave at the dedication of the Israeli Beit Midrash, named for Alisa Flatow (z’l), at the MetroWest High School in Ra’anana.

 

Dear Flatow family, the MetroWest High School family, distinguished guests, and representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

 

I didn’t know Alisa in person but I would like to thank her for bringing us all together for this unique occasion. Not just because we are commemorating her memory in such a meaningful way today but also because together, due to her inspiration, we are writing a new chapter in the saga of Israel-Diaspora relationships, the link between Zionism and Judaism, and the meaning of Jewish peoplehood.

 

Alisa Flatow
Alisa Flatow
Personally, I am thanking Alisa for bringing me here. In the spring of 1995 I was a candidate for shlichut (becoming an Israel emissary) but I couldn’t make up my mind which community I should choose. The horrible terror attack, in which Alisa was killed, helped me decide. I read Alisa’s life story, I followed the news reports about her father, Steven, coming here and making a courageous decision to donate her organs, I saw my prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, only a few months before he himself was assassinated, visiting with the Flatows in West Orange, and I said: this is the community I want to serve.

 

From a community perspective I want to thank Alisa for enhancing the Jewish identity and the Zionist character of her own family, and of countless other Jews in the Greater MetroWest community and beyond. Steven has volunteered to chair the community-wide events of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. The Flatows established the Alisa Flatow Memorial Fund that gives scholarships to youngsters studying in Israel. Eitan, their son and Alisa’s brother, decided to make aliyah, serve in the IDF, marry, and build his family in Jerusalem. Ma’ayan Alisa, his sabra daughter, is here with us today.

 

Thanks to Alisa, the MetroWest High School in Ra’anana, which is a secular mamlachti (public) school, became deeply involved in exploring the Jewish and Zionist identity of its students and faculty. The fact that Alisa’s memory is commemorated in the school side-by-side with its fallen graduates, the emotional annual encounters between the school’s delegations to New Jersey and Alisa’s parents, as well as the introduction of the Tarbut Yisrael (Jewish thought) studies in the schools curricula, are all part and parcel of the same concept.

 

And now the ultimate expression of these connections: the establishment of what is probably the only Beit Midrash (a home for Jewish studies) in an Israeli secular public school. For those of you who understand the complexity of Jewish Zionist identity for Israelis, it is really amazing that we are able to construct such an institution and it looks natural to us all. This is the outcome of our efforts over the years and it goes back to the tradition and legacy of the Jewish people.

 

This past Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Yitro. In the parasha, we hear about the revelation at Mount Sinai and the acceptance of the Ten Commandments. A question is immediately asked: why only 10? After all, the Torah laws are much more complex than that. There are so many more mitzvot, rules, and guidelines. Actually there are 613, according to tradition, so why 10?

 

The answer that our sages give is simple: the Jewish tradition doesn’t want to make it too easy by dictating everything. The people shouldn’t be spoiled by having everything digested for them. That is why they have received only the basic, the abstract, the essence of the Torah. The rest is commentary.

 

Our Jewish tradition is based on constant study, endless interpretation, and ongoing learning of the ancient texts. This is the reason why so many Batei Midrash (Talmud Torah) have been created. This is also the reason why so many scholars (talmidim chachamim) have been produced. An Israeli Beit Midrash in a public school is a unique combination for producing Jewish Israeli scholars. This is the exceptional contribution of Alisa to Jewish continuity.

 

And one more symbolic remark: it is not just by coincidence that this Israeli Beit Midrash was built within the premises of the school’s main bomb shelter. The physical shelter is critical to keeping the students safe and sound in times of emergency. Now, at the same time, the Beit Midrash will retain their Jewish and spiritual safety. It is not less important for the resilience and health of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

 

Toda (thank you) to all who contributed to the completion of this project: first and foremost to the Flatow family, to Amnon, Orli and Shoshi from MWHS, to the architects Lini and Moshe, and to Max, Howard, Josh, and Michal from Greater MetroWest.

 

Yashar Koach and Drishat Shalom,

 

 

 

 

 

Amir

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