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?