Erev Shabbat Shalom,
We are back on our regular Havurat Shabbat schedule tomorrow, which is to say that we are “on” unless we announce that we are “off” for any particular week. No bar mitzvah tomorrow, though Brett Roth will have an Aliyah to celebrate the anniversary of his bar mitzvah and we will have some students in to lead Shacharit. So it should be a nice morning and I hope to see you there if you are around.
Later on today I will have the privilege of officiating at a funeral for a person whose life story reflects an intersection with some of the sweeping arc of Jewish history of the 1990’s, and all that it led to. His name is Vladimir Fleysher, and he is the grandfather of some students in our ECC. By his first name you can tell that he is of Russian stock – he was born and raised there. As a result of the pressure put on our own government and in turn the pressure applied to Moscow, combined with shifting geopolitics in the region and in the Kremlin, Jews were all but chased out of Russia. But where would they go? Jewish communities the world over rallied to take in and re-settle Russian immigrants, our own community – and in south Florida, Miami even more so – to give them every chance to succeed in their new home.
The Fleysher’s made some interesting observations about the experience. I asked if it was difficult to find work. As an engineer and a builder, I was told that Vladimir and his family emigrated in June and he had a job by July and he built a wonderful life here. It was the Jewish Federation of Saint Louis that provided the guarantees that were needed to put the final stamp on the immigration papers, and from there their American journey took them to the west coast, the northeast, and finally to Florida. They also noted that Russia today would be a lot different – and a lot better off – had a pathway to Jewish identity been opened there as society opened up to greater freedoms. Instead the Russian Jewish population was decimated – fortunately by emigration – and today we know that especially in former “FSU” (Former Soviet Union, not Florida State University) countries older Jews are struggling mightily, and our own community is doing what it can to help.
I think all this is worth mentioning in particular as we come out of the High Holy Days and open to the beginning of the Torah (well, with the triennial cycle to chapter 5). When the Torah describes creation and God puts people in the Garden of Eden, and they make their fateful choice to eat of the forbidden fruit and their eyes are opened to mortality, it is as if the Torah is also saying from now on your choices are your own. There will be aspects of your world that will remain mysterious to you and beyond your control, choices that will be closed off to you and other choices you will deny yourselves. But your fate is not sealed or unchangeable, you will have a role and responsibility for doing what you can to build a world that was then and remains unfinished. The Russian Jewish emigration and resettlement didn’t “just happen”, it was not inevitable, it took choices and work and sacrifice and those choices were made to the ultimate benefit of all involved. Our choices matter, our influence can be lasting, and that seems to be embedded in a narrative whose human story begins with a choice made freely.
As you heard on the holidays, we will have a Family and First-Timers trip to Israel from June 15-25. I’m holding two informational meetings, one this Sunday and one next Sunday both at 11:30 am in the Nathan Library. If you might be interested in the trip, please come on out – and if you can’t make the meeting but might be interested, let me know that as well. While the core group will no doubt be B’nai Torah family, the trip is open to others as well so feel free to let anyone in your “orbit” know about what promises to be another great Israel experience.
Below please find the readings for October 31st, thanks to our readers tomorrow: Alan Marcovitz, Ed Levine, Scott Demsky, Steve Mendelsohn, and Yaffa Englander. Let me know via e-mail reply if you can read on the 31st.
Rabbi David Englander
October 31st Parashat Vayera