Category Archives: Israel

Taking care of ourselves when Israel is fighting

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I know that many of us are struggling with the news out of Israel and Gaza. I’ve been hearing from people who are unable to fall asleep because they can’t stop thinking about the images of destruction and grief, or who wake up and immediately start agonizing about the conflict or worrying about loved ones.

For some, the realities of what’s happening there provoke a crisis of faith. For others, those realities provoke profound anxiety. I too have been struggling to maintain my emotional and spiritual equilibrium in the face of the violence, destruction, and fear.

Maybe the first thing we can do is honor the reality of the struggle. A colleague just pointed me toward research showing that media exposure to trauma can create trauma in those who are watching, even from afar. The researchers did intensive studies, first after 9/11 and later after the Boston Marathon bombing, and their research showed that people who watched more than an hour of daily disaster-related tv (news programming and so on) experienced increases in post-traumatic stress symptoms and physical ailments.

The previous conventional wisdom had been that indirect media-based exposure to trauma is “not clinically relevant.” But these researchers found otherwise. After the Boston bombing they looked not only at how much TV people watched, but also print news and radio, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. They discovered that those who consumed a great deal of bombing-related media in the week after the bombings were six times more likely to report high acute stress than those were at the Boston Marathon itself.

I am not suggesting that those of us who are following stories out of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza from afar are experiencing more trauma than those who are there. I recognize that from here we can only barely begin to grasp the terror and the trauma. My child is safely watching cartoons; other peoples’ children have been terrorized and killed. There is no comparison. What I am suggesting is that the media we consume has an impact in all four worlds: spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and even physical.

It is easy to be drawn to the news or to social media because we care about what’s happening and we want to know more. But engaging with the news can have a profound emotional impact, and engaging with reports from our friends, family, colleagues, and loved ones even more so.

It’s important that the realities of this conflict be expressed. I know that it’s important to those who are experiencing the tragedy and trauma of war that their stories and images be shared with the world. I understand that and I honor it.

And that makes it extra-important that we who are watching from afar — whether via television news, or social media, or both — exercise the good judgement to take care of our own emotional and spiritual boundaries. (I wrote about this on my blog a few weeks ago, Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.) Overexposure to trauma, even from afar, can be damaging.

Rabbi Jay Michaelson recently wrote an essay for the Forward called 5 Ways To Turn Down the Social Media Flame. It’s a terrific essay and I recommend it to you — both because he does a beautiful job of exploring the entrenchment of different narratives, and because he suggests simple ways each of us can take control of our interactions. He shares the questions he asks himself before posting, forwarding, or amplifying news about Israel and the Palestinian territories.

What we take in, through reading or viewing, enters our hearts and minds. Some of us can manage that without experiencing trauma. Some of us are more emotionally porous and may be hurt by the repeated exposure. (And any given person may be at a different place on that spectrum at different times — maybe one day you’re able to manage what you’re reading or watching, and the next day it becomes too much.)

If watching the news or reading your Facebook feed leaves you struggling with crying jags, panic attacks, nightmares, anxiety which won’t let up, you are not alone, and what you’re feeling is real. Different people heal in different ways, but I’ve found that the best tools include disengaging for a time from social media and the news, and when the obsessive anxious thoughts recur, just noticing them, without judgement, and redirecting my thoughts in another direction. For me that usually means prayer, but use whatever works for you: music, exercise, thinking about an event you’re looking forward to, calling a loved one, whatever works.

Marinating in a perennial bath of horrific news can actually cause harm. Whatever obligations you feel to those who are frightened or suffering, you aren’t helping them by harming yourself. Please take good care of yourself — you are precious. And please know that I am here to listen anytime you want to talk about how you’re feeling — about Israel or about anything else.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel


Much of this material also appears in a longer post at Velveteen Rabbi: How news and social media can hurt us.

Mourning the three Israeli teenagers

The CBI community joins the rest of the Jewish world, and those of all faiths who honor the image of God in every human being, in mourning the deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar. We hold their grieving families in our hearts. We know that we can barely begin to imagine what they are going through. May they be upheld by the loving support of their community at this terrible time.

A memorial service is being planned for Wednesday evening at 7:30pm at Congregation Ahavath Sholom, 15 North Street, Great Barrington.

May the Source of Peace bring comfort to their families, and to all who mourn. Baruch dayan ha-emet.

Celebrate Yom Ha-Atzma’ut at CBI


Jerusalem in springtime.

This year CBI will be one of the pilot locations for an innovative and meaningful new observance of Yom Ha-Atzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day.) On Thursday, May 8 at 6pm (a few days after the holiday itself) we will hold a special seder for this holiday, using a liturgy developed by Rabbi Sami Barth, a senior lecturer in liturgy at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

We will read selections from the Prophets; ask a new set of “Four Questions;” explore Hebrew poetry both ancient and modern; ponder ourselves as the “Four Children” who address issues of compromise, safety, and hope; hear excerpts from Israel’s Proclamation of Independence; and discuss our dreams of what Israel might become.

Please RSVP to the synagogue office by May 5 so we know how many tables to set up. This program is open to all ages but will be most appropriate for teens and up. Bring a vegetarian / dairy dish to share.

“My Neighbourhood” screening, panel discussion at the Berkshire Museum

On August 27th, from 4:00-7:00pm, there will be a screening of the film My Neighbourhood at The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. The filmmakers describe the film as being about “a remarkable nonviolent struggle in the heart of the world’s most contested city.” Here’s a trailer for that film:

After the film, there will be a discussion forum including Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace; American-Israeli writer, activist, refusenik, and poet Moriel Rothman (a frequent contributor to The Times of Israel and to Ha’aretz); and moderator Victor Navasky, Publisher emeritus of The Nation magazine and professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Following the film and forum there will be a cocktail reception with the speakers and moderators in attendance.

All are welcome. Tickets cost $25 in advance, $35 at the door, and $10 for students.  Seating is limited. Please register in advance by calling 800-838-3006 or online at

This event is part of the fourth annual Donald and Doris Shaffer Memorial Lecture Series in the Berkshires. Donald Shaffer passed away in February (see Don Shaffer: In Memoriam), and this year’s series honors his legacy.

Guest post from Rabbi Pam Wax: Pam in Jerusalem

Blessings for 2013!

Chaim and I left on Wednesday night for our trip to Israel. We have rented an apartment in Jerusalem for 3-1/2 weeks. Chaim hasn’t been in over 20 years, having left Kfar Chabad as a teen and then living there again for a year in the 80’s. My last two trips in the past 12 years have been for work and certainly weren’t as leisurely as this one will be.

In any case, I have decided to blog while in Jerusalem. If you are interested in following my posts go to anytime you want to catch up on our doings, or sign up on the homepage to get the email delivered directly to your inbox whenever I post something new. The title of the blog is Pam In Jerusalem: Riffs, Reflections, and Rantings, and I imagine that is just what it will be. Read the “About” section for background info about my decision to do this blog.

I hope this finds you all well.

The news out of Israel and Gaza, and the Song for the Month

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

It is with heavy hearts that we follow the news this week out of Israel and Gaza. Many of us have family members and friends in Israel, and we fear for their safety. Some of us have friends in Gaza, and we fear for their safety, too. I know that for many of us, it is profoundly painful to turn on the news or visit our usual news websites, knowing that more terrible news may await.

Within this community our politics may differ, and our interpretations of this latest round of military action — its causes and its consequences — may differ, but I know that we are all united in a deep and heartfelt wish for peace. We all pray that those with decision-making power for the region manage to broker a cease-fire in the short term, and work for a true solution for a just peace for the long term.

Please know that if this situation is raising fears and anxieties for you, about your loved ones or about the region in general, I am here and happy to listen. Call or email and we’ll find a time to connect.

I have chosen, as our Song for the Month during this month of Kislev, a setting of two verses from Tanakh which describe the coming era of peace for which we yearn. The text comes from Isaiah 2:4: “And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”

The words are

לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה.

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, Lo yilm’du od milchamah.

You can listen to me sing these verses at the the post Song for the Month of Kislev.

We will sing this song during Shabbat services this week, as an expression of our fervent prayer for peace in the Middle East and everywhere. May it come speedily and soon.

I wish you every blessing,

Reb Rachel

Resources and information: African migrants in Israel

Since I referenced this summer’s violence against African refugees in Tel Aviv in my Rosh Hashanah sermon Being Change, a few people have asked for more information about African migrants in Israel. Here is a collection of (English-language) resources: an overview, some news links, some opinion essays, and some nonprofit organizations in Israel doing good work in this area.

Israel houses a large number of African migrants (most estimates say that the African population in Israel is between 60,000 and 70,000). Most of those migrants come from Eritrea and Sudan, and most are in the country illegally, which means that they cannot obtain work visas.

Some argue that the Africans who enter Israel illegally (sometimes called “infiltrators,” which is a term with a specific history — see Infiltrated by history, The Daily Beast) are linked to an increase in crime, that Israel does not have the resources to support them, and that they should be detained and/or deported. Others argue that the Africans who enter Israel illegally are refugees fleeing persecution and seeking a better life, and that Israel has both a legal and an ethical obligation to aid them. (I also know people who believe both of those at once: that the influx of migrants is more than Israel can support, and that they are refugees who deserve aid.)

Recent months have seen an increase in incidents of violence against Africans. Some blame the violence against Africans on crime committed by Africans, and others attribute the violence against Africans to general anti-immigrant sentiment or to poor economic conditions which contribute to social unrest. Also this year, Israel amended its 1954 Prevention of
Infiltration Law
, which now permits Israel to detain migrants for three or more years. (See Migrants in prison protest ‘infiltrators’ law, Jerusalem Post.) A Jerusalem district court judge issued a preliminary injunction on October 12 banning the summary arrests of Sudanese refugees (see Court prohibits detention of Sudanese refugees days before mass arrests begin, +972); another ruling on this is expected soon.

For more information: The Refugee Situation in Israel (a page provided by the African Refugee Development Center); FAQ on Violence Against Asylum Seekers in Israel (that page is courtesy of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society); African Refugees in Israel (Rabbis for Human Rights).

Articles about the situation:
Please note that these articles, which aim to be news rather than opinion pieces, paint a range of different pictures of the situation.

  • Sharp rise in African migration into Israel, by Shira Rubin, The Times of Israel. “The number of African asylum seekers crossing the Israeli-Egyptian border reached a record high in May, the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority revealed on Thursday.”
  • Israeli Anger over ‘African’ Crime Wave, The Forward. “A crime wave blamed on Africans, including two recent rapes, has stoked
    long-standing hostility toward the country’s estimated 60,000 illegal
    African immigrants and sparked an ugly wave of retaliatory violence
    against them.”
  • African Migrants Attacked in Tel Aviv, The New York Times. “After a rally demanding the immediate expulsion of migrants seeking
    asylum in Israel led to a spate of attacks on Africans in Tel Aviv late
    Wednesday, political leaders condemned the violence but vowed to crack
    down on illegal immigration.”
  • Israel confronts a flood of African refugees, by Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post. “Israel, as government officials here like to point out, is the only first-world country that you can walk to from Africa. This geographic reality has produced a flood — 60,000 in the last seven years — of refugees who make their way first to Egypt and then through the Sinai desert to Israel’s southern border.”
  • Netanyahu: Israel could be overrun by African “infiltrators,” Ha’aretz. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the phenomenon of illegal infiltrators from Africa is extremely serious and threatens Israel’s social fabric and national security.”
  • Yishai Warns African Infiltrators Crushing Israel, Arutz Sheva. “Likud Knesset Member Danny Danon, chairman of the Knesset lobby dealing with the problem of infiltrators, recently stated, “They are a blow to the country, and we need to deport them before it is too late.”
  • State using Infiltrators’ Law in place of Evidence, Jerusalem Post. “The Executive Director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Reut Michaeli, said on Thursday that the state is using the so-called ‘infiltrators law’ as a sort of administrative detention for illegal migrants who they do not have enough evidence to convict of crimes.”
  • Yishai: I Sound Racist – But I’m Not, Arutz Sheva. “Minister of Interior: ‘Infiltrators and Palestinians will bring a quick end to the Zionist dream.'”
  • Eritreans protest Negev detention facility, Jerusalem Post. “Rallying under slogan ‘Israel, don’t put us in prison, again’, migrants protest facility meant to house thousands of Africans.”

Opinion pieces: These next links are to op-eds / opinion pieces, which — like the news articles — paint a range of pictures of the situation.

  • For an ethical African migrants policy in Israel, global Jewry can help, by Chaim Landau, Ha’aretz. “The Israeli government, if it is to uphold both its Jewish and international obligations, should form a committee tasked with creating ethical policy on the issue of African migrants, with leading experts from Israel and the entire Jewish world.”
  • The strangers among us, by Naomi Ragen, Jerusalem Post. “I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I am looking at the roundup of African asylum-seekers with an equal mixture of heartbreak and relief.”
  • Israel’s refugee hypocrisy, by Gershom Gorenberg, The American Prospect. “Its mythology is grounded in exile and return, so why won’t Israel grant refugee status to North Africans in need?”
  • Southern Tel Aviv Residents: We Live in Constant Fear, Arutz Sheva. “Arutz Sheva visits the neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv, hears from
    local residents who live in fear because of illegal infiltrators.”
  • Ethiopian-Israeli Jews, mistaken for African migrant workers, feel racism’s pain, JTA. “When violent riots against African migrant workers erupted in south Tel
    Aviv recently, a mob attacked Hanania Wanda, a Jew of Ethiopian origin,
    mistaking him for a Sudanese migrant worker.”
  • Israel Can’t Solve Africa’s Problems, Commentary. “Those who are quick to accuse Israel of racism should remember that it
    went to great trouble and expense to facilitate the mass immigration of
    tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the past generation.”
  • Addressing the Plight of the African Refugees in Israel, by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, The Jewish Journal. “As Jews, we are a nation of immigrants commanded to love and protect the stranger in our midst. This imperative is highest when we have sovereignty. It is not only our historical condition but also our eternal identity as the children of Abraham, the paradigmatic stranger.”
  • If you do only one thing for Israel this year, let it be this, by Bradley Burston, Ha’aretz. “The asylum seekers want nothing more than to live productive lives and contribute to this society. Their children are as Israeli as anyone, they belong in the only home they have ever known… If you do only one thing for Israel this year, let it be this: Send a message. Write a letter.”
  • Israel’s African Problem, a podcast at Tablet magazine. “Israeli officials argue that the deportations are necessary because the migrants are a burden and a threat to the country’s Jewish majority. Critics say the policy violates human rights, not to mention Jewish values…”
  • The Africans in Tel Aviv and Jewish Values, by Dov Lipman, The Times of Israel. “The issue of the African ‘infiltrators’ in Israel is very complicated. The arguments for deportation of illegal immigrants who are not employed and are committing crimes certainly resonate with a large percentage of the population. Arguments about providing refuge for these individuals on humanitarian grounds certainly tug at the heart. But, I have yet to hear anyone discuss the situation from the perspective of core Jewish values.”
  • +972 Magazine coverage – Asylum Seekers, +972. This online magazine, named after Israel’s country code, features new reporting and opinion pieces about this aspect of Israeli life and culture regularly. This link goes to the collection of their coverage of this issue.

If you are interested in making a donation to a nonprofit organization which works in this arena, here are some which you might consider:

New Israel Fund

New Israel Fund is the leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis. We believe that Israel can live up to its founders’ vision of a state that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, without regard to religion, race, gender or national identity.
Our values drive our work. We fight inequality, injustice and extremism because we understand that justice is the precondition for a successful democracy — and the only lasting road to peace.

African Refugee Development Center

The African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 by refugees and Israeli citizens to assist, support and empower refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. The ARDC seeks to ensure access to basic social services, to facilitate integration and promote self-sufficiency. It also advocates for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and for a humane and fair Israeli asylum policy. The ARDC’s work includes individual counseling, humanitarian aid, education, community development, awareness raising and policy initiatives. Through the ARDC, diverse communities are drawn together to promote understanding and cooperation amongst refugees and the broader population.


In collaboration with the Tel Aviv Refugee Clinic, we employ nurses from within the migrant community to improve the health of this population. These nurses are uniquely qualified for working in the migrant community as they are multilingual, highly trained in their home countries, eager to work, and already have their fingers on the ‘pulse’ of their community. (This group recently completed initial fundraising via IndieGoGo and has now hired five Eritrean nurses to tend to the health of the largely Eritrean refugee population in Tel Aviv.)

We Are Refugees / אנו פליטים

Israeli Foundation for Legal Aid to Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Stateless. “We are Refugees” is a non-profit organization founded on October 2010 by a group of lawyers who represent asylum seekers and refugees in Israel on a pro-bono basis. These lawyers donate their time in order to represent refugees in the Israeli court system. See also The Refugees’ Rights Forum, which consists of eight human rights organizations active in promoting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, as well as implementing activities on their behalf.

I welcome links to more articles and resources — please feel free to share more in comments.

(Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)