SHTADLAN

Wednesday, the rabbi travelled to Austin. Arriving at the parking lot of the Federation building before 5:30 a.m., together with my trusted aide and advisor, Jennifer Williams, I found a seat on the bus (Jennifer and I sat together) near a rabbi from Torah Day School. Together with a female teacher, he was chaperoning some thirteen, eighth-grade girls. The girls were joining our group of fifty, as we headed south to the Capitol Building to lobby our State Representatives. “This is an excellent opportunity to teach them the word ‘Shtadlan’”, I remarked.

Shtadlan is a Hebrew term that came to the fore, in the seventeenth century in Eastern Europe. It means one who intercedes or lobbies. Despite the notion, that our Eastern European ancestors were helpless, and that their existence was dependent upon the grace and good will of the non-Jewish community, there were some (albeit all too few) precious exceptions. Chief among them was the Shtadlan. Because of their status, these Shtadlanim were capable of securing meetings with important and at times, even exalted, officials. When it comes to serving as a Shtadlan, Elyakim Zelig from Yampol (Ukraine) was among the more notable. A little over two and a half centuries ago, he traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XIV to beg that the Holy See would exercise his influence in defending local Jews against a Blood Libel.

Thankfully times have changed. The security we Jews currently enjoy in this country is beyond the wildest dreams of our Eastern European ancestors. So too is the respect that we are accorded. Nevertheless, each one of us on that Austin bound bus, by virtue of our mission, unknowingly took on the role of Shtadlan. We met with state Senators and Representatives and spoke with them about issues that were of  importance to the Jewish Community. And we were extremely well received. Even though photography was not invented until 1839, I would find it hard to believe that Pope Benedict XIV would have granted Elyakim Zelig a photo op. Unless I’m wrong, I believe that it took two decades for an Israeli Prime Minister to be accorded the honor of a White House State Dinner. Yet, there we were, being photographed with a warm and cordial Dan Patrick, our Lieutenant Governor, who took the time to chat with us.

Personally speaking, together with Laura Levy and Karen Polan (both from Plano, whom I met for the first time just prior to our separate meetings with State Representatives Justin Holland and Jeff Leach), the reception that the three of us received from Jeff Leach will be long and fondly remembered. I asked Representative Leach to support a bill that would have the State of Texas work together with representatives from Israel on improving water conservation here in Texas. Israelis who are part of a chain of agronomists who not only transformed sand into land, but also turned the Jewish State  into an exporter of water, could surely offer ideas and guidance to representatives from the Lone Star State. I find it difficult to believe that a century ago, an official of Minsk Gubernia would have been open to any advice or suggestions  from a Shtadlan. I find it incredulous that those of the regime of Tsar Nikolai II, would willing to meet with any member from the cursed Jewish community, let alone work together with him.  Back then, the attitude would have been that the Jews know their place in society and are becoming too cocky, in thinking that they can offer advice.

The State Capitol is 3 ½ hours by bus from Tiferet. For a modern day Shtadlan, it is light years away from his historical counterpart. From being looked down upon by the Eastern European government official, today’s Shtadlan sees eye to eye with the government  official of this country. From being tolerated (at best), today’s Shtadlan is warmly received. From being despised, today’s Shtadlan is appreciated for taking the time and making the effort.

It is entirely possible, that I will be traveling down to the State Capitol again at some time in the future. Would you be interested in becoming a Shtadlan as well?

THE DEATHS OF THOSE WHO SERVE HIT A NERVE

In the aftermath of last week’s carnage, the city of Dallas immediately responded with a vigil held at Thanksgiving Square at noon on Friday. Over the weekend, any number of clergy in the city held special prayer services at their respective congregations. Kol HaKavod! G-d bless them! As one who has participated and even hosted similar events over the years, I cannot help but feel that as necessary as these vigils and services are, that such gatherings are as much for the average Dallas resident, parishioner and congregant as they are for the victims and their families. Having never met those whose lives were snuffed out last Thursday or those in the hospital either fighting for their lives or on the road to recovery, we feel helpless. In addition to making a statement to the families that we are aware of their sorrow, in addition to reminding society that carnage and mayhem will be met with neither indifference nor silence on our parts, we feel the need to do something. We show solidarity.
Solidarity, real solidarity must not in any way be limited to attending a vigil or prayer service. For those of us who’s hearts truly go out to the families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, why not try to find out more find out the bereft parents and siblings as well as the widows, widowers and orphans left behind? Perhaps funds have been established to which contributions can be made. If you are not a fund person, then perhaps you can adopt a family. After the initial shock wears off and the survivors attempt to return to normal everyday living, why not send a card, drop a note or write a letter? As much as a “mitzvah” as it is to be present at a vigil or to attend a memorial service, it’s an even “bigger mitzvah” to reach out to the stricken families after they have become yesterday’s or last month’s news. A note to bereaved family members from a complete stranger thanking them for sharing their loved one, so that he/she could protect the residents of this city quite often means more than you can imagine.
For those who are react “Jewishly” and go into “pay a Shivah call mode” there’s no reason why you can’t convert a Shivah platter into an invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner, assuming the family is pretty much all alone. Better yet, let Tiferet share in your mitzvah. Anyone who brings family of stricken Dallas Police Force officers to one of our many Shabbat dinners throughout the year does so compliments of Tiferet. Just get them here and the meal for both host and guest is on us!
As Jews, we have a unique role. We can reach out to the family and tell them that even though we cannot in any way fathom their distress, much less feel their pain, we do share something in common. Because of our history, we know what it is like to lose our loved ones for no other reason that they were Jews. To those who have lost loved ones for no other reason than they were police officers, please know that you are not alone and that we have a hug waiting for you.