I meant to write last week but unfortunately fell far behind and found myself late on last deadline day with no column, again. I told my editors that I would definitely write for the big, mega-Shavuot edition. With multitudinous and seemingly never-ending preparations coming up in advance of our daughter’s wedding in a few weeks—I have promised my family that I will be more focused on wedding stuff post-Shavuot… I really will try—here I am writing for what may be the last time until after the wedding.
It’s been a whirlwind the last two weeks. Last week, our daughter had her wedding shower, to which I wasn’t invited, but I was just as happy to start my day with the Celebrate Israel Parade that COVID had canceled the past two years. I stood as a private citizen/parade viewer, which I have never really done before in my life. For almost two hours around 57th and 58th Streets, I had the chance to watch so many people and organizations I know walk by. It was quite impressive to see how many strong, growing schools and organizations marching in the parade were directly in our coverage and readership areas. I would venture to say that perhaps more than half of the schools marching were schools we cover and write about on a near-weekly basis. This got me thinking that perhaps it’s time for The Jewish Link to up its game when it comes to the Celebrate Israel Parade. Stay tuned for next year’s parade! Watch out, 2023!
Unfortunately, I was not able to stay long enough to watch my youngest son march relatively late, with TABC, but I left the parade in high spirits to make my way over to the Intercontinental New York Hotel for the first-ever New York-based Jerusalem Conference, also known as the BeSheva Conference. This conference is run by the people behind Arutz Sheva/Israel National News and is normally held in Israel, but they decided to hold it this year in New York. We at The Jewish Link were glad to be media sponsors of the event.
The conference itself was a nonstop mix of award presentations, speeches, panels and conversations on a dizzying array of topics relevant to the Israeli scene such as immigration/aliyah, innovation, business opportunities and Israel’s periphery regions.
One of the highlights for me was listening to the mother of Lt. Hadar Goldin’s, z”l. Leah Goldin spoke about the need for American Jews to raise the issue of bringing her son’s body home from Gaza with our Congressional leaders. She emphasized how important it was to speak to anyone who can make this issue an important one. Anyone who heard her speak could not help but be affected by her passion and conviction that much more can, and must, be done to bring her son home. I have been reading about her efforts for years, but this was the first time I had ever heard her speak, and I was quite moved. She isn’t giving up in the fight to bring her son’s body home, nor should we.
I strongly recommend that any shul or organization interested in hosting her and hearing what she has to say do so immediately. A special thanks to Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (who has hosted Leah in his shul multiple times) for bringing me over to meet her before she spoke.
Another highlight for me was seeing my old MTA, Yeshiva College and RIETS chaver and friend Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN), speak about how considers it part of his mission to make sure that the Israeli government sees every oleh as a diamond or jewel. Once the government has that attitude, all bureaucratic issues, obstacles and barriers that olim face would just fall away, according to Rabbi Fass. He really believes it, and is doing his utmost to make it happen. Kein Yirbu!
The next morning, I was invited to attend a special media briefing at UJA-NY headquarters hosted by Nefesh B’Nefesh, and the featured speaker was Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano Shata. Whether you support or find issues with the current government, her background as the first Ethiopian-born woman to enter the Knesset and her personal background as one of the Ethiopians airlifted to Israel in the famous Operation Moses, which ran from 1984-1985, made it obvious why she was chosen for her position. A lawyer and journalist before entering the Knesset, Minister Tamano Shata spoke in both Hebrew and English about her experiences as an immigrant. She exhibits an understanding, perhaps far better than most, the many challenges immigrants face.
It was also clear that NBN and her ministry have been working very closely together on a range of immigration issues, and I learned that the new Nefesh B’Nefesh campus had been transformed over the past few months into a center for processing and working with the many thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have come to Israel. Listening to her talk and her easy repartee and banter with the co-founders of NBN, Tony Gelbart and Rabbi Fass, it was obvious to all that this was a minister that NBN could really thrive and grow with.
And thrive and grow NBN has. I was blown away when I learned that NBN hit 74,000 olim total (74,000 to mark Israel’s 74th anniversary) this year. With the opening of NBN’s beautiful new Jerusalem “aliyah” campus, I simply lost count of how many new programs NBN is operating and able to run simultaneously there throughout the year. NBN is running camps, lone soldier programs, seminars, you name it, and even weddings, at the new campus.
One NBN program that caught my eye was their outreach and education program for the many Israeli yeshivot and seminary students, which is designed to get Shana Aleph and Shana Bet students thinking about what it means to live in Israel via interactive games, dialogues and small group sessions. I often wonder why it seems that while so many of our kids who go to Israel mostly seem to have incredible and fulfilling experiences there, it is still such a relatively small minority that pushes to stay in Israel. Rabbi Fass agreed with me and he let me know that he was working on it. Hatzlacha to him and all of his special team and staff at NBN! Keep it up!
Yachad Family Shabbaton—May 27-28
Finally, after another busy week, my wife and our family, including our future son-in-law, all convened in Stamford this past Shabbat to attend the Yachad Family Shabbaton, the first once since 2019, again because of COVID restrictions. We went because we always enjoy going and meeting other families with special-needs children, and participating in the many sessions focused on “our” issues, so to speak. We also went because there haven’t been any Yachad shabbatonim at all over the past two-plus years and we knew our son Zev would really enjoy it, which he did. The entire weekend was filled with a tremendous ruach and great energy from the many Yachad staff, advisers, high school leaders and volunteers who were all happy to be there.
For myself, one of the high points of the weekend was a session for fathers, moderated by the OU’s Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph. All of the panelists were excellent, but one, RIETS Dean Rabbi Menachem Penner (a special needs parent himself), noted that these parents often feel like the kids who are left behind from year to year as their classmates (other parents of mainstream children) move further and further ahead. He also noted that he does not like it when he is told that being the parent of a special needs child is a special calling or special gift from Hashem. Rather, he prefers to look at it as being parents who are on a special mission. And in that special mission, the parents should or must consider themselves as if they are part of the elite “special forces” or “Green Berets” who have a unique mission to battle to raise our children to reach their fullest potential, even if that child may never do many of the things their mainstream peers will do. I drew a lot of succor and sipuk hanefesh (satisfaction of the soul) from this idea that parents of special needs children are on a special and elite-level mission in this world, and this idea will hopefully sustain me for many years to come. I always wanted to be on Seal Team Six, and now I learn that I am already part of an elite unit. I can live with that.
Best wishes for a Chag Sameach and good Yom Tov to all of our readers, advertisers and your families!
By Moshe Kinderlehrer/Jewish Link Co-Publisher