Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Shemot- Have You Been The Change You Wanted to See?

Last year for parashat Shemot I wrote about Naama Margolese and her mother Hadassa. Naama was the eight-year-old girl in Beit Shemesh at whom a haredi man had spit because she did not fit his image of a properly modest woman. There was outrage and rallies on both sides of the argument. A few weeks later, on the same day that I led Mincha for the first Masorti/Conservative minyan ever held at the Knesset, a woman was assaulted on a bus by a haredi man who saw marks from tefillin straps on her arm. I wrote of Ghandi’s words, “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Vatirehna ham’yaldot et Ha’Ehlohim v’lo asu ka’asher diber aleihem melech Mitzraiyim va’t’chayehna et ha’y’ladim.
And the midwives were in awe of God, and did not do as the king of Egypt told them; they let the boys live.
All change begins with one individual. This is the message throughout history.  From Naama Margolese and her mother Hadassa, the eight year old girl in Beit Shemesh determined to learn, back through history to Craig Keilburger, founder of Free the Children; from Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, to Rosa Parks to Mahatma Ghandi and so on, all the way back to this first act of resistance by the Egyptian midwives.
These were some of my words last year. If you googled Naama Margolese now, you would only find the news of last year. She has returned to her childhood. Nonetheless, Naama’s and her mother’s courage in standing up before the world to make public the wrong done to her opened a floodgate of support and action. The past year has seen more discussion on religious equality in Israeli society than ever before.
The past year has brought a ruling in Israel that rural communities may appoint non-Orthodox rabbis to be their religious leaders, and those choices must be accepted and paid for by the Israeli government. The Jewish Agency (JAFI), led by Natan Sharansky, no stranger to civil disobedience, passed a resolution calling for a “satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the Western Wall.” In early December a prominent religious leader in Israel, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, called upon the State to recognize all streams of Judaism in all aspects, including conversions. Most recently Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed Mr. Sharansky to study the issue of equal prayer access to the Kotel.
A prominent theme in Jewish life, beautifully illustrated by the actions of the midwives in our parasha is ain somchim al hanes; do not depend upon to the miracle. Talmud teaches us that we finally merited redemption because of the merit of the righteous women. It all began with these two midwives. Our year of change began with an eight-year-old girl, but it continues with all of us. May 2013 be another year of positive change, not just in Israel, but in the world.

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