Having just spent 6 days in Israel, mainly to visit the young men and women from Lincoln Square Synagogue who are spending the year there, I understand the rabbis insistence that the story of Joseph is the story of the jewish people. The resilience, the refusal to lose one’s morality even in the very darkest times, is the modern day story of Israel.
The young men and women from our shul are doing so well. Thank G-d despite the heightened security and the utter tragedy of the murder of Ezra Schwartz, they are learning, determined to stay in Israel and enjoy the wonderful opportunities they have to grow as Jews and as adults.
I was privileged to attend, in the same night, the heart breaking azkara in Bet Shemesh for Ezra, attended by 1200 young men and women on gap year programs, and also the exhilarating wedding of Sarah Litman and Ariel Begiel. After her father and brother were murdered right before the Aufruf, Sarah invited all of Israel to come and dance at their wedding. and Tens of thousands of people did exactly that.
But I want very briefly to describe one unique encounter I had, with a modern day Joseph. When I go to Israel, and this trip was no exception, I spend much of it on familiar territory. I can say that I know parts of Jerusalem and like the back of my hand. And that’s where I normally spend my time – in the yeshivas and seminaries and shuls. And also I visited Gush Etzion, Efrat, Migdal Oz, Alon Shvut, all areas that have suffered so much, but remain so strong.
But just before I left for Israel I received an email from a complete stranger. His name is Micah Avni. His father was known to many members of Lincoln Square Synagogue because of his involvement in the early days of the Soviet Jewry Movement.
His father was Richard Lakin – an educator, a person of incredible tolerance, who passionately believed in coexistence and peace and who had made Aliyah with his family thirty years ago.
A few weeks ago Richard Lakin – because he was concerned about reports of stabbings in Jerusalem, decided, for his own safety to take a bus instead of walking home from a medical appointment. And on that bus, he was shot, and then stabbed, by Palestinian terrorists.
And his son Micah invited me to come and meet him. He had read something I had written the other week about Israel in which I mentioned my upcoming trip.
And so I went to Tel Aviv. Not only to meet and hopefully comfort a grieving son, but also to encounter a different Israel – more secular, than the one that I feel so at home in.
And this remarkable man Micah is like Yosef. In the darkness, in the hate, in the grief, he radiates not despair, but dreams.
Big dreams, important dreams, practical dreams. Dreams, like Yosef’s, to help all of humanity.
Micah Avni a secular Jew from Tel Aviv , a successful individual in the financial industry, sees what happened to his father not as result of the occupation, of the intransigence of the settlers of the Israeli right. He understands that Israel faces a war of religious hatred. That the same twisted ideology that kills in Paris, that caused 9/11 that is murdering in the tens and hundreds of thousands all over the Middle East – that same ideology inspired two young men from Hebron to go out and become Murderers.
That our way of life, in the West, in free countries, all over the world is threatened by an evil that attracts followers and turns otherwise innocent people – often very young – into killers. And Israel is just one front of a battle being fought all over the globe.
But Micah Avni believes that he can help stop this. And I think he is right, and we are going to help him.
What makes , as we have seen countless times this month, young people – some vent 13 years old , a wake one morning take knife and try to kill a jew? Or what makes people in the west give up all of their future, and go off to join Isis in Syria or Iraq?
Most often, it is a result of incitement, videos and messages, on social media, mainly Twitter and Facebook.
And Micah is determined to help control this. Within days of his Father’s shiva ending he had organized a hearing in the Knesset. Now he is planning on arranging a congressional hearing on the same subject, make the chief executives of social media empires accountable for the way in which their companies are now engine houses for terror.
I was skeptical, as you are. He cited the example of paedophilia , which used to be rampant on social media until a threatened advertising boycott made Facebook sit up and take notice.
To underline just how urgent this is, it has just emerged that one of last week’s California Terrorsts pledged allegiance to Isis on facebook, and none of the authorities apparently noticed.
And so one Israeli, surveying the tragic murder of his beloved father, has decided that he will make a difference, and do something that has the potential to save thousands of lives every year.
I found my time with Micah Avni absorbing and at the end of the conversation I did something that I do not normally do, I asked Micah about his own Faith. We had a fascinating discussion, of the kind, for obvious reasons, that I can’t normally have with a member of my Shul. The response was, as I had intuited; Micah is a secular Jew, and does not see the need for Mitzvah observance.
But walking me back to my car along Rechov Allenby as the sun was beginning to set,Micah stopped, and gestured around at the construction sites, the skyscrapers, the incredible boom that is modern day Tel Aviv.
“ I don’t feel the need to say Kaddish”, he said. “But I feel, when I see what we have built here, and how despite all the terror and all the wars, we will never stop building here – I feel just as connected to my faith as any rabbi.”
And of course we may disagree about religion, but I agree with, and I am inspired by Micah’s Faith – the Faith of Israel. In loss, he feels he can make a difference to the world – and that despite it all he, and the people of Israel, continue dreaming, continue building, continue growing.
Many times last week in Israel I heard the following line quoted; “The miracle of Chanukah is not that the lights lasted for 8 days, it’s that they have lasted for 2000 years”.
I want to bring Micah Avni and his forthcoming campaign to your attention, we should follow his progress and support him in whatever way we can.