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Israel

North Shore Jewish Center. File photo

Congregants from North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station and Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook punctuated a difficult week with a Nov. 4 event meant to inspire and unite the community.

The state of Israel declared its independence in May 1948, and to commemorate the 70th anniversary this year, North Shore Jewish Center and Temple Isaiah came together for a long-planned celebration called Celebrate Israel @ 70 which took on an additional purpose following the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

On Oct. 27, while many of the congregation at Tree of Life, and Jewish people at similar houses of worship across the country prayed, a gunman murdered 11 people and wounded seven others. It is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States in American history, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Nov. 4 celebration was aptly timed for some.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook speaks during an event at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jeff Station celebrating the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It really has been a balm, a healing experience as well as a happy experience,” said Rabbi Aaron Benson of NSJC of the event. “Given the historic events of the past week, that the event would happen this Sunday of all times has had an extra value and meaning as a moment of healing and community togetherness, in this case surrounding something hopeful and joyous.”

Committees from both synagogues had been planning the celebration for about eight months, according to Eric Steinberg, NSJC’s chairman of the Israeli Committee. The free event featured speakers discussing technology in Israel, flight attendants from El Al Israel Airlines, water desalination and its impact helping the country grow crops in the desert, lunch, events for the congregants’ children and more.

“If you notice we’re not talking politics, we’re not talking anything about that,” Steinberg said. “This was a determined thought by the committee just to do something positive … I wanted to bring the focus of Israel to the community.”

North Shore Jewish Center also hosted events in the wake of the shooting meant as a remembrance for the victims and to provide a sense of community togetherness, according to Benson. As a precaution, the rabbi said the synagogue bolstered security ahead of the event, including a Suffolk County Police Department presence.

“In many ways, the country as a whole has been in mourning and Jewish communities have responded in much the same way as when a friend might suffer a loss,” he said. “It has never happened in quite this way to the Jewish community in America before … And while one shouldn’t go through life fearful or paranoid that people are out to hurt you, the idea that in all the ways a person is Jewish, one aspect of that is that there are people who may simply not like you because of your religious background. That is a feature of Jewish life, and it does mean that terrible things can happen because of one’s religious identity.”

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah echoed much of his colleague’s sentiments in speaking to those in attendance.

“Even as we remember, even as we continue to mourn, we celebrate together, we gain inspiration from each other,” he said.

On day 5 ... we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ... It was breathtaking.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Greetings from Jerusalem, Israel! I am writing this column from the Notre Dame Hotel right outside the Jaffa Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem.

Twenty-three pilgrims from all over the metropolitan area made the commitment to journey together for eight days. We began our pilgrimage as strangers but are leaving as real friends who shared the journey of a lifetime.

Our pilgrimage began by landing in Tel Aviv where we boarded a bus that took us to the ancient seaport of Jaffa. From there we drove along the Mediterranean coast to the ruins of the ancient Roman capital of Caesarea built by Herod the Great in around 22 B.C.

We then went on to see the great Roman theater and the aqueduct in the Herodian port. From there we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I celebrated Mass on the Mount of the Beatitudes. We then proceeded to Capernaum — the city of Jesus and St. Peter. After that we visited the famous biblical city of Caesarea Philippi.

We began day 5 with a visit to the ancient city of Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. We visited the ruins of this first-century town and its synagogue, where tradition tells us Jesus himself visited, taught and preached. In the afternoon, we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where tradition says the child Jesus was born. It was breathtaking.

On days 6, 7 and 8 we visited Masada, the fortress where Jewish zealots held off the armies of the Roman Empire — choosing suicide over surrender. We went to the Dead Sea where one floats and never sinks. It was 110°F that day and most of our trip. We visited a variety of other historical and religious sites outside of Jerusalem.

The rest of our pilgrimage was spent in the Old City. We prayed at the famous Western Wall, visited the room of the Last Supper as well as the Garden of Gethsemane. I had the privilege of saying Mass at the Church of All Nations, where Jesus prayed to be spared of the cross. After Mass, we had a panoramic view from the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. We went into the Old City and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and actually walked the Stations of the Cross — Jesus’ final walk to the cross and crucifixion.

Each day was a powerful reminder of history and faith. By the end of our journey, we had gone from being a band of strangers to a community of friends grateful for the journey. 

This is my third visit to Israel. Each time I feel more enriched when I return home. The Scripture becomes more real and alive because I’ve seen firsthand the places of which it speaks.

This trip was unique because we went to Israel prepared for a lot of upheaval because of the news reports here in the States. We saw some signs of a nation at war; however, I heard firsthand a very different account of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

On my free day, I spent my time walking in the old and new city of Jerusalem talking to Jews, Muslims and Christians hearing their stories about life in Israel. Each person had the same hopes and expectations that we do — to live freely with respect, dignity and untapped possibilities to dream and make those dreams come true!

For every believer and/or lover of history, Israel should be on your bucket list. You will not be disappointed!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

North Shore Jewish Center. File photo

By Rabbi Aaron Benson

One of the truly special aspects of Jewish life is the interconnectedness of the Jewish world. This trait comes to the fore on a holiday like Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, which was celebrated on the Jewish calendar this year on May 12. Jews from around the world join together in remembering those who have died in bringing into being and defending Israel, praying for peace and security in Israel and the Middle East and celebrating the true miracle that is not just the return of the Jews to their historic homeland but also all the many accomplishments of Israel in the 68 years since it was founded.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich has Long Island roots and visited from Poland to share his experiences at the North Shore Jewish Center. Photo from Rabbi Aaron Benson
Rabbi Michael Schudrich has Long Island roots and visited from Poland to share his experiences at the North Shore Jewish Center. Photo from Rabbi Aaron Benson

The North Shore Jewish Center celebrated the special place Israel has for our community by joining the leader of another Jewish community, that of Poland, whose chief rabbi, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, was visiting Long Island last week. A native of Patchogue, Rabbi Schudrich graduated from Stony Brook University, where he was being honored during his visit. The chief rabbi has a unique attachment to NSJC, as he was a religious school teacher at our synagogue back when he was a student.

He shared with us about the situation of the Jewish community in Poland. It certainly has its challenges. The Jewish community was nearly destroyed during the Holocaust, losing 90 percent of its numbers. Communism brought about more years of persecution. But since the 1990s, there have been some signs of growth and stability. Young Polish Jews today, for example, travel to Israel as part of the Birthright program, something young American Jews do, too. Rabbi Schudrich explained how a strong connection to Israel for his community is one of the achievements of Poland’s Jews.

Learning about the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland was a hopeful story for our congregants to hear. And to learn that our co-religionists in Poland feel a deep commitment to Israel just as we do, too (our synagogue is planning a trip to Israel for this fall), brought home a deeper meaning to the holiday.

For it reminded us that no matter where Jews may live all around the world, a love for Israel inspires us all. That made our Yom Ha-Atzma’ut particularly memorable this year.

The author is the rabbi at the North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.