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Sunday, January 25, 2015

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Shavuot’s reminder: we’re in this together

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The notion of mass revelation at Sinai, the event we commemorate this week on Shavuot, is undeniably dramatic. The Talmud teaches all Jews – past, present and future – were there, quaking at the base of the mountain together, but no matter whether you consider Matan Torah a historical event or a metaphor, the image retains significance: A unified nation, a people born together. On Shavuot, we contemplate our Jewish connection.

The corollary of mass revelation is kol yisrael arevim ze lazeh, the principle that every Jew is responsible for the well-being of every other Jew. And if you’re looking for an example of kol yisrael arevim ze lazeh at work, you couldn’t do better than the story of George Meltz, as told in this week’s CJN by Ellin Bessner.

Bombardier Meltz, a Toronto native, landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944 – D-Day. He died in battle and was buried at the Beny-sur-Mer war cemetery, the Magen David etched into his tombstone standing out among the rows upon rows of crosses, along with the moving epitaph penned by his mysterious widow: “He died so Jewry shall suffer no more.”

Bessner is among a group paying tribute to the nearly 70 Jewish Canadians who died while serving in the Canadian Forces in France during World War II with a campaign called “#KaddishforDDay.” It’s based on a project undertaken by the Jewish community of France to say Kaddish on June 8 for all Allied Jewish servicemen who died in that country during the war. In essence, both efforts suggest kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh is a living concept: George Meltz and his compatriots served us. Now, we honour them.

But there is another side to kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh. It is equally a reminder to stand together when Judaism is endangered or injured. Thus, our vigilance when anti-Semitism threatens us – and, as Canada’s score in the Anti-Defamation League’s recent index of anti-Semitism confirms, the vast majority of Canadians understand Jews aren’t the enemy.

But there are times when the hazard develops from within. Columnist Rabbi Dow Marmur argues, also in this week’s CJN, the rise of so-called “price-tag” incidents, in which Israeli youth deface property – including religious institutions – belonging to Muslims and Christians, is a case in point.

“This should concern us all,” Rabbi Marmur writes of what he calls a “manifestation of Jewish terrorism.” And as the frequency of price-tag incidents trends upward, he argues the need to act has never been more urgent, concluding: “Our voices must be heard not only because we ourselves have been victims of such harassment as preludes to worse things, but also because these acts, ostensibly committed in the name of Judaism, fly in the face of the very basis of our faith and tradition.”

The Sinai revelation is often referred to as a marriage between the Jewish People and God. Whatever that means to you, there remains a fundamental bond that ties us back to Sinai. Shavuot reminds us of the union we formed there, and that kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh represents its continuous manifestation. It applies always, for better and for worse.

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