Torah Fund Stands with Israel: Another Compelling Presentation

Posted on Nov 22, 2022

What an illuminating, multifaceted program on September 18! It struck me while listening that it was faith-based with Rabbi Gritsevskaya, diplomatic with attorney Liron Finkelstein, and political with Itay Milner. All important, all necessary, and information we need to know and act upon. 

Let’s end the year with its curses, and start the year with blessings and a clean slate! 

Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, executive director of Midreshet Schechter, began the program with an inspirational D’var Torah. She taught us about the blessings and punishments for Torah deeds and misdeeds, with the premise that we end our year with the misdeeds and begin the new year with a clean slate. She compared the Jewish people to a reed shaken in the water, in that even though it is tossed about by wind and conditions, the Jewish people will survive and return home. 

She then spoke of the work of Midreshet Schechter, which provides Jewish education in Ukraine and shelter, food, financial aid, and Jewish life with the assistance of Masorti Olami. Rabbi Gritsevskaya went to Ukraine for Purim, just as many women and children were leaving. There were clear comparisons to Haman and salvation, and she noted the many “Esthers” during this catastrophe. However, she showed us the blessing of Jews coming together to work on this crisis, and the joy of refugees in finding someone waiting for them with help after their bus journey. She showed beautiful photos and video of her visits during Purim and Pesah, and to Camp Ramah Yachad, a summer camp in Romania with 90 children, most from Ukraine. Yet in all the tragedy, she explained, there is exhilaration in celebrating community, as shown in her video of a sizeable Pesah seder.   

Rabbi Gritsevskaya shared she planned to be in Ukraine again for the High Holidays, and she described how the concept of who will live, who will die, and who will be inscribed in the Book of Life has special meaning this year. Her presentation showed us the blessings that can be found in this dire situation, and she shared her prayer that the curses from this past year turn into blessings for the coming one. 

Now you’re going, just when you became a lawyer? 

Our next speaker was Liron Finkelstein, designated Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Israel, Kyiv, Ukraine, who holds an LL.B in law and an MA in international relations. This heading comes from something she told us during her talk—how her mother questioned her career choice right after she completed her legal studies. This shows us that strong, Jewish mothers with opinions are everywhere! 

Liron was speaking to us from Warsaw, where she does much of her work, but told us she was going to Kyiv in the coming week. She answered her mother by saying that this is work she is born to do. Her mission is to strengthen the connection between Israel and the country in which she serves, now Ukraine. She is especially proud of the practical, necessary assistance Israel is providing, such as 100,000 water bottles due to lack of available fresh water, instant meals, the opportunity for injured children to be taken to Israel for treatment, and emergency training provided for over 2,000 people in Israel and Ukraine in water treatment, education, mental health, trauma, infrastructure, and post-trauma recovery. She is very proud of Israel and the work she is doing. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Our last speaker was Itay Milner, spokesperson and consul for Media Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York. We were fortunate to hear from Itay last year, during our first Torah Fund Stands with Israel program. I learn so much from his presentations. He clearly defines an issue, cautions us when necessary, and proposes actions we can take.  

Itay began by telling us that Prime Minister Lapid is going to New York and will be here September 20–22. He is speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, and will be meeting with President Erdogan of Turkey, the first time an Israeli prime minister has done so. He will also be meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, as well as representatives of Jewish leadership.

Update: Prime Minister Lapid gave a historic speech promoting a two-state solution at the U.N. 

According to Itay, the primary concern is still Iran and its nuclear capabilities, now more relevant than ever, following the renewal of negotiations with Iran. Itay reminded us that President Raisi of Iran has been responsible for many human rights violations as president as well as in his previous positions. Itay described a recent horrific incident where a young woman who had been arrested died in custody.

Update: The world now knows the atrocities of the death of Mahsa Amini. Itay told us to be cognizant of what’s happening and to use social media. 

Itay said the Palestinian issue continues to be alarming, and what is becoming even more challenging are the almost daily attacks on Israelis and evidence of Palestinian police involvement. The Palestinian Authority is losing its grip on its population and enforcement authority. Their leader is aged, and Israel doesn’t know what will come next. The High Holidays are always a risky time, and the emergence of “lone wolf” perpetrators makes it more difficult to stop attacks, since traditional intelligence is less effective. 

Of course, this all takes place before yet another Israeli general election, the fifth in three years, with no expectation of a clear winner.

Update: As a result of the elections, Netanyahu is positioned for a comeback. 

Finally, as Itay told us during his last talk, despite all its challenges, Israel is doing quite well. 

These Torah Fund Stands With Israel programs are valuable. Not only do we have the unique opportunity to connect with our speakers up close and personal, but we hear about their lives, work, perspectives, hopes for the future, and actions we can take. Please join us for the next virtual presentation of this series on Monday, January 30, 2023, at 8 p.m. ET, via Zoom.