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Shabbat Shalom In Haiti

10/20/2023 11:23:58 AM


Rabbi Steven Lindemann

I am about to start Shabbat here at Have Faith Haiti, and, strangely, I am feeling a real sense of Shalom.

It has, of course, been another very difficult week for Israel and the Jewish people. Ever since the Hamas attack on Israel, my days have been full of Zoom briefings, rallies, meetings, e-mails with family and friends in Israel, and making donations. When at home, my TV was constantly on CNN or MSNBC or some network Evening News. No TV down here and no time for Zoom. But even down here, I have had phone calls from the Rabbinical Assembly and the Cherry Hill Human Relations Committee, and the e-mail continues, along with online news updates.

Comfort: I have heard some supportive words, here at the Orphanage.  Actually, even before I arrived, I had texts from two of the volunteers, who were at home in Michigan, asking how I was holding up and telling me that they hope my family and friends are safe. They stand withIsrael. When Yonel, the director of Have Faith Haiti picked me up at the airport in the armored vehicle, the first thing he asked was about Israel. That was also the first thing that Halie, the Coordinator of Volunteers, wanted to talk about. We had a long conversation in her office. She
has been following the news. She stands with Israel.

On my first evening, I attended devotions as usual. Devotions are the equivalent of our Ma'ariv, except much more free-form—some prayers, a reading, much singing with drums and guitars, and finally, “Our Father” and a last quotation from scripture. The verse chosen by one of the students was Genesis 6:8–“And Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” This is the last verse of Parashat Beresheet and the prelude to the next portion of Torah, Parashat Noah.

There was no way they could have known that this was exactly where the Jewish world is in its weekly reading of the Torah.

Parashat Noah. We all know the story of the great flood, the ark and the animals. One wordthat describes the reason for the destruction of the world resonates so powerfully, this year.The world is destroyed because of HAMAS—Violence, wanton violence. For us, as Jews, our world is reeling because of HAMAS. Israel, all of us, are suffering from the terrible, barbaric attack on Israel, all of us are mourning, all of us are saddened, anxious, angry, and disappointed, too, by those who fail to acknowledge this wanton act of terrorism, HAMAS.We cry out for retribution, for justice, and for refuge. Israel was supposed to be an ark of refuge for the Jewish people. But HAMAS has flooded in. And we now realize that we must save ourselves and each other— physically, with the army of Israel and our donations to support the bereaved, the injured, and the families of those taken hostage; politically, by lobbying our Congress and administration to continue and increase its aid to Israel and fight
against anti-Semitism; spiritually, by gathering together for prayers and rallies. All of this is how we create an ark of salvation, a safe space, and work for a better world. When I was talking about this with one of the volunteers here at Have Faith Haiti, there was immediate understanding. “It’s like the gangs in Haiti,” he said, “they attack with guns, murder, burn houses with the families in them, and kidnap people for ransom.”

This past week, the Orphanage took in four more children. Two of them little girls whose parents had been murdered by the gangs. One of the teachers moved into the old Orphanage building with her children because her home was burned down by the gangs. Many of the kids at the Orphanage have family who have been victimized, or have, themselves, suffered from the violence. HAMAS. Have faith Haiti is an Ark, a safe space, a refuge. Here, the children are protected by walls, armed guards, and adults who care for them. Here, they find spiritual refuge in learning, prayer, music, play, and in each other, their family of friends, teachers, and care-takers.













I, too, feel a sense of refuge here, in the Ark that is Have Faith Haiti. It’s an Ark of friendship, fellowship, understanding, and love. This is a spiritual refuge, a place of heartfelt faith and prayer, which, though very different from mine, is still uplifting.

I will go to devotions tonight and show them how I light candles at the beginning of Shabbat. Some of the younger children greeted me by drawing their hands toward their eyes and saying “Shalom, Shalom, Shalom,” something they had seen me do on previous visits. I will bless them, as I bless my own children and grandchildren, at home. We will experience, at least for a while, that sense of security and peace for which we all pray. HAMAS will by vanquished by the spirit of Shabbat, at least for a day. And perhaps, one day, we will all be able to go forth from the Ark to a world of Peace.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784