Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israel. 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!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Muggles and Wizards for Peace!

Yesterday, Britain's Guardian Newspaper published something that has been missing. Common sense. This letter was signed by dozens of artists, authors, musicians and other dignitaries in Great Britain to respond to their colleagues who chose to boycott Israel. 
Somewhere around the publication of the fourth or fifth volume of the Harry Potter series, I became convinced that J.K. Rowling deserved a Nobel Prize. And before you argue that fantasy fiction written for the pre-teen set cannot truly be deemed literature, let me make the case. What piece of "literature" has gotten so many people of any age to become avid readers? (Ok, perhaps Roth or Nabokov got those looking for racy images to turn off their TV's back in the day.)

I can still remember being at camp several summers in a row on the day when 300+ boxes from Amazon or Barnes and Noble showed up with the newest release. The whole camp got a little bit quiet for a few days as the kids devoured it as quickly as they could. And then I noticed that for many, the required summer reading books, which had been buried behind their socks or towels, made an appearance. With this letter, I am thinking the Peace Prize is looking even better. Of course, she one of many who signed. Thank God.

In February 2015 you published a letter from UK artists announcing their intention to culturally boycott Israel. We do not believe cultural boycotts are acceptable or that the letter you published accurately represents opinion in the cultural world in the UK.

Therefore we are writing to declare our support for the launch and aims of Culture for Coexistence – an independent UK network representing a cross-section from the cultural world.

We will be seeking to inform and encourage dialogue about Israel and the Palestinians in the wider cultural and creative community. While we may not all share the same views on the policies of the Israeli government, we all share a desire for peaceful coexistence.

JK Rowling

JK Rowling is one of the signatories
to Culture for Coexistence’s

plea not to boycott Israel.
Photograph: David Cheskin/PA
Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory, and will not further peace. Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance, and it is through such understanding and acceptance that movement can be made towards a resolution of the conflict.

Ultimately we all believe in a two-state solution so that the national self-determination of both peoples is realised, with the state of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.

Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use.

Naomi Alderman          Shay Alkalay               Bennett Arron           Jonathan Aycliffe    
Daniel Battsek              John Battsek                Guto Bebb MP          Gina Bellman
Michael Berg                Josh Berger                  Bob Blackman MP   Neil Blair                  
Iwona Blazwick            Elli Bobrovizki            Gabi Bobrovizki        Melvyn Bragg          
David Burrowes MP    Teresa Cahill                Colin Callender         Simon Chinn
Danny Cohen                Frank Cohen                Prof Susan Collins    Wendy Cope
Loraine da Costa          Marcus Davey              Oliver Dowden MP   Daniel Easterman
Ruth Dudley Edwards Michael Dugher MP   Brian Elias                  Yigal Elstein
Allie Esiri                      Michael Etherton        Moris Farhi MBE      Niall Ferguson
Stanley Fink                  Larry Finlay               Amanda Foreman       Michael Foster
Andrew Franklin          Nick Fraser                 Mike Freer MP           Julian Friedman
Sonia Friedman            Jonny Geller                Adèle Geras                David Glick
Taryn Gold                   Amanda Goldman       Richard Goldstein      Michael Grade
Maurice Gran              Linda Grant                 Miriam Gross             Tom Gross
Stephen Grosz             Peter & Martine Halban                                   Jan Harlan
Ronald Harwood         Noreena Hertz              John Heyman             Lilian Hochhauser
Tom Holland                John Howell MP          Judy Ironside              David Japp
Andrea Jenkyns MP   Zygi Kamasa                Jack Kirkland             Evgeny Kissin
Michael Kuhn             David Kustow               Norman Lebrecht       Sam Leifer
Teddy Leifer                Camilla Lewis               David Levy                 John Levy
Maureen Lipman        Andrew Macdonald      Hilary Mantel            Stephen Margolis
Dan Marks                  Laurence Marks            Denis MacEoin          Charlotte Mendelson
Yael Mer                      Ivan Moscovich             Maajid Nawaz            Anthony Newman
Gavin Newman           Hayley Newstead           Paula Noble                Tracy-Ann Oberman
Matthew Offord MP  Cosh Omar                    Martin Paisner            Robin Pauley
Leo Pearlman              Daniel Peltz                   Andrew Percy MP      Eric Pickles MP
Stuart Polak                Monica Porter               Gail Rebuck                Charlie Redmayne
Andrew Roberts          JK Rowling                   Paul Ruddock             Prof Carol Rumens
Marc Samuelson          Charles Robert Saumarez Smith                    Prof Robert Saxton
Joanna Scanlan            Kenny Schachter          Simon Schama           Simon Sebag Montefiore
Francesca Segal            Anthony Seldon           Rick Senat                  Zaab Sethna
Jonathan Shalit            Bernard Shapero         David Shelley             Clive Sinclair
Daniel Silver                 Lucy Silver                   Dan Silverston           Chloe Smith MP
Karen Smith                 Mark Smith                  Prof Ashley Solomon
Claire Speller               Rob Suss                       George Szirtes            Paul Trijbits
Kevin Tsjiuhara           Gabe Turner                Moni Varma               Rebecca Wallersteiner
Minette Walters            Zoë Wanamaker         Angela Watkinson MP
George Weidenfeld       Fay Weldon                 Heather Wheeler MP
Robert Winston            Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg          

David Young                 Toby Young

Monday, October 19, 2015

Israel’s Latest Terror Wave: The Global Reform Movement Responds

For personal reasons (health of a family member - all is fine now, thanks), I have not yet commented on what is happening in Israel. I have only begun to reach out to friends in Israel to see how they are doing (if they have not already shared on Facebook. I feel awful. And I am outraged at the woefully inadequate and barely accurate coverage in most of the American media, both liberal and conservative. I am not sure I am ready to respond yet - too busy trying to come up with ways to talk about this with middle schoolers (suggestions are welcome!). For now, I want to share the response of the Reform Movement. This is posted on RJblog, the Reform Movement's Blog.

A rash of stabbings and other terror attacks on Israeli citizens have increased alarmingly over the past few days.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism, proudly headquartered in Jerusalem, condemns these acts. The cruelty of those who attack innocent civilians and children on their way home from school seems to know no limit.

The WUPJ mourns with the families and loved ones of the victims of these latest terrorist attacks.

During dark times like these, there is a powerful urge to hate and to inflict collective punishment on “the other.” However, we cannot let extremists set the agenda for the rest of us. There will only be peace once the fundamentalists no longer perpetuate this cycle of hate.

The worldwide Reform Movement continues to pray for an end to the violent acts, meant to plant fear in the hearts of every Israeli citizen.

These acts will not deter us from our efforts to strengthen the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We must not allow fear to rule us.

Later this week the WUPJ international leadership will gather in Jerusalem to express solidarity with the citizens of Jerusalem and Israel. The meetings of the World Zionist Congress will continue as planned with a full complement of Reform Jewish leaders from around the globe. Our brothers and sisters in Israel need – and deserve – our support in these challenging times. They are not alone.

Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, WUPJ President
Carole Sterling, WUPJ Chair
Dr. Philip Bliss, WUPJ Advocacy Committee Chair

Watch an in-depth analysis of the latest developments in Israel by Professor Paul Liptz, WUPJ Anita Saltz International Education Center’s Director of Education here.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Torateinu ARZA:
Unto Zion Shall Go Torah

Torateinu ARZA with
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, ARZA President,
with Rabbi Rick Sarason,
and Rabbi Bennett Miller, ARZA Chair
When I open Outlook each work day, I find a an e-mail from the URJ's Ten Minutes of Torah. Some days I read it with great interest. Other days I know I won't have time and set it aside for later. This morning - with one son on his way to a NFTY regional event and the other working out and doing errands (he is cooking Shabbat dinner tonight) - I decided to come into the empty office and finish a project, put away the Chanukah decorations and clean off my desk. But first e-mail.

One day each week, Ten Minutes of Torah is about making Israel Connections. Rabbi Josh Weinberg, the president of ARZA (Association of Reform Zionist of North America) was the author from Wednesday. I was struck by his words. In part because I can visualize the places in Ben Gurion Airport (NTBG) her describes. In part because of the power of a congregation her sharing a Sefer Torah with a new Reform community in Israel. And in part because of the reaction of the elderly woman at NTBG to seeing a scroll in the hands of another woman.

I share this as a Shabbat gift for those who didn't see it. You can see the link after Josh's name to discuss the article on That is the blog of the Reform movement where the article is posted online. I urge you to make any comments there so you will be part of a much larger conversation.

Shabbat Shalom!


Torateinu ARZA:
Unto Zion Shall Go Torah
By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
Discuss on
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly.
Pirkei Avot 1:1

Dan, the official in customs, told me to have a seat with my Torah and wait. Well accustomed to Israeli bureaucracy, I immediately knew I should have canceled my plans for the rest of the day. When Dan returned, offering me a cup of coffee, I knew I was in for it. Surprisingly, within 10 minutes, having signed the necessary paperwork and paid the required fees, Torateinu ARZA (Our Torah to the Land) and I were cleared to leave.

As I headed into the arrivals hall, cradling the Torah, Dan asked, "So, is that a real Torah?"

"Absolutely," I responded.

"A great mitzvah…" he called out with a wink. Even the customs official understood the importance of our work to bring the gift of Torah to Kehilat Sha'ar HaNegev, a fledgling Israeli Reform community.

In the back of the hall, near the vending machines, I took the scroll from its box, passing it carefully to Yael Karrie, Kehilat Sha'ar HaNegev's student rabbi . Amidst swarms of Orthodox Jews, we weren't sure how a woman holding a sefer Torah would fare, but we needn't have worried. No sooner did Yael take the scroll than an elderly woman, her head covered in a scarf ran up to us, asking if she could kiss the Torah, exclaiming, "May it bring good things for the people of Israel!"

Traditionally, when we take the Torah from the ark during services we chant these words from the Book of Isaiah: "From out of Zion comes Torah." With the arrival of this particular sefer Torah, we can modify Isaiah's words to these: "Unto Zion shall go Torah."

Generously donated by Congregation Beth Israel of San Diego, Torateinu ARZA, an initiative of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), had traveled throughout North America for nearly six months - from west to east, from San Diego to the Negev - visiting dozens of congregations and events on its way to Israel. Recently, I was honored to walk with Torateinu ARZA on Shabbat morning at the joint URJ-HUC-CCAR board meeting in Cincinnati and to be granted an even greater honor: to receive the Torah upon its arrival home - at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. It has since arrived at Kehilat Sha'ar HaNegev, the congregation that will be its permanent home in Israel.

As we celebrate the last day of the Festival of Lights, may this Torah be a symbol of much needed light, unity, and good will in Israel. Let it show the world that the Reform Movement is building a strong and growing presence in Israel, that we are committed to making Torah accessible to all Jews, and that our congregations place Torah at the center of their existence.

This spring's World Zionist Organization elections have the potential to enhance recognition of the Reform Movement in Israel, help our communities to thrive, and demonstrate that there are many ways to be religious in Medinat Yisrael. If you haven't already done so, 
please pledge to vote in the upcoming WZO elections. 
Rabbi Josh Weinberg is president of ARZA.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Addicted to Redemption:
A response to Har Nof

Nearly every Friday morning for the last six months I meet Rabbi Mark Borovitz of Beit T'shuvah (BTS) in Los Angeles for coffee. Right at 10:00 a.m. unless one of us is running behind. We catch up on the past week and and study Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Insecurity of Freedom. We have gotten most of the way through the first chapter in half a year of 30 minute conversations. We may be moving too fast. I look forward to our weekly coffee. He is usually at a Starbucks somewhere between his home and Beit T'shuvah, which is in or adjacent to Culver City. I am usually at my desk or kitchen table.

It is only 7:00 a.m. his time and he has already written his weekly d'var torah which will be in the Shabbat service bulletin at BTS which they call the shmatteh. He has also written his weekly blog post for the LA Jewish Journal. I have just arrived at work following the gym and picking up my Cafe Americano. He makes me feel like a slacker and he is a decade older!

I usually don't read his blog or d'var until after we talk.  This paste week it took until just now. I need to share. Mark, thank you for putting this into words and giving me a context. I am signing the pledge.


Combating Hatred:
Honoring The Five Men Who Died in Jerusalem

By Rabbi Mark Borovitz

I am sitting in the lounge at the Los Angeles Airport, on my way to Florida with my wife to help her 102+ year-old mother, Molly, move into assisted living. I am thinking about Molly’s life and how she has survived on her own to this day. She says it is Bridge playing and a great sense of humor, as well as not getting angry with others, understanding that everyone has their way and that we can learn from each other. Juxtaposing this attitude with what happened in a Synagogue this week in Jerusalem is almost more than I can handle.

When we foster hatred in any way, we beget more hatred. When we practice a way of being that is based on personalities, it is doomed to cause destruction. Watching the way the world plays out it’s Anti-Semitism would be a great study, I must admit, if they were not out to get me. Listening to the way the “liberal” establishment has been co-opted by haters and killers is so very sad. Hearing students trash the name of Israel and Jews while saying nothing about real despots like the leaders of North Korea, Syria killing their own people, Iran, ISIS, the Chinese and Tibet, Sunnis and Shiites, the way that our “oil allies” treat their people, Russia and Ukraine, etc. All of these countries are not singled out, yet Israel is. I think that I have finally figured it out.

The “liberal” establishment is angry that Israel didn’t stay down!! Israel stood up, grew up, became self-sufficient, etc. (certainly I am not saying they did everything right) and thus betrayed the “liberal” establishment. The “Poor Palestinians” will never betray the “liberal” establishment because their leaders will not let them become self-sufficient and their benefactors will not allow them to have any power for fear of a revolution. I guess that there is a deal in place that we didn’t realize.

How often does this happen? We go into something with a “deal” in place in our minds and not in the minds of our “partners.” We make up a story and if the other person/people don’t buy into the story or change it, we get angry and walk away. I have seen it in work situations, I have seen it in family situations, I have seen it in friendships, marriages, etc. I have participated and been an unwitting participant as well.

The murder of five men in a Synagogue is a great example of the hatred of people, God, and principle. The UCLA Student Union voting for Divestiture is a mockery of what College Campus Activism was in my day. We looked for ways to make peace, to heal old wounds, to fight for the rights of all people, not just one group over another. Where do we go from here? Being an optimist, like my mother-in-law, Molly Reiffin, I have an idea.

Let us all sign on to be Addicted to Redemption by: 1) using our minds, heats and souls to connect to Truth, 2) using our sense of humor to not take ourselves soooooo seriously, 3) reaching out to understand each other and see the similarities as well as celebrate our uniqueness, 4) owning our part in our successes and our “missing the mark,” 5) continuing to learn from what did not work and repair and improve our ways to wholeness and peace.

In these ways, I believe, we will honor the lives of the 5 men who died this week in Jerusalem; we will honor and redeem the lives of soldiers who have died in these past 13 years of terror. We will honor and redeem our souls and the souls of our countries. Join me and sign the pledge to be Addicted to Redemption.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Unintended Consequences of the Success of Birthright

So this is a response in the comments section on eJewish Philanthropy to Robbie Gringras's recent post, "8 Cities, 11 Flights, 4 Questions." They and I felt it deserved wider attention. I think it is very well stated.

By Andi Meiseles

Robbie, your excellent piece prompts me to share with you and this forum something that has been troubling me professionally and personally for several years: the unintended consequences of the success of Birthright.

This is not a “knock” against Birthright, but the articulation of a concern I’ve long held and which, as your article points out, we are now seeing realized. Birthright has done a wonderful job of engaging young Jews who might never have visited Israel or shown any interest in their Jewish heritage. There are serious educators and professionals involved in the endeavor, many of whom I know personally and respect deeply. It is a great first experience and has spurred many participants to return to Israel or to become more involved in Jewish life. However, a 10-day trip should not be the accepted standard in our community for engagement with Israel.

If anything, my issue is with a community which has allowed Birthright to become its default “Israel experience.” The success of Birthright has come at the expense of programs which offer a longer experience and cultivate a deeper relationship with Israel. In so doing it has affected the profile of much of the leadership cadre of the American Jewish community. What was once a rite of passage, the summer “teen” tour, has been diminished to a fraction of what it was, thereby reducing its role as a feeder to longer term programs. Numbers of Jewish students in university semester (much less year) programs have dropped dramatically in the last decade. Fewer and fewer young Jews are spending significant periods of time in Israel, which means that fewer young, Jewish professionals have had the opportunity to build a deep knowledge base about Israel and Israelis. Once upon a time, it was hard to find a leader in the Jewish communal or educational world who had not spent a year or semester in Israel. As you note, this is not the case today. This void is most apparent in times of crisis for Israel, as you witnessed on your “grand tour.”

Although I’ve had a long career in Jewish and Israel education, both in the US and in Israel, I became aware of this shift and its potential impact on the community from sources outside of it. When I began my current position (as the North American representative for international academic affairs for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) I learned of the reach of Birthright from directors of study abroad at universities across the continent. These seasoned and savvy professionals in international education (largely non-Jews, by the way) know their work, their field and the trends. It is from them that I learned that “…this program called Birthright, which is free…” was drawing students away from long-term study in Israel. They noted the sharp decline in numbers to Israel since its inception and pointed out to me that the main issue was not necessarily security. While these professionals have seen many cycles of security-related highs and lows over the years, they also tend to view Israel as one of the safest places to study due to the outstanding security protocols that the country has in place. Rather, they attribute the decline in numbers to the “been there, done that” effect.

As my staff and I sit at study abroad fairs at universities and colleges, we experience the same scenario time and time again: An excited and enthusiastic student will approach us and the following dialogue will ensue: Student: “I LOVE Israel! I just did Birthright. ” University Rep: “Wonderful! I’m so glad you had such a great time. How about coming back and spending more time, really getting to know the country?” Student: “Been there, done that.” Literally. In those words. They can check Israel off on their list and are now off to Spain, or Kenya or Laos or any number of other exotic study abroad destinations. They have “done” Israel.

I worried about this phenomenon before this summer in Gaza, and I worry more now. With limited exposure to Israel, without the time to really understand the layers and complications that you have so beautifully articulated, and which take time to sort out (actually, it is impossible to sort them all out; it takes time just to identify and wrestle with these layers) students and, as you more importantly point out, dedicated Jewish communal professionals do not have the vocabulary, the personal experience, or the knowledge to grapple with all of this at a time when their voices are desperately needed on campuses.

However, it is not only about grappling; as you note, conflict is not attractive. It is about the fact that most young Jews are missing out on the rich and beautiful experience of truly knowing Israel and her people. Real relationships take time to develop. An investment of time reaps tremendous rewards, as any graduate of a gap year or other long term program in Israel can tell you. It’s not only about what we need for them to know, it’s about what we don’t want them to miss knowing and experiencing.

Do we want our next generation to have a “been there, done that” relationship with Israel? Can we afford for them to have a relationship that is a mile wide but an inch deep? I think not.

I look to our community for thoughts, collaborations, solutions and suggestions.

Andi Meiseles is the North American representative for international academic affairs at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Online Brainstorming Marathon to Plan the Future of the Jewish People February 16 - 18

Another thing many of us would not know about if it were not for Dan Brown and! (Read on...)

Jewish communities from across the globe are invited to take part in a three-day online brainstorming marathon next week. The event will be open to all to help formulate strategies for strengthening both Jewish identity and Israel-Diaspora relations while ensuring the Jewish world continues to flourish well into the future.

The event is being organized by the Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative and is designed to expand the debate on the future of the Jewish people to every individual, community, or organization interested in taking part.

Groups and individuals from Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States have already confirmed their participation. The marathon will be run out of Jerusalem where some two dozen professionals will analyze participants’ insights and examine ways to integrate them into the recommendations set to be presented to the Israeli government in the near future.

Organizers say this process sets a new precedent. “We are catching up to global models of decision making and understand that we do not have all the solutions ourselves. This marathon aims to widen the decision making process and open the floor to the wisdom of the Jewish people’s masses,” they said.

The Government of Israel and World Jewry Joint Initiative is being spearheaded by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs in partnership with The Jewish Agency for Israel. It is a joint effort to identify the challenges facing the Jewish people today and subsequently formulate long-term plans to strengthen Jewish identity and ties between Israel and the Jewish world. It was initiated due to a growing sense that both Jewish identity and connections to Israel are becoming less certain, particularly amongst younger Jews. Funding will be split between the Government of Israel and Jewish communities, and the initiative is set to be brought for government approval this year and to kick off in 2015.

Participants in next week’s online marathon will be encouraged to take part in the debate surrounding seven key topics. To further expand the conversation and receive input from as broad a segment of the Jewish people as possible, the session will be “crowdsourced,” ensuring that the recommendations reflect a diversity of views and perspectives beyond those traditionally heard in Jewish communal forums. The marathon will begin on Sunday, February 16th and run through Tuesday, February 18th. To join the conversation, please register at

Monday, January 27, 2014

Harper in the Holy Land

The big news from Israel seems to be the usual combination of the sublime and the ridiculous:
  • Because Syria is following through on their agreement with Secretary Kerry to reduce their stocks of chemical weapons, Israel has stopped issuing gas masks and refills of oxygen.
  • Oxfam is considering dropping Scarlett Johansson as an ambassador because she is doing ads for an Israeli company which has a plant in Maale Adumim (and by the way I am told employs Palestinian Arabs at the same wages as Israelis). They are apolitically against all supporters of Israel. (What?)
  • Birthright is going to allow people who went on organized youth trips to begin participating in Birthright trips.
  • The Women of the Wall are close to approving an agreement with the Israeli government to move the group’s monthly prayer service to a new egalitarian area.
But for me none of those are the really important news out of Israel. Yesterday my 15 year old son Harper and I left religious school early (he is a madrikh in Kitah Bet), picked up my wife and two fifty pound suitcases and an indescribably heavy backpack, and drove to Kennedy Airport in New York.

Harper's 67 new best friends on EIE Spring 2014
(Harper is third row, 6th from the left, in the blue t-shirt)
On arrival Harper was immediately absorbed into a group of 68 teenagers from all over North America. They had been in contact via Facebook for the past several weeks. So over and over, Audrey and I watched Harper see someone, hug them like a long lost relative and then say, "Hi! I'm Harper! It's great to finally meet you!" And the same thing happened with all of the kids. It was amazing.  (Audrey and I met parents with whom we had 2nd degree connections, and one woman I had been a camper and counselor with in Wisconsin in the 70s and 80s. But that is not important.)

Harper's adventure was beginning. He and the other teens have just begun a four month journey with NFTY's Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE). It involves four months living on Kibbutz Tzuba, just outside of Jerusalem. They will be attending all of the classes they are missing in their high schools at home (minus the electives), and they will also be attending three hours of Hebrew Ulpan and Jewish History. At key points in their history lessons, they will jump on a bus and visit the place where those events occurred. They might return to the same place more than once, to see it through a different lens and time in history.

They will hike from the Kinneret to the Mediteranean, visit the Reform kibbutzim in the Arava, attend Gadna (teen level military training) on an IDF base, climb Masada and do all of the things you would hope a teen gets to do in Israel. Awesome.
A few weeks ago Harper decided to blog his adventures. I urge you to follow him and see Israel through the eyes of a young man seeing it for the first time. The blog is called Harper in the Holy Land.

Israel has shaped and changed my family in wonderful ways. Audrey and I left for a year in Jerusalem seven months after we married. It was a year without either of our friends, family or old habits being nearby. In that year we built the core of the family we have become. Twenty years later, Harper's brother Ethan attended EIE and the experience changed him in more ways than I can share. It was amazing. Harper began counting down the days until his turn when Ethan got off the plane. We cannot wait to see what the experience will do for him. And with his blog, we can all get a peak as it happens!

Monday, September 16, 2013

For the sin we have committed...

Like most  of my colleagues, the past month has been way to busy with getting ready for the new school year and High Holy Days to indulge in things like blogging. Then Michael Felberbaum, one of my former students (who also was a wonderful madrikh and later a teacher in our school for several years) came up to me on Yom Kippur afternoon to tell me he enjoys my blog but there has not been much to read lately. It gave me a lift in the midst of a long day of prayer, teaching and fasting. Still busy, but not too busy to Share Daniel Gordis' latest blog post from the Jerusalem post. A link to the original and his comments page are at the end. As usual, he nails it! 

See you in the sukkah!


For the sin we have committed by imagining that Jewish life as we know it could survive without a Jewish state, and for the sin we have committed by being certain that it could not.

For the sin we have committed in believing that every problem has a solution, and for the sin we have committed in failing to try harder to find solutions no matter how elusive.

For the sin we have committed in not loving the Jewish state with sufficient passion, and for the sin we have committed in not being sufficiently ashamed of its shortcomings.

For the sin we have committed in electing consecutive leaders who fail to communicate even a semblance of a vision of how Israel should be both Jewish and democratic, and for the sin we have committed in silencing or ignoring the few brave souls who have sought to share with us their own visions of what a Jewish state can and should be.

For the sin we have committed in believing that only an Israel at peace is worthy of our pride, and for the sin we have committed in failing to engender any semblance of a national conversation about what sort of peace has any genuine chance of taking root.

For the sin we have committed by failing to acknowledge the horrid costs that keeping ourselves safe often exacts from those living under us, and for the sin we have committed by failing to see the costs it exacts from our own children, no less.

For the sin we have committed in failing to recognize our own obligation to speak out in Israel's defense, and for the sin we have committed in allowing that defense to become mean-spirited and hurtful.

For the sin we have committed by forgetting that it is mostly thanks to secular Jews that we built and still have a state, and for the sin we have committed by ignoring the fact that, too often, those same Jews are struggling to pass on to their children a passionate commitment to Israel's future.

For the sin we committed in taking pride in Israel's social and economic equality protests without actually joining them on the streets, and for the sin we have committed by failing to honestly admit there was little Jewish content to those protests and that many of its leaders now live abroad.

For the sin we have committed by failing to work harder to stop Jewish violence against non-Jews in our midst, and for the sin we have committed by failing to remember that among the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria are some of the most decent human beings and passionate Zionists anywhere.

For the sin we have committed by pretending that there's anything innately Jewish about semiconductors, and for the sin we have all committed, wherever we live, by creating one of the most Jewishly illiterate generations of young people that our people has ever known.

For the sin we have committed by teaching our young people that a life lived in conversation with only Jewish sources is sufficient, and for the sin we have committed by teaching others that they could fashion meaningful Jewish lives without that conversation.

For the sin we have committed in electing as Israel's religious leaders men who are not Zionists, who have virtually no secular education and whose vision of Judaism speaks to almost no one in the Jewish state, and for the sin we have committed in picking precisely the wrong places to try to break that monopoly.

For the sin we have committed in creating a state out of the ashes of the Holocaust while allowing its survivors to languish in abject poverty, and for the sin we have committed in letting our state, a haven for those with nowhere else to go, become a haven for those who traffic in powerless women.

For the sin we have committed by the folly of far too porous borders, and for the sin we have committed in our treatment of those to whom we've allowed entry.

For the sin we have committed in refusing to hear the most powerful Jewish critiques of what Israel has become, and for the sin we have committed in denying that it is our enemies' self-destructive and hate-driven choices that consign them to the lives they live.

For the sin we have committed in belittling the Jewish or moral seriousness of those who have crafted Jewish lives different from our own, and for the sin we have committed in pretending that Jewish life without profound Jewish knowledge and a deep-seated sense of obligation pulsing through its core can prevail.

For the sin we have committed by not bewailing the moral corruption too prevalent in our society, and for the sin we have committed by not taking sufficient pride in Israel's deep-seated and abiding decency.

For the sin we have committed in not seeing the redemption of the Jewish people that is unfolding in the Jewish state, and for the sin we have committed by forgetting that we've only just begun.

For these, and for many more, may we find forgiveness, and may we grant forgiveness.

Grant us the capacity for unbounded pride coupled with the embrace of self-critique, satisfaction in what we've wrought coupled with a drive to do even better. And this year, in this time of uncertainty, in this region newly ablaze, enable us to keep what was always the primary promise that Zionism made to the Jewish people: Help us keep ourselves, and especially our children, safe.

Gmar chatima tovah.

The original Jerusalem post column can be read here.

Comments and reactions can be posted here


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Daniel Gordis:
Time to Change the Israel Conversation

Nearly every time I open the e-mail with the latest post from Daniel Gordis, I find myself thinking. A lot. I don't always agree with him. But he always makes me think, and I am better for the exercise. Same thing today. I will cut to the chase, but only if you promise to read to the end. For a variety of reasons, which Gordis enumerates below, he and I believe it is time to have an old conversation all over again: Why do the Jews need our own state and what should its values be? This conversation often is set aside to focus on existential threats. But it is actually the thing we all need to be worried about. 

I (and I hope many of you) care deeply about Israel and see it as central to my Jewish identity. When I speak to Jewish adults my age and younger (I am 51) I do not find that to be the norm. I imagine there are many reasons for ambivalence toward Israel by Jews. I suspect one of them is battle fatigue. Too many fights. Between Arab nations and Israelis. Between Israeli Arabs and Jews. Between Palestinians and Israelis. Between Jews and Jews. For some, I suspect it has to do with actions or inactions of Israeli governments, settlers or protesters. (Trying to allow for all political approaches, but probably failing.) And some have just stopped paying attention because they are focused on things closer to home.

In any case, I agree with Gordis. Let's dream about what the Jewish state can be. As Jews living Chutz l'aretz (outside of the land of Israel), let's re-engage and become part of the process. And let's figure out what that means, both to us and to Israelis. After all, if you will it, it is no dream.

Click here to read the original posting and comment on Daniel Gordis' page.


Time to Change the Israel Conversation
Posted by Daniel Gordis on June 21, 2013 | 10 responses
Naftali Bennett, not long ago the election season’s “candidate to watch” and today the economy and trade minister, declared the two-state solution at a “dead end” this week, and said, memorably, that “never in Jewish history have so many people talked so much and expended so much energy on something so futile.” Bennett’s controversial comments were, in part, pandering to the the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, before whom he was speaking. But he’s held these views for a long time; his famous election campaign video, still widely available on YouTube, said precisely the same thing.

Reasonable minds can differ as to whether saying publicly that the two-state solution is dead is healthy for Israel’s standing in the international community, especially at this delicate moment when US Secretary of State John Kerry is amassing frequent flyer miles as he seeks, as have many before him, to get the process unstuck. But reasonable minds should agree – though they will not – that Bennett is right. Even were there no Israeli resistance to the idea of the two-state solution, longstanding Palestinian incalcitrance would doom the project anyway. 

The world will take much more note of Bennett’s two-minute remarks than it will of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s longstanding refusal to negotiate. When US President Barack Obama pressured Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into a building freeze that lasted for 10 months in 2010, Abbas refused to come to the table.
Now, with Kerry determined not to fail, Abbas is still complaining aloud about the relentless pressure being placed on him to do so. But if Abbas wanted a deal, why would any pressure be necessary? And even if Abbas were to change his tune, there’s still Hamas. Let’s not conveniently forget the comment by Mousa Abu Marzook, considered Hamas’s second-highest-ranking official, who said Hamas would see any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians – even one ratified by Palestinian referendum – not as a peace treaty, but as nothing more than a hudna, or cease-fire.

Bennett may be right, and he may be wrong. More likely than not, the conflict will muddle along towards some slightly altered reality over the course of many years without the fanfare of a “deal” signed on the White House lawn. Yet though all this will undoubtedly leave much of the Jewish world – in Israel, America and beyond – in a fit of desperate hand-wringing, it should actually come as a relief, and as the harbinger of a significant new Jewish opportunity.

Before us now lies an opportunity to have, at long last, a renewed conversation about why the Jews need a state and the values on which is ought to be based. For far too long, 90 percent of Jewish conversations about Israel have been about Israel’s enemies. Eavesdrop at almost any Shabbat table in New York or Los Angeles, Sydney or Melbourne, London or Paris, and the conversation about Israel is almost invariably a conversation about the Palestinians, or Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, or Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We discuss, ad nauseum, how to preserve the Jewish state, without ever asking ourselves why it matters in the first place. 

But this is a self-defeating conversation. To a generation of Jews who witnessed or survived the Holocaust, or to those can still feel in their bones the dread of May 1967 around the Six Day War or the terror of the first days of the Yom Kippur War, the need for a Jewish state seems patently obvious. To those born later, however, this is decreasingly true. More and more, a younger generation of Jews, tired of a conversation about a conflict that they intuit is not going to end, bored to the point of resentment by a discussion that never elicits anything new or inspiring about the Jewish state, feels that it has had enough. 

If every comment about Israel is really about Gaza or Syria or nuclear weapons, what’s the point? THAT IS why Bennett’s remarks actually present an opportunity, even to those who wish matters were different. If there is no “deal” to be had, then there is really little point talking about it. What we can – and should – be speaking about is why the Jewish state matters in the first place.

Ironically, we now have the opportunity to initiate a conversation that instead of dividing us to the point of not being able to speak to each other, can actually unite us in a shared enterprise. What religious and secular, Left and Right, young and old can almost certainly agree on is that if we are to have a Jewish state, its society and values ought to be a reflection of the ideas and values that the Jewish people has long held dear.

But what are those values? What does the Jewish tradition have to say about balancing our need to welcome refugees who are fleeing genocide with our obligation to protect the safety of our own citizens on the streets of Tel Aviv? How do we raise a generation of young Israelis who will remain willing to risk everything to defend the Jewish state, yet who do not hate Arabs, despite the fact that we are intermittently at war with the Arab world? 

How do we balance the need to let 1,000 Jewish flowers bloom, and let Jews pray where and how they wish to pray, and teach their children what they believe they need to know, and still maintain – or create – a sufficiently cohesive public square that makes Israel not an accident of different people sharing the cities, but a meaningful collective enterprise? Conversations such as these would get us to open both and Western books. They would invite the input of secular along with religious, of progressives along with conservatives, for Jewish ideas are not the sole province of any one segment of the Jewish world.

Conversations of this sort would remind us all that the business the Jews have been in for the past several millennia is the business of ideas – imagining a world in which human life flourishes, and trying to then make that world real.
In 1762, more than a century before Theodor Herzl launched political Zionism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, writing in Emile, said, “I shall never believe I have heard the arguments of the Jews until they have a free state, schools and universities, where they can speak and dispute without risk. Only then will we know what they have to say.” Today, we have a free state. We have schools and universities. But we’re not having the conversation that Rousseau imagined we would. The casual observer of our conversations about Israel would imagine that when we converse about Israel, all we really talk about is Arabs.

It’s time for a change. It’s time to prove Rousseau right, and to remind ourselves – and a listening world – that the Jewish conversation is actually much deeper and richer than that. Ironically, being liberated from any hope that peace is around the corner may actually make possible a much more important and enduring conversation.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

65 More Things I Love About Israel

Benji Lovett,
a really funny guy!
My friend and colleague Robyn Faintich introduced me to comedian and oleh Benji Lovitt when we were in Israel at the Lookstein Center at Bar Ilan on the Jim Joseph Fellowship. He is really funny over kubeh soup and chumus. I have yet to see him on stage, but I hear he really kills there as well! Since making aliyah in 2006, Benji has published his list of reasons why he loves Israel every year. Some of the things he lists are funny to all of us. Others will only be funny to insiders - people who live in Israel or visit a lot. I consider it my duty - and I hope yours - to focus on the ones that I don't quite get and to make that a focus of my next visit or phone call. If I truly want to be connected, I need to learn why its funny. I realize some things may require aliyah. It is good to have challenges. This was published for Yom Ha'atzmaut at the Times of Israel

Benji Lovitt has performed stand-up comedy for groups including Hillels, Masa Israel Journey, Birthright Israel, the Jewish Federations of North America, and more. His perspectives on aliyah and life in Israel have been featured on Israeli television, radio, and in print media. For a stand-up comedy show or educational workshop about Israeli society, contact him at

It’s that time of year again, when comedian Benji Lovitt lists things he loves about Israel, and this year’s list (all new, every year) is 65 things long in honor of Israel’s 65th birthday. Enjoy, share the love, and Happy Independence Day from The Times of Israel!
  1. I love that 45 minutes is considered a long drive in this tiny country but that people will drive three hours to Acco to eat at Chumus Said.
  2. I love Tel Aviv babes riding scooters. Chicks-on-bikes: like disk-on-key but with skirts.
  3. I love that the Neot Kdumim Biblical Reserve teaches team-building and leadership via shepherding goats and sheep.

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 naïve 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?