The promise of freedom is at the heart of the Passover seder. Freedom is not merely the liberation from slavery but goes to the quality of our lives. This year, challenges to freedom plague our world and our people. Will your seder stick only to the 3,500-year-old story or fast forward to the present-day reality?

Ultimately, Passover directs us toward freedom. I doubt that the final phase of the Exodus has been reached if democracy in the promised land is in peril. We who love Israel are concerned about its recent descent toward autocracy.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of Netanyahu’s power grab is the rupture in Israeli society. Most concerning to me is that the hiloni (secular Israelis) are feeling disenfranchised. These are the men and women who defend Israel in the Army and are now hesitating to show up for reserve duty. Others are contemplating leaving Israel. Is Moses’ mission a failure if leading our people out of slavery to freedom brings us to an undemocratic Israel?

The persistent hope of the Exodus story is at the seder’s end when we say, “Next year in Jerusalem.”  Jerusalem may no longer represent our hopes for human rights and freedom.

From a distance, we have supported Israel when under attack. We have yearned for a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians. But we have not yet dealt with the prospect of an undemocratic Israel.

Jews have been praying for a return to Israel, as a place of refuge, hope, and freedom for Jews. Today, our prayers must turn to protect the democratic Israel we love.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The morning in Selma, Alabama was extremely foggy. It was hard to see the Alabama river below the bridge into town. We turned off the bridge onto Water Street. Stepping down from the bus, we entered one of the old brick buildings along the waterfront. And then the day slowly began to clear.

Selma had recently been in the news. An F-2 tornado touched down in January devastating parts of the city. But that was not why this group of rabbis came to town. Selma has another dark and stormy history spanning centuries. Selma is emblematic of a small Southern segregated city.

We stood on Water Street, just a few dozen feet away from the spot where boats would dock. For decades, this is where slaves arrived in Selma.

After the Civil War, Southern states denied their African American citizens’ basic human rights. In 1896 the Supreme Court affirmed laws that gave separate but equal treatment to Blacks. Of course, in practice, these laws denied Blacks their rights to a good education, equal access to government services, or participation in commerce. Chief among these rights is the right to vote. Through various restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests, southern states were able to prevent Blacks from registering. By the 1950s, only two percent of Blacks in Selma could vote. For that reason, Selma became the focal point of the efforts to secure voting rights for Blacks.

Civil Rights leaders feared the backlash from attempts to desegregate Selma. Yet, Dr. Bernard Lafayette convinced the leadership to send him to Selma. His efforts laid the groundwork for the historic march from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, Alabama. The only road to Montgomery required crossing a bridge named for a Confederate general and KKK leader. It took three attempts for the marchers to walk from the Brown Chapel AME Church over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The first attempt was on March 7, 1965. Six hundred marchers were met with horrendous violence from the police and local men deputized for this purpose. It is known as Bloody Sunday in American history. The next week, with the support of Federal Troops, the marchers made it across the bridge on a five-day, fifty-mile trek to the capital, demanding voting rights.

My first steps in Selma were into the By the River Center for Humanity.  We met Sister Afriye We-kandodis who leads life-changing experiences. We sampled some of her soul work. In her presentation, she shared a belief that healing is achieved when we acknowledge the totality of the past. Our work is to love ourselves and overcome fear. Her healing techniques included sound, movement, and performance to achieve spiritual and emotional releases.

Picture this scene. Twenty white Jewish leaders in a wide circle, hugging themselves and screaming “I love myself.” With inspirational music blaring, many took turns dancing in the circle’s center with Afriye. Her faith was so strong, that all were swept up in the love, and fully engaged in the activity.

We later walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The sunshine brushed aside the fog and cloudiness. We sang: “Kol Haolam Kulo Gesher Tzar M’od,” all the world is a narrow bridge. The main thing is not to fear. We walked quietly. Our steps followed the steps of civil rights heroes. We were walking on holy ground.

The challenge today is to keep walking across those bridges.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The American South hosted Jewish immigrants hoping to live the American Dream. German Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, and Sephardic Jews all found refuge below the Mason-Dixon line. Yet, their American dream included the dual terrors of discrimination and segregation.

Jewish communities thrived throughout the South during times of Jim Crow segregation. They had cordial relationships with their Christian neighbors. Jews had retail businesses and relied upon White Christian customers.  And Jews of the South generally refrained from participation in the civil rights movement.

We learned more by visiting the only remaining synagogue in Selma. Temple Mishkan Israel stands on Broad Street in the heart of Selma, Alabama’s downtown. In 2023, there are three members remaining.  Not three families.  Three members.  We met with Ronnie Leet.  The meeting began with a video about the synagogue. The video was also a fundraising pitch. The building needs $5 million dollars of repairs. Leet argued for the preservation of the building as the only way to tell the story of Selma’s once-thriving Jewish community.

Of interest to our group was how Leet and his family viewed the Civil Rights Movement.  The Leet family watched from a distance. They had a retail store. Mr. and Mrs. Leet worked every day. They had long participated in society with their white Christian neighbors. The Leets feared upsetting those relationships. While his family may have been sympathetic to their Black neighbors, Civil Rights was not their fight. 

Ronnie Leet’s answer was direct and honest. Like the Leets, most of us focus on our families, our livelihoods, and our health. We might take interest in the news and donate to causes. Human nature is inclined toward stasis, even if the arc of the universe leans toward justice.

Jews believe in truth and justice. We celebrate freedom every Sabbath and every Passover. We helped Soviet Jews escape repression. But supporting Soviet Jews did not jeopardize our jobs. We were writing checks to help Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973. But supporting Israel did not imperil our families.

Some will argue that we have an obligation to our own people before we can help others. I might agree with that argument if we were a people of limited resources and limited power. But American Jews have more wealth and more power now than any Jewish people in over 2,000 years. Our place in America is secure, despite recent episodes of anti-semitism.

I don’t condemn the Selma Jewish community of the mid-twentieth century. They were afraid and fear motivates us to protect ourselves. Rather, I will focus on those who did show up, who funded civil rights campaigns, and who pressured their representatives to rectify the injustices of segregation.

The Southern Jewish communities are dwindling in size. Where there is racism, there is anti-semitism. Why would Jews continue to live and work where their futures are in peril?

While life for Jews in America has improved in the past sixty years, discrimination against African Americans continues. Jews might leave the South, but let’s not forget our fellow Americans who suffer bias and degradation.

Crossing from Georgia into Alabama on I-75, our group of rabbis entered the first rest stop. A large carved stone reads: “Alabama We Dare Defend Our Rights.” Alabaman’s defense of rights? Whose rights are these Alabamans daring to defend?  Is it the rights of its African American citizens? Or the state’s right to make laws that discriminate as each state sees fit?  The statement as displayed dares us to explore what rights are important to Alabama. Withhold judgment until you learn more.

For example, the issue of mass incarceration is on my mind. Alabama’s prisons are filled with African American inmates. Blacks are incarcerated at twice the rate of whites. My inclination is to condemn criminals for their behavior. But the statistics in Alabama make me question my judgment. Are all the people incarcerated contemptible? Such judgment fails to consider the circumstances that led to incarceration or the humanity of each imprisoned person. While Blacks are 25% of the state population, Black prisoners represent 50% of the total prison population. Is that attributable to an unfair legal system, perhaps? Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative says that “no one deserves to be judged solely by their worst moments and greatest failings.” My presumptions about the character of Alabama prisoners must be challenged.

Does the same approach to judging people by their greatest failings apply to others in Alabama? This question will come up when we meet Jewish Alabamans who refrain from the struggle for civil rights. Will I judge them solely by their moral failings? Spoiler alert, we met lovely Jews in Alabama who were apathetic or unmoved by the Civil Rights movement.

Perhaps the key to a civil rights mission to Alabama is to set judgment aside. Like Jello, there’s always room for judgment. But to gain understanding and wisdom, judgment should come at the conclusion of fact-finding, and deep listening to the concerns and perceptions of each person. My intention is to listen before I offer judgment.

We drive out of the rest stop and pass a ball field where a group is playing soccer. How similar this scene is to one I might see in Montgomery County, Maryland. I see children enjoying life despite the mess their ancestors have made of this world. They deserve a world where we are curious and concerned before we offer judgment.

Rabbi Evan Krame



Yom Kippur teaches us the process of teshuvah. One element of our repentance is reconciliation. More than making amends for past wrongs, reconciliation demands education, understanding, and caring in the formation of a relationship based upon shared values. In 5782, I began a journey of discovering how we need reconciliation on a national level and how we Jews are uniquely qualified to lead the way.

I had not attended an in-person conference in the two years since the beginning of 2020.  When I heard that Reconstructing Judaism would be meeting in a hotel in Northern Virginia, I registered. While I am not affiliated with that branch of Judaism, I hope to see friends who would be attending.

In an entrance foyer of the conference center at the hotel stood a large display. On the boards were the details of a resolution and supporting facts, graphs, and pictures. The resolution was a key program for the group. They called for reparations to be paid to African Americans.

I was confused. In my mind, this was a “Jewish conference.” While I might agree or disagree with the statement on reparations, I wanted to be inspired by some Yiddishkeit, some Torah, something Jewish. Moreover, I had not yet come to an educated understanding of the issue of reparations in America.

I was supportive of reparations for Holocaust survivors. I had not given much consideration to reparations for African Americans or Indigenous peoples.  Was Jewish victimhood at the hands of Nazi Germany deserving of reparations but not African American torment or Native American suffering?

Six months later I was in Germany. We were visiting the town of Walldorf, just south of Heidelberg. Our friend Jim Klein was invited, together with family and friends, to a weekend of activities honoring the memory of his father, Kurt Klein, z”l.  Kurt Klein was born in Walldorf. He left Germany in 1937. His parents hoped to follow their children to the United States. After the war began, the Kleins were deported to Vichy France. The visas they desperately sought were approved but only after they had been deported again and killed in Auschwitz.

The visit with the people of Walldorf was more interesting and uplifting than I anticipated. We attended presentations on the history of Jews living in the town. There was a discussion about confronting history. We visited the small local Jewish cemetery where generations of the Klein family were buried. There was a presentation of a musical piece crafted around a poem written by Kurt Klein.

The Germans have a lot to teach us about the methodology and meaning of reconciling with the past. Most of the people we met were not alive during World War II. A very few were alive then, like Jim’s cousin who survived the war in n Germany and remained ever since. “Germans” include tens of thousands of Jews who live in Germany and affiliate with the Jewish Community. There are estimates of two hundred thousand more Jews mainly from formerly eastern bloc countries living in Germany but not registered as Jews. Absent reconciliation, would Jews feel comfortable making Germany their home?

Remembering and reconciling is evident all over Germany. In front of houses where Jews were deported you find brass shtepplesteins, brass plates stating the names of the family members deported or murdered, and the dates and the place they were sent.

In the medieval town of Worms, on the Rhine River, there is a huge Roman Catholic cathedral. I was not much interested in visiting a Church, but Jodi beckoned us inside.  Adjacent to the altar near the front, we saw large panels with historical essays, pictures, and graphs, like the panels I saw at the Reconstructing Judaism conference.  The panels described the history of Jews in the Rhineland – a history marred by marauding crusaders and black plague and Nazism. The panels were next to the confessional booths.  Any Catholic coming to confession would have to see the panels. If local Catholics did not have any current sins to ponder, they could always atone for the Jews who were tortured or died at the hands of their ancestors.

German reconciliation isn’t all stones and storyboards. In Berlin, we saw groups of German school children visiting the Museum of Terror and Holocaust sites. We attended a klezmer concert in the Lutheran Church of Worms. In the town of Mainz, a new synagogue of the most inspiring design was built near the center of town. The funding came from the government. The façade of the building spells out the word Kedusha in Hebrew. This New Synagogue of Mainz, in use since 2010 as a community center, was built at the location of the former main synagogue on the Hindenburgstraße of Mainz. Due to controversial discussions regarding the street name, Hindenburg being the name of the President of the Weimar Republic who invited Hitler to form a government, the location in the Hindenburgstraße was renamed Synagogenplatz (Synagogue square).

Since 1952 Germany has been paying reparations to Holocaust survivors. In September 2022, Germany agreed to a new reparations package of $1.2 B for the world’s remaining Jewish Holocaust survivors, which included $12M in emergency funds for the approximately 8,500 survivors remaining in Ukraine. Eighty percent of the many survivors in Eastern Europe live at or near the poverty level.

Gideon Taylor, president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims said that “seventy years later, we still stand in the shadow of the six million murdered Jews. Their suffering still haunts the Jewish people and the German people.” Germany has embraced their historic responsibility. The desire for reconciliation is strongest among 30- and 40-year-old Germans who were not alive during World War Two and might not even have a parent who was alive then.

German reparations are the only instance in history of a defeated power paying reparations to individuals. Yet, initially, these payments were controversial, especially in Israel. Some survivors in Israel refused the money and said that amends could not be made. The conversation has since shifted.  For many survivors the biggest concern is not financial aid but how will the world remember? Specifically, what is the moral message we want to convey?

The Germans understand the concern of teaching the world a lesson in morality. Education has now become a part of the reparations package. Some of the $1.2 Billion will be used for holocaust education.

Even here in the USA, there is a need for Holocaust education. Two-thirds of young Americans are unaware of the Holocaust and a quarter believes the Holocaust was a myth. Protecting all minority groups, ethnic groups, or religious groups will only happen if future generations are educated about the horrors of the past.

During these High Holidays, we focus on repentance, forgiveness, and atonement. We spend these days repenting our errors and seeking forgiveness AND we restore what we have damaged or taken from another person. Reparations is part of Teshuva. From the process of repentance and forgiveness, we not only change our actions, but we also transform ourselves and the world.

Teshuva is an ongoing process. Germany did not stand idly by Jews in danger in Ukraine. Germany increased reparations to include emergency aid for Ukraine’s Jewish survivors. Through a reconciliation process, Germans are demonstrating real atonement, complete with reparations.

Different than forgiveness, reconciliation allows for a relationship to be established and maintained.  In fact, reconciliation can occur without forgiveness.  The peaceful pathway forward is paved with humility and intentionality. In this sense, reconciliation serves as an example for future generations. The burden is on the perpetrator. The victim might never come to grips with the harm. Reconciliation demands nothing of the victim more than taking care of their own mental and spiritual health.

Reconciliation is not just between the “perpetrator and the victim”.  There is a role for all of us, the next generations, as “allies”.  Like young Germans in their 30s and 40s, Allies support the re-establishment of relationships. Allies reinforce the shared values among wrongdoers and those who were wronged. The allies are families, communities, and nations and their descendants.

The work of allies is not about rebuke or public shaming. The process of reconciliation operates when we recognize that something bad has occurred without presuming that the person who caused harm is themselves entirely bad. Nor are their descendants entirely bad.

The process of reconciliation is more complex in the United States. Along with the layers of oppression of Indigenous people and African Americans, many Americans today have adopted a victim mentality.  Some believe that the current power structure doesn’t work for their interests and instead caters to the desires of other groups. Somehow, in an age where the country can’t seem to agree on anything, most everyone seems to agree that they are being ignored or exploited. Rich people are being overtaxed, poor people are underserved, African Americans are oppressed by institutional racism, and some whites are threatened by critical race theory. The Christian majority is in fear of becoming a minority and the Jews, well the Jews are perpetually in a state of victimhood. The danger is that victimhood becomes a roadblock to relationships. This country knows how to come together for the greater good, as we did during the second world war. But today, with the attachment to victimhood, we have lost the spirit of an American community.

Given what is taking place in our own country – the social rifts, the political divides, and a great deal of victimhood, we are in desperate need of reconciliation. No one acknowledges responsibility for any wrongs that have occurred. You might believe that your political party is best for America while the other party destroys our country.  You might say that my immigrant family had nothing to do with disenfranchising indigenous people or enslaving Africans so why should I support reparations? We can hold fast to those beliefs that exculpate us from responsibility.  In so doing, we may also be responsible for the unraveling of this nation.

If you attended a University like Georgetown or Harvard Law School or visited the Capitol or White House or Boston’s Faneuil Hall, you benefitted from the work of slaves. If you live almost anywhere in the United States, you likely live on land that once was home to indigenous people. Yes, your great-grandparents may have been in Ukraine when these structures went up. But if any people can appreciate the sacred legacy of a building or a land, it is the Jewish people. We still pray at the last standing wall of a Temple destroyed two thousand years ago in Jerusalem.

There is one more example of the legacy of pain unresolved. Rabbi Tirzah Firestone has written Wounds into Wisdom. She describes how the lasting effects of individual trauma have consequences for families and even entire ethnic groups. New research in neuroscience and clinical psychology demonstrates that even when they are hidden, trauma histories—from persecution and deportation to the horrors of the Holocaust—leave imprints on the minds and bodies of future generations. Rabbi Firestone writes that trauma legacies can be transformed and healed. That process includes reconciliation – seeing the humanity in each other, finding common values, and again establishing relationships.

The Jewish people practice repentance each year. We are experts in the art of reconciliation. We understand the moral imperative of reparations. Can we, you be deployed to show a way forward, here in the USA?

I am NOT advocating for or against reparations. I only mean to state that reparations may be a component of as part of the process of reconciliation. First, there must be a consensus that wrongs have been committed. America requires education and reminders. The Rockville slave quarters of Josiah Henson are now a museum facing busy Old Georgetown Road. It stands as a testament to the degradation of African Americans, unlike the Air BnB listing for the Panther Burn Cottage that proudly advertised: The property was an “1830s slave cabin” that housed enslaved people at a plantation in Greenville, Miss. removed in August.

Can we find ways to establish civil relationships among factions, parties, and communication between faith groups and minority communities? We must overcome the attachment to victimhood that mires us in disagreement and conflict. The hope of this country, the future for our children and their children, demands that we break the logjam of every person holding their victimhood precious while failing to build relationships.

Through my personal journey in 2022, I have begun to understand how reparations were part of Germany’s reconciliation with survivors of the Shoah. Given the time and complexity of the issue, reparations might not be a part of the process of reconciliation in America. However, the crucial work begins now and continues for generations, for those who were not directly responsible for slavery or eradicating indigenous peoples. The task begins with an understanding that the harm caused to others, even in generations past, is cancer that must be extracted from society. All of us benefit if we heal can heal America.

We practice repentance in our personal lives. And we have a bigger task ahead of us. Americans must engage in reconciliation for the sake of our nation.

I have undertaken to help the Scotland AME Zion church rebuild after it was left unusable from a flood in 2019. The project is not merely about a building. The project is about educating this community that many of us live on land that was owned and farmed by African Americans, who were enslaved and continued to be oppressed.

May the coming year be one in which we transcend our differences, emphasize our shared values, and establish meaningful relationships. May 5783 be the year when Americans use words to heal and not wound when the swords of victimhood are turned into the plowshares of reconciliations, when this nation shall not lift up swords against neighbors and when instead of disagreement, we learn from each other once more.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

If a fascist were to be elected President, would you move to another country? If so, what country would that be? For Jews, the safe choice is assumed to be Israel.

Jews around the world are answering similar existential questions. 17,000 Ukrainians and Russians arrived in Israel from February to May of 2022. Thousands more are expected. Ukrainians want to escape the bombs and Russians anticipate the repercussions of Putin’s war. But Jews from Slavic nations are not alone. 9,000 more Jews made Aliyah from France, Argentina, and other countries in 2022. Their primary motivation was dangerous social and economic conditions. The total number of “olim” (those who go up to Israel) is far outpacing the prior year.

Rescuing Jews is a great mitzvah as Torah teaches. The donations we make to the Jewish Federation have always been used to assist the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency in turn helps “olim” to make Aliyah. If you are a donor, your gift to the Federation checks off that mitzva

If I felt imperiled, I too would consider moving to another country. That decision would include many factors. Do I have to learn a new language? Would I be able to make a living? Is the new country stable? Does it have adequate healthcare and a democratic government? Can my entire family emigrate together?

Israel provides an excellent choice. Most Israelis know English and signage in English is everywhere. The economy is thriving. Israel has good health care. The government may seem byzantine, yet it remains democratic.

On the flip side, the country has many problems. Enemies near and far threaten to eliminate Israel. Internally, there are deep divisions. To be blunt, the secular Jews are wary of the Orthodox and the Orthodox don’t have great respect for the secular. There are religious Zionists, political, practical, and cultural Zionists, and, of course, anti-Zionists. Large ethnic groups like the Sephardi and the Mizrachi feel second class to the white Ashkenazi. About 25 % of the population is not Jewish, generally Muslim, or Christian. Some of these are Druze, Armenian, Maronite, and Bedouin. 17% are from the Former Soviet Union States and are referred to as the “expanded Jewish population.” Many of the FSU citizens identify as Jewish. The Orthodox Jewish authorities have marked many with an asterisk for having a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother or for marrying a Christian or Muslim before arrival.

With all its mishigas and tsuris (Yiddish for craziness and troubles), Israel is a dubious choice as a refuge. Israel’s deep challenges might make it an imprudent choice. Of course, Israelis might think me insane for considering any other nation. Israeli Zionists of various stripes believe that all American Jews should already be making Aliyah.

Alternatively, you might believe that idyllic New Zealand is the refuge of choice. An English-speaking nation, you can never starve in New Zealand . . . if you eat lamb. But New Zealand is not a Jewish State. While committed to multi-culturalism, pervasive tensions between Maori natives, white Europeans, and Asian newcomers rile the status quo. How Jewish arrivals would be treated is a lingering liability that has previously plagued Jews.

Most Jews have lived in the diaspora since the second century. There may always be a Jewish diaspora. Israel has been a Jewish state for only seventy-five years. The mezuzah on the door at Ben Gurion Airport beckons us to enter.

From history’s perspective, support for Israel maintains a haven for Jews. History’s lesson is that Jews need refuge from time to time. I have no plans to emigrate from Maryland, but with every visit to Israel, I am scoping out a second-choice home.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame



Many Israelis and Palestinians are no longer looking for grand solutions to existential problems. Yet, the lack of a “peace process” does not mean that efforts toward peace have been abandoned. Across Israel conversations in more intimate settings are setting the cornerstones of coexistence.

Our group heard from Nazier Margally, a Palestinian journalist who shared his wisdom about the prospects for peace. Nazier harbored no immediate hope that the Palestinian dream of autonomy might be realized. Yet, Nazier declared that he would no longer act from a place of anger. Anger would not bring about the needed changes. And he has much to be angry about. He described to us that a relative had recently died but Israeli regulations would not permit his travel to the funeral. Similarly, he could freely visit relatives in other countries, as his family was split in 1948. With expectations diminished, Nazier focuses on the smaller conversations between Palestinians and Israelis to build confidence and trust.

We met with Avi Meyerstein, a Maryland-born attorney and activist, who advocates for dialogue and cooperation. Avi’s organization, Alliance for Middle East Peace, underscores the need for discourse. For Avi, the small conversations will bring bigger gains.

We visited Beit Feel, a multi-cultural arts center in Jerusalem serving everyone, including East Jerusalem Palestinians and black-hatted Haredim alike! Here the avant-garde are those using the arts in a shared space to find commonalities among people who have been in conflict. The displays, receptions, and programs open the way to dialogue and cooperation.

We spent time with the leaders of Ramle, a mixed city of Muslims and Jews. For several years, a mediation center has encouraged ongoing dialogue between representatives of various sub-groups in the city. The program has reaped great rewards. When violent riots erupted in neighboring Lod in May, 2021, Ramle remained relatively quiet. The spirit of cooperation enabled the local leadership to sustain calm. Road access to potential outside agitators was blocked. City leaders walked the streets together bringing composure in a turbulent time. The key had been years of preparation by building trust through dialogue among the local stakeholders.

We have become accustomed to grand gestures for peace in the Middle East. Such efforts are on ice. When talking about the prospects for peaceful coexistence, the current hope should not be for a great resolution. Rather, the current situation demands that we strive for just okay. Israel poses a challenge in “enoughness” for us. Rather than focus on complete solutions, let’s just have a respectful dialogue to create important connections.

A universal truth was being realized in hotel lobbies, art spaces, and conference rooms we visited. Creating a better future begins with small conversations. Our first and perhaps most important task is to take interest in others, even those whose opinions directly conflict with ours. The very act of listening and expressing appreciation relieves tensions and paves the way to improve if not preserve lives. Perhaps we can bring some of that wisdom home to the United States where shouting and accusing have supplanted personal engagement among people of differing views.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame



Lod is an ancient city with modern problems. Lod was first known to Americans as the location of the main airport. An important perspective of modern Israel is found in Lod, its history and histrionics. Two such perspectives were shared by two very different women.

Lod is mentioned in the Talmud. Lod occupies a strategic point between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It gained notoriety for Ben Gurion’s order in 1948 to push the Arab residents of Lod out of the way. Modern historians have recast a dark light on the reckless expulsion of the Arab population. A few Arabs remained, a few returned, and diverse other groups moved into Lod. Lod is not an economically healthy city. Many groups have come and gone over the decades since.

Our group first met the founder of Omnia, dressed in more traditional draping, hair, and neck covered in black. Omnia is a direct Quranic name that means “wish” or “hope.” The group provides support for the Arab women of Lod.  Many live in poverty or are allowed limited access to the world by their husbands. Others are academics who wanted the support of other women who both work and raise families. We enjoyed a presentation on the Omnia’s impact on the culture and economy of the community. As a respectful observer, I asked no questions about women’s roles in Arab society or the reticence of some Arabs to participate more fully in the Israeli economy. I, and others in the group, saved our skepticism for our Jewish speaker.

We arrived at the Denver community center in Lod, which by its very name lets you know something about the origin of its American donors.  Two women warmly greeted us.  Their dress was fashionable yet modest. They represented Garin Torani (Hebrew: גרעין תורני)(lit. Torah Nucleus), a group of religious Zionist individuals and families who settled in communities with a low religious Jewish population. They aim to strengthen the community’s connection to religious Judaism, promote integration (of religious and non-religious Jews), and bring about social change. Sadly, difficult prejudices are associated with the work of the Garin Torani.

Cleaning up and rebuilding the central Israeli city of Lod after last weeks riots. May 19, 2021. Photo by Yossi Aloni/Flash90

Our discussion focused on the riots in Lod in 2021. At the time, Israel’s “lockdown” of the al-Aqsa mosque had infuriated the Muslim leadership. The speaker declared that the peaceful coexistence of Arabs and Jews in Lod was disturbed as the Muslim leadership pushed the populace to riot. Five days of riots left two dead, one Jew and one Muslim, and some destruction in the city.

The Garin Torani have used the saga of Lod as a cautionary tale against the Israeli Arabs of Israel. Stories have spread of separate times for Arabs and Jews visiting parks and separate sections of community centers. Our speaker professed devotion to helping all people. Yet, these stories spoke to a different, troubling narrative.

Like the blind men touching different parts of an elephant, I have only presented specific stories of two residents of Lod. There are 80,000 other such stories – Muslim and Jewish, Yemeni, Ethiopian, and Ashkenazi. Only by visiting Israel can we attempt to feel our way around the entire elephant. I am grateful to the Jewish Federation of Washington for providing me with this opportunity to begin to fathom the depth of these complex issues.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

I felt special, privileged, and honored, to meet someone whose life story was noted by Hollywood. I met a man named Takele Mekonen whose life story is worthy of a feature film.

Takele is a slim, energetic man. His sharp facial features frame electric eyes powered by a passionate soul. He was born in Ethiopia. There the Jewish community prayed each day that next year they would be in Jerusalem.

As a child, Takele loved learning. Takele’s grandfather, a rabbi, taught him Judaism. Takele most enjoyed math and science in school. Anti-Jewish sentiment and civil war in Ethiopia compelled Takele and nineteen classmates to trek to Sudan in a quest to reach Jerusalem.

Over 31 days, they walked to a refugee camp in Sudan. There they found hell – disease, hunger, and despair.  In neighboring camps, they searched for other Jews on Shabbat to see who might be sitting in a tent without a fire.  There was chatter about Mosaad agents coming from Israel.  After a month, an Israeli Mosaad agent came up with a plan to free these Jews. Takele said that it was like meeting an angel, a bit of Jerusalem had arrived. He was given the task of retrieving other Ethiopian Jews. He gathered people in the camps and guided them to a meeting place. Along the way, they were beaten and harassed. After 20 trips, Takele directed 900 Jews who went to Jerusalem. Eventually, the Sudanese police were looking for Takele and he left for Israel. Takele was finally home.

For Takele, Israel is freedom. His face lights up as he declares over and over how much he loves Israel. Bringing people to Israel was his honor and only the beginning of his journey. After obtaining an advanced degree in optics, he worked for eleven years in the tech industry. Now he is spearheading an advanced educational program for Ethiopians in Israel called Tech Careers.

What about that movie?  In 2019 the movie Red Sea Diving Resort featured a storyline about an Ethiopian man who made great efforts to guide Jews to an embarkment place for their journey home. That character is based on Takele’s story.  What was special about our meeting? To drink in the commitment, appreciation, and joy of this courageous man. Takele loves Israel and I love Israel because of inspiring Israelis like Takele.

So grateful to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington for allowing this group of nine rabbis to be in the presence of such a tzaddik!

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Today’s goal was to unravel the knotty mess that is Israel. That goal is utterly unrealistic. In Jamaica, they say “Ya Mon”. In Costa Rica, they say “Pura Vida.”  In Israel, they say “it’s complicated.”

We began our day exploring the Israeli response to the Russian war against Ukraine. To keep abreast of the needs of Jews in Ukraine, there is a situation room at the Joint Distribution Committee Headquarters in Jerusalem. We visited and spoke with staff and volunteers. In a glass conference room, there are three large screens, one with data about the progress of the war, the second providing the location of Jewish communities, and the third offering data about available services. This command center is a marvel of technology and determination.

The Joint provides direct services. In-home attendant care for the elderly, food cards or parcels where food is scarce, medical supplies, and even safe passage for those who need to flee their homes. Just before the war, 18 chesed houses in Ukraine began to stock up on food, water, and medical supplies. As bombs were falling, 70% of the in-home caregivers showed up. Many are walking long distances as public transportation had stopped in many cities.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency has helped over 17,000 Ukrainians with Jewish “lineage” to make Aliyah. Some non-jews have come to Israel, primarily on a temporary basis. We spoke with a father and son of a Ukrainian family who left for Romania as the war began. The mother was Jewish by birth but had been given up for adoption.  Her birth mother had come from Israel and gave proof to the family’s Jewish lineage. Perhaps for the first time in history, it paid to be identified as Jewish in Ukraine.

Agency representatives and associates talked about the many needs. Transportation, hotel rooms, food, and clothing were provided.  Some families left with nearly no possessions. And the Agency also provides psychological and spiritual care. A young Russian Jewish woman studying to become a Rabbi in Israel told us of her conversations with Ukrainian refugees. Some turned to her for solace. Others rejected her because identified as Russian. Even providing spiritual care is problematic.

Our gifts to the Federation’s campaign for Ukraine are primarily funding the Joint and the Jewish Agency’s efforts. Visiting with refugees proved the impact of our gifts. I was filled with emotion to embrace a 17-year-old young Ukrainian man, with little prior knowledge of Judaism, now wearing a kippah and planning his future as an Israeli.

And all that was before lunch. We hardly had time to discuss the impact of welcoming tens of thousands of Ukrainians as Israel confronts a housing shortage. Or to discuss how carefully Israel must tread so as not to upset the Russian sponsors of neighboring Syria. And the war in Ukraine is not the only source of refugees at this time.

I heard some amazing stories about Ethiopian refugees, which I will share in my next report.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Thank you to Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington for your leadership.