Israel Rabbis Reform Judaism

Reflections and Concerns Upon Returning from Israel

I returned this morning from a week in Israel. I had planned to, under the auspices of AIPAC and with 17 other “progressive” rabbis (AIPAC’s term) see first-hand the multitudes of ways that Israel society is coping and excelling despite its continued security and societal challenges. Of course, what I got was a very different trip. I missed the first day due to a funeral back in Chicago. What I saw after that was a series of meetings with people of various backgrounds; the common word for all of them was that the situation is complicated. We met with a Palestinian demographer, GLBT activists, various professors, statesmen and community activists. Because of the war with Gaza there was much that we could not do, or at the very least there were many places we could not visit. Instead, we got to hear sirens, warning that Hamas missiles were incoming. We rushed to bomb shelters or stairwells. It all reminded me of a visit to Israel in late 2000, with the Second Intifada underway. The only difference was this time, thanks to the Iron Dome, the terror wasn’t really terror (at least for those not in the south). The terror was inconvenient. Which is to say it didn’t feel like terror at all.

Gaza security fence.
Gaza security fence.

My concern is for those with children, who cannot be so cavalier about the “they incompetently shoot missiles and if they are actually coming close by we zap them with Iron Dome”. My concern is for the soldiers, like my nephew, who may have to go into Gaza. And my concern is that the violence will not end soon. I came on the trip already believing that American Jews should support Israel much more than they should speak out against Israel. Actually I don’t think they should speak out at all. Unless they make aliyah of course, then be my guest. But I am grateful that Israelis themselves see the bigger picture. Most of those with whom we spoke will not give up hope that some agreement can be worked out.

On our last day (yesterday, actually) we visited a small hospital in Safed. This is a place with doctors and nurses of all religions and ethnic groups, including of course Jewish. For a year and a half they have been treating hundreds of Syrians who make their way to the board. We met with a three year old who was shot in the leg and who is getting excellent treatment. His father was the first Syrian I had ever met. I know he will always be grateful for the menshlikheit of the Jews and Arabs who saved his boy’s leg, if not his life.

One final thought, translated by me from the Hebrew of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s press conference last Friday: Hamas uses civilians to cover their missiles. Israel uses missiles to protect their civilians. That’s the difference.

I cannot wait to return to Israel, hopefully in a time of quiet and opportunity for peace. In the mean time I come away with even greater respect for Israel, a country that, in the words of Dr. Donniel Hartman, wants to be Scandinavia but is stuck in the Middle East.

General CCAR Israel News Rabbis

More Than One Way: A Father and Son on Israel

We represent two generations of rabbis, five decades of love for the State of Israel and advocacy for its security and wellbeing. We recall anxious moments that we have shared together as father and son. There was a crisp fall morning in 1973.  As we drove to synagogue on that Yom Kippur morning, our heavy hearts were at one with Israel as we learned of its battle against a devastating Arab onslaught on this holiest of days.

In 2002 we joined rabbinic colleagues for a conference in Jerusalem.  In this City of Peace we experienced first hand horrific attacks on coffee shops and clubs that took the lives of many innocent souls.  We can never forget the wail of sirens and the roar of helicopters overhead.

And now, though the prospects for peace, reconciliation and agreement seem distant amidst a tumultuous middle east, we reaffirm a traditional affirmation of faith:  Anu ma’aminim/We still believe that there is hope for the future.

But faith and hope, while critical, are not enough to resolve intractable problems. While the issues are difficult, the frustrations innumerable, and the intentions of all parties often unclear, the ultimate outcome is unmistakable:  A two state solution, essentially along the 1967 lines, with modifications and exchanges reflecting Israel’s defense requirements and the evolving facts on the ground in the West Bank.  The chilling, fateful question is: Will it take 3 or 30 years to achieve the inevitable, 300 or 3000 more lives lost? We pray that the current  Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will be successful.

How can we as American Jews be supportive of this effort to achieve peace?   We often respond to this question by joining worthy organizations that are committed to Israel’s security and survival.  Sometimes we do this with a sense that the group we support has all the answers, and “those other groups” are weak or blind to the dangers Israel faces.  At times we even demonize those Jewish organizations whose approach may be different from ours.  We find this to be counterproductive at best, devastating and diluting of Israel’s best interests at worst.  A committed and thoughtful American Jew who loves and advocates for Israel can support several different worthy groups who are working to fulfill the dream of a strong and secure Israel living at peace with its neighbors.

IMG_3497One of the oldest and most influential organizations is AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. For nearly half a century, AIPAC has worked diligently to insure support for Israel by American Presidents and the U.S. Congress.  That very special partnership continues to this day, as President Barack Obama has continually affirmed.

For more than a century the American Jewish Committee has defended the rights of Jews throughout the world.  In our own day the AJC has developed incredibly valuable diplomatic programs that build support for Israel among dozens of nations around the globe.  In addition, AJC programs bring non-Jewish American community leaders—mayors, legislators, academics, and union leaders–to Israel to foster greater understanding of the achievements and challenges confronting the Jewish state.  And as one of the pioneer Jewish Defense agencies, the Anti-Defamation League does similar valuable work on behalf of the American-Israeli relationship and is worthy of our support.

Finally, we would mention J-Street, the most recent of the Israel advocacy organizations.  J Street has gathered significant support within the American Jewish community by emphasizing the critical need for greater effort to find a Two-State solution.  Most studies indicate that a solid majority of American and Israeli Jews favor a two state solution reached by a negotiated settlement between the parties.   J Street focuses its efforts in Israel and with America’s political leadership to fulfill this goal.

Many of these pro-Israel organizations have an outreach to Jewish college students and young adults. J Street’s work in this area has uniquely engaged a growing generation of young American Jews. In a time of increasing apathy amongst young Jews toward their faith and their communities, and growing ambivalence towards some of Israel’s policies, J Street is the voice of a new generation of American Jews inspired by a renewed vision for peace.

If we step back for a moment to consider the broader challenges and stratospheric stakes, we can see that each of these pro-Israel organizations offers unique and helpful support to Israel.  An American Jew who is concerned about Israel’s future could whole-heartedly support any or all of these groups. In an era of increasing polarization and diminishing civility in the public discourse, we hope that those who zealously support one or the other group will tone down their negative comments and accusations, and respect the work being done by others.

Sadly, we saw last year how an extreme pro-Israel/anti-Obama position can lead to madness.   The entire American Jewish Community condemned the comments of Andrew Adler, the editor of the Atlanta Jewish Weekly, who suggested in his column that Israel should consider sending an assassin to kill the President of the United States.   This was a complete desecration of Jewish values.  It carried to the ultimate a campaign of falsehoods about the President’s support for Israel that some politicians were using to attract Jewish votes.  Let us hope that our community has learned something from this experience.

We all have the same ultimate goal:  a strong and secure Israel. To slightly modify rabbinic tradition:  The time is short, the task is great and we are accountable.

 Rabbi Daniel Weiner is the Senior Rabbi of Temple De Hirsch-Sinai of Seattle Washington.

Rabbi Martin Weiner is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Sherith Israel of San Francisco and a past president of the Central Conference of America Rabbis.