On August 24, the Federation CJA, the central Jewish community organization in Montreal, launched its annual fundraising campaign with a remarkable event. They secured all eight screens of the newly renovated CineStarz Deluxe Cavendish movie theatre to host two “Golda” screenings featuring Helen Mirren as the iconic Israeli political figure, Golda Meir.
CJA actively follows the philanthropic tradition from Moses’ Torah, which stresses the duty to “feed the hungry and clothe the poor.” Their website features a powerful video for this year’s #StandUpCampaign, supporting the vulnerable and tackling concerns about antisemitism and Jewish identity (*1).
“Golda” kept me glued to the screen, revealing the harrowing narrative of Israeli citizens and soldiers thrust into the midst of a war initiated by Egypt and Syria, quietly backed by Jordan, on the sacred day of Yom Kippur in 1973. Faced with an unprepared army and reserves, Israel confronted an existential crisis, with the lives of six million Israelis hanging in the balance (*2).
The film meticulously portrays Meir’s leadership during this critical period. Serving as the Prime Minister of Israel and the designated commander-in-chief, Meir navigated the challenges with unwavering determination. Recently released archival footage from the battlefield provides a haunting glimpse into the atrocities of that historical event (*3).
The war started on Saturday, but by the time we got [to the Golan], it was early morning on Sunday. And what we entered was a very difficult scene of utter chaos. Burnt tanks, tens of casualties and people screaming for help…
Thrown onto the defensive during the first two days of fighting, Israel mobilized its reserves and began to counterattack. In the south, Israeli forces were having little success in stopping the Egyptian onslaught. Still, the Sinai Desert offered a large buffer zone between the fighting and the heart of Israel.
The situation was different in the north, where the Syrians had swept across the Golan and could, in short order, threaten Israel’s population centers.
Shortly after the war, Golda resigned, and for an extended period, she faced personal blame. Questions lingered about whether her gender or age affected the inadequate preparedness and the significant losses.
Although by the end of the fighting, 2,688 Israeli soldiers had been killed and 9000 of them wounded. The replenished Israeli forces stopped the Syrian advance, forced a retreat, and began their own march forward toward Damascus and Cairo and ultimately caused the Egyptians and the Syrians to sue for a ceasefire.
The movie reveals new aspects of Golda’s life, including her secret battle with cancer, taking charge of media responses from General Moshe Dayan to uplift public spirits, and grappling with U.S. reluctance to provide arms to Israel. It showcases Meir’s compassion, intelligence, and steadfast leadership in confronting significant challenges.
Golda’s true essence shines through in the film as she exhibits empathy for those around her and steadfastly holds the line during tough times almost single-handedly. Her leadership style, which emphasizes putting the needs of the state and the people above her own, is a valuable lesson. She guided her nation through a tumultuous period, earning our profound gratitude.
Helen Mirren’s portrayal of the complexities of this character is genuinely compelling. From the opening scenes, her expressive face communicates volumes without words. Her performance deserves an Oscar, making the movie worth the ticket price.
I’m in Israel for the Jewish High Holidays this year, where our traditions began. In this historic land, our daily prayers retell our journey from the time of Abraham. The high holiday season deepens this connection. From the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul to the concluding moments of the Sukkot holiday, Shmini Atzeret, the “High Holidays” mark an annual reenactment of the pivotal events that unfolded in the desert.
Forty days after receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai and committing to be G‑d’s chosen people, the children of Israel despaired of Moses’ return and created a Golden Calf (*5) to worship as their leader. This act directly violates the first two of the Ten Commandments:
- “I am the Lord your G‑d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
- You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them. For I the Lord your G‑d am a jealous G‑d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.” (*6)
Over the following forty days, the people engaged in repentance, and Moses fervently pleaded with God to spare His wayward nation. (*5)
G-D Forgives the People
Holding the newly made tablets in his hands, Moses stood on Mount Sinai, and God taught him how the children of Israel could make atonement for their sins through real repentance and prayer. G‑d proclaimed the “thirteen attributes” which the children of Israel were to recite on their days of repentance (Exodus 34:6-7): “L-rd, L-rd, benevolent G‑d, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth, preserving loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin; yet He does not completely clear [of sin]. He visits the iniquity of parents on children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generations.”
Moses bowed down before God and said: “If I have now found favor in Your eyes, O Lord, let the Lord go now in our midst [even] if they are a stiff-necked people, and You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin and thus secure us as Your possession.”
In reply, G‑d told Moses: “Behold, I will form a covenant; in the presence of all your people, I will make distinctions such as have not been created upon all the earth and among all the nations, and all the people in whose midst you are shall see the work of the Lord how awe inspiring it is that which I will perform with you.”
This is the narrative echoed annually throughout our Yom Kippur prayer services. This tale has fortified our people against adversities such as the Crusaders, the Inquisition, and the Nazi onslaught.
Within the Yom Kippur service, a poignant moment arises during the Yizkor prayer, where we reflect on our departed parents and ancestors. This year, a member of our congregation shared a vivid account of his experiences during the Yom Kippur War, a testament to the profound impact of this historical event.
The video’s miraculous rescue story reminds us how our unwavering traditions support us in tough times, emphasizing our national identity as servants of our one God, whom we crown as our only King on Yom Kippur.
In this footage, despite the enemy’s perception that attacking Yom Kippur would confer an advantage, it becomes evident that the day itself may have bolstered our triumph.
- Federation CJA website and video: www.federationcja.org
- Jewish Virtual Library, The Yom Kippur War: Background & Overview
- Ynet News: Israel declassifies massive archive to mark 50th anniversary of Yom Kippur War
- Israeli Casualties of War:
- Chabad.org, The Golden Calf
- “When the children of Israel saw it, they believed that it was to be their representative before G‑d, and they wanted to pay homage to it. Meanwhile, G‑d informed Moses of the downfall of the children of Israel. Taking up a position near the entrance of the camp, Moses said: ‘Whoever is with G‑d, come to me!’ The entire tribe of Levi gathered about him, and Moses ordered them to slay everyone guilty of worshipping the Golden Calf, regardless of his position and relationship to them. That day, the seventeenth day of Tammuz, three thousand men of the children of Israel lost their lives, in punishment for their idolatry. The next day, Moses again told the people that they had gravely sinned against G‑d, and that he would now go to pray for atonement. Moses went up to Mount Sinai and prayed to G‑d for forty days and forty nights while the people mourned their dead and made atonement for their sins.
- Moses was greatly distressed. In moving words, he prayed and implored G‑d to spare the Jewish people… Finally, G‑d’s mercy was aroused, and He promised to spare the people of Israel.
- Chabad.org, The First and Second Commandments
- Chabad.org, What is God
- “…the flow of being: now you have found G‑d. In fact, in Hebrew, G‑d’s name is a series of four letters that express all forms of the verb of all verbs, the verb to be: is, was, being, will be, about to be, causing to be, should be —all of these are in those four letters of G‑d’s name. As G‑d told Moses when he asked for His name, ‘I will be that which I will be.'”