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Israel (RH2 5779)

Rosh Hashanah Day 2 - 5779/2018
9/11 and Ahavat Yisrael
Rabbi Randy Mark
Shomrei Torah, Wayne, NJ

September 11th and a Tuesday again too. I suspect that most of know exactly where we were when we heard the news 17 years ago. I was at the Y with the Wayne Clergy Fellowship and when we heard what was going on, we all headed back to our various Houses of Worship to see what comfort we might provide to our members at this time of crisis.  We were actually one of the first to publically open doors and both members and non-members, Jews and non-Jews came together here. I want to share with you a prayer that was adapted by my colleague here in NJ, Rabbi Lisa Malik.  

A Prayer for the Anniversary of September 11
Adapted by Rabbi Lisa Malik
from original poem by Jeffrey A. Spitzer,
producer of,
originally published on JewzNewz,

Adonai, M’kor Chayim, Boreh n’fashot rabote,    Source of Life, Creator of all flesh,

Mi-maa-makeem k’rateecha, From out of the depths we call unto you.

Protect us from the hand of all who seek to destroy us.

HaMakom y’nachem, May God continue to comfort those who have stood alone without parent or sibling or husband or wife or child.
Adonai, continue to strengthen us, enabling us to stand with those who were orphaned 17 years ago by a terrorist attack on our country.
This country, our country, shelter of peace to the downtrodden, a beacon of light and justice, a country that was  dimmed by horror and tragedy on that infamous date, September 11, 2001.
On this day, the shining cities of New York and Washington were diminished like Jerusalem after the destruction of the Beyt HaMikdash, our Holy Temple.
Thank you, Adonai for providing us with aid and comfort on that horrific day, enabling us to maintain our courage and our efforts to support those who were in need on September 11, 2001 and in the months and years that followed.
Teach us to speak to our children with love and support and courage and understanding.
Gain for us a heart of wisdom, that we may act out of compassion and thoughtfulness, and not out of anger or prejudice.
Continue to strengthen the hands of those who defend this country, as well as those who try to maintain peace and prevent future terrorist attacks.
Accept with mercy our prayers for our country and for the victims of 9/11.

May their memories be for a blessing.
Zichronam livracha.

And let us all say, Amen.

Our world was forever changed that day. We used to leave the front door of the synagogue open and unlocked all day long before that fateful day, now it is locked most of the time.  Every year we look for ways to improve our security, to keep us all safe. We now have cameras keeping an eye on the building, much improved lighting, soon there will be a fenced in area for our children to be able to go out and play and still be in a secured area.  This year we will have a security guard not just on the High Holy Days, but also during some Religious school hours.  And we just recently were awarded a Homeland Security Grant to improve the security at the front of the building. I can’t say that I like any of it very much, but it is a sign of the times in which we live.  

And while we think security issues are a concern here, try living in Israel. Every home has a bomb shelter, all citizens have gas masks, and security is even tighter there than it is here. They live with a threat that is much more pervasive and much more imminent.  Before the building of the security fence, terrorist attacks were much more common – bombings, shootings, stabbings.  But the government took the steps necessary to improve the safety and security of their citizens, just as we have done here. There are some who applaud the actions of the Israeli government and there are others who find their actions abhorrent.  I’m not sure that we are entitled to judge them from here, which is not to say that we can’t have an opinion on actions taken by the Jewish State.  But we have to remain cognizant of the difference between observing from a safe distance and living there.

As some of you know I only recently began attending AIPAC events. My view had been that they were too right-wing for me, too supportive of the Netanyahu government without question or challenge.  Not that you would have found me at a J-street event either, I saw them as too left-wing and not always friendly towards Israel for an organization claiming to be pro-Israel. Let’s face it, Israel is a complex place and it requires thoughtful people spending time getting to know the issues. It is all too easy to simply buy into the public media campaigns that vilify Israel and either be offended or applaud them.  

So what brought me to AIPAC? Colleagues, I spoke to rabbis from around NJ and the USA; from across the religious spectrum and they all told me that they were comfortable at AIPAC. The numbers they shared with me were staggering – 18,000 pro-Israel Americans, 275 synagogue groups, hundreds of rabbis – more than attend our rabbinical conventions; it seemed to be something worth checking out.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that AIPAC ran a very even handed conference; they very much want to appeal to both liberals and conservatives, so go out of their way to make sure not to offend either Democrats or Republicans.

The big fear at AIPAC is that Israel will cease to be a bipartisan topic and with the current congressional climate it would become just one more topic for Democrats and Republicans to fight over. It is a fairly recent phenomenon that support for Israel has been associated with the Republican Party and that the Democratic Party has become hostile towards Israel. This has led some Israel supporters to switch their political allegiance, but for many other Democratic supporters it has created a dilemma between their politics and their support of Israel.  

I think that much of what plagues American political discourse is a lack of civility.  We have forgotten how to talk to one another, how to listen to someone with whom we disagree. Rather than an exchange of ideas, we have two sides each proclaiming loudly and forcefully their perspective.  There is no true dialogue, nor a belief that there is more than one right answer.  We seem to have forgotten that we can learn from one another.  We surround ourselves with people and Facebook friends who agree with us.  Others are not just wrong, but bad, the enemy.  

This is also a problem within the Jewish community. A generation ago, we were unified in our support for Israel. Israel was the “David” in the Arab Middle East standing up to the Goliath of the hostile Arab nations surrounding her and seeking her destruction. The fact that Israel even existed was seen as a miracle. However, after 50 years of Palestinians living under Israeli control, for many in the American Jewish community Israel is now seen as the powerful Goliath and the Palestinians have become “David”; support for the Jewish State has eroded in many places. Israel has gone from victim to aggressor in the minds of many and to the horrified disbelief of others.

If I can only convey one concept today it is that Ahavat Yisrael, love of Israel, has been an essential Jewish belief since long before the establishment of the State of Israel and must remain central to each and every one of us today.  There are some who think Prime Minister Netanyahu is exactly what Israel needs and adore him. There are some who think the PM is horrible and that the policies of his government are horrible.  My argument is that either way, our love of Israel has to be more basic to our Judaism than the policies of any particular government. It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I think the Rabbanut, the official rabbis of the Israeli government are most detestable and disgusting rabbis I know.  I think that they are racist, xenophobic and the worst kind of fundamentalist.  The Judaism they represent is so repugnant to me that I have a hard time considering us part of the same religion.  Having shared my tirade with you, I can say that in spite of them and their exalted position within the government which I abhor; my love of Israel remains intact.  Part of the difficulty is that the term Israel can be a reference to the State, the Land or the People.  I’m not always happy with the policies and practices of the State of Israel, but it does not impact my love of the Land of Israel or Israelis.

This summer I read Yossi Klein Halevi’s most recent book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.  I’ve had the pleasure of studying with him at the Hartman Institute; he is an astute observer of life in Israel and an articulate spokesman for a perspective that I find compelling. As one who is American born, his command of English is as good as yours and mine and as one who has lived in Israel for more than 30 years, he can speak firsthand about life there. At Hartman he co-directs the Muslim Leadership Initiative with Imam Abdullah Antepli, demonstrating his desire to work together with his Arab neighbors.  In this small, but passionate book, he writes ten letters that are small sermonettes attempting to share in and open and honest way his views and his understanding of history to his Arab neighbors, living so close by and yet so far away.  It is presented as a first foray into the world of dialogue.  In addition to writing it in English for our benefit, he had it translated into Arab and posted on the internet, so that anyone in the Arab world can read it free of charge and perhaps send him a letter in reply.  

A Palestinian intellectual, Raja Shehadeh, who has published on the Palestinian occupation in English, responded to the book with an editorial in the NYTimes, saying that he found the book to be a paternalistic and condescending series of lectures directed at him, but not an invitation to dialogue. There have been scathing reviews of this review, but I want to focus on the reply from Yossi Klein Halevi himself in a letter to the editor of the Times of Israel, I have received some moving responses to my book from Palestinians who, along with their deep criticisms of Israel, write that the time has come for Palestinians to come to terms with the legitimacy of the Jewish presence. But almost all of them have asked that I not publicize their names because of fear of retribution.

He also writes, I am keenly mindful of the power imbalance between us, and that is the starting point of my book. But to move toward a solution requires understanding why most Israelis regard that power imbalance not as the cause of the conflict between us but as its result. I want to be your neighbor, Raja, not your occupier.  

He further writes, Continuing to deny any legitimacy to Israelis’ identity only deepens the conflict and prolongs the occupation. And towards the end he writes, I certainly wrote with the hope that I would find Palestinians who would listen – but no less, with the hope of finding Palestinians who would respond.

Dialogue between warring parties is not easy.  However, making the attempt is worth lauding.  I want us to support Israel and there are many ways to do so. Today we will ask you both to consider pledging to support some specific intuitions in Israel, but also as we always do, to invest in Israel. In a bit we will call on Rob Spodek to come speak about Israel Bonds, but before he comes, I want to share with you a new initiative that I am supporting this year and perhaps you will consider doing so too. This year you have not one, not two, but three pledge cards.  The one I want to call to your attention is entitled “Support Israelis working for Social Change”.  As more people have issues with the current leadership and power structure, but want to find ways to continue to support Israel, new initiatives have popped up. This one invites you to choose one of five organizations – Women of the Wall, Israel Gay Youth, Bizchut, Movement for Public Journalism, and Israel Religious Action Center; each of which is fighting for the rights of some group within Israel and then indicate at what level you want to support them. Participate or not as you see fit.

The one group we will ask all of you to consider supporting is our counterpart in Israel, the Masorti Movement which is Conservative Judaism there; it is likeminded Israelis fighting the ulta-Orthodox establishment for the rights of Jews like us, ironic that Israel is the only western democracy where non-Orthodox Judaism is not recognized as legitimate. So join me in supporting them.  Not on a pledge card today, but something you will hear about in the near future is the importance of joining Mercaz USA which is the Conservative Zionist Organization, the more people who join, the more funds we will have access to.  So just tuck that piece of information away and save it for another day.  

I ask you to love Israel, sometimes in spite of itself, and to find ways to support her, specific or general. Israel needs us and truth be told, we need Israel too. Let’s continue the love fest!


Wed, September 22 2021 16 Tishrei 5782