February 2024

Letter from the President

Dear Members and Friends of Temple Israel,

  132 Men, Women, and Children – 118 Days of Captivity. One third of a year. As of this writing, these are the figures that represent the unknowable suffering of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. We hold out hope that negotiations will enable hostage releases without compromising Israel’s security too badly, but the optimism is difficult to sustain when the status of such talks, secret by necessity, seems to ebb and flow with the daily news cycle. Meanwhile, Israel’s military action to root out the terrorists and free the hostages is taking a terrible toll. We reel at the daily casualty reports – citizens and soldiers – but the repercussions are far deeper than these figures. World opinion in many quarters is tilting away from support for Israel, the only representative democracy in the Middle East. The government of Israel itself is in turmoil, as an embattled leader seeks to retain power with an unstable coalition of far left and far right. The nation’s economy stagnates due to the direct cost of the war, the gutted labor market, and reduced investment from internal and external sources.

  But there is always reason for optimism. I was privileged to hear the address on January 31st by David Rittberg, senior director at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton. Fresh from a recent in-depth trip to Israel, Mr. Rittberg opined that the indomitable spirit of Israel and Israelis is still evident in every quarter. While the horrors of October 7th are still fresh wounds, the kibbutznik essence is alive. The 200,000 Israelis displaced from their homes in the evacuation zone at the Gaza perimeter are managing to create ad-hoc schools and communal arrangements despite their hardships. The Hostage Families have emerged as a powerful voice, domestically and internationally, which may impact both the outcome in Gaza and the future of Israel itself. We must keep the hostages at top-of-mind, and retain our optimism as we seek peace and security for Israel. And a strong Israel depends on a strong global Jewish Community, of which we are each a part.

  This theme was echoed at our January session of the Temple Israel / Temple Concord Joint Adult Education group. Rabbi Talia Laster, the Campus Rabbi at Cornell University Hillel, led an interactive Talmud study session titled: “Areyvut: What responsibility do Jews have to one another?” As we face rising antisemitism in the world, her observation that “We are all in the same boat” rings true. Rabbi Friedman, meanwhile, has been continuing his educational offering “Jewish Quest for Wisdom.” This deep dive into works first translated by our Rabbi is a treat – I urge you to check it out. On February 9th, our Friday evening services will celebrate Scout Shabbat. Organized locally by Scoutmaster Mike Martinez, this has become an annual event at Temple Israel, and draws many Scouts – Jewish and guests alike – from the Southern Tier. I hope you will take the opportunity to brave the February chill and join us as we host this event in the sanctuary. We continue to experiment with new programs and special events – Keep your eye on our website for details! Bring your children to relax at TI on Shabbat afternoon, February 3rd, for some board games and refreshments, concluding with Havdalah. We are open to suggestions for such programs.

  We rely on each other, and I thank each of you for keeping up with your Dues commitments, and for your many other donations, large and small. Whether a memorial or a simcha, a donation to Temple Israel is appreciated in many ways. and these donations do add up. Critical to our mission is your participation in our services, classes, and programs. With some of our regulars away for Winter holidays, we particularly appreciate those who can join us in-person, and it has been great to see new faces as well!


Arthur B. Siegel
President – Temple Israel