In Response to a Colleague’s Question

Dear…….,

You raise so many very important questions. We Jews are described as being captives of hope, but sometimes that hope is very difficult to find. I can’t respond to you in any formal or official fashion. I am not a social scientist, I am not a talking head or a political columnist. I am just a Jew, a liberal Jew, a political activist, someone who cares passionately not only about Israel’s survival but about the quality of the Israel that will survive.

My biggest source of hope is in the area now being called “the day after.” The cease-fire is in effect, negotiations are beginning in Cairo, and there is little to no likelihood that the situation will return to the status quote ante. The +80% support for Bibi’s handling of the war will now begin to erode in the aftermath of that war. That is only natural. The right wing will demand answers as to why Bibi did not complete the process of totally annihilating Hamas. The left wing will resume its criticism that much of what led to the current war could have been avoided if there had been a cessation of the building of settlements and a willingness on the part of the government to treat Abbas as a real negotiating partner.

Rivlin’s role in all of this will be absolutely unimportant. Peres still has far greater impact on the Israeli political scene and on the international political scene than Israel’s new president.

Bibi will be confronting an increasingly fractured coalition. He knows that from Bennett to Danon to Lieberman, the challenges to his leadership will be rapidly increasing. Bibi is an historian, and he certainly realizes that he has a long way to go to guarantee his own positive slot in the history of the Jewish people.

Will the prime minister use the opportunity to shake up his coalition, to bring Labor into the government and thus strengthen the power of the Center?

The answers are not written in stone, and therein lies my hope. Those of us living in North America have to do more then worry and kvetch and criticize. We have to be involved in creating coalitions of strength and of influence that can mobilize the power of the North American Jewish community to influence the shaping of political realities in Israel. We have to be willing to express our profound concern over the building of settlements and the lack of engagement with Abbas and his government. We have to be willing to express our profound concern over the lack of Jewish religious freedom, of true democratic pluralism, within the Jewish state.

The changes that must come within Israel’s foreign policy must be paralleled by changes within the Israeli society. And all of those long-overdue changes will only come about with the strong, positive support of the North American Jewish community. Far too often, the liberal wing in North America has held itself off from what it considers to be “inappropriate involvement” in the shaping of Israeli society. We have to get over that hesitation.

There are signs that such strong, positive support may in fact be consolidating. Each of us must take up the responsibility of personal involvement in that consolidation.

We have no control over what the responses will be, in the foreign policy arena, from the other side. We can only be certain of one fact: the status quo cannot be maintained.

And we can be very certain that there are elements within Israeli society that are more than willing to take to the streets in a violent response against any and all efforts to bring true democratic religious freedom to Israel.

The risks in all of this are monumental. If we do not handle our relationships in the foreign-policy arena well, Israel could be exposed to immediate existential threat. If we do not handle the reshaping of Israeli society carefully, we could lose Israel as a 21st-century democratic country. But if we fail to take those risks, the even greater risk is the collapse of the Zionist enterprise.

Literally.

The battlegrounds for North America Jewry will be found in the meeting rooms of all elements of the Jewish Federations of North America, in the American Jewish Committee, in Hiddush, in the URJ, in ARZA, and in other like-minded organizations. Coalitions need to be formed. Activists need to sit together. And hope must be embraced.

In any event, just one person’s opinion.

With warm regards.

Stan

—-

Rabbi Stanley Davids serves as the president of ARZENU. He currently resides in Israel with his wife Resa. 

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As A Progressive Jew, I am Committed…

As I attempt to write these lines whilst sitting in a train traveling North from Alicante to Barcelona in Spain, my home country, I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of the land of the region of Valencia. To my left, endless fields of orange, pine and palm tress with arid and rough mountains in the background. To my right, the Mediterranean Sea, source of food, life and inspiration for generations. And above all, a peaceful blue sky, only crossed by unconcerned birds, maybe seagulls. My mind drifts away intentionally towards Eretz Israel, where, under the same sky and sun and along the coasts bathed by our beloved Mediterranean, a dreadful war of fire and human hatred prevents longed promises of security and peace for all its inhabitants.

As we all know, Sfarad was at a time a true light to the European kingdoms throughout the dark Middle-Ages, where medicine, literature, poetry, science and philosophy flourished in the fertile ground of a relative peaceful coexistence of the three monotheistic religions present in the peninsula: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The expulsion of the Sefardic Jews in 1492 was interpreted by some Kabbalists of the time as a cosmic drama, a new episode of Shevirat ha-Kelim (the breaking of the vessels) with the dispersion of the shards of light represented by the individual Jews who went on exile along the Mediterranean basin. The town of Sfat received some of these exiled Kabbalists and the wisdom of the Zohar would continue to enlighten the Torah with a specific Mediterranean way of conceiving hope, reunion and redemption.

From the darkest events of the 20th century for European Jewry, Zionism emerged with the promise of hope and redemption for scattered and oppressed Jews throughout a hostile continent. Many were those who embraced the new project since the beginning of the century, some on a voluntary basis, some as the last recourse to preserve their lives and their families’ or to restart a new life where the land flows milk and honey, far away from a European land that was still wet with blood. Palestine, Eretz Israel, welcomed them all, providing not only shelter and protection, but also human dignity, a Jewish life where secular and religious sensitivities would be respected and encouraged, a Jewish present and a Jewish future ledor vador.

As a Progressive Sionist Jew living in Diaspora, I am committed to the realization of the Zionist vision, and the accomplishment of the ideals of the founders of the State of Israel. However, I could not envisage my own commitment if it was not put within the framework of the current challenges being faced by my own generation: the on-going conflict with the Palestinian people and the subsequent territorial disputes, Israel’s recognition by its neighbouring countries, the growing tensions within Israeli society between religious and secular conceptions of modern life, civil rights and responsibilities, economic disparities and lack of opportunities for the youth and marginalized sectors of the society, a fair approach to the issue of immigration and inclusion of minorities, but to name a few. For most of the challenges evoked above, the Israeli society has shown innovative and unique expressions of dealing with them in a constructive manner, however the antagonist positions of the political spheres make progressive and daring solutions seem slow to come, limited and insufficient. Yet I believe that tensions in every human community are necessary and healthy. They mobilize forces, energy and passions by its individuals that otherwise would become stagnant and therefore unproductive, unfertile. Our Zionist history has shown us that more difficult challenges were overcome when the right doses of idealism and pragmatism were applied.

As a Progressive Religious Jew, I believe that the realization of the Zionist project and the prerogatives of the Jewish State of Israel need to be based and inspired on the high ethical standards and values that our Fathers, Mothers and Prophets envisaged for the Jewish people, which were preserved and transmitted from generation to generation. But it is necessary that they are interpreted and put into action according to the challenges and opportunities of modern times. I realize that this is not an easy task, however every generation is illuminated with individuals and communities whom, by sharing a unified vision, can work towards this accomplishment. I have found in the Reform and Progressive Movement, both in Israel and in Diaspora, and in organizations such as ARZENU, the living expression of the moral responsibilities we share as Jews. Help building and developing together a fair, inclusive and progressive State of Israel where justice, peace and prosperity prevail for all Jews and all its inhabitants, should become our priority – this is the only way we can become legitimate, inheritants of our tradition and the land we were promised.

My train is arriving at its final destination, the beautiful city of Barcelona, which counts the oldest synagogue in Europe amongst its treasures. In this city, a young and vibrant community of Reform Jews will meet again this Friday evening to pray for peace among Israelis and Palestinians. Standing for our Israeli friends in these difficult times, we will stand to the final verses of Lekha Dodi and will welcome Shabbat as our Kabbalist sages taught us to do. And as every night, I will pray facing Jerusalem, on the other side of the Mediterranean, asking for divine protection to all Israel and all humanity, wishing that only white clouds and the fragrance of the flowers of the orange trees will cross the blue sky and the songs of birds will be heard. May the thought of Zion direct our hearts and our spirits towards justice and love.

—–

Jose Luis Martin is a  member of Bet Shalom, a Progressive Jewish community in Barcelona, Spain.

 

Galilee Diary – Jewish Values

[Jeremiah] spoke to King Zedekiah…: Put your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and live! (for this is Israel’s punishment for injustice and idolatry)
– Jeremiah 27:12

…The prophet Hananiah son of Azzur…said: Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: I hereby break the yoke of the king of Babylon. (for God will protect and support Israel unconditionally)
– Jeremiah 28:1-2

I recently attended a demonstration of the “Light Tag” coalition, in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence. We were about 500, with many familiar faces, especially from the Reform and Conservative movements (though the outstanding speaker was an Orthodox rabbi, Benjamin Lau). “Light Tag” (tag me’ir) is a pun on the name of the phenomenon it opposes: “Price Tag” (tag mechir ) – the name given to the recent spate of Jewish hate crimes. It seems that some of the more extreme elements of the settler youth – and supporters and copy-cats from elsewhere – have taken it upon themselves to exact a “price” for the government’s conciliatory (?) moves toward the Palestinians, by torching mosques, vandalizing churches, spitting on priests on the street, violent attacks against random Arabs, puncturing Arabs’ tires, etc., throughout Israel. There have been proposals (by the minister of police) to label these activists as “terrorists,” which would give the police additional tools to deal with them. But such a decision keeps getting put off. It is interesting, as many speakers pointed out at the demonstration, that the security services, who can find and detain every 11-year old Arab kid who ever throws a stone, seem helpless against this current “plague.” It is hard to avoid the feeling that there are leaders in the political and religious spheres – and lots of people on the street – who don’t see these actions as such a big deal, or who even sympathize with them. When popular author Amos Oz recently called the perpetrators “Jewish neo-nazis,” he aroused a public outcry on the left as well as the right.

There are amusing anecdotes from the early years of the state, when Jews expressed pride and gratification at the normalization of the Jewish people: Finally, we had a real state, meaning we had Jewish police and Jewish prisons – and Jewish criminals and Jewish prostitutes – just like everyone else. Alas, the cuteness has worn off, as we see our former president in jail for rape, our former prime minister sentenced to jail for bribery, and a daily dose of reports on hate crimes against non-Jewish religious leaders and institutions (and against liberal Jewish institutions too). Normalization sounded like a good idea, but did we really mean it “all the way?”

Many of us in the liberal wing of Judaism are wont to declare that a Jewish state needs to be a state that exemplifies Jewish values. In this respect we are like the nationalist Orthodox school, who argue that normalization is not our ideal: our destiny is not to be just like everyone else, but to be exceptional, to be a state that implements the values of the Torah in real life. The problem is, of course, that we have not achieved consensus on just what “Jewish values” are, and on who gets to decide. In recent years a number of publications by nationalist Orthodox rabbis have gotten a lot of attention – bringing proof from traditional sources to support discrimination and violence against non-Jews. When we liberals object, they tell us that “the halachah is not pretty,” and that we are distorting Judaism to fit our western liberal values; then we bring our proof-texts to show that theirview is a distortion of Judaism. If we didn’t have a Jewish state with an army and a police force, this could be a philosophical discussion, as it was for centuries. We could happily be pluralists and agree to disagree. However, in our time, we cannot escape the challenge of having to implement our values, using real power in a real state. So we cannot really afford to be pluralists about our beliefs in this sphere.

It seems we’re in a culture war, similar to the one in Jeremiah’s day. That time the good guys lost, and we are still mourning the outcome.

Re-printed from the URJ Ten Minutes of Torah, June 4, 2014

Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein is the retired director of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education and the current director of the Israel Rabbinical Program at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

Why Should Reform Jews Be Interested in the World Zionist Congress?

There is much being said about the up-coming World Zionist Congress, and why Reform Jews should be interested.  To address these, we’ve invited Rabbi Ira Youdovin (now retired) who forty years ago headed the team that created ARZA—Association of Reform Zionists of America, served as its first executive director and, together with its president, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, led Reform Zionism’s first delegation to the World Zionist Congress.

When we contacted Rabbi Youdovin he mused that the questions being asked  were largely the same he was called upon to answer in the mid-1970’s.  

The World Zionist Congress:  Why Should Reform Jews be Interested?

The next World Zionist Congress will be held in October, 2015.  More than 500 delegates from Israel and the Diaspora will gather in Jerusalem to discuss key issues confronting Israel, Zionism and world Jewry, and to determine allocations made by the World Zionist Organization, the WZC’s parent body.  These decisions are determined by vote of the delegates, who reflect a wide diversity of ideological and religious perspectives.

If you care about the Reform Movement in Israel, if you support egalitarian prayer, if you believe in freedom of religion, the right of Reform rabbis to conduct marriage, divorce, burial and conversion, if you believe that women should have equal status, here is your chance to make a difference.  Your vote in determining who represents your region is your voice in determining what happens at the Congress.

 

What Are the Origins of the World Zionist Congress?

Theodor Herzl convened the first World Zionist Congress (WZC) in Basel, Switzerland (1897).  An assimilated Viennese Jew covering the Dreyfus trial for a local newspaper, Herzl saw the anti-Semitism manifest in the trumped-up charges against a Jewish captain in the French army as a harbinger of a fate that awaited Jews everywhere in Europe.  His response was to create a national homeland where Jews would be safe and free.  The WZC was the first institutional step toward achieving this goal.  Foremost among the resolutions adopted by the Congress was one that defined the movement: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.”

Approximately two hundred delegates from seventeen countries attended.  Sixty-nine were representatives from various Zionist societies.  The remainder were individual invitees. In attendance were ten non­-Jews who were expected to abstain from voting. Seventeen women attended,  While women participated in the discussions, they did not have voting rights.  Those were granted the following year, at the Second Zionist Congress.

Herzl called the WZC “the Parliament of the Jewish People.”

 

Who Attends the World Zionist Congress?

Herzl’s characterization of the first World Zionist Congress (WZC) as  “the Parliament of the Jewish People” is as apt today as it was when the Congress first convened in 1897.  Other Jewish forums exercise more power, enjoy greater prestige and encompass more wealth.  But the WZC is the only one whose delegates are elected democratically to represent Zionists in Israel and throughout the world.

The approximately five hundred delegates are divided geographically: Israel—38%, the United States—29%, non-American Diaspora—33%.  The Diaspora contingent is divided into thirty geographical regions.

The Israeli delegation is composed on the basis of each political party’s representation in the Knesset.   Most Diaspora delegates are chosen in regional elections, although in a few regions, representation is  determined by negotiations among the local Zionist groupings.

ARZENU’s objective in every region is getting out the vote for its slate! 

 

How is the World Zionist Congress Organized?

There are three categories of delegates.

  • Those representing Zionist political movements are chosen in  are chosen in national elections in 30 countries worldwide. Each country’s regional elections are independent of the other 29 countries but the aggregate of all of the results determines the strength of the political movements for 5 years until the next elections.
  • International Jewish organizations which have fixed representation and do not compete in elections (the World Union for Progressive Judaism, World Mizrachi, Hadassah, WIZO, B’nai Brith, Maccabi, and others).
  • Israeli political parties whose mandates are determined by the number of seats they each holds in the Knesset.

Once elections are concluded the Zionist political movements team up with like-minded Israeli political parties to create factions and enhance their impact at the WZO. After the last elections in 2010 ARZENU joined forces with the Labor and Meretz parties to become the largest faction in the WZO.

Because ARZENU has no permanent ties to any Israeli political party, and is present in only fourteen of the WZO’s thirty regions, its strength at the next WZC (October, 2015) depends  on its “getting out the vote” wherever we can.

 

When did Reform Judaism first affiliate with the WZO?

In 1976, the World Union for Progressive Judaism joined the WZO as an international  organization, completing the WUPJ’s turning toward Israel and Zionism.   The organization had been established in 1926 in London, where it based its headquarters.  In 1959, the office was re-located to New York where it was housed in the Union of American Hebrew Congregation’s building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

In the early 1970’s, a small group of ardent Reform Zionists led by Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch argued forcefully that the headquarters of a worldwide Jewish movement should be located in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish People.  The move was approved in 1972 and implemented the following year.  Rabbi Hirsch, who had created the UAHC’s Religious Action Center in Washington, made aliyah with his family and became WUPJ’s executive director.

 

What is ARZENU?

ARZENU is the umbrella organization of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists. It was founded in 1980 as a federation of existing Reform Zionist organizations, such as ARZA (USA) and ARZA Canada, and to foster new ones throughout the world. It had as its dual goal the aim of supporting the Reform Movement in Israel while bolstering local Zionist activity amongst Reform Zionist in the Diaspora.

Today there are 14 member organizations of ARZENU in the USA, Canada, France, Britain, Austria, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Spain.

 

How Does a Large ARZENU Congress Delegation Help Israeli Reform Judaism?

One important way is financial. Today the Reform Movement in Israel receives allocations of $4.5 to $5 million per annum from the Jewish Agency, Keren Kaymeth LeIsrael (JNF) and the World Zionist Organization.

How does this work? The WZO is a 50% owner of the Jewish Agency and therefore appoints 50% of the representatives to the Board of the Jewish Agency. Thus it can strongly impact who will be the chairman of the Agency or the agenda and priorities of the Agency. The same is applicable to the other organizations. In other words, the WZO plays an important role in making decisions on who is appointed to key positions in these organizations. Simply put: whoever has the largest number of representatives in Congress will set goals and have access to the centers of power and money.

 

Does ARZENU have partners?

Following elections for delegates to the 2010 WZC, ARZENU established a Joint Faction with the World Labor Zionist Movement and Meretz Olami (the political arms abroad of these Israeli Knesset parties). This Joint Faction allows us to influence the Knesset and Israeli society. For example, when we fought against the Rotem conversion law we cooperated with the above parties to influence the legislative process.

 

What Is Decided at the World Zionist Congress?

Much of the time is devoted to processing resolutions covering a broad spectrum of issues confronting Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora.  These are proposed by the various factions, and work their way through a labyrinth of committees.  The survivors make it to the plenum, where they are debated at length, and frequently with vigor, before being decided by democratic vote.

The second—-many would say the more important—function is allocating funds and appointments.  This is determined largely by the numerical strength of each faction.  Thanks to ARZENU’s showing in recent WZC elections, the Reform movement in Israel receives $4.5 to $5 million per annum in non-governmental funding determined by its WZC representation.   Failure to duplicate or improve upon our electoral success would cause a diminution, perhaps severe, of this critically important support.

 

Has Israel Reform Judaism Been Helped by Resolutions of the World Zionist Organization and Zionist Congress?

In 1978, ARZA sent its first delegation to a WZC (the 29th).  There were nine newcomers amidst a gathering of nearly five hundred mostly veteran delegates.  They had no idea of what to do, and few allies to offer guidance.  So they did what came naturally.  They pretended they were in Washington, or a state capital or a local city hall in the US and went from caucus to caucus lobbying as best they could for a resolution calling for equality among the religious streams in Israeli life and in the WZO.

Much to their amazement, they found substantial pockets of support in the American and non-American Diaspora delegations, as well as growing sentiment among Israeli Labor Party delegates to break party discipline in order to vote their conscience even if it offended their Orthodox  partners in the Government coalition.  When the plenum vote was finally taken, after numerous maneuvers to block it, the resolution passed.

Nearly four decades later, the WZO has become a Jewishly pluralistic entity, just as the resolution demanded.  Progress is much slower in Israeli society, but Jewish pluralism no longer is the impossible dream it once was.  So when one reads about new Reform synagogues being established by the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the many gains being scored by Anat Hoffman at the Israel Religious Action Center, one can smile while recalling the 29th World Zionist Congress when the ball began rolling,

 

Leadership with an Eye to the Future Seminar- Zionist Seminar in Europe

Dear friends,
I’m pleased to share with you an article about an innovative program I have initiated: Leadership with an Eye to the Future Seminar- Zionist Seminar in Europe
It was published by an Orthodox journalist, which joined the seminar, in both Makor Rishon, an Orthodox newspaper, with a wide spread and in NRG-Ma’ariv.
Since it is a long article, I have translated the opening paragraphs.
For me, the fact that for the second time, I as a reform leader have received a prominent place in the orthodox press is maybe not to be necessarily accepted, but it is to be RESPECTED.
For those of you that would like to receive more information regarding this unique program, please contact me.
Sincerely,
Gusti Yehoshua Braverman

——-

Translation of the two first paragraphs The entire article is attached :
An American Orthodox Rabbi, a Reform woman and an Arab-Israeli are sitting at a Budapest pub, and are trying to convince the owner of the place, a Hungarian Jew, to make Aliyah again, after he already once made Aliyah but returned to his motherland. “I am afraid”, he told them. When I used to live in Israel, I did not feel safe. I think that the Jewish state will not survive for many more years”. The Rabbi, who intends to make Aliyah to Israel in several years’ time, does not give in to him. The representative of the Arab public also preaches Zionism: “Israel is the only place for the Jews”, he says.

This quasi-weird episode reflects pretty well the journey in the footsteps of the founders of Zionism in Europe, in which we participated. The journey, organized by the World Zionist Organization, offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to gain direct knowledge about the events, the places and the Zionist stories that brought to the establishment of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The vision of those who initiated this journey is to turn it into a custom for Israelis – adults and youth – who will see for themselves the roots of the Zionist ethos.

In Russia there is no Zionism
I am in the midst of a group of twenty Israelis who came in on flight 057 from Kiev to Odessa. This is a heterogeneous delegation that was sent here as part of an original Zionist experience named ‘Leadership for a Future seminar’. “My goal is to challenge all that you thought is ‘Zionist’ until now”, declares the organizer of the seminar, Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, “and I also want you to reflect”.

And why start specifically in Odessa? Well, as we know, the beginnings of Zionism included important figures other than Herzl. Legends such as Jabotinsky, Achad Haam, Shaul Tchernichovsky, and Haim Nachman Bialik lived in Odessa, and spread their ideas from there. Without those, it would have been harder for Herzl to promote his agenda, which at the time was completely not self-evident.

Gusti, the head of the department for Diaspora Activities in the World Zionist Organization and the representative of the Reform Movement in the National Institutions, opens the journey with words of gratitude. The world of the Torah is not unfamiliar to her; she defines herself as “religious Zionist”, even though her lifestyle is different from other religious-Zionists. “We are in the days between the Holocaust Remembrance day and Independence Day, between the Torah portion Kedoshim and Emor”, she says, and shows the parallel between those days and the ten days of Repentance. According to her, it was not incidental that she chose this period in order to hold the journey in the footsteps of Zionism.

 

MKR1 Dyokan 874 Zvika Zionut Herzel

It Is By Now No Secret Rejoinder

This conversation is critically important.  We invite all who are interested to join in either in the comments or in our Facebook group

Clearly, Dan Ross and I agree on the affirmatives: We love Israel, and we want to see it succeed as a “country of lofty ideals.” Even more than that, we probably share a sense of what those ideals look like, and I applaud him for his forward gaze. It appears, additionally, that we agree that our Western interlocutors, as defined by Ross, do not go out of their way to question Israel’s right to exist. But here’s where I think we disagree: the West’s acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state—not Netanyahu’s call for a diplomatic formulation as such but, more generally, the concept itself.

To be sure, the institutions of Israel’s statehood are firmly in place, and the West generally accepts that fact. And I am not an alarmist about the threats to Israel’s existence.

But I’m not at all sure that Europeans, just as an example, feel that the Jewish character of the state has any legitimacy, nor that that character is worthy of promotion or defense. Closer to home, the Presbyterian Church recently published the controversial “Zionism Unsettled,” a study-guide and DVD that questions both the current policies of Israel and its Jewish character.

More to the point, “Zionism Unsettled” conflates those policies and character as morally and inevitably twinned, and therein lies the difficulty. We progressive Zionists hold that Israel embodies a simultaneously (if imperfectly) Jewish and democratic character, and that destructive or short-sighted policies do not fundamentally belie or de-legitimate it. As such, we struggle against the policies, while we defend the state and its particular character.

I believe that, between these two positions, most people outside of the United States follow some variation on “Zionism Unsettled.” That is, they perceive the progressive Zionist position to be either paradoxical or quixotic and, in any case, impossible to uphold. They oppose the same policies that we progressive Zionists oppose. But insofar as they see those policies as a natural outgrowth of Zionism, they point to them as proof of the illegitimacy of Zionism itself.

And I believe that a subset of American Jewry is increasingly inclined to agree—passively, superficially or only incipiently—but to agree nonetheless.

So, when Ross specifically queries “to whom Dr. Holo believes we should be addressing ‘our Zionist assertions with sufficient confidence, information and conviction,’” I answer, as I had attempted to do in my initial posting: American Jewry. Secondarily, as per this posting, I might also address our Western interlocutors.

And here is my message: I am in unqualified agreement with Ross and his call to look to the future. And I want something additional, as well. I want progressive Zionists to re-articulate the Jewish claim to sovereignty, because it’s a compelling argument, and because American Jews may be losing sight of it. And yes, it is fundamentally an historical argument, but without it, Israel as such has no future to aim for.

Dr. Holo is the Dean of the Los Angeles Campus and Associate Professor of Jewish History at HUC-JIR/LA. He served as Director of the Louchheim School of Judaic Studies from 2006-2010. Dr. Holo’s publications focus on Medieval Jews of the Mediterranean, particularly in the Christian realm. His book, Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009.

Excerpts From the Address of the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis

Excerpts from the address of the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Richard Block, to the CCAR Convention, Chicago, March 31, 2014. 

[In discussing Israel] criticism and attachment are not necessarily incompatible….. 

There are aspects of Israel I find annoying, demoralizing, even horrifying. I support ARZA, IRAC, IMPJ, and the World Union, and I urge you, especially, to promote and campaign actively for the ARZA slate in the forthcoming WZO elections, because our Movement’s funding in Israel depends on it, and because there are things about Israeli law and society that absolutely must change. However, these feelings are manifestations of my bond with Israel, not impediments to it, and they are overwhelmed by the pride I feel at what is admirable, exemplary, even miraculous about the Jewish state. When I have a quarrel with Israel, it is a lover’s quarrel.

But while criticism and attachment can surely co-exist, there are proper and improper times, places, and ways to critique others, if we want our admonitions to be heard and to do more good than harm. The Torah commands, “Reprove your neighbor, but incur no guilt because of him.” Rashi explains: Rebuke him, but do not shame him publically. Going further, the Talmud likens those who embarrass others in public to shedders of blood.

Israel needs a many things, but one thing it does not need is more public criticism, which is ubiquitous. Some is legitimate, but lacks context. Much of it is exaggerated, unfair, uninformed, or plainly wrong. Increasingly, it lurches from offensive to anti-Semitic, rationalizing the shortcomings of Israel’s adversaries and ignoring the worst abuses of others, focusing exclusively and obsessively on the Jewish State.  

…. I choose, instead, to heed the CCAR’s Centenary Platform on Reform Judaism & Zionism, which lists “political support” as the first of “our obligations to Israel.” I elect to make common cause with others who believe that Israel’s security depends on broad bipartisan political support for the US-Israel alliance, regardless which party controls Congress, the White House, and the Knesset. 

…I am not suggesting we pretend Israel is perfect, ignore the complex moral challenges it faces, disregard its occasional failures or excesses in the exercise of power, or encourage unquestioning approval of whatever its government does. Ardent support for Israel does not permit us to deny that Palestinians, too, have rights that deserve acknowledgment and suffer hardships no one would willingly bear. 

Where Israel is concerned, rabbis have a primary duty: to nurture ahavat Yisrael – love for, identification with, and attachment, loyalty and commitment to the Jewish state, its imperfections notwithstanding. The highest and best use of our pulpits and voices is not to focus on Israel’s flaws, but on its virtues, to rebut distortions, oversimplifications, and falsehoods, to provide context and perspective, to inoculate those who will study on campuses rife with anti-Israel hostility and to support them once they get there. It is to acquaint people with Israel the vibrant democracy, that guarantees freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly, where relentless self-scrutiny is the national pastime, and women, Arabs, religious minorities and gay and lesbian persons enjoy rights, protections, and opportunities unknown elsewhere in the region and most other places, the Israel that has sent humanitarian aid and emergency relief missions to more than 140 countries and provided medical care to more than 700 Syrians wounded in a genocide to the world seems mainly indifferent, the Israel that rescued tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, the only time in history that white people took black people out of Africa to free them, rather than enslave them, the Israel whose arts and culture are as rich as its geography is various and its beauty is breathtaking, the Israel whose myriad innovations in science, medicine, and technology are contributing so much to humanity, the Israel that is infinitely more than the sum of its conflicts.

It is also the Israel of my favorite poet, Yehuda Amichai, who wrote HaMakom SheBo Anu Tzodkim: The Place Where We Are Right.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.