Community Torah Corner, November 17, 2023

Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky '02
Congregation Beth El
South Orange, NJ
Parashat Toldot

In Parashat Toldot, we are introduced the Yaakov, Jacob, as Yoshev Ohalim, a tent dweller. Compared to his brother Esau who was defined as a skillful hunter, Torah suggests that Jacob was a bit of a homebody, a couch potato. Being our namesake, after all we are B’nai Yisrael, the Children of Israel, the name that Jacob is eventually blessed with, midrash suggests in Genesis Rabbah that this actually means that Jacob was a Talmid Chacham, a scholar who spent his time in houses of study. Golda Och Academy is a school that emphasizes the importance of a robust Jewish education. Certainly then we should see each student as a Yoshev Ohalim as well. 
If there is one thing we realized this week though, we can not only be Yoshvei Ohalim. We cannot simply sit around and study the texts of our tradition. Sometimes, being Jewish also requires us to advocate loudly and proudly, and publicly, as a community. Many within the Golda Och Academy community traveled to Washington DC for a historic March for Israel, the largest single rally of the American Jewish community in history, with almost 300,000 in attendance. Our 8th-12th graders went and many in the Lower School and Middle School also attended this rally with family members. 
Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, spoke prior to Tuesday’s rally about the many reasons why people are hesitant to come, and all of them were understandable: you don’t love rallies, you don’t like large crowds, you are worried that you might disagree with what some speakers say, you mourn the loss of innocent Palestinian lives in this war, you are worried about your safety in such a large gathering of Jews, etc.  However, he concluded that in spite of all of that in times of crisis, there is value in showing up. I’d add that especially during times of distress, the concept of achdut, of unity, is essential. That doesn’t mean we have to all agree of the next steps of Israel’s war with Hamas or have the same political views. In fact, such disagreements force us to only think of achdut in the theoretical sense, rather than practical sense, which is why coming together at this time was so important. 
It was also a reminder that as Jews, we must do both. We must be Yoshvei Ohalim, like Jacob. We must support our schools, synagogues and institutions, and learn, grow, and commit to building vibrant and robust Jewish communities. But we also must be ready to rally, march and gather. We must be ready to publicly and proudly be Jewish. And we must do so together, for all of us are B’nai Yisrael, the Children of Israel. All of us are Jacob’s descendants.