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Support for Israel (RH2 5766)

Continuing Support for Israel!

Rabbi Randall Mark

Wayne, NJ

This morning once again we read the haunting story of the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac, from the Torah. According to tradition, the mountain that Avraham and Yitzchak ascended was none other than Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount or Mt. Moriah. There is a tradition that this is the same spot where Yaakov had his famous dream of ‘Heaven’s Ladder’. It is that patch of real estate in ancient Jerusalem where the Temple was built and we now find that magnificent architectural wonder, the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim Holy Shrine. This is one of the most sacred and controversial plots of land on the face of the earth. Since it was first recorded in history over 5,000 years ago Jebusites, Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians and Romans have ruled it as well as Christians, Muslims and Jews. It is still a source of wonder, inspiration and conflict today.

History is not something that most Americans are good at; we tend focus on the here and now. I was recently asked why we allowed the Muslims to build the Dome of the Rock on site of the Temple. It’s not so much that we allowed them, but rather they controlled the area at the time. The Second Temple had been expanded under Herod the Great. He is the one who built the retaining wall around the base of the mountain to support the massive Temple. This base wall is all that remains of the ancient holy Temple, the Kotel, the Western or Wailing Wall. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in the year 70 CE. On the site the Emperor Hadrian built a temple to their god, Jove (Jupiter). The Byzantines later destroyed this, when they conquered the area and made it Christian.

Following a brief period of Persian rule, Jerusalem was captured in 638, six years after the death of Muhammad, by the Muslim Caliph Umar. Soon after his occupation of the city, Umar cleansed the Temple Mount, built a small mosque and dedicated the site to Muslim worship. The most imposing structure the Muslims found in Jerusalem was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Nearby the

Arab conquerors undertook to build a more spectacular edifice, the Dome of the Rock, not only to proclaim the supremacy of Islam, but also to ensure that the new followers of Islam would not be tempted by Christianity. The site chosen was the very same rock where previously had stood the Jupiter temple of the Romans and before that, the two temples of the Jews.


There are conflicting opinions about the Temple Mount within Judaism today. There are those who want to destroy the Dome of the Rock and build a Third Temple on the site. I can’t think of a better way to start WWIII! These coreligionists of our also want to reinstate animal sacrifice as in days of old. However, there are other Jews, who passively dream of a day when there will be a Third Temple, but they envision it differently; they see it as a place of peace, not sacrifice. No animals will be killed in this progressive Temple, only grain and other such items will be ‘offered’ on the alter. The fact of the matter is that if Jews controlled our ‘holiest site’ then we’d be at each other’s throats trying to kill each other to gain control of it. Better that it should be an idealistic dream.

My colleague, Richard Plavin, reminded me that survival has not come easily to the Jewish state. Many Jews today don’t remember a time when there was not an Israel. They take Israel and her existence for granted, but we know that is not a luxury that we can afford. From her inception in 1948, she has been under attack – first by the Arab nations, then by Palestinian terrorists and now in the media war that the Palestinian’s manipulate much more effectively than we do. It used to be that Jewish fundraisers could count on support of Israel to bring in dollars from American Jews across the religious spectrum, but that is no longer true. In fact, Israel has been portrayed so effectively as the oppressors of the Palestinians that many young Jews on their college campuses are uncomfortable being openly pro-Israel. It is so very important for us to continue to tell the story of Israel’s struggle to survive, so that our children and our grandchildren will be able to overcome what they see on TV, what they read on the internet, what they hear on campus.

Let us remind our progeny and ourselves that in 1948 Israel accepted the UN Partition Plan even though it was very unfavorable for us. We were so excited at the thought of a sovereign Jewish nation in the land of Israel after 2000 years of exile. But our Arab neighbors rejected the plan, the offer; and declared war on Israel. We have won every battle that has been fought, but at the cost of young Jewish lives. The war has continued for more than 50 years. When wars are fought people get displaced. The Palestinian refugee problem is a result of this war that Israel never wanted, but has had to fight. Often people forget that 800,000 Jewish refugees were created by this war as well, but when they came from Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, from all the Arab states the State of Israel absorbed them. They started out living in tent in refugee camps, but we built them housing, we educated them and gave them medical care and in a generation they were integrated into Israeli society.

Israel has remained a refuge for Jews in need from around the world; tens of thousands have come from Ethiopia and been lifted from poverty and illiteracy to citizenship. Israel has absorbed a million Jews from the Former Soviet Union. This little country of ours is truly a modern miracle. While we absorbed our displaced persons, the Arab world with all their land, money and resources left the Palestinian refugees living in squalid camps for all these years; places that bred poverty, illness, hatred and terrorism.

It has not been easy for us to try and get along with our Arab neighbors. Often times, we have had to function without a partner; as we did this summer with the unilateral disengagement from Gaza. It was one of the most painful and most profound acts in this long running drama. History will ultimate determine if Ariel Sharon is a Jewish hero who made a huge sacrifice for the sake of an ultimate peace or if he will be infamous as the Israeli leader with the dubious distinction of giving up Jewish homes and territory and putting terrorist that much closer to the heart of Israel. In the meantime, there are those who laud him for his efforts and those who condemn him for his audacity.

I truly believe that it is not our place to judge the Prime Minister. We don’t live there; we don’t have to endure the terrorist attacks, the bombings or the rockets; we don’t send our children to serve in the IDF. Our job as Diaspora Jews is to support whoever is the duly elected leader of the State of Israel and whatever policies their government decides upon. We might not like them, we might not agree with them, but unless we are willing to put ourselves on the line, we’d best be supportive of them. There will be plenty of people who are more than ready to criticize anything that Israel does.

The Israeli government’s peace plan is founded on the principal of exchanging land for peace and security. This was the philosophy behind the return of the Sinai to Egypt in 1982, as a result of the Camp David accords, and it remains the cornerstone of Israeli policy to this day. We should understand that there are right-wing religious and nationalist groups that oppose this policy. They focus on the fact that in the Torah God gives the land of Israel to us and so they feel that we have no right to give it away. However, most rabbis and certainly Conservative rabbis endorse and support the government policy as being consistent with halakha and an appropriate course of action based on the fact that when values conflict you have to make choices. In this case the value of preserving and maintaining the land of Israel vs. the trading land for peace – we choose peace even at the expense of loss of our land.

We read in Deuteronomy Rabbah (5.15) – Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta said: See how desirable is peace! When the Holy One sought to bless Israel, He found no term which included all the blessings He wished to bestow upon them – except peace. How do know this? It is written, "May Adonai grant His people strength; may Adonai bless His people with peace." (Psalm 29:11) To show how highly we value peace, the rabbis who composed our t’filot end every Amida and every Kaddish with the phrase, "May the One who brings peace to His universe bring peace to us and to all Israel." [Hebrew] Peace is the ultimate value. So yes, we can trade land for peace!

Peace comes at a price – that is something that we understand as Americans. We have seen countless young men give their lives to secure peace and preserve our freedom. I’m sure that the world has no idea of the price that the Jewish soul paid this summer as Jew evicted Jew, but it was done for the sake of peace, a very good cause, and at the direction of the Israeli government, I might add. We too must do our part. Immediately, after the disengagement, as a sign of our appreciation and support, the Masorti Movement, the Conservative Movement in Israel started a Pizzas for the Police campaign; they purchased as many pizzas as the could and they started to deliver them to groups that had participated in the engagement. For a short time it became an international phenomenon as Jews from around the world sent donations to help purchase pizzas. It is too late for us to participate in the pizza fund, but there is still much that we can do.

I hope that you took to heart Marlene’s words as she spoke to us about the importance of Israel Bonds and I hope that you made the commitment to purchase one. Besides being the right thing to do, it is also a good investment. If you haven’t yet made your pledge, it’s not too late and I encourage you do so. But I’m not going to stop there. I would hope that each of you would choose to support the Masorti Movement. You will get a mailing form us asking you to make a High Holy Day pledge not only to the shul but to the Movement as well, specifically to the Masorti Foundation. We are the wealthiest Jewish community in the world and we have an obligation to help support Jewish life in Israel and I mean specifically our brand of Judaism.

MASORTI, meaning traditional, is the Hebrew name for the movement of Conservative Judaism in Israel. The Masorti Movement, founded in 1979, is the umbrella organization of Masorti kehillot (congregations), which foster the practice of traditional Judaism among Israeli men and women while embracing modernity. In promoting the combined values of Conservative Judaism, religious tolerance and Zionism, the Movement strives to nurture a healthy, pluralistic, spiritual and ethical foundation for Israeli society. Approximately 50,000 Israelis are members and affiliates of our kehillot and national programs, which engage some 125,000 Israelis each year. More than sixty percent of the Masorti community are native-born Israelis or come from lands in which English is not their native tongue.

But I’m not going to stop there, as American Conservative Zionists; we all should be members of MERCAZ USA – the Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement. The Voice of American Conservative Jews for Israel. MERCAZ USA works to create the ideal Jewish Society within the State of Israel, based on social justice, democracy and pluralism, as was envisioned by our people's prophets, rabbis and scholars for the past 4,000 years. We also fight vigorously for Israel's security. MERCAZ STANDS FOR: Securing Israel's Safety. Securing an Open Pluralistic Jewish Society. Securing Social Justice and Ecology. Securing Aliyah and Zionist Education. Securing the Conservative/Masorti Movement in Israel.

Joining MERCAZ is easy to do, after Rosh Hashanah, sit down at your computer and go to their web site ( In just moments you’ll be a member and then you can register to vote in the next Zionist Election – it is important that we do so, to insure that our vision for pluralism in Israel receives funding. In the last Zionist election most Conservative Jews were either ignorant of the fact that they could participate or they were too apathetic to do so – either way our registration numbers were blown away by both the Reform and the Orthodox movements and it had a real financial impact on our Movement in

Israel. So please do you part to help. Israel needs us and we want to make sure that it is an Israel where our brand of Judaism is respected as legitimate.

As in the past, I encourage you to visit Israel, make it your tourist destination for your next family vacation. Go there for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah family trip – celebrate with an aliya at the Masorti Kotel or on Masada with a Masorti rabbi allowing men and women to pray together as is our practice. Send your children to Israel – on USY Pilgrimage, with Ramah, or on Nativ. Encourage your college students who have not been before to take advantage of a Birthright trip they can even go with Koach and have a Conservative experience.

I also want to take a moment to talk to you about aliya to Israel. For a very long time this was a topic that was not discussed in the Conservative Movement. But times have changed and Conservative Movement Jews now make aliya to Israel. Our congregation has had one person make aliya during my tenure, Judy Kiguelman, and, God willing, there will be others. While Dassy and I did spend a year living in Israel and we loved it, we don’t have any plans to return to Israel to live there. However, it is worth talking about and thinking about – who knows where life may lead you?

The vision of Israel that I want to leave you with is the image of the Israeli soldiers and police who evacuated the Gaza Settlements. They were amazing. Let me share with the words that my colleague, Jack Reimer, penned this summer when writing about the disengagement:

There … was a confrontation between two cultures. Each side fervently believed that they were right. The people who lived in Gaza said: "This is our home! We have lived here for thirty seven years! We have given birth to our children here. We have buried our parents here. HOW DARE YOU evict us!" They held up signs that said: "YEHUDIM LO MIGARSHIM YEHUDIM – Jews don’t expel Jews"

And when the police came to pull them out, they spat at them. They called them terrible names. They called them "Nazis!" They called it a pogrom. They threw paint at them. They even threw some kind of acid at them.

And the police? The police took it. They were kind and gentle and empathetic. They davened the last minchah in the synagogue with them, before they closed it down. They went into the homes and sat on the floor with the people and listened to them sympathetically, as if they were making a shivah call, and then they led them out, as gently … as they could.

These policemen and these soldiers, some of whom were only 18 or 19 years old, some of whom came FROM THESE VERY SETTLEMENTS, or who had mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters who lived in these settlements, some of whom agreed with these settlers on the justice of their views, took incredible abuse but did their job. The task, which everyone feared would lead to serious injuries and perhaps even to deaths, the task that everyone thought would take at least six weeks, was done in six days and without a single serious injury or death.

These policemen and these soldiers are the real heroes, perhaps the only heroes of this summer.

Not the government which encouraged people to settle in Gaza, which urged them to go, which told them that if they went they would help ensure the security of the country and then changed its mind and evicted them.

Not the government bureaucracy which promised them help in relocating and then did not come through – at least not for all of them – and left many of these people to wander from hotel to hotel, in search of a home and in search of a job.

Not the agitators who came into Gaza from the West Bank and elsewhere and tried to incite violence.

Not the rabbinate – which urged soldiers to refuse to obey orders something on which the stability of a country depends.

And not the settlers, some of whom lived until the very last moment in denial, who believed, until the very last moment that a miracle would happen, that the Messiah would arrive, or that Sharon would change his mind, who did not understand until the very last moment that D’Nile is a river in Egypt and not a policy. These people could have had proper housing, these people could have had government help in finding jobs elsewhere, if only they had been willing to accept the reality that the withdrawal was going to happen, that the Messiah who did not appear at Auschwitz was not going to appear in Gaza.

The only heroes of this summer were the soldiers and the police who went in WITHOUT NIGHSTICKS because they did not want to use violence, who only used water cannons to disperse the crowds, but who never raised a club. The only heroes of this summer were the police and the soldiers, who sat on the floor with the people of Gaza when they came into their homes, who listened respectfully to their laments at having to leave their homes, who mourned with them, who shed tears with them, and then, gently and respectfully and politely, escorted them out of their homes. The only heroes of this summer are the policewomen who carried out the women and the policemen who carried out the men in as mentschlich a way as they could. The only heroes of this summer are the police and the soldiers who were called "Nazis" … and yet never lost their cool and never answered back in kind, and who made what could have easily been a blood bath as peaceful and as proper as they could. Kol Hakavod to these young people who did an almost impossible job, a terribly painful job, as gently and as carefully and as kindly as they possibly could.

This is the Israel that I want you think about, that I want you to talk about when you go home for lunch; this is the Israel that I want you to support as much as you possibly can – they have earned our love, our respect and our support.

May this New Year 5766 be a year of peace, prosperity and pluralism for the Land of Israel and for the Jewish people everywhere; and let us say: Amen!


Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780