Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

Dedicated in loving memory of Jerry Kirsh z”l, בן ציון בן יהודה פסח הכהו ז"ל, on his 3rd yahrzeit, ג אדר א תשפ"ב, by his siblings, Nathan Kirsh, Janet Yolleck and Reva & Perry Lichtblau and their families. Jerry is dearly missed but his smile will always be remembered!

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We are all concerned about potential war in the Ukraine and about how that will impact our brethren there.

Perhaps some personal reflections about the Ukrainian Jewish community and about how that community can inspire us, will be a merit for them during this time of need.

Those reflections date back to the early 90’s, when I spent time teaching Torah in the Ukraine.

By that point in time, decades of Communist indoctrination had obliterated everything and anything Jewish.

There was no Jewish knowledge, no Jewish infrastructure and no Jewish observance.

And then Communism collapsed.

And with that collapse, phoenix-like, a Jewish community began arising.

Within just a few short years, the fruits of Jewish knowledge, infrastructure and observance were blossoming.

I saw those fruits on a follow-up trip to Kiev in 2000.

Already then, Kiev, a city with far fewer than 100,000 Jews, had three yeshivos. Already then (and more so now), the proportion of Kiev‘s Jewish children attending Jewish schools was far higher than in the vast majority of North American communities. Already then, Kiev had a mikvah, a kosher bakery, shuls, a kashrus supervision agency (whose seal was affixed to foods marketed in Ukrainian stores) and much more.

Many of those involved in Kiev’s Jewish activity have left for Israel and the Western world but Kiev’s religious community has continued to grow.

Ukrainian Jews knew so little and had so little Jewish history and connection.

And yet, when the opportunity arose, so many of them embraced Jewish life with gusto.

And this is where the contrast with North America’s unaffiliated Jews is so startling.

North America’s unaffiliated Jews have so much more Jewish background, history and connectivity than their Ukrainian peers.

Despite these advantages, North America’s unaffiliated Jews don’t reach out to embrace their tradition with the eagerness that I saw in the Ukraine.

But you understand, don’t you?

Ukrainian Jews experienced an epiphany. It occurred when Communism’s collapse rendered people’s beliefs in communism, atheism and in so much else, null and void.

That void fostered a soul searching that led people to their Jewish roots

This may explain the following perplexing Midrash about the Mishkan.

“When was the chapter concerning building the mishkan stated?… on Yom Kippur after the story of the golden calf …because the mishkan is a testimony in the whole world (that the sin of the golden calf) is forgiven” [1]

At first this Midrash seems surprising.

If not for the debacle of the golden calf, we wouldn’t have that mishkan repository of greatness and inspiration!

Then, though, you understand.

The sin of the golden calf upended everything.

The tablets with the commandments were shattered - and seemingly retracted.

We could no longer wear the “crowns”[2] that we acquired at Sinai.

There was shock, downfall and a gaping void.

That shock and that void may have motivated us to reach for greater spirituality.

And that greater spiritual reach may have created the foundation for a mishkan.

North American Jewry never experienced Communism’s implosion or the sudden descent of the golden calf. North American Jewry rather, gradually slid into assimilation.

Because of that, North American Jewry never experienced the shock and the void that creates opportunities for real soul searching.

I wonder, though, if a 2021 Pew Study may be providing some level of l shock.

That study documents a gut-wrenching 72% intermarriage rate among irreligious Jews.

I wonder if that shock is playing itself out in community efforts that would have been unthinkable years ago. The efforts include outreach and Birthright trips. They also include, even in sections of community that always fought tooth and nail against them, movement towards Jewish schooling.

One can cynically - and all too easily – say, that this is too little too late.

And for many that may be the case.

For others, though, the fall may provide the shock and the void that allow for an extraordinary climb

It has happened before.

It can happen again.

Rabbi Weber, founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey is Rabbi Emeritus of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim. Rabbi Weber will be mara d’asra at the Hudson Valley Resort for Pesach. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000.

[1] Tanchuma Teruma 8. Although see the Sforno’s less positive reading, Vayikra 11:2. See also Ramban Shemos 25:1 and 35:1 who sees the mitzva of the mishkan preceding the sin of the golden calf.

[2] Shemos 33:4































[1] Tanchuma Teruma 8. Although see the Sforno’s less positive reading, Vayikra 11:2. See also Ramban Shemos 25:1 and 35:1 who sees the mitzva of the mishkan preceding the sin of the golden calf.

[2] Shemos 33:4

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