Josh Jury

Pekudei: A Reminder of Community Activism in Ancient and Modern Israel

AMHSI students packaged 1,500 bags of food, toiletries, and notes. Picture shows these packages on their way to families and soldiers effected by the war. Photo taken on October 9, 2023 by author (Josh Jury).
AMHSI students packaged 1,500 bags of food, toiletries, and notes. Picture shows these packages on their way to families and soldiers effected by the war. Photo taken on October 9, 2023 by author (Josh Jury).

This week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, is the last in Exodus, and it signifies the beginning of the Jewish people’s transformation from a family into a nation. This portion also serves as a testament to the Jewish State today, and how we continue to act as a nation, but also as a greater Jewish family. Several key components of Pekudei resonate with the demands of our Jewish nation in modern times; upholding strong, functioning communities, giving tzedakah, and having accountable leaders who uplift our people. 

These challenges were paramount at the start of our life as a new nation, just as they are today in modern Israel and for Jewish communities across the world. In practice, we are still wrestling with how to function as this family and nation. We need communities that give back and leaders that follow their obligation to serve virtuously in facilitating and maintaining our strong Jewish community, especially amidst the most difficult of times. Exodus 38:21-40:38 also serves as a biblical reminder; a reminder that within our Jewish Kehillah, anyone can step up and become a leader. 

This past semester I experienced the beauty of this timeless and biblical message firsthand. I found myself immersed in a Jewish community and I learned the importance of stepping up amidst difficult times and giving back to a community that had generously supported me. As an American student attending a high school in Israel, I was comforted by my friends and teachers who truly felt like family. I knew that studying abroad could be a challenge at any age, but as a high schooler, my dream felt especially daunting. I was 6000+ miles away from my immediate family and the States, and yet, I found myself grounded and comforted in my new home. I grappled with the obstacles of studying in Israel as a teen with enthusiasm. 

Of course, the war was an obstacle that none of my classmates and I could have ever imagined. I think often to the night prior, October 6th. My classmates and I were on this beautiful kibbutz in Gezer, just outside of Jerusalem. We were brought warmly into a new community as we joined in the celebration of Simchat Torah. And we were greeted by new and smiling faces as we danced and sang and read the final verses of the Torah. Though my classmates and I were among strangers, I felt like I was with family. 

The next morning, our realities turned upside down. We were woken in our Jerusalem hotel by the sounds of the missile alert sirens. And seconds later our madrichim calmly told us we needed to get up and rush to the bomb shelter more than seven stories below. I remember the sheer confusion, sadness, and panic of our community. All of us were still in our pajamas, most didn’t have time to put on shoes or even grab phones. When we got to the last steps of the building and arrived at the shelter, the expressions on everyone’s faces were that of distress. Most of us were sleeping in for Shabbat and didn’t have services or afternoon activities until much later in the day. I was even signed up for yoga in the park with my friends at noon, but here at 9 am, we all sat on the floor of a shelter looking for answers and in complete disbelief.

When I think of this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, this is the moment I think back to. October 7th is the day when my reality changed in Israel, and ultimately, the day the reality for Jewish people all across the world changed. Our Jewish community has attested to the importance of working together, stepping up amidst times of prosperity, and in times of adversity, and the war was no different.

In the Torah story of Pekudei, Moses steps up as a leader and works to organize the people of Israel in contributing to the building of their sanctuary, or Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is this portable sanctuary that the Hebrew tribes could gather in while they wandered the desert before they arrived at the Promised Land. Since this sanctuary was more of a portable tent, than the permanent Temple structure built in Jerusalem many years later, it involved the gathering of the community to work together and build it. These weren’t easy times. The Hebrew tribes were in the wilderness on their journey, but despite the hardships and resource scarcity, they brought forward their precious stones, metals, spices, and linens. Two of the people Moses had appointed to oversee this Tzedakah for the Tabernacle, Bazalel and Oholiab, proclaimed, “The people are bringing more than is needed” (Exodus 36:5).

When the war in Israel began, my campus community stepped up, and the greater Jewish community did, too. Two days after the war, I, along with my AMHSI student family packed 1,500 bags containing food, toiletries, and notes for the families displaced by the war and the soldiers called to protect their country. The students rallied to quickly create a JNF fundraiser to support the initiative, and within several weeks we raised upwards of $100,000. I even remember talking to friends and teachers in Israel, who’d gone to donate blood for Magen David Adom. Hundreds of Israelis had gathered to donate, and the lines went on and on, resulting in some waiting in line for 11 hours. There was such a strong force of unity and community coming together, that at one point, just like the story of the Tabernacle, the people were “bringing more than is needed” (Exodus 36:5). In such a devastating time, Israelis and Jewish people all across the world were stepping up as leaders to help uphold our strong, but hurting community. 

At its core, Pekudei is a story of hope in building an engaged and organized community. As a Jewish people, we had to learn to unite as a family and embrace our spiritual beliefs through the building of the Tabernacle. In modern times, this plight to stay actively involved in uplifting and giving back is still a virtuous task. Whether we are building the Tabernacle, fundraising, or donating blood; there are a plethora of ways we can be active components of our community today. Pekudei teaches us that being an integral part of a community relies on us stepping up as leaders when the time is right.

About the Author
Josh Jury expedited his high school graduation in the U.S. following a semester at Heller High School in Israel that was cut short by war. He is a voice for education on combating Antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and a Gen Z voice for Israel. Josh recently took part in the URJ Teen Israel Organizing Fellowship, and was honored as one of JUF’s 18 Under 18 for his work representing Israel.
Related Topics
Related Posts