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Rabbi Emeritus Reuven Taff

Shalom chevrei (friends),

With Israel confronting atrocities of an unfathomable scale, the likes of which can be compared only to ISIS or the Holocaust, I am devoting my page on the Mosaic Law Congregation website to thoughts on Israel, including messages I received from relatives, congregants, and others from Israel and the Diaspora. Please take a look at these as they each reflect the gut wrenching emotions of a nation under attack. 

While we are all undoubtedly traumatized by these events, we cannot leave it at that. Just as Israelis are mobilizing for war, we too must act. As one people, we have an obligation to help. Upon reading these stories, take but a few moments to contribute to the organizations listed on the new Israel Resource Page for this website. We need to pray, and we also need to act.  

As always, feel free to contact me at rabbitaff@mosaiclaw.org.

Watch Rabbi Avi Taff on "Healing a Broken Heart" (Sinai Temple, December 23).

With the shocking rise in global Antisemitism and the unfortunate response of some of our elected leaders, I am pleased to share two new op-ed pieces:
1. Congressman Jamie Raskin: Find your moral conscience | Times of Israel, December 14    
2. Push back at this darkened world with light and love | Albany Times Union, December 14

I am pleased to share my op-ed of October 26, "The hardest place to be a Jew is on an American college campus. Just look at UC Davis." (Open to anyone; no longer a paywall.)

On October 14, Mosaic Law Congregation held a Shabbat of Solidarity where we honored one of Israel's strong supporters, Hy Kashenberg. I had the honor of speaking from the bimah during the service and shared a heartwarming story of Hy's incredible generosity and support of an Israeli family which was referred to us by my son, Avi.   

Please enjoy the video highlight and consider donating to one of the many important Israel organizations listed on our Israel Resource Page

Am Yisrael Chai | עם ישראל חי

Bring Them Home

My son, Rabbi Avi Taff of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles (and a proud alumnus of Mosaic Law Congregation), traveled to Israel to bring essential items to IDF troops. Here is his daily diary entries to help keep his synagogue connected to our Holy Land:

Day #1

I arrived at LAX with four huge bags and five boxes of army supplies for my unit and a few others—all essential items for IDF soldiers on the front lines in Azza and the North, and all packed and provided by the incredible families of Sinai Temple, Sinai Akiba Academy, and Sinai Temple Religious school. 
(Thank you to everyone who helped provide, pack, and deliver the supplies to my house—you know who you are—and for the insanely delicious cookies for my kids, but I happened to have a bite of one before I left…don’t tell them. :)! I also want to thank my wife Amy for holding down the fort. You are my rock. And to my kids. Love you to the moon and back.

Our friends Iriet and Ken took me to the airport. Eliana had a basketball tournament which she was very excited about, so Amy and I decided it would be best to have the kids stay in their usual routine. Amy says she couldn’t take me because of the emotional toll it would have taken on her and the kids. It’s different to leave from home while they are distracted than watch me get out of the car and walk away. She might be right. Probably would have been harder for me, too.

Sepi Nourmand, who is helping mobilize our community, met me at the airport to help with check-in and to take back any boxes that may not have been accepted due to weight restrictions. Luckily, thanks to Orit Topf, our relentless travel agent, all boxes were approved for loading.

While standing in the TSA security line, I met Kfir, in his twenties, built like a tank. I only could tell because, like a typical Israeli, he is wearing a tank top. His arm are three times the size of mine. Kfir is from Rosh Ha’ayin, in the North. He was in the States traveling following active duty. Now, Kfir was called back to serve with his unit. “Al tidag achi,” he said as we parted ways so I could get a bottle of water and a pack of gum. “Don’t worry brother, ze yigamer maher, this (war) will end quickly.” From Kfir’s lips to God’s ears. My money’s on Kfir. It’s actually the same sentiment I get from all the soldiers I’ve talked to: my cousin Evy, my friends from my team. They all say, “Don’t worry, we will win.” We are a resilient and strong people.

 

As I boarded the plane, I was very surprised by what I saw. I thought I’d find a plane full of soldiers heading back to join their units. Of course, there were some, but the plane was mostly full of young couples with babies, grandparents, and other travelers all returning home after visiting family in LA for Sukkot. The horrifying and tragic events of last weekend delayed many due to canceled flights or internal doubts about going back to Israel right now. But they are here, ready to go back to Israel to LIVE (and yes, some to fight).

As I stood there by my seat, looking around at everyone I am flying with, I zoned in on the two babies right next to me and I felt a tear stream down my face. They are absolutely precious and adorable. Both are six-months-old, their whole lives ahead of them. They are smiling and happy, in the safe and loving embrace of their parents. The way it should be.

 

I was about to sit down when I saw Kfir a few rows behind me getting a few things out of his backpack before closing the overhead compartment. I reached into my bag, grabbed a stack of paper, and walked back towards him. “Put these in your bag, Kfir.” I said. “Ma Zeh? What is it?” Kfir replied. “Letters of support for you and your team from the kids in our community (our Sinai Kids).” “Todah Achi,” he said with a big smile. “I’ll take a bunch.” He gave me a man hug (it’s what my kids call two men giving each other a high five while simultaneously slapping each other on the back). I turned around and went back to my seat to buckle up.

 

As I sat back and closed my eyes, I thought back to this past Shabbat when our community packed-in Ziegler Sanctuary to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel. I could see our community standing united, together as one, waving Israeli flags and vociferously applauding Rabbi Guzik’s passionate and heartfelt sermon emphasizing our community and our peoples resolve, strength, and unity and praising Sinai Temple’s steadfast and unwavering support of the people and the State of Israel; reminding everyone that we at Sinai Temple know how to show up! We have incredible models in Rabbis Guzik and Sherman who are leading the way. Each one of us, doing our part, helping, giving, in our own ways.

 

For the first time in the last week, I was able to close my eyes and sleep a bit. While I know there will still be moments where I feel I can’t breathe, still in shock from the horrors of last weekend, still unable to fathom how this could have happened, still heartbroken for the families of victims and hostages, I pray for many more moments where I feel the strength and resolve of our people, like last Shabbat at Sinai and like my first few hours of this mission.

 

As Rabbi Guzik reminded us, out of the darkness and chaos of creation came light. There is light ahead. We can be light. We can bring the light. In the words of Amanda Gorman, “For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

We at Sinai and the entire people of Israel are brave enough to be the light. I see the light in Kfir, in the two babies sitting near me, in their parents who believe in the dream that is Israel and are therefore bringing their kids back to raise them in their Jewish homeland. I see it in the families that packed boxes and the community support that is happening all over the world. There is so much light everywhere we look.

 

Am Yisrael Chai! Love from however many thousands of feet in the air.

 

Avi

From my daughter-in law’s brother, Brent Altman, who lives in Israel:

 

Hello friends. I want to thank everyone for reaching out and checking in on me and my family. Physically, we are doing okay. Where we live is relatively safe. We have a bomb shelter in our house as do all Israeli houses and apartments built in the last couple of decades (take a second to think about what it means that we live in a place that has to do this). It is actually our son's bedroom. Yes, our youngest son sleeps in a bomb shelter.

 

While we are physically okay, we are sickened and horrified by what has happened near the Gaza border. There was a big "nature concert" in the south with thousands of kids. Hamas timed their infiltration to align with this concert. They went straight there and proceeded to massacre the kids there. They killed 260, and kidnapped many others . . . we don't know how many yet. Youngsters just out for a good time, to dance and drink and flirt.

 

At the same time, Hamas infiltrated over 20 towns near the border. They dressed as Israeli soldiers and went door to door trying to get into each house or pretending to be Israeli soldiers offering support. When someone opened their door, they were either killed or dragged into cars and kidnapped. This includes women, children and babies, and senior citizens. The battles to retake some of these towns is still ongoing. Many hundreds of innocents have been killed. Over 130 have been kidnapped. The number isn't clear yet.

 

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have shot over 4400 rockets at Israeli cities. Only the remarkable Iron Dome anti-missile technology prevented a huge disaster. Still, some rockets make it through. As I went to sleep last night, an eight-year-old boy was being rushed to the hospital. His apartment was hit by a rocket and his apartment was old so he didn't have a built-in bomb shelter to go to.

 

Worse yet, in Gaza, we are seeing videos of kids—little kids—thrown into a circle of Gaza children who are encouraged to, and proceed to taunt, spit on, and kick them. Dead women with clothes half pulled off are dragged through the street while a circle of celebration grows and they proceed to stomp on the lifeless body. One terrorist killed a child's parents in front of her, took the child's phone and live-streamed from it going back and forth between the dead parents and the screaming, crying child.

 

A Hamas commander interviewed last night in the Arab media admitted that they have been planning this attack for years. He said they pretended to be interested in maintaining calm with Israel in exchange for funds and work permits, but it was all a ruse to lull Israel and the West into a state of lax calm. Sadly, it worked.

 

Right now, much of the West is horrified by what they are seeing. I am as well. I am also angry. More angry than I have ever been in my life. Crying, shaking, furious.

 

The West has been unified in its condemnation, but we know how this story will unfold. We have seen it over and over again. Israel was shocked and taken incomprehensibly unprepared. But we are gaining our footing, and will soon go on the offensive on a massive scale. Soon, the propaganda machine in Gaza will begin churning out stories of children killed. Never mind that Hamas stores missiles under hospitals and pre-schools, and command centers in mosques. The stories will be horrible.

 

It started already—a story of 19 members of the same family killed in an Israeli strike. The comments will begin to move toward Israel's use of "disproportionate force." Never mind that Israel warns people to leave areas where they will attack. Never mind that Israel drops an empty shell on a building as a warning before destroying it so people have time to leave (including terrorists). Calls for calm will build.

 

Israel always caves to these calls. We stop short of destroying Hamas, and they live to fight another day. To plan terror attacks, to kill innocents, and to seek the destruction of my country.

 

I tell you now . . . not this time.

 

NOT. THIS. TIME.

 

Let's be clear. Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of Israel. They have no interest in peace with us, only our destruction by any means. We will not give in to it this time.

 

We will fight. It will be brutal. It will be awful. There will be collateral damage. We will mourn it. But we have had enough.

From Reina Cohen-Lavi, daughter of Mosaic Law Congregation members, Leslie and Marty Cohen:

 

First, thank you to so many friends around the world who have reached out in recent days.

 

I love being Jewish.

 

I love living in Israel. I love my Israeli husband and my three Israeli children.

 

I love Israel. And the promise of what a Jewish democratic state means for Jews around the world.

 

So it is obvious that the last few days have been gut wrenching, heartbreaking, devastating beyond belief.

I want to both sob and scream with rage.  This is the most lethal assault on Jews since the Holocaust.

 

To my non-Jewish friends, WHERE ARE YOU?! Where is your outrage at the savage brutality towards the Jewish people? Where is the condemnation for terrorists who murder parents in front of their children, who kidnap little boys and taunt them, who parade naked bodies through the street, who cage children, who rape young women, who massacre partygoers, who snatch grandmothers from their beds, who burn homes, who murder entire families, and who gleefully record these horrors and share them with the world to celebrate? These images are seared into the minds of Israelis and Jews everywhere. They are terrifying reminders of past atrocities and inhumane cruelties that we thought were in our past.

 

Do not look away.

 

Is supporting Jewish lives so taboo? You can care about Palestinian rights and support Israelis too. This is not a paradox. You can want peace. I do. But you cannot justify the brutal torture of innocent civilians. There is no justification. There is no moral equivalency. There is no "but . . . " "and . . . " Not in these moments.

 

Stop gaslighting the Diaspora Jewish community into believing this was justified. Fighting for human rights never includes the barbarity that Israeli civilians have experienced since Saturday. You can condemn a terrorist organization that does nothing for the Palestinian people and calls for the annihilation of the Jewish people.

 

Stand against terror.

 

Stand for peace.

 

Stand with Israel.

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