Showing posts with label Gaza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gaza. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

I am on the side of peace.

I work with Rabbi Danny Moss at Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, CT. He posted this on October 14. I can only say Amen.

Elie Wiesel said that remaining neutral always helps the oppressor, never the oppressed. So, I’m picking sides:

  • I am on the side of babies torn from their cribs.
  • I am on the side of children made orphans by terror.
  • I am on the side of all peace-loving people seeking safety for their families.
  • I am on the side of Israelis and Palestinians who reject Hamas and its sub-animalian morality.
  • I am on the side of self determination for two peoples.
  • I am on the side of any genuine Palestinian leader for peace. How can you negotiate with someone committed to your violent annihilation?
  • I am on the side of history, which proves that Israel has endeavored in good faith for peace over and again, across decades; yet this peace was always rejected.
  • I am on the side of Palestinians who have been crushed by the injustices of occupation and blockade — injustices abetted and cynically exploited by their own leadership to curry international sympathy.
  • I am on the side of Palestinians made human shields by their own “leaders.”
  • I am on the side of Israel’s military restraint once it has achieved its security goals.
  • I am on the side of people humble enough to read, learn, and understand this conflict and the people most affected by it before meme-ifying it. I am on the side of the righteous, not the self-righteous.
  • I am on the side of peace.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

How can we celebrate in the midst of this (or any) tragedy?

We are all looking for ways to cope and ways to help. I have found a few and am looking for more. Focusing on my own emotional and spiritual health, it seems to me I need to start writing again. I hope it invites some of you to engage in conversation - perhaps with me, if not with one another. I wrote this for the Temple Bulletin last week and thought it might make a good start. Chag Urim Sameach!

The library at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York has some amazing books and artifacts. On a visit many years ago with a group of educators from the CAJE Conference, librarian David Kraemer passed around a brick of lucite. Inside was a very old document. It was one of several dozen handwritten copies of a letter from, and signed by, Rambam (also known as Maimonides), arguably the greatest authority on Jewish law in history.

The letters were sent to Jewish communities throughout the 12th century Western world, asking Jews to send money which would be used to ransom the Jewish community of Jerusalem. They were being held captive by either the Crusaders or the Saracens – I cannot remember.

Pidyon Sh’vuyim – Redeeming Captives – is, according to the rabbis of the Talmud as well as Rambam, the greatest of mitzvot (commandments). It is even more important than clothing and feeding the poor.

It is outrageous that in our celebrated modernity, redeeming captives is still something that is needed anywhere. We are a week away from the beginning of Chanukah. It should be a time of celebration, lighting candles, spinning dreidels, and overeating things fried in oil like latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).

And we will.

It may feel strange to you, as it does to me, to plan a celebration while watching the news feed each day waiting for the next ten hostages to be released. I hope that by the time you read this, those releases are still happening.

The Jewish year continues to happen, no matter what else is going on in the world. Chanukah will begin on the 25th day of the month Kislev (the evening of December 7), like it does every year.

Even in the darkest times of Roman persecution, the Inquisition, and even the Holocaust, our ancestors often found ways to mark the festivals and holy days. And many Israelis are making sure to celebrate important lifecycle moments, if they are able – even with the war going on.

So, I urge you to celebrate Chanukah. Keep the captives and the civilians in your hearts and minds. Even talk about them as you spin the dreidel, or after you sing Ma’oz Tzur, if that works in your home.

There are resources for talking about the situation with children here. Remember that one of the things we celebrate at Chanukah is Jewish autonomy and freedom. Let’s celebrate on behalf of those who cannot.

Let’s gather in prayer and a festive meal on December 8 for Shabbat Chanukah (please make reservations TODAY if you have not yet done so – click this link!). Make donations toMagen David Adom or through the Jewish Federation.

Our joy may be diminished, but Chanukah teaches that we must bring light into times and places that are dark. I hope to see you over the holiday!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

U.S. Jews Fighting Wrong Battle

A copy of a book by author Peter Beinart
under the chair of an audience member
as Beinart speaks at an event in Atlanta,
apart from the book fair, on Nov. 14, 2012.
(David Goldman/AP)
Like many, I have spent a fair amount of time monitoring a variety of sources to see what is going on in Israel. And like some I feel torn that I am not there sharing the stresses and helping. The truth is,  given my lack of training and experience, I would probably just be in the way their. But I can help spread the word. There are two postings I have rad over the past several days that I want to make sure as many people as possible read and think about and hopefully act on. Here is one of them. It was posted Friday on Tablet and written by Rabbi Daniel Gordis.

As rockets rain down on Israel, an Atlanta JCC bans Peter Beinart. When did we become so narrow-minded?

This has been a frightening and sad week in Israel. First, Hamas unleashed 160 rockets on Israeli towns. Then the IDF responded, and Israeli civilians were ordered—and many remain—in bomb shelters. And as was almost inevitable, some who did not heed the warnings were killed by rocket fire. At this writing, the end is nowhere in sight.

If there can be said to be a silver lining in this horrendous situation, it’s in the broad range of support for the prime minister’s decision to protect his citizens. “Labor, Kadima, Olmert, Livni back government’s air assault on Hamas,” reported the Times of Israel. But it shouldn’t take war for Jews to acknowledge that we’re utterly dependent on each other, no matter how deeply we may disagree.

Far from the fighting, the conversation among American Jews about Israel has become so toxic that it’s often impossible even for people who are allies to listen to each other. Not long ago, I was invited by a major national Jewish organization to give a lecture in the United States. Soon after, the person who’d invited me called me in Jerusalem to tell me that the major sponsors of the event had pulled their support and their funding because I’d signed a letter asking the Prime Minister Netanyahu to ignore a legal report claiming that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is not technically an occupation.

“You’re not embarrassed?” I asked her. She couldn’t understand why she should possibly be embarrassed. She explained that her organization believed that the report was important for defending Israel’s international legitimacy. “That’s fine,” I said, “and I think that adopting it would do us great damage. But so what? Doesn’t the fact that we disagree make it all the more critical that we talk to each other? Or have we reached the point where your supporters will listen only to those with whom they agree completely? Your sponsors based their decision to invite me on a record of 15 years of writing and speaking. I do one thing that they don’t approve of, and they pull the plug?”

That’s precisely what they did. I ended up giving the lecture, but the sponsors never restored their support.
They represent, I believe, a scary anti-intellectual trend in the Jewish community. These people believe that an increasingly narrow tent will best protect the state of Israel, and so they continue to move the tent’s pegs. But they are doing just the opposite of bolstering the Jewish state: They weaken Israel and make it more vulnerable because they exclude enormous swaths of the community that we need—particularly on a week like this.

The latest example of this narrowing happened this week in Atlanta, where one of the country’s major Jewish book fairs canceled an appearance by the writer Peter Beinart. “As leaders of our agency, we want the center to always serve as a safe place for honest debate, but we want to balance that against the concerns of our patrons,” said Steven Cadranel, president of the Marcus Jewish Community Center. I have no unique knowledge of what actually transpired, but this has become an old story: Many Jewish organizations have been pushed into such corners by donors who refused to contribute to festivals or organizations who will host people whose views they find reprehensible. Jewish community professionals regularly find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

I disagree with Peter Beinart on more issues than I can count. I was appalled by his oped in the Times calling for a boycott on some Israelis, and I found his most recent book far too accommodating of Israel’s enemies and unfairly critical of Israel. I think he’s completely wrong when he asserts the occupation is the core cause of Israel’s marginality. But his views represent those of a not inconsiderable swath of American Jewry, so I agreed to debate him at Columbia University. Our debate was fun—and far more important, it was civil.

I don’t know how many minds were changed that night; Beinart’s wasn’t, and neither was mine. But we did model for the hundreds of people who were there and the many more who watched the debate online that the Jewish community doesn’t have the luxury of refusing to speak to those who disagree with us. Instead, Peter and I did what the Jews have always done: We engaged the ideas, assumptions, and moral positions of the other, and in the spirit of the brave marketplace of ideas that Judaism has always been, tried to make our most compelling case.

Are there no limits to who’s in the Zionist tent? Of course there are. For me, the litmus tests are Israel’s Jewishness, democracy, and security. Anyone publicly committed to those three—even if I believe that their policy ideas are wrong-minded—is in the tent. There are many Israeli politicians whose ideas I believe are na├»ve or dangerous. But should I say that they’re not Zionists? That would absurd. For the same reason, Beinart is in my tent.

Speaking with people who agree with me is no challenge. Engaging with those whose views seem to me dangerous is infinitely harder, but far more important. That sort of conversation is perhaps the most critical lesson that we inherit from centuries of Talmudic Judaism. The Talmud is essentially a 20-volume argument, in which even positions that “lost” the battle and were not codified into law are subjected to reverential examination. When Hillel and Shammai debate, Jewish law, or halakhah, almost always follows Hillel. But we still study Shammai with reverence. Even those views not codified, we believe, have insights to share and moral positions worth considering.

The American Jewish community is the most secure diaspora community the Jews have ever known. Economically, socially, politically, culturally—we have made it, and what we say and model is watched by countless others. Yet New York Times readers this week can only conclude that in the midst of that security and comfort, we’ve utterly abandoned the intellectual curiosity that has long been Judaism’s hallmark.

Are we not ashamed to have created a community so shrill that any semblance of that Talmudic curiosity has been banished? Has the People of the Book really become so uninterested in thinking?


Taking Back the “Z” Word!

Like many, I have spent a fair amount of time monitoring a variety of sources to see what is going on in Israel. And like some I feel torn that I am not there sharing the stresses and helping. The truth is,  given my lack of training and experience, I would probably just be in the way their. But I can help spread the word. There are two postings I have rad over the past several days that I want to make sure as many people as possible read and think about and hopefully act on. Here is one of them. It was posted today on eJewishPhilanthropy and written by Rabbi Loren Sykes.

While over one million Israeli citizens need to be close enough to protected shelters to avoid death by missiles shot with the intention of killing civilians, while thousands of missiles have been shot from Gaza into Israel on a near daily basis over the past few year, reclaiming our 2,000 year old dream, “being a free people in the Land of Zion and Jerusalem,” from those who seek to destroy us, seems to me to be the least we can do.

With tensions escalating throughout the region, with increasing numbers of citizens living under the threat of missile attacks, it is not surprising that an important date in modern Jewish and Israeli history passed by [last week] virtually unnoticed. On November 11, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed the infamous Resolution 3379 declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” While the UN revoked the resolution in 1991 after the first Gulf War as an enticement to gain Israel’s involvement in the Madrid Peace Conference, General Assembly Resolution 4686 could not undue the damage already done. The revocation, while symbolically important, was irrelevant in practice. The basis for today’s efforts to delegitimize Israel were sown and given legitimacy by the UN with the 1975 resolution. The term “Zionism” became anathema, the equivalent of the actually repugnant “N” word.

The 1975 UN resolution initiated a process whereby individuals, countries and terrorist groups co-opted Zionism for their own purposes, turning it into the “Z” word. To make matters worse, by preceding the “Z” word with the modifier, “Anti,” they gave themselves cover from accusations of anti-Semitism. “We don’t hate individual Jews; rather, we are just opposed to Israel.” The far left throughout the world, the Jewish world included, took ownership of Zionism, turned it into the “Z” word and claimed that those who were Zionists were, by definition, racists, discriminators and murderers.

Worse still, as the far left claimed the “Z” term with greater and greater passion, many in the organized Jewish world distanced themselves from using the word Zionism. Sadly, that distancing continues today. The result is the strengthening of radical BDS groups who revel in our embarrassment while, at the same time, strengthening the true racists and murderous terror organizations and the regimes, past, present and emerging, that support them. Terms such as “pro-Israel” and phrases such as “support Israel” are wonderful. At the same time, I believe they represent reactions to the co-opting of the word Zionism by those who hate Israel, who seek to delegitimate it and to destroy it. “Pro-Israel” is clearly a reaction to “Anti-Israel.” The time has come for a new strategy, one that is proactive rather than reactive.

Instead of distancing ourselves from Zionism, we must reclaim the word and celebrate it anywhere and everywhere. While definitions abound, we must make clear that the meaning of the term Zionism is “the certain knowledge of the right of the Jewish People to a safe, sovereign State in our ancient and ancestral homeland.” We must cease arguing the legitimacy of this right with those who seek to delegitimate Zionism, Zionists and The State of Israel. Engaging in such argument is a waste of time as it simply legitimates the ability to raise the question of our right, a right that is as inalienable as it is ancient.

When others try to embarrass us by turning Zionism into the abhorrent “Z” word, we cannot not run and hide. Our response must be clear, full-throated and unbending: Those who deny the fact of the “the right of the Jewish People to a safe, sovereign State in our ancient and ancestral homeland” are the racists, the spreaders of hatred, the hypocrites. One can accept the fact of this right and still be critical of or have a problem with specific policies. One cannot, however, be a denier of the fact of Israel and expect to be invited to join, be part of or initiate conversations that seeks to solve those problems by eliminating that fact.

Being “pro-Israel” or “supporting Israel” is important. We need as many people as possible to side with Israel, to support her, to love her. What we need even more, however, is for everyone who knows with certainty the fact of “the right of the Jewish People to a safe, sovereign State in our ancient and ancestral homeland,” everyone throughout the world – Jews and non-Jews alike – to take back the “Z” word from those among our detractors who seek to destroy Israel. We must remove any sense of shame that others may give to it, shouting loudly to the world in a strong, clear voice that the “right of the Jewish People to a safe, sovereign State in our ancient and ancestral homeland” is a non-negotiable fact.

While over one million Israeli citizens need to be close enough to protected shelters to avoid death by missiles shot with the intention of killing civilians, while thousands of missiles have been shot from Gaza into Israel on a near daily basis over the past few year, reclaiming our 2,000 year old dream, “being a free people in the Land of Zion and Jerusalem,” from those who seek to destroy us, seems to me to be the least we can do.

Rabbi Loren Sykes serves as the CEO and Executive Director of the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center of the USCJ. Title and organization affiliation are solely for identification purposes. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Our Israel Problem

I believe that the State of Israel is central to the identity of the modern Jew. There. I said it. One problem is that the data do not support it. There have been many reports published over the last two decades that tell us how few of us have visited Israel, how many of us don’t make it a point to read or follow Israel in the news and how much Israel has faded into the background of the average Jew’s perception. Still I believe it she (Medinat Yisrael – the State of Israel – is a feminine word form) is central to us all. Like a loved one we haven’t thought about in a long time. So, in light of this, how do we process, connect to and teach about Israel in a time of war – especially the current conflict?

My friend and teacher Joel Grishaver writes in his blog for teachers and parents:
"Crossing the internet are two prayers. One is a prayer for Israel’s soldiers. The other is a prayer for the civilians of Gaza. Both are recommended as the way for teachers to begin their classes.

The problem is not that one is being asked to choose between these two prayers. Supporting both wishes is not a problem. Prayers for safety can’t be too many. And the problem is not that prayer seems to be the major response to war. Prayer is a good response to war. The problem is that this seems to be the only major public response besides a zillion causes to join on Facebook."
On November 10, 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379, stating that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” I remember helping to organize 3 busses from my high school to the Chicago Civic Center Plaza (where the Blues brothers were finally captured in the film). There were hundreds of buses and tens of thousands of people there from all over protesting the foul resolution.
Because Israel is at War, we need to be shouting “you are connected to Israel.” “You have a relationship with Israel.” “Israel’s future impacts your future.” Now is the time to emphasize knowledge about Israel, Zionist (or post-Zionist) ideology, and simple family relationships. We can teach “The War” or not teach “The War,” but we need to teach “the love.”
What I – and I think most of us really want is for our kids to care about Israel the way that I care about the Chicago Cubs. I rarely go to games, since I live in Fairfield. But Chicago is one of my homelands and the loveable losers of Wrigley Field are ingrained in my neshama – my soul. I keep a schedule above my desk and track the wins and losses. I have the team news feed on my Google home page. Ideally, I’d want our students to care more about Israel than I care about the Cubs, but at the very least, like me and the Cubs I want them to care about the outcome.
So now is a time to make falafel and sing “Im Tirtzu.” We need to be dancing “Hinei Mah Tov u’Mah Nayim” and “Mah Na’avu.” Students should be finding Haifa on the map and learning that Ben Gurion like to stand on his head cause he thought it was good for his health. What we – as teachers and parents need to be doing is teaching Israel more than ever. And, if we do so, the questions about The War will come, and we will be able to answer them the way we want to answer them, providing we add, “And you are still connect to the land, people, and Nation of Israel—no matter how you feel about some of her actions.

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