Forty years ago North American Jewry came together to save Soviet Jewry. Rallies, sit-ins, and demonstrations were widespread. Natan Sharansky became the symbol and hero of those protests, and this week marks thirty years since his historic release from prison. He has now paradoxically become the object of protest. Because of his position as Chair of the Jewish Agency, the primary organization since 1929 responsible for securing the Jewish future in our ancestral homeland, he was recently targeted by thirty hecklers at Brown University who scornfully shouted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Ironic indeed for the man who now holds the Office that was held eighty years ago by David Ben Gurion.
In the face of such sad developments, what lesson can our portion of Torah furnish? Wisdom from a table and a lamp. Among the Tabernacle’s furnishings is a table that is positioned close to a Menorah (ha-menora nochach ha-shulchan) (Lev. 26:35). The Hebrew word nochach, meaning in the presence of, appears only here in the structural design to describe the rapport between the table and the Menorah. It suggests that the table is present to or aglow because of the Menorah. The table is the single most important vehicle for instilling love for Judaism. What occurs around your dining room table on Friday night in the presence weekly stories and Shabbat candles, conveys meaning, shapes memories, cements bonds, and stirs Jewish sustainability.
But there is another faith-keeping, promise-fulfilling lesson that is being realized in our time. The historic decision by Israel’s government to make a portion of the Western Wall suitable for egalitarian worship signals an historic affirmation of the wholeness of the Jewish People. Critics include those who opposed and even many who favored this change. But it is significant because it signals a compelling promise that Sharansky, the plan’s principle champion, is keeping to world Jewry. Acknowledging gratitude for the convergence of all of Judaism’s Movements for his Soviet Jewry cause decades ago, he insists that the House of Israel be whole in order to be holy.
Last week on the road to Jerusalem participants in our ADL Law Enforcement delegation asked me about the news they had read in the morning newspaper of this decision. I acknowledged it but I completely missed the point when I muttered about how long the logistics and implementation might take. What I now realize is that furnishings of the Torah’s institution which was once the focal point of worship, are still honored in the Western plaza of the Wall that upholds its sacred mountaintop where everybody gets a seat at the table.