Here are two statements about the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ:
- Our community is nationally renowned for its tradition of developing long-term, personal, intimate, and warm relationships with Israel and Israelis.
- Our community is the only one among Diaspora communities to maintain 7 geographical partnerships in Israel and 10 Israeli shlichim (emissaries) in New Jersey.
Which one of these statements is the cause and which is the effect? It's like the chicken and the egg: no one knows what came first but it actually doesn't matter. The bottom line is that there is a unique cozy corner in our collective heart for these long-lasting living bridges.
Last week brought with it yet another symbolic demonstration of the uniqueness of our Federation. The “Israel Center Gathering,” with more than 120 community leaders and friends, was opened with the recitation of a prayer for the safety and rapid release of the three abducted Israeli teens, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach. The prayer was followed by our six rishonim (young emissaries), leading all of us in the singing of Hatikvah. The Gathering ended a couple of hours later with a special announcement about the establishment of the Murnick Family Rishonim Endowment, which will help us maintain our young emissaries program for years to come. The hallway in the JCC, where we had gathered, turned into a cozy corner of Israel affection and connection.
The three boys were kidnapped by terrorists in the heart of Gush Etzion, one of our partner communities, where two of them were also studying. It makes it feel intimate, familiar, and close to home. In a response to the solidarity letter that our leadership sent to him, Gush Etzion’s Mayor Davidi Perl writes: "We are touched to see the support and solidarity of the Jewish communities around the world at this difficult time...once again we are trying to live normal life in an abnormal situation...due to the vast mobilization of IDF soldiers from all over the country, including elite unites and reservists, the residents are supplying round-the-clock refreshments at our Cozy Corner and along the roads."
The Cozy Corner for soldiers (Piña Chama La’chayalim) that Mayor Perl is referring to is the small booth in the Gush Etzion junction that was built in memory of two Gush residents who were killed by terrorists, Dr. Shmuel Gillis and Tzachi Sasson. It is operated by volunteers, and serves soup, snacks, and sweets, offers hot showers in residents’ homes, embraces the soldiers and, especially now, strengthens them in their holy mission to locate the three boys.
For us in Greater MetroWest it is not a remote place. We were the first Federation to financially support and partner with Gush Etzion. For the last 13 years many of our community members have visited Pina Chama with us on one of our missions. Like in any of our partnerships, the places, the faces, the smells, and the connections made become a cozy corner, part and parcel of our identity as a community.
On the local scene it is no different: Greater MetroWest embraced the Israeli shlichim and rishonim and carved out a Piña Chama for them in the community. (And not just physically on the second floor of the Whippany campus where their corner is the hot spot). There are lots of examples to demonstrate it. I will give you one today:
Sapir Malik didn’t start her “year of service” with us. She came later in the year from another community under harsh circumstances. Greater MetroWest, based on our cozy tradition, immediately opened its homes and hearts to give her the big hug that was so needed. She instantly became a beloved and productive member of our extended rishonim family.
Toward the end of the year Sapir decided to have her (never too late) Bat Mitzvah in the synagogue and community that had become her family. In her drasha (talk), she related to the unique connections, interactions, and reciprocity that she found in Temple Sha’arey Shalom and Greater MetroWest: “Having a Bat Mitzvah is one of the things that I learned from my students. I came here to teach them but ended up learning so much from them. I was given an opportunity to experience something that was always stimulating for me, especially reading the Torah, and the belief that it is never too late to do that.”
Our rishonim are going back home soon to serve in the IDF. Like many soldiers, I am sure that they will stop at the Cozy Corner of Gush Etzion. We all pray that they will go in peace and come in peace and that Naftali, Eyal and Gilad will be safely released soon. In any event, we all know for sure that the Pina Chama of their hearts will be kept forever and ever.