Divre Harav – May/2022

We celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day, on May 5. 25 years ago, I could have written the previous sentence without a second thought. But although the vast majority of Jews care about Israel (82%, according to the Pew Research Center), and most of the rest would identify their ambivalence as non-Zionist, the number of Jews who identify as anti-Zionists has grown. So it is no longer a given that the subject of the first person plural pronoun at the beginning of my first sentence is “the Jewish community.” This saddens me.

It saddens me even more that a Chicago-based synagogue, founded seven years ago as a non-Zionist institution, has recently redefined itself as affirmatively anti-Zionist. I’m not in favor of creating a synagogue in which opposition to a long-standing Jewish belief is a founding principle. A synagogue based on eating pork, intact foreskins, feasting on Yom Kippur, or hating the principle of Zionism seems perverse and anti-Jewish. At the same time, creating a litmus test in which pork eaters, Kol Nidre feasters, intacters, and anti-Zionists are specifically called out for exclusion also seems anti-Jewish to me. Jews don’t have a history of carrying out threats of wholesale, widespread, excommunication, do we?

I suppose I’ll continue using the unqualified first person plural “we celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut” in the same ways that I say “Jews observe Shabbat,” knowing that what I really mean is that most Jews are aware of the existence of Shabbat, recognize it in their own way, and appreciate its power and beauty when they do. Most people alive today, including Jews, are aware of the existence of Israel, recognize that it sits in the geographical location that gave birth to two of the world’s major religions, and appreciate its power and beauty and history and connection to three major religions. 

So I encourage you to celebrate a world in which Israel exists as the place where our sacred language of Hebrew lives a vibrant life; where the Jewish calendar forms the natural rhythm of the week; where Jewish texts, values and ethics inform the legislative and judicial system; where Jewish history actually began; and as the place where any Jew, anywhere, for any reason, can claim refuge from a world that is not always friendly to Jews.

And I encourage you to be proud of a world in which Israel exists as a light until the nations, as a country nearly always among the first to send support and expertise in the wake of a natural disaster; as a country which take in refugees of any religion; as a bastion of religious freedom; and as an innovative “start-up nation.” 

Celebrate Israel’s 74th birthday on Wednesday evening, May 4 or Thursday, May 5 with Israel food, watching an Israeli movie or series on your favorite streaming service, listening to Israeli music (My favorite place to go is MyIsraeliMusic.com, The Israel Hour, with Josh Shron), and say a prayer of gratitude for the existence of Israel.

Hag Sameah!

We celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day, on May 5. 25 years ago, I could have written the previous sentence without a second thought. But although the vast majority of Jews care about Israel (82%, according to the Pew Research Center), and most of the rest would identify their ambivalence as non-Zionist, the number of Jews who identify as anti-Zionists has grown. So it is no longer a given that the subject of the first person plural pronoun at the beginning of my first sentence is “the Jewish community.” This saddens me.

It saddens me even more that a Chicago-based synagogue, founded seven years ago as a non-Zionist institution, has recently redefined itself as affirmatively anti-Zionist. I’m not in favor of creating a synagogue in which opposition to a long-standing Jewish belief is a founding principle. A synagogue based on eating pork, intact foreskins, feasting on Yom Kippur, or hating the principle of Zionism seems perverse and anti-Jewish. At the same time, creating a litmus test in which pork eaters, Kol Nidre feasters, intacters, and anti-Zionists are specifically called out for exclusion also seems anti-Jewish to me. Jews don’t have a history of carrying out threats of wholesale, widespread, excommunication, do we?

I suppose I’ll continue using the unqualified first person plural “we celebrate Yom Ha’atzma’ut” in the same ways that I say “Jews observe Shabbat,” knowing that what I really mean is that most Jews are aware of the existence of Shabbat, recognize it in their own way, and appreciate its power and beauty when they do. Most people alive today, including Jews, are aware of the existence of Israel, recognize that it sits in the geographical location that gave birth to two of the world’s major religions, and appreciate its power and beauty and history and connection to three major religions. 

So I encourage you to celebrate a world in which Israel exists as the place where our sacred language of Hebrew lives a vibrant life; where the Jewish calendar forms the natural rhythm of the week; where Jewish texts, values and ethics inform the legislative and judicial system; where Jewish history actually began; and as the place where any Jew, anywhere, for any reason, can claim refuge from a world that is not always friendly to Jews.

And I encourage you to be proud of a world in which Israel exists as a light until the nations, as a country nearly always among the first to send support and expertise in the wake of a natural disaster; as a country which take in refugees of any religion; as a bastion of religious freedom; and as an innovative “start-up nation.” 

Celebrate Israel’s 74th birthday on Wednesday evening, May 4 or Thursday, May 5 with Israel food, watching an Israeli movie or series on your favorite streaming service, listening to Israeli music (My favorite place to go is MyIsraeliMusic.com, The Israel Hour, with Josh Shron), and say a prayer of gratitude for the existence of Israel.

Hag Sameah!

Psalm 137

“There we sat down and yes, we wept, as we remembered Zion.” (137:1)

When I am not in Jerusalem and I think about the city, I don’t weep. In my lifetime, Zion only grows more magnificent from visit to visit. But I get a sense of the crushing sadness of the Psalmist when I fly into New York past the 1776 foot spire of One World Trade center. It is a beautifully designed building, but I see the ghosts of the two blocky towers that preceded it. I see the planes crashing and the bodies falling and the glass and metal disintegrating and the and paper showering lower Manhattan. And I cry.

Divre Harav – May/17

I’m taking a break this month from my stroll through Pirke Avot (chapter 2) to report on my trip to Washington, DC to attend my first AIPAC policy conference this past March. AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Every year, AIPAC supporters gather in DC for three days of sessions featuring speakers on various issues of Israel, such as technology, security, medicine, manufacturing, business, and entertainment. Speakers also include the political leadership of the United States and Israel, although this year we also heard from former leaders in Canada and the United Kingdom as well. AIPAC is a bipartisan organization, whose goal is to develop relationships with each of the 535 members of Congress as well as the Executive branch of the government, regardless of political affiliation.

It was an extraordinary experience to sit in the Verizon Center with 18,000 Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel, young and old and hear from the Democratic and the Republican leadership of both the House and the Senate, as well as the Vice President. I heard from Policy Conference veterans that 10 years ago the conference drew 4000 attendees. This year, there were over 4000 high school and college students alone! Eight years ago, there were 40 people at the lunch for rabbis and cantors; this year, I sat in a room with 900 people.

AIPAC is a phenomenal organization with a very clear mission: To strengthen the US-Israel bond. We learned how foreign aid to Israel supports US manufacturing. We learned how the Israeli defense program makes both Israel and the United States more secure. We learned how Israeli water technology is benefiting the region surrounding Israel and has been an important tool in addressing drought in California. We heard global experts addressing paths and obstacles to Middle East security. And much more.

The final day of the conference is a lobbying day. Many of the participants get on buses to Capitol Hill to meet with their Senators and Representatives. Each year, AIPAC prepares bipartisan materials to focus on a specific legislative agenda to support Israel. This year, we were asked to talk about three issues:

  • • A bill to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, such as ballistic missile development, strengthening American sanctions against those who support such activities.
  • • A bill to expand existing U.S. anti-boycott laws to international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union which participate in organized anti-Israel boycotts.
  • • Robust foreign aid, which ensures America’s strong world leadership role, and security assistance and cooperative missile defense programs with Israel.

For more information on AIPAC’s legislative agenda, see http://www.policyconference.org/article/Resources.asp. And for a shining example of a powerful address, see this 17 minute video of the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, talking about how she is addressing the UN’s anti-Israel bias – http://video.policyconference.org/watch/toWdJqgHqFigsvr2m1PAE3.


Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • Artzot Habrit (abbreviated in Hebrew, aleph-heh-bet) – United States (literally, “lands of the covenant” or perhaps “States of the Constitution”).
  • Umot Ha-me’uhedet (abbreviated in Hebrew, aleph-heh-mem) – United Nations
  • Nasi – President
  • Rosh Memshallah – Prime Minister (literally, “head of government”)
  • Haver Kenesset – Member of Parliament
  • Haver Congress – Member of Congress

Psalm 50

“From Zion, the perfection of beauty, God appeared.” (50:2)

Scripture tells us that from Zion comes Torah (Isaiah 2:3, Micah 4:2), blessing (Psalms 128:5, 134:3, 135:21) and salvation (Psalms 14:7, 53:7). How are these three products of Zion connected to beauty, a word associated with physical appearance? Surely God does not manifest only in beautiful vessels! Every human being is created in the image of God, whether or not a given individual conforms to societal norms of beauty. Just as every person has a quality of beauty because he or she is the image of God, so too Zion is beautiful because it is a place which radiates God.

Psalm 137

 

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour. (137:5-6)

I love Jerusalem because it is the center of the Jewish world. I love Jerusalem even though the religious perspective of many Jerusalemites is anathema to my world view. I love Jerusalem because that is where I was introduced to the power of Torah. I love Jerusalem even though to many of its residents I am a complete puzzle whose religion bears little resemblance to Judaism. I love Jerusalem because it is a thoroughly Israeli city built on top of 3000 years of Jewish history. I love Jerusalem because it is also a city built on top of 2000 years of Christian history and 1400 years of Moslem history.

Jerusalem is religiously complicated, historically rich, at once ancient, medieval, and modern. I love Jerusalem both for what it represents and what it is – Judaism deeply rooted in Torah and a diversity of Jewish practice unimagined by ancient Israel. In a perfect world, Jerusalem would be the center of all religious practice. All people, of all faiths, would make pilgrimage there to offer of themselves to God. In a not-yet-redeemed world, the “city of gold” is a place of great joy and also a symbol of an imperfection and brokenness.

In the Bible, the right hand symbolizes strength. In Kabbalah, the right side symbolizes love. Without Jerusalem in my life, I would be weakened and my love of God and Torah would be less developed.