Divre Harav – April, 2023

Growing up, celebrating Israel’s birthday was always a community event. I remember walks for Israel, in which we would solicit pledges for every kilometer we walked to celebrate Israel’s birthday. I remember concerts of Israeli music, Israeli food, a celebration of Hebrew words and a glimpse into life in various cities in Israel.

We will be celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday on Wednesday, April 26, 6:00 p.m., at Garfield Park with a free barbecue (donations welcomed!). I hope you’ll join us. You can find more information elsewhere in the Voice and on the events page of the website.

My memories are post-1967. The victory of the Six Day War was as much a miracle as the proclamation of the State followed by the Israeli victory in the War of Independence. The Yom Kippur war in 1973 was a scary moment, but the 1978 Camp David Accords in which Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt joined hands gave us hope that peace was possible. And indeed, despite massive inflation in the 1980’s, Israel’s economy took off and Israel became a Start-Up Nation and a center of cutting edge research and innovation. Israel’s absorption of one million Soviet Jews and their families following glasnost along with the more than 160,000 Ethiopian Jews in the decade or so of the 1980’s cemented its role as the place where persecuted Jews around the world could find refuge. In 1994 a JCC in Buenos Aires was destroyed by a suicidal attack, and as antisemitic hatred continue to increase, and as the economy of Argentina was in crisis in the early 2000’s, 10,000 Jews made aliyah.

Israel today is one of the first nations in the world to send disaster recovery support around the world after an earthquake, a tsunami, or a hurricane. It shares its expertise on security and fighting terrorism and water management and renewable energy. It is a thriving and vibrant center of Jewish culture. It’s 75th birthday is worth celebrating.

You may have read lately a serious controversy about legislation which could endanger the balance of power between the judiciary and the legislative branches of government. The proposed legislation would allow the Knesset to override a supreme court nullification of a law which they determine to violate a fundamental protection of a “Basic Law,” the Israeli equivalent of a fundamental right. There is wide agreement among experts in the legal world that this would cause serious harm to the separation of powers of the legislative and judicial branches of government, a core principle of a democratic government.

My colleague Rabbi Miriam Spitzer wrote in the Scranton Times Tribune:

“ … hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been demonstrating on the streets against proposed changes to Israel’s laws of judicial review. Americans should be in awe of the numbers and the percentages of the citizenry who are coming out and saying that they object to what is happening.

“Israel’s past and present attorney generals have issued warnings against these proposed changes. Israel’s Supreme Court justices have spoken out. Some former Prime Ministers have spoken out. Isaac Herzog, the President of Israel, has issued pleas for compromise. Academics have spoken out. The Jewish Federations of North American has expressed concern and its own plea that the coalition listen to Isaac Herzog as well as recognize that a majority of 61 is insufficient to override a decision of the Supreme Court. The Rabbinical Assembly, together with the Conservative/Masorti Movement issued a strong “Leadership Statement on legislation that threatens Israel’s democratic character;” other Jewish movements have issued similar statements.” 

Israel is in crisis now and more than ever, needs the friendship and attention of the United States government and the worldwide Jewish community. It needs to hear from us that preserving democracy, diversity, protecting minorities, religious freedom, need to remain at the center of what the State of Israel is.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • Yom Ha’atzma’ut – Day of Independence, 5 Iyar 5708, May 14, 1948.
  • Yom Hazikaron – Day of Remembrance, Israel’s Memorial Day, commemorated on 4 Iyar.