Monday, June 30, 2014

In Memory of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, z"l

There is sad news out of Israel today. The bodies of Eyal Yifrach, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Frenkel, 16; have been found Northwest of Hebron, shot to death. These were the three teens the Greater Baltimore community and the greater Jewish community have rallied around. In Baltimore, partners with the Associated, including Har Sinai Congregation, have placed three yellow ribbons around their signs in solidarity with Israel and with the families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

I am sure many of you are feeling tremendous amounts of anger and outrage at this turn of events. And, there will be time and opportunities to funnel that anger and outrage into ways that may ultimately prove to be productive and helpful.

But, that won’t bring back Eyal, Gilad or Naftali. Nor will it give any meaning to their senseless slaughter. At this time, we offer our prayers and thoughts to their grieving families. We hope the perpetrators are brought to swift and expedient justice. And, as always, we pray that there will be a day when we no longer have to bury victims of pointless anger and hate.

In the meantime, we will be adding Eyal, Gilad and Naftali to our yahrzeit list, and we will strive to continue to rally around their families and around the nation of Israel. Terror cannot and will not be abided. Nor will we cower in fear. We strand strong with our brethren just as we take the names and memories of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali into our hearts.

May the Merciful One bound their souls up in the bond of everlasting life. May their names and their memories always be for an abiding blessing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On Investment and Divestment

Let's face it; this latest round of Presbyterian divestment is not so much about showing support for Palestinians as much as it is about punishing Israel. The money is really not all that consequential, and instead it is more of a symbolic gesture that Israel somehow is once again not being good enough.

Personally, whenever Israel is singled out, it always feels like Antisemitism, even if the assembly denies that accusation up and down. They claim they are not influenced by the so-called BDS movement and believe in Israel's solemn right to exist. And yet, they once again, fail to understand the modern history of Israel and they deny the complexity of events in the Middle East.

I have been involved in Jewish-Presbyterian dialogues in the past. The ones who actually want to dialogue come to the table, where we are able to have important and informative conversations. However, the slim majority involved in this latest round of divestment, have no real interest in dialogue. Instead, they are only interested in placing blame squarely on Israel.

They forget the massive rounds of suicide bomber attacks that resulted in the building of the wall. They forget that Israel not only has the right to defend herself, but also the sacred obligations to her citizens to do so. They forget that Israel is the only lasting and enduring democracy in the Middle East where human rights are respected, and where one can actually seek redress from courts of justice. They forget the missiles and mortars constantly raining down along her many borders.

They forget this and instead buy into the fallacy of the term apartheid. Apartheid was a very specific action and set of policies in South Africa to keep the South Africans majority in a constant state of repression. Israel is not an apartheid state. And to use the term denigrates the suffering of South Africans and inhibits real legitimate discussions about possible solutions for Israel.

Israel would love nothing more than to live at peace with her neighbors. But how can she do that when they won't even acknowledge her right to exist. How can she hope to do that when her neighbors slaughter each other over a division in Islam dating back to the 7th century CE? 

It is far too easy to simply blame Israel. If the Presbyterians are serious, how about they work with Israel and the Palestinians towards a sustainable and just peace?! But that is just wishful thinking when you can just place your money in the stock market and support companies that help with the mass slaughter and injustices elsewhere in the world like Syria, Egypt and Iraq. So why not do that? Because there it isn't Israel's fault!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Building Walls, Not Tearing them Down

The following post is from an article I wrote that was recently published in the Baltimore Jewish Times Building Walls, Not Tearing them Down

I am a liberal Jew and a Reform rabbi, and I love Israel. I have traveled to Israel. I lived in Israel, and I have and I am leading trips to Israel like one this coming December. I even married the daughter of Israelis. So when I express concern for Eretz Yisrael, it is coming from a loving place in my heart. But in this case, given all the challenges Israel is facing, the one challenge that is most worrisome to me is not actually taking place in the Middle East. Instead it is something transpiring right here in the United States. But more on that in a moment.

Israel, in the world’s eye, has always been placed on a deeply unfair pedestal. The world expects Israel to somehow be not just better, but so superior to all the other nations surrounding her. It is an untenable and impossible situation. Israel will simply never be good enough or act righteously enough.

Israel also faces many threats. Some of them are external like the nuclear ambitions of Iran and the Syrian Civil War. Others are related to internal pressures and conflicts both within Israel and also in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip especially with this new ‘unity’ government.

What all that means is it is more important than ever for us to be unified in our support of Israel. However, unity in our support of Israel is sadly falling by the wayside. In many ways this is the result of today’s hyper-partisan world. Israel is now more than just a political issue; support for Israel has now become a partisan issue.

Israel and the United States share a very important relationship militarily, economically, philosophically, environmentally, and in so many other ways. These relationships are too important to allow partisanship to undermine.

Yet when we start to accuse a political party or important politicians of being “anti-Israel” what we are doing in a way is opening Pandora’s box of the possibility that there may one day be a political party that is truly anti-Israel.  To date neither the majority of Republicans nor the majority of Democrats are anti-Israel. As I discovered at AIPAC’s annual policy conference, most of our politicians, thankfully, are firmly pro-Israel. But if we in the Jewish community consistently attack every move they make regarding Israel, we run the risk of turning our supporters away from us at this critical time in Israel’s future.

I am not arguing that we should not raise our voices when we disagree with policies. As Jews, I feel we have an obligation to do so on any number of issues. I am just concerned when we change the tactics to attacking parties and politicians as opposed to ideas and approaches.

No political party stays in power forever. That is one of the most enduring truisms of the United States. This means we need to continue to work to strengthen our Israel agenda with both parties and with all of our political leaders. Otherwise, one party or the other may stop listening. When they are in power, they then may start acting in ways that are truly against Israel’s best interest. Or even worse, they may simply stop caring.

My prayer is we keep working together to unify all of our representatives and all of our communities in the common support of Eretz Yisrael, and that our voices are more unified in this endeavor. In this way we can continue to build up the walls of Jerusalem and not tear them down.