Shabbat Shalom From Federation

Dear Friend,

Shabbat shalom!

This week, our Federation family was saddened to hear about the death of our Federation’s CEO’s younger sister Hannah Rae Levy, z”l. Nora’s sister, a lifelong resident of the Washington, D.C. area, died unexpectedly on Monday night at the age of 33. The funeral was held earlier today in Clarksburg, MD, and Shiva arrangements are pending. Hannah is survived by her husband,  Andy Gruhin, her son, Bobby Indigo Gruhin, her parents, Stephen Levy and Lois Zuckerman, sister Nora Gorenstein (nee Levy), brother-in-law Eric Gorenstein, and nieces Sofia and Jackie. On her husband’s side, Hannah is survived by her mother-in-law Susan Bierman, her father-in-law Mark Gruhin, her sister-in-law Sami Gruhin and her brother-in-law Alex Gruhin, his wife Ariel, and their daughter Daphne.

Yesterday, we sent out a community-wide email from Rabbi Wallk, Temple Beth El, sharing the sad news with everyone. If you missed the email and would like to read it, you can click here. You can read the obituary here. We are thinking of Nora and her family and send them love and strength during this difficult time.

For today’s Shabbat email, Rabbi Jeremy Master, Sinai Temple, has kindly written for us this special D’var Torah message:

As the Israelites were wandering through the desert, they came in contact with the Moabites. Part of their worship practices was the common practice of cultic prostitution. The Moabite women use their charms to persuade the Israelite men to engage in their idol worship. God commands Moses to take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before God in order to turn God’s wrath away. Moses then tells Israel’s officials to kill all of the men who attached themselves to Baal-Peor. After this one of the Israelites, a chieftain of the Simeonite tribe, brought a daughter of a Midianite tribal leader into the Tent of Meeting. Moses and other Israelite leaders were just sitting and weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and did not take action. Pinchas, the son of the High Priest Elazar, took a spear in his hand, followed the couple into the chamber and he killed them. God then tells Moses that through Pinchas’s act of passion, God’s wrath has subsided. God grants Pinchas a special covenant of peace and a covenant of priesthood for his descendants for all time.

While some commentators praise Pinchas, many in Jewish tradition are disturbed by his actions. They point out that Moses sees this couple walk past him, but does not signal others to punish them. Without speaking up or suggesting a hearing or trial, Pinchas rushes to execute them. Pinchas does not consult with Moses, who is the highest authority of law within the community, but takes the law and power of prosecution into his own hands. One commentator explains that Moses and others were so upset with Pinchas’s fanatical behavior that they were ready to excommunicate him. They were bothered by his circumvention of Moses’ authority, by his self-righteous assumption that he did not need the permission of the community, or of the courts, for his zealous behavior. For this reason, just as they were about to excommunicate him, God intervened and announced that Pinchas’s actions were praiseworthy and were deserving of the reward of a covenant of peace. This commentator seems to be saying that Pinchas may have been performing an action that God desired, but by taking the law into his own hands, he erred in the way in which he acted. 

In our current times, we have seen the terror that such fanaticism can cause. There are people who believe they have exclusive knowledge of what God wants and they must be the one’s to execute God’s law, even to the point of killing themselves to destroy others who they believe breached the law. These zealots take the law into their own hands and out of the hands of the proper process of law.  Anyone can justify horrifying actions by claiming they were following God’s teaching. Pinchas can be a dangerous model for those who seek such fanatical actions because he is rewarded for taking the law into his own hands. As Israeli author Amos Oz explains, “fanatics tend to live in a black and white world with a simplistic view of good against evil.” Our Jewish tradition evolved to where we embrace practices that promote peace through compassion and understanding. We must learn to respect the differences in all human beings and promote that spirit throughout the world. May the time come when the danger of fanaticism in this world is defeated by this spirit of understanding and compassion.

In community-wide news, we would like to remind everyone about the upcoming Dignity Grows Packing Party happening on July 21st, 2023! As you may know, Dignity Grows is our latest program, which provides free hygiene products to neighbors in need while honoring the recipient’s dignity. At this upcoming packing party, volunteers of all ages will put together individual kits each with a month’s worth of hygiene products, to be distributed through the Amherst Survival Center. We will also have sundae ice cream bar, courtesy of Herrell’s Ice Cream and Bakery, which is certified kosher. To learn more about volunteering, partnering, or making in-kind/cash donations to our Dignity Grows program, please visit

We are also moving full speed ahead with our first Federation Ride to Provide 2023! As you may know, this family-friendly bike fundraiser was originally created by UMass Hillel and they have invited us to to take ownership and expand Ride to Provide beginning with this year’s event. We are super excited and hope the community will join us by registering for the race, volunteering in the planning and execution, and/or by sponsoring the event.  

We wouldn’t be able to do all  that we do without you, friend, and the thousands of members of our community who participate in events, receive our email updates, volunteer, and donate to support our essential work–here, in Israel, and around the world! Thank you for being our partners and our supports. We could not have come this far without you!

Updates from our network, the Jewish Federations of North America:

Following a difficult day in Israel, Israeli troops have withdrawn from Jenin, signaling the end of the two-day IDF operation there. One Israeli soldier was killed as the fighting drew to a close. Also yesterday, nine Israeli civilians were injured during a terror attack in North Tel Aviv.

Following a difficult day in Israel, Israeli troops have withdrawn from Jenin, signaling the end of the two-day IDF operation there. One Israeli soldier was killed as the fighting drew to a close. Also yesterday, nine Israeli civilians were injured during a terror attack in North Tel Aviv.

To read more updates from JFNA, please click here.

Best wishes for a joyful, restful, and healthy weekend of peace.

Shabbat shalom from your Jewish Federation family!