The leaders of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates came to Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg with a question last year.
The sisterhood leaders told their synagogue’s spiritual leader that they wanted participants in the Young Israel’s annual mishloach manot project, which sends food baskets to hundreds of recipients on Purim, to make a political and financial statement by only including Israeli products.
The activist Queens congregation, which sponsors a series of social action programs on behalf of Israel and the synagogue’s local community, had completed a five-year-long project, conducted at Purim, which raised funds for refurbishing a Torah scroll for an Israeli army base.
This year’s project would be a strike against the international BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement and serve as economic support for Israeli businesses, they told Rabbi Hochberg. They asked him how they could expand it beyond their congregation.
The rabbi contacted the National Council of Young Israel, which endorsed the idea – the National Council is urging its 150 member congregations to have congregants fill their mishloach manot packages exclusively with items from Israel on Purim, which begins on the evening of Wednesday, March 23.
Mishloach manot (Hebrew for the sending of portions), is based on a commandment derived in a verse in the Scroll of Esther; mishloach manot drives have become a popular Purim-time activity in many Jewish homes and congregations.
This year, said Rabbi Hochberg, his congregation’s project will feature anti-BDS tags explaining the provenance of each package’s products, “To show our moral support” for Israeli businesses that are the target of the BDS movement.
“They’re on the front line,” he said.
Participants can order products directly from Israel or from local vendors — as long as items come from Israel proper or from businesses in the West Bank across the Green Line that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, Rabbi Hochberg said, noting that Young Israel doesn’t differentiate between the two areas.
As a facet of BDS, some supporters, including the European Union, have begun to label items made on the West Bank, which they consider subject to Israeli “occupation.”
“The message” of the Young Israel campaign “is about showing a connection between Jews” in the diaspora and those in the Jewish homeland, said Rabbi Hochberg.
“We must battle against the Hamanic decree of the BDS movement,” said Rabbi Binyamin Hammer, director of rabbinic services at the National Council. “Rabbi Hochberg and his congregation … are our modern-day Mordechais and Esthers.”
Rabbi Hochberg and his wife Karen, who during 25 years at the Young Israel congregation have pioneered such activities as a Memorial Day Run for Israel and a collection of blankets for homeless people in their area, will be honored at the synagogue’s annual journal dinner Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation.
Members of Rabbi Hochberg’s congregation will send at least 1,000 mishloach manot packages on Purim next month, he said. His family’s will probably include a bottle of grape juice, some crackers and some candy.
“Everything will be from Israel, he said.”
For information about the Young Israel of Jamaica Estate’s mishloach manot project contact Rivkyorlow@aol.com.