Israel Rabbinic Reflections

Rabbi Oded Mazor: Israel, on The Day After (היום שאחרי)

Rabbi Oded Mazor is a Reform rabbi living in Jerusalem, where he leads Kehilat Kol Haneshama. During CCAR’s annual rabbinic Convention—held this March 2024 in Philadelphia—he was asked to address an audience of his rabbinic peers and reflect upon life in Israel during the war, specifically the day after the war ends. Below are his powerful reflections.

We were asked to talk about “the day after.”  

In the last few days, two quotes from the תפילה (t’filah, prayer) passed before my eyes, bringing two different feelings that many of us feel these days, about the present and about the future.  

On Shabbat, the words that struck me the most were not easy ones. Do you remember the words ואל תטשנו יי אלוהינו לנצח (Al titshenu Adonai Eloheinu l’netzach)?i How should we translate these words? What does the word לנצח (la’netzach, forever) refer to in this phrase? Does it mean, “God, don’t ever forsake us?” Or does it mean, “God, don’t forsake us forever?” It’s not the same thing.  

I’m going to refer to a few people in my congregation, Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem.

The first, her name is Esther. She is eighty-seven years old. She teaches a Torah class every other week, for twelve years now. She’s incredible! And she comes to me every other week with a suggestion for an alternative Haftarah for the next Shabbat, a different reading that we can have from the נביאים (n’vi’im, Prophets) or from the כתובים (k’tuvim, Writings), to understand the Torah portion in a different way, two weeks from now!

Two years or so ago, when we were in the middle of Covid, and I met with her and spoke with her—and, thanks to her, we still have a morning meditation twice a week on Zoom, because even now that we’re allowed to be in the synagogue, the pace that we set during Covid, to meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 in the morning for meditation, we’re still doing it, with more than a minyan on most days. I remember sitting with Esther in her room, and the way she looked at reality and היום אחרי (ha-yom acharei, the day after), she said, “I know the cure is going to be found. We’re going to get over Covid. I’m just not sure I’m going to be here.” ואל תטשנו יי אלוהינו לנצח (V’al titshenu Adonai Eloheinu l’netzach). This feeling of my personal נצח (netzach), my personal “ever,” I feel that I’m already forsaken. Maybe this is going to be the reality. That’s what Esther was feeling during Covid. I think she feels like that again right now, these days.

But when we were saying the Hallel here in Philadelphia, the verse לא אמות כי אחיה (Lo amut ki echyeh, “I shall not die but live”) came to me from the Hallel, as an answer to my feeling of ואל תטשנו יי אלוהינו לנצח (V’al titshenu Adonai Eloheinu l’netzach), insisting on this לא אמות כי אחיה (Lo amut ki echyeh), ואספר מעשי יה (V’asaper ma’aseh Yah), “I will not die but live, and I will tell the deeds of God” (Psalms 118:17). Now obviously, we all know we’re not going to live forever; but as a mental source of strength to ourselves, we may affirm: לא אמות כי אחיה (Lo amut ki echyeh, “I will not die but live”). 

Thinking about the day after, I’m also thinking about the manager of our congregation, Anna. Her cousin is Karina Arayev. She’s one of the women soldiers kidnapped from the Nachal Oz base on October 7. For many, many, many awful weeks, Anna’s uncle and aunt (Karina’s parents), and the whole family—which is a rather small family of Ukrainian Jews—didn’t know anything about Karina and her situation. Three weeks ago, Hamas released a short film with three women talking. One of them was Karina. That’s the first time that they received any message, if we can call it that.

When Anna is thinking about היום אחרי (hayom acharei, the day after), there is no יום אחרי (yom acharei, day after) without Karina coming home. Karina’s parents, Anna’s aunt and uncle, told her that very explicitly: If she doesn’t come home, there is no day after. We try as a community to be there with Anna and her family the whole time through. When we say “the whole time through,” it means that, weeks ago, too many weeks ago, when the first groups of hostages were released, every time a group of hostages came back home and Karina was not amongst them, we were rejoicing with the families who received their loved ones back home; but we were in pain with Anna’s family, with Karina’s family, and the families of all the hostages who are still waiting and have no idea—and had no idea, until the first group of people came off the Hamas vehicle, and still have no idea. 

Nati is not a member of our congregation. She is definitely a very close friend of our congregation. She’s not a member of our congregation because she lives on Kibbutz Or Haner, a few kilometers from Gaza. The next kibbutz up the road, further from Gaza, was not evacuated. The next kibbutz to the west was the kibbutz that stopped the terrorists from infiltrating Or Haner, Kibbutz Erez. Nati and others from Kibbutz Or Haner were moved to Tiberias on October 8. They were there for a month, and then they were offered to move from Tiberias to Jerusalem, to the Orient Hotel. Have you ever been to the Orient Hotel? That place was, for three months, a refugee camp for the people from Or Haner. Nati is the chair of K’hilat Sha’ar HaNegev, led by our dearest colleague, Rabbi Yael Vurgan. When they were moved from Tiberias to Jerusalem, Yael made the connection between Nati and me, and we met in the lobby of the Orient Hotel, which didn’t look anything like what you remember from the Orient Hotel’s lobby. The walls were the same, but nothing else. And I sat there with Nati and her husband, Damian. From that meeting on, every Kabbalat Shabbat and every Shabbat morning, Nati and their younger son, Noam, were with us at Kol HaNeshama. Noam would come and stand next to me and with the other children from Kol HaNeshama for opening and closing the Ark. And his job came to be holding my סידור (siddur, prayer book) when I put the Torah Scroll inside the ארון (aron, Ark), and then I would give him a hug when we sang דרכיה דרכי נועם (d’racheiha darchei no’am, its ways are ways of pleasantness).

A month ago, they returned to their home in Or Haner. What does היום אחרי (hayom acharei, the day after) mean, when you return to your kibbutz, just a few kilometers from Gaza, and the kids go to school, and some of their friends are not there anymore and will never be? And some of their friends will be there, but still are someplace else around Israel and not yet allowed to come back. What it meant for Nati: Returning home is to go pick the lemons from the lemon tree in their yard. היום אחרי (hayom acharei, the day after) will be to know that this lemon tree will give lemons again next year as well. 

And if we’re talking about picking lemons, Debbie is a member of our congregation. Debbie retired from being a lawyer at משרד הרווחה (Misrad HaR’vachah, the Ministry of Welfare) just a few months ago, in August. She didn’t know what she was going to do in her retirement. What she has been doing for the past five months—on top of worrying about her three children, all three of whom were recruited to the army—she has been organizing our volunteering in agriculture, twice a week, every week, for the past four months. Ten to twenty people on each group from Kol HaNeshama, from the area, and people from abroad who hear about it and ask, “Can we join?” One of them is a very dear friend of mine, Rabbi Aaron Goldstein from London. When he told me that he was coming to visit a month and a half after October 7, he asked, “Can I do anything with you?” I said, “OK. Let’s join the agricultural volunteering,” and we planted broccoli. The name Aaron gave it is “brocco-therapy.” It was walking in the field and planting broccoli, one after the other, one after the other. “The day after” will be when Aaron comes again with his congregation and shows them, “You see, this field? Now we’re going to plant another line of broccoli together.” 

My deepest sense of היום שאחרי (hayom sh’acharei, the day after)—and I hope this time I won’t dissolve into too many tears—every day is when I drive my children to school, to the יד ביד (Yad b’Yad, Hand in Hand), bilingual school in Jerusalem, that has been functioning incredibly in these months. Since it’s a rather new building, they have enough shelters in the building, so they were able to return to a regular schedule in the school as soon as anyone was allowed, because they have enough shelters. Many other schools had to require the children to come in shifts—a day yes, a day no; in the morning or in the afternoon—because they only had so much room in the shelters. But the Yad b’Yad school in Jerusalem, of all places, has enough room in the shelters to have everybody coming on the same day from the first day that was allowed in Jerusalem. And every day when I get the privilege that my schedule allows me to drop them off and pick them up at school, and see their teachers and see their friends—Jews and Arabs, Palestinians who live in West Jerusalem, Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem, Palestinians from across the checkpoint to Bethlehem, from Beit Sahour and Beit Jala.  

Some of their teachers were not allowed to come to school in the first few weeks, because they’re on the other side of the checkpoint. Some of their teachers couldn’t come to school because they have little children who had nowhere to go, and the other parent was in מילואים (miluim, reserve duty). And these teachers have to come to school and teach in the same class. And I was told an incredible story by one of my kids’ teachers. In another class, the Jewish teacher was teaching, and the Muslim teacher was there with her. One of the grown children of the Jewish teacher walked in the room in uniform, having come back home from the army. He asked his mother to go out with him for a coffee. His mother told him, “I can’t go. I’m teaching now.” And the Palestinian teacher said, “Of course you should go with him! He’s your son! He came home!” She understood that as a mother, even though that son came into the class in uniform, and I can only imagine what that meant for the Palestinian teacher. That mother had to go with the son who came from the battlefield. What they didn’t know was that the reason he came to get her to go out for coffee was that, at the coffee shop, the other son who came home from מילואים (miluim, reserve duty) was waiting.  

My children came with us to many of the הפגנות (hafganot, demonstrations) in Jerusalem in the past few months. The two younger ones said that they’re not willing to come any more after, at one of these demonstrations, they saw how I was screaming,  לא תהיה לבן-גביר מיליציה (l’Ben-Gvir lo tihyeh militziah, “No private militia for Ben-Gvir!”). There was a proposition that there would be some kind of force that would be under Ben-Gvir’s direct supervision. I think that got them really scared, not so much Ben-Gvir’s militia, but seeing me screaming that way. They prefer being with their Arab Palestinian homeroom teacher, their Jewish homeroom teacher, and their friends, whom they might get along with or not get along with. It’s OK. They’re children in school; that’s what happens. It’s not heaven in that school. It’s the normal life that we want to see.  

It’s the day after that we pray for.  

Will Esther live to see it? Will Karina come back to see it? Will Nati really be able to feel it also in Or Haner, seven kilometers from Gaza? Will Debbie’s three children, coming back from the army, be willing to take part in it, after what they have experienced?  

But my children are going to school. And on מוצאי שושן פורים (motz’ei Shushan Purim, the night that Shushan Purim ends), in Jerusalem, in the courtyard of Kol HaNeshama, we’re going to have an Iftar meal for the families of our daughter’s class. 

That’s the day after that I’m waiting for.  

Watch Rabbi Oded Mazor’s address here.

Israel News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

Listening, and Praying for Peace


The word occurs over and over again. “Listen to me”, “I heard that”, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai echad.”

The portion tells us to listen. But how do we listen when we ourselves need to be heard?

Moses recounts the story of Meribah and shares his truth, that he is punished on account of the people, Lmanchem– because of you. That is not the story we read in Exodus. But that is how Moses remembers, and that is how he shares. That is Moses’ story. So how do we reconcile two different recounting of the same events?

This is the story currently underway in Israel. Our narrative is of a proud miraculous nation forged against all odds. Theirs is a very different story. Both share many of the same facts. How do we hear a truth that is so different than the one we know? How can we hear the truth of another, if we are caught up in our own narrative and our own need to be heard?

If we are to someday reconcile and create an opportunity for two people to coexist, we must listen. We must try to understand the retelling of the story in a different way while maintaining and building story.

Once again the fragile truce has been shattered. And it is all but impossible to step back enough to gain the perspective that is needed to move beyond this time of war. But somewhere down the line, as we insist that “they” must listen to us, we too must somehow also listen to “them.”

Let us continue to work for a day when peace may come.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi David Levin serves the Union for Reform Judaism in the Congregational Network as a Rabbinical Director for the East Coast congregations.


Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

What’s wrong with ethnic jokes?

When I was an undergraduate, I spent a semester abroad in Germany. I was there, of course, to learn German: that was the express purpose of the trip. But I also had felt a need to go there to find out whether Germans were a different kind of people. I wanted to see if there was some kind of obvious reason for the Holocaust.

And what I found was that Germans are not particularly different. The German university students I met were much like the students I met in the U.S. Maybe they were a little more focused, on the account of the fact that they were older. The German university system is organized a bit differently than ours. But otherwise they were thoroughly normal. You might even say: depressingly so.

The Holocaust would be easier to fathom if the Germans appeared to be a different kind of human, wholly unlike us.

While I was living there, I hung out with a group of students from a diverse list of nations: some Americans, a Spaniard, some Brits, and a German. One night we’d had dinner together and were hanging out in the dorm kitchen telling jokes in English. And so one of the students made a tasteless ethnic joke, the kind of joke that starts: “A Jew, a Frenchman and an Arab…”

So he told the joke and almost everyone laughed — or at least groaned — except for Bernd, the German man in our group. He was very quiet, and very still. Thinking that Bernd did not understand the joke – for humor is indeed difficult to translate – the joke-teller proceeded to tell the joke again. This time, Bernd slammed his fist down on the table: “I understood it the first time.”

We were stunned: where was his anger coming from?

He calmed himself and explained: “In Germany, we have a saying. Asylanten, as you know, are asylum-seekers, refugees. Ausländer are foreigners. And a Witz is a joke. So this is the saying: Asylantenwitz… Ausländerwitz… Auschwitz.

I learned something that day.

Words matter. The names we use when we talk about each other matter. Our jokes matter. We should be careful not to hurt one another, and careful to avoid marginalizing each other.

There is, as you know, a backlash in this country to the whole concept of ‘political correctness.’ It has become popular to express disdain for those who would ask that we modify our language. Political correctness is perceived as a form of whiny victimhood.

But I disagree. To the contrary: I think, for example, that the Redskins should change their name, in deference to the repeated requests by Native American groups, because ‘Redskin’ is not meant as a compliment.

I object to the Redskin name for the same reason I object to the misuse of Holocaust imagery. I object to the Redskin name for the same reason I object to ethnic jokes.

Atrocities happen in places where it is acceptable to marginalize the other. If you can joke about a group as being stupid, foolish, or undeserving, they will be treated as such. Yes, there is a major difference between naming your sports team after an ethnic slur and committing atrocities on the basis of that slur. But, as the German example shows, it’s nonetheless entirely too close for comfort.

In other words, when it comes to hurting others, I really don’t have much of a sense of humor. We can and should do better.

On this Shabbat before Yom Hashoah, I’d like to share with you the reflection I delivered at the Days of Remembrance program in the Feinberg Library at SUNY Plattsburgh:

We approach the enormity of the Holocaust with a sense of rupture. We have this sense of rupture because the Holocaust alters our view of what can possibly happen.

Even a nation as cultured as Germany can descend into brutality, and even a people as acculturated as the German Jews can be targeted for genocide.

In confronting the Holocaust, then, we find that we have to let go of the sense that culture will serve as a brake against the worst in human nature.

Speaking from the Jewish perspective, I can tell you this: the Holocaust has forced us to reconsider our theology and worldview. What is and is not preventable? What can and cannot happen? What might we reasonably expect from God?

On the other hand, I also can tell you this: the Holocaust is not the first time that we have had to reconsider our God-concept in the face of tragedy. The destruction of the Second Temple, for example, created a similar difficulty of how to relate to God in the absence of the Temple cult.

In that context, the question was not merely the ritual problem but also a theological problem: won’t the world come apart if the sacrifices are not offered on time and in the right manner?

And the answer is no. The world won’t come apart if we don’t offer the sacrifices on time and in the right manner. The world shrugs and continues, even after tragedy, and the sun dawns again.

Yet we simply cannot abandon the project. We cannot leave the past in a clean break without finding points of continuity. We are still very much a part and product of our world. We must mourn and we must build again.

So, in the wake of the Holocaust, that means that we live with the awareness that our narrow range of experience does not predict the full range of what is possible. Humans are infinitely clever.

In the negative sense, that awareness means that we must acknowledge that the world can slip into unimaginable brutality in the course of a generation. Let me say that again: the world can slip into unimaginable brutality in the course of a generation.

In the positive sense, however, the reverse is also true.

What is needed, therefore, is a cautious but tenacious idealism: we should not let what ‘is’ eclipse the view of what ‘ought’ to be.

Blessed is the Lord, our God, who gives us the power to transcend ourselves.

Rabbi Kari Tuling is the rabbi of Temple Beth Israel, in Plattsburgh, NY. This was originally published on her blog, Godtalk: Judaism as a Theological Adventure.

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.

General CCAR News Reform Judaism

To the City of Boston

in the light of day
darkness was revealed.
We are in shock. Stupefied. Angry.

If the heart of every living being is good,
and if the soul you have given us is pure,
how does evil appear?

Hear our prayer!

Help us to have faith when there is doubt.
Bring healing to those in pain.
Comfort us in our grief.
Give us courage in our confusion.
Grant us strength
to look straight into the darkness,
defiant and determined
to pursue peace and establish safety
in our fractured world.

Oseh shalom bimromav
You who make peace in the high heavens
Help us find the way to make peace here on earth.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar is senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, IL.

Israel News Rabbis

Obama’s Trip to Israel: A Rabbi’s Perspective

obama speechI’ve had a running dialogue with a friend in my congregation over the past four plus years.  I know I’m not the only one to have experienced this exchange (or something akin to it.)  My friend, let’s call him “Sam,” will approach me – at the Oneg Shabbat, at other congregational events, when we meet elsewhere in the community, and quite often during our recent congregational trip to Israel (in late December) when Sam joined the group for his first-ever trip to Israel.  The conversation often starts with something like, “So Eric,  “Is Obama good for Israel?”  Sometimes it’s “Don’t you realize that Obama is no friend of Israel?”  Once in a while it’s been, “Don’t you think that deep-down Obama is not only really anti-Israel but perhaps a bit anti-Semitic?”  Recently – every week in the past month plus, it’s been, “So what do you think about Obama’s upcoming trip to Israel?”

Some of you are smiling because you, too, have either been asked, or have yourselves asked some of these questions.  My reply to that last one over the past weeks, not uniquely my own, has been “there are those who’ve been angry with the President for not visiting Israel during his first term in office.  Now they’re angry that he’s going.”

Let me admit, I, too wish our President had visited Israel, as President of the United States during his first term in office.  I don’t know if it would have changed much on the ground – and we’ll never know. But I also remind myself, this was not Barack Obama’s first visit to Israel.  It was President Barack Obama’s first visit to Israel.  We can’t change the past.  “Should have,” “would have,” “wish he would have” don’t help us going forward.  And now, our President has visited Israel.  In fact, he’s only just left on Air Force One for the next stop on his trip.

Like many, I followed the news of the President’s visit to Israel.  I’ve read the various commentaries.  Courtesy of YouTube early this morning I listened to the President’s address at IMG_4022
Binyanei Ha-uma
– the Convention Center in Jerusalem.  It would have taken less time to read the transcript, but I wanted to hear his voice, see his face and hear his interaction with those seated in that hall where I myself have sat at many a performance and conference over the years. I sat down, imagined myself in the audience – both within the hall and beyond – and listened to the President of the United States address those assembled “around me” and those listening in from around the world.  Thus far, I’ve tried to steer clear of the commentary on his speech.  I wanted first to reflect on my own kishkes, my own gut and how I am feeling about what I heard.

I am proud of my President for the message he delivered yesterday in Jerusalem.  Do I agree with 100% of what he said?  Not quite.  But I found his message powerful, honest (and I do believe that he honestly spoke what is in his kishkes).  I also found his message to be respectful of our Jewish heritage, our Jewish past, of Israel’s history, her leaders in generations gone by, and her peoples’ existential realities.  I also found his message to be clear and forthright when it comes to the need for Israel – and others – to not “give up” on peace, no matter how hard the road to peace may be.  I found his call for justice to be consonant with what I believe is at the heart of our Jewish tradition’s value system.  I found his clear-throated call for “two states for two peoples,” and his acknowledgement that this is about the young people, the children and their future to be spot on.

I would like to believe him when he identifies Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad as Israel’s true partners for peace.  I would.  But my kishkes are in a knot on that question.  President Obama’s clear denunciation of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Assad and his acknowledgment of the challenges of Israel’s difficult neighborhood and the events of the past two years in that neighborhood are realistic, not starry-eyed.

I applaud President Obama for his repeated reprise of the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States. I believe he means it.  But I also applaud him for acknowledging that the easy road would be unqualified and uncritical support for whatever Israel’s leaders and people do.  Again and again, he noted that ultimately it is for Israel and the Palestinians to resolve their differences and to choose their paths. At the same time, he called for sanity and responsibility as he called for justice and the pursuit of peace – not with blindness, but with open eyes, and a sense of reality to what actions create obstacles that prevent any progress towards what most Israelis and most Palestinians ultimately want – to live their lives.

148591_455673200821_6598853_nDuring our congregational trip to Israel in December we visited a school in the Arab Israeli village of Nahaf, near Carmiel in the Galilee.  We met with Rabbi Mark Rosenstein, who lives in the nearby community of Moshav Shorashim, a small community in the central Galilee, founded in the early 1980’s by a group of young American immigrants. Mark has worked as director of the Makom ba-Galil, a seminar center at Shorashim that engages in programming to foster pluralism and coexistence.   After speaking to our group about the challenges between Israeli Jews and Israel Arabs, he introduced us to a group of Israeli Arab high school students from the village who sat with us, first in small groups, and then in one larger circle to talk about their lives, their hopes and their dreams.  I will never forget “Sam’s” words to me as we boarded the bus after our time with the students which went something like this: “These are wonderful kids.  They deserve a wonderful future. I hope that we can make that happen.”  So today I say to Sam: “How do I feel about President’s visit to Israel?  I feel very good about it.  He called Israel – and the Palestinians — to work towards the same future you spoke of as we boarded our bus that day in December.”

These past few days have been about words, photos, symbolism and yes, politics.  President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem yesterday was also about the affirmation of the enduring and unbreakable bond between our two nations, about the acknowledgment of the enduring thirst for security and freedom which we Jews will celebrate and study in the coming days of Pesach. They were also an straight-forward call to pursue justice and peace that we needed to hear. Bechol dor vador—“in each and every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as having gone forth from Mitzrayim – from Egypt.  May these past few days, and the reflection both here and in Israel, upon what we both have seen and heard be part of our reflection of what it means to us in this Pesach celebration to go forth from our MItzrayim.  Some read Mitzrayim as the “narrow places.” We all have our “Egypt” from which we want to move towards greater freedom and security.  May these days – their images, the words spoken, the symbols – inspire and infiltrate our recounting of the ancient tale as we find our generation place in the “obligation to see ourselves as having gone forth from Mitzrayim.”

Mr. President – perhaps we’ll see you yet again – “Next Year in Jerusalem” – in a city moving closer to that dream we all hold – Ir Shalom – a city of peace. A big dream?  You bet.  But when have we Jews not been dreamers at the same time as we are realists?

(Now I’ll go see what all the talking heads are thinking!)

Rabbi Eric S. Gurvis is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Shalom of Newton, Massachusetts