Selected Sermon/Article
2002-09-16 Yom Kippur by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Yom Kippur/Yizkor Sermon
Yom Kippur Yizkor Appeal 5763/2002

In my opinion, the most moving and meaningful prayer of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service is Unesaneh Tokef. One passage in this masterpiece that I'd like to focus upon in my remarks today, appears to be contradictory. It says:

U'bshofar gadol yee'tah'kah, v'kol d'mahmah yee'sha'mah

The great shofar is sounded, and a gentle whisper (or 'small sound') is heard.

The first part of this verse implies that the shofar produces a loud note. Why, then, is only a small sound heard?

Evidently, it's possible to a loud, high pitched and piercing note, AND for the listener to receive only a barely audible sound. The problem, however, isn't with the volume and quality of the sound, but the refusal of the listener to hear. Someone can blow a shofar gadol -- a great shofar -- but we may only hear a kol damamah dakah.

There are many instances where there is a wide gap between the sound that is emitted and the the manner in which it is received. Let me cite a few examples to illustrate what I mean.

I recently came across a book written by Nora Levin titled 'The Holocaust." The author worked on that volume for a decade. She collected documents which indicate that the alarm that was sounded by European Jewry was loud and clear.

Gevald! Ratevet! Help Us! Save Us! they cried.

Our brethren were begging for their lives. Numerous governments were contacted to permit Jews to enter their lands. At first, the Nazis were willing to let Jews go wherever they wanted. But no country, not even the United States, was willing to admit a sizable number of our people. And Hitler finally destroyed 6 million of our kin in cold blood.

Thus, history records that the great shofar -- the thundering and agonizing cry of Jews -- was sounded. The world, however, heard it only as a kol demamah dakah, as a faint plea.

In fact, many sought to hush up the entire matter. When some Jewish leaders were knocking at the doors of our State Department and of the President, sounding the shofar gadol and weeping about the dire peril confronting the Jews of Europe, the officials characterized the cry from abroad as a demamah dakah. They said that the tragedy was grossly exaggerated and that the reports were not completely authentic or true.

Another instance occurred 29 years ago today. A tekiah gedolah that should have rocked the capitols of the world went virtually unheeded. I refer, of course, to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when the combined forces of Egypt and Syria, backed by other Arab States and by the might of the former Soviet Union and its satellites, made their nefarious and unprovoked onslaught on Israel.

The Arabs were sabre-rattling and lusting for Jewish blood. Did the United Nations hear that loud call? They termed it propaganda, and belittled the frantic pleas of Israel's representatives.

Thank G-d, that when the life of Israel hung in the balance when its future and the future of the Jewish people were thrust into war, the defenders of Israel heard the call. The put aside their taleism and machzorim, and mobilized to meet and repel the enemy.

And it wasn't just the soldiers in Israel who heard the call. Diaspora Jewry rallied to Israel's economic defense, and contributed hundreds of millions of dollars -- including a whopping $500 million in Israel Bonds.

A third and glaring example of the contrast between the loud voice of the shofar and the weak note that is actually heard, is the reaction to the modern Palestinian terror campaign that is about to enter its third year.

It's impossible to look back at the year 5762 without feelings of pain for the hundreds of Israelis who were murdered or maimed. The Intifada appeared in three main forms this year -- each with a special significance. The first form were attacks in youth clubs, discotheques, schools and school buses. In other words: the murder of our children.

The second form was typified by the scores murdered last Pesach on the Seder night, in Netanyah. This attack signified an attempt to destroy our freedom, which all Jews celebrate at Pesach.

The third form of attack was the murder of foreign students, most notably at the Hebrew University just a few weeks ago. The attack on students who came from abroad to study in Israel signifies an attempt to sever the bonds that connect Israel with Jews all over the world.

This systematic attempt to destroy our future, to destroy our freedom, to destroy the bond of Israelis with the Jewish people, and to destroy our hopes for peace to live with our neighbors in the Middle East -- is a tekiah gedolah the likes of which no reasonable, decent, fair minded person can't avoid hearing.

If I was unfamiliar with Jewish history, I'd say that it was unbelievable what a corrupt and cynical world we live in today. A world which is deaf to the cries of the Israeli victims. A world that has seen in the past year a tremendous escalation of anti-Semitism here and abroad. A European continent whose earth bears the ashes of our parents and grandparents that has seen the boycotting of Israeli products, the ban in some places of scheitah, and in general, has turned against Israel in its fight for survival.

We live in a world that in large part is devoid of justice and decency, and which refuses to hear the call of the shover.

There is, however, much that we can do. We dare not let complacency blind us to the very real needs that Israel faces at this time, and the practical tangible things we can do to help. What can I do for Israel, you are asking? Let me give you a 4 question test.

1) Who would appreciate a bundle of 'Shana Tova' cards, or simply a letter to boost morale?

Answer: An Israeli solider. Would you like to send a letter or write a card to an Israeli soldier sometime during the next year? I have the address in my office. Please ask me.

2) What has caused a $1.2 -1.5 billion loss per year in revenue to Israel?

Answer: Drop off in tourism due to the Palestinian terror campaign is costing Israel as much as $1.5 billion a year. Excellent missions leave for Israel on a regular basis. Consider going to Israel this year to spend money, and show support.

3) What would you say, if the person sitting next to you said, 'Tell me three ways I can buy Israeli products in America?

Answer: a) online b) vendor fairs, and c) local grocery stores

4) Banks around the world are hesitant to lend money to Israel because of the Palestinian Terror Campaign -- and when they do, it is for limited periods of time because of the uncertainties. What can I do?

Answer: Israel Bonds

I'd like to tell you something very interesting that I learned about Israel Bonds, this year. I was under the impression that many or most synagogues and Temples in the St. Louis area supported Israel Bonds, and had an appeal on Yom Kippur.

I had a chat with Marc Rosen a few months ago, and was both astonished and proud. To my astonishment, I found out that of all the Temples and Synagogues in St. Louis -- and there must be 30 of them -- only one synagogue in addition to Nusach Hari Bnai Zion conducts an appeal for Israel Bonds. Hard to imagine, isn't it? I was proud, when I learned that not only does NHBZ contribute generously to Israel Bonds, but that last year as a congregation we went from having bought $18,000 in bonds in 2001, to having purchased $32,000 in 2002 -- an increase of close to 100%.

Your purchase of Israel Bonds makes a difference. I'd like to suggest that we, as a congregation, strive for the goal of pledging $50,000 in Israel Bonds today. That, together with the other suggestions I've made, will say to our beleaguered brethren in Israel that we here in St. Louis have heard their call. We have to do more than simply feel the pain of those suffering in Israel; Writing to soldiers in Israel, traveling to Israel, purchasing Israeli products and Israel Bonds (and other things to do to help Israel that I haven't mentioned) will give concrete expression to what I know is in the hearts of each and every one of us here. We're about to recite Yizkor. You have your pledge cards. Please make a commitment with your heart, and with your pocketbook, to help Israel.