Joe Wolfson

Extraordinary times call for… ordinary measures?

If we hadn’t already developed our collective reflex of kindness, we wouldn’t have been able to spring into action when we did
Volunteers from JLIC Tel Aviv deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to soldiers. (Courtesy)
Volunteers from JLIC Tel Aviv deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to soldiers. (Courtesy)

As the rabbi of a community of hundreds of young olim in Tel Aviv, JLIC Tel Aviv, I am both proud and humbled by what our 700 active volunteers are achieving in this current moment – hundreds of moments of hesed, kindness, every single day from caring for displaced families to comforting the bereaved and supporting our soldiers. One instance in particular stood out to me recently as capturing something larger and important, for our community and beyond. I’ll share it in a moment, but first a framework.

Temidim k’sidram u’musafim k’hilchatan“Our daily offerings are in order, and our additional ones as prescribed.”

There are two types of Temple sacrifices referenced in the musaf prayer recited on Shabbat and holidays. The daily ones are the temidim. The ones that we do only occasionally on special days are called musafim.

 This is true in the Temple and it is true in a community. There are things that we do during regular times and things that we do in exceptional times. In recent weeks, the astonishing things that have been achieved by our community and by the wider society of which we are a part are the musafim. These are the offerings of extraordinary times. 

What is striking to me, as the weeks go on, is the extent to which our community’s musafim are built on the backbone of our temidim, the values and practices that we have placed front and center during less stressed times. I suspect the same is true for others outside our local community as well.

What Are Our Temidim? 

Firstly, it’s the social bonds and emotional connections and support built by hundreds of incredible young people who want to make a vibrant Jewish life in Tel Aviv – a life that combines the very best of Jewish life and wisdom with the very best of Tel Aviv.

From the moment my wife, Corinne, and I moved to Tel Aviv in 2022, we put our emphasis on contributing wherever we could in this city to those in need. We’d learned from building a community in downtown Manhattan for seven years that this was the way to build community – to integrate ourselves into the life of a city, to be useful, to feel its pain, to lift it up. 

This is what we’ve done in Tel Aviv. On Hanukkah, members of our community lit candles with 40 Holocaust survivors in the city. On Purim, we made 300 care packages for those suffering from homelessness in Tel Aviv and created a special relationship with the L’Sova Gagon (Shelter) near Charles Clore Park. On Pesach, and then again at Rosh Hashanah, we fed the poor in the south of the city by raising huge amounts of money for and working hundreds of hours at a soup kitchen in Tel Aviv’s HaTikvah neighborhood. On Shavuot, we spread our wings and sent 14 volunteers from Tel Aviv to Romania to give Ukrainian Jewish orphans who have been relocated there an amazing chag.

It is exciting and obvious during wartime, a time of national peril, to do everything we can to save our people. But none of these musafim would have or could have existed, if we did not have the backbone of our temidim. Our temidim developed the muscle that said, “Part of being in this city is that we are going to be the ones who help, who remember those that others have forgotten.” Had we not done this, then, as a community, we would not have been able to spring into action as we have done.

Temidim at a Time of Mussafim

All of which brings me to what took place a few nights ago. 

L’Sova Gagon is a homeless shelter serving the unhoused community of Tel Aviv. When the war started, a member of our community who, over the past several months, had been spending hours volunteering at the shelter checked in and discovered the following problem. The shelter relies on a steady flow of donations of clothes and toiletries to provide its residents with the basics. Everything that comes in is folded beautifully and placed in a room that feels like a shop, to provide charity with dignity.

But when the war began, everything dried up. All donations, both monetary and physical items, were understandably redirected to those affected by the war. The problem was that hundreds of individuals whose lives had hit rock bottom even before the war were now deprived of the very basics of clothing. Just because there’s a crisis doesn’t mean that the problems that were there beforehand go away.

What to do? Enter the Schimmel family, friends who maintain deep roots in the UK, so much so that they have been able to arrange, amongst many other things, a clothing drive that has brought and continues to bring tens of thousands of items of new clothing to Israel at this time. Yoni Schimmel reached out to ask me if we knew how these clothes could be of use. I replied asking if a portion of them could be used for our friends at the shelter in addition to helping provide clothes for those who had fled the south and north. “Fully support… with pleasure” was his reply.

As of this week, our third shipment of clothes arrived at the homeless shelter – 45 full duffel bags so far. In total, the astonishing generosity of the Anglo-Jewish community will have 300 suitcases of clothes ready to send to our projects. Two people picked up the bags from the airport: a lawyer in our community and Eliyahu, a father of three from Netivot near Gaza, who has been evacuated from his home and lost his income and whom we are glad to be able to pay to drive for us, supporting, in turn, his desires to both earn a salary and help others.

During a time of musafim it can be easy to forget the temidim. But the musafim would never exist without the temidim. At the shelter, we managed to use the energy of the musaf emergency to make sure that our temidim were looked after as well.

“Come and hear: the daily offerings precede the additional offerings.” (Babylonian Talmud, Zevachim 90b)

For me, this message is a profound one for our community, both reflecting its reality and helping to shape its future. But it’s equally valuable for others, whether in other communities or people who do not participate in any organized community structure at all. 

If you are someone who has been volunteering to help meet the basic needs of evacuees, if you’ve been helping your local area, if you’ve been working in the fields, if you’ve been making other people’s lives easier during this period, if you’ve been providing emotional or psychological support either to strangers or to people you care about – then you’ve been contributing to musafim during this time of trial and need.

I encourage you to think about the details of your personal structure of temidim that enabled you to offer musafim when they were needed. Think about what you get from them, what you give, and what qualities from your regular behavior and actions have made it possible for you to rise to the occasion now. 

Right now, we are all focusing on meeting the needs obviously in front of us. The habits and lessons we’re learning from this moment have the potential to be tremendously valuable afterwards, enhancing our daily lives and those around us. This situation, despite its many challenges, could become a powerful foundation to help each of us build a reality in which we give and receive, to the enrichment of all.

About the Author
Joe Wolfson is the director of the Amital Center at Har Etzion and co-director and rabbi of JLIC TLV - a community of young olim in Tel Aviv working in partnership with local synagogues and organisations. From 2015 to 2022 he served as the JLIC Rabbi at NYU in downtown Manhattan. He is passionate about building welcoming Jewish communities in urban environments that are deeply connected to their surroundings. In 2020 he was recognised as one of The Jewish Week’s 36 under 36 for his Covid relief work.
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