Shavuot 2016

Rabbi Rachel Ain – June 13, 2016 

Shavuot is a holiday of stories. Stories of people who sat together and who received Torah.

Understanding people’s stories are amazing. And it is truly amazing when we know their names. When I think about people’s names I recall an incredible poem written an Israeli poet, Zelda.

Everyone has a name


Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents

Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear

Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls

Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors

Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing

Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love

Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work

Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness

Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.

Unfortunately there are too many stories where names have been lost and dignity haven’t been given to those who have died. Recently, there was a tragic story in the NY Times sharing that Over a million people are buried in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island.

As the investigation shared, twice a week or so, loaded with bodies boxed in pine, a New York City morgue truck passes through a tall chain-link gate and onto a ferry that has no paying passengers. Its destination is Hart Island, an uninhabited strip of land off the coast of the Bronx in Long Island Sound, where overgrown 19th-century ruins give way to mass graves gouged out by bulldozers and the only pallbearers are jail inmates paid 50 cents an hour.

There, divergent life stories come to the same anonymous end.

No tombstones name the dead in the 101-acre potter’s field that holds Leola Dickerson, who worked as one family’s housekeeper for 50 years, beloved by three generations for her fried chicken and her kindness. She buried her husband as he had wished, in a family plot back in Alabama. But when she died at 88 in a New York hospital in 2008, she was the ward of a court-appointed guardian who let her house go into foreclosure and her body go unclaimed at the morgue.

This is tragic and it reminds me of the importance of days like this, yizkor, where we take the time to remember our loved ones-to look around the room, and whether we know each other or not, to realize that people’s lives are important because each of you are here to remember them.

All of us, each of them, stand together as members of the Jewish community-bound together by our shared narratives and values.

Each of our pilgrimage festivals commemorate and celebrate different unique aspects of what it means to be Jewish. Shavuot celebrates our commitment as Jews to one another and to God. We look at the entirety of our people as b’nai yisrael and as we remember our loved ones today from our families, we also recall those in the extended Jewish family.

So today-on yizkor-as we recall our communal experience of r3eceiving torah and remembering our individual loved ones…there are four names in particular to mention:

4 Israelis murdered-recalling their names today

  • Ido Ben Ari, 42, from Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv- Ben-Ari was a father of two. He served in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit during his IDF service and was working in a senior position at The Coca-Cola Company’s Israel branch; Ben Ari’s wife is recovering from the attack.
  • Ilana Naveh, 39, from Ramat Gan- Naveh, a mother of four, was out to celebrate her 40th birthday,

Mila Misheiv 32, from Rishon LeZion, south of Tel Aviv- Thirty-two-year-old Mishayev, the youngest of the four victims, was set to be married in the near future. She was waiting in the restaurant for her boyfriend when the attack took place and in fact, even after getting shot managed to call her fiancé.

  • Michael Feige, 58, from southern Israel- Dr. Michael Feige, who spent his career writing and lecturing about the effects of war and terrorism on the Israeli psyche, was one of the victims of Wednesday night’s terror attack in Sarona Market.

May we ensure that not only all of our loved ones in our family but the loved ones in our extended family, forever be a blessing. May we learn from their lives not only in life but in death.