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Sermons and Thoughts

Bring them home – Now!

02 December 2023
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

The connections between our sidra, Vayishlach and 7 October are just too awful, so painful. So many parallels that scream out and bring back such trauma. But this morning, I asked for us to read of the abduction and assault of Dina by a man, the son of a neighbouring Chieftain.

This morning, I want to connect us to Karina Ariev, who has been abducted and assaulted by men, the children of a neighbouring People.

Karina Ariev, is the cousin of Anna, a Manager of the Kol Haneshama Congregation in Jerusalem. We have had previous mifgashim – encounters with Kol Haneshama. Ark members visited in June 2022 and we met online earlier this year to try to understand the popular Democracy Movement.

One of the reasons for me to be in Israel this past week was to hug their Rabbi and  my friend, Rabbi Oded Mazor and to work alongside members of the Congregation planting broccoli in a field that otherwise would have remained fallow without labour. I was due to meet Anna but she needed leave.

This is the report on 9 October on CNN:

An Israeli soldier “basically called to say goodbye” before she was kidnapped by militants on Saturday morning, her sister told CNN.

“She called me, then my parents. She basically called to say goodbye, that she loved us,” Alexandra (Sasha) Ariev (24) said about her sister Karina. Karina, a 19-year-old corporal with the Israel Defense Forces, was stationed at the Nahal Oz base at the border with Gaza.

Karina was one of the ‘eyes of the army’ – the female observers who worked arduous shifts in horrendous conditions. Her last message at 7:40am, Saturday 7 October, on WhatsApp was that “the terrorists are here.”

On Saturday, Karina’s family identified her bloodied face in a Telegram video, where men can be heard shouting “This is nothing, we are just starting.”

After the family reported the video to Israeli authorities, Ariev said they eventually confirmed Karina had been abducted.

Ariev believes her sister is now a hostage in Gaza, because the family “didn’t get any match with the DNA from the corpses found on the base.”

“I’m devastated inside, and my parents are crying all day long,” Ariev said from Jerusalem.

This past week in Jerusalem, I had the privilege of learning from Rabbi Dalia Marx, one of the foremost contemporary liturgists and academics.

She noted that the latest Reform siddur, Tefillat Ha’Adam, published in 2020, did not include the traditional prayer for the practice of pidyon shvuyim, redemption of the captive.

The practice in the Talmud (Bava Batra 8b), is described as a “mitzvah rabbah – a great mitzvah.” So great that captivity, it states, is worse than starvation and death. Maimonides, one of our greatest philosophers and theologians, and a physician, was known for his rational thought. This slips when it comes to pidyon shvuyim, citing Torah verses, one after the other to magnify the commandment and even suggests that one who delays in ransoming a captive is considered like a murderer. Whilst there are exceptions cited and we will study them together this coming Friday at Parashat Ha’Shavua, what seems evident is that the sad necessity to pray for the redemption of the captive, was a reality for our People throughout time.

Except in Israel, the prayer was not included in 2020. Was it that after the release of Gilad Shalit, Israelis felt safe? Apart from individual cases might we say it was last relevant decades ago with imprisoned Jews in the Arab Lands or the Refusenik Jews, those refused permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union. We now know that other Jews did experience oppression in more recent times but never could we conceive that 249 Jews would be kidnapped and be held in captivity; that 136 are still held captive, alive – but in what condition – or dead on Day 57 of this horrific war.

The ringing message this week on being in the State of Israel, that no sense could avoid, was “Bring them home – Now!” Before any other thought, hostages.

This morning is the beginning of our Ark Synagogue campaign to support the Ariev Family and the whole Congregation of Kol Haneshama. You will see Karina’s picture alongside this sermon and through this week we will introduce ways to support the family and advocate for Karina’s release. As we start lighting candles for Chanukkah, may we send sparks of positive light into the world.

Sasha, in an interview on the Israel Story podcast, states that it feels like time has stopped. I am trying to remember that our earth is still spinning, and the sun comes up and the moon comes up. But we are standing now. And we are in the same video and in just plays in loops.

For now, on this Shabbat morning we can but pray.

Let me suggest to you that you make it your practice to recite (on p. 118)

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haOlam, matir assurim.

We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe…and then in our Siddur translated as, ‘for the joy of freedom’ but that we may colloquially cite as, ‘provide freedom for captives,’ or as is recited in Israel, ‘Bring them home – Now!’

And on this morning, to conclude with the words of Maimonides in a letter found in the Cairo Geniza:

Our Siblings, the entire House of Israel, who are in trouble and captivity, who stand between the sea and the land. May HaMakom, God have mercy on them. And bring them out of trouble for salvation, from darkness to light, And from slavery to redemption. Now, swiftly and soon. And let us say, Amen.