by Rabbi Howard Jacobi Rueben, Head of School

I joined Debby in Israel this week, where she has been a miluim savta – the Hebrew expression for a grandmother who comes to help her Israeli grandchildren when one of their parents is called up as a soldier. (My stepson has been back in uniform for ten weeks here). 

For my Winter Break, I am volunteering in Israel (making or packing meals for soldiers, picking fruit and vegetables at farms with no laborers available to do that, helping at celebrations for families that have been relocated from their homes because of Hamas or Hezbollah rockets and threats, standing in solidarity with families of those still held hostage). And supporting family and friends whose lives are so deeply disrupted by the war. 

There is an extraordinary outpouring of support for soldiers who are fighting to protect Israel and its inhabitants. When Israeli soldiers in uniform walk into a coffee shop, they are applauded. In just my first two days of making and packing meals, I’ve been amazed at the colorful array of volunteers of all ages – from teens to those in their 90s, from all places (from safer cities in Israel from New York to Sydney, from the Bay Area to Boston), from all backgrounds (from high school to high tech, from teachers to filmmakers, from caterers to cab drivers). California to Australia, and South Africa, from all backgrounds.

And moved by the messages of support and solidarity that teens from Tel Aviv to Baltimore are writing on each meal package such as ”Grateful that you are guarding the home” or “Thank you for watching over us at sea and on the land.” 

Which brings me to the Torah portion this week, Vayechi. In it we are reminded why Judaism is named for our biblical ancestor Judah. A humble, imperfect human being who demonstrates both a growth mindset and the capacity to seek forgiveness for past wrongs. Early in the Torah his arrogance generally and his hatred for his brother Joseph threaten the Jewish future. But as the first human in literature, let alone Torah, to stand up to seek forgiveness, to humble oneself on account of past errors, he exemplifies two Jewish values – 

seeking forgiveness and standing up for one’s brothers and sisters. As Rabbi Riskin has written of Judah, “by taking responsibility for Benjamin, [Judah] does what he did not do for Joseph. Judah demonstrates authentic humility and repentance.” 

I thought of that teaching about Judah and from this week’s Torah portion when reading a social media post, penned by the mother of an Israeli soldier who recently returned home from the war. She calls her post, “A Coat of Many Colors” and it illustrates the power each of us has to stand in solidarity with Israel at this dark hour. 

A Coat of Many Colors by Rachel Moshkovitch

My son returned from battle, his duffel bursting

with things that I had not packed for him.

Socks donated by a community in Argentina

A quilted blanket smelling like someone else’s home

A blue towel from a family from the Moshav

Tzitzit from Jerusalem

A fleece jacket, gifted by a high tech company

A scarf knitted by an elderly lady

Undershirts purchased by a Paybox group

A sheet that was given to him by a friend

Gloves bought by teenage girls

A jacket from the closet of someone who came and requested to give.

I spread out all of these garments

and weaved together a new coat of many colors.

See, Yosef, your brothers were there for you.

Then Moshkovitch quotes Gen. 43:8 from this week’s Torah portion: Judah says, “I will stand up for him; you may hold me responsible [for him].”