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Israel (KN 5775)

KN the most sacred night of the Jewish year! We have gathered together, put on tallitot and heard the plaintive chanting of the KN prayer. On this night we contemplate our state of affairs. We've had ten days to repent, for those who began back in Elul, tonight culminates a 40 day process, parallel to the time Moshe spent on Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah. Whether you have spent 40 days or 40 seconds preparing for this moment, it is here; so now what are you going to do with it? Tonight we take stock of the state of our souls, the state of the shul and the state of Jews, Judaism and Israel. I leave you to take stock of your own soul and Cindy will handle the state of the shul, but I want to talk to you about Jews, Judaism and Israel.

This was a difficult summer for Jews, Judaism and Israel. The State of Israel spent the summer under attack and defending herself; she has been portrayed as the aggressor in the media and become further isolated amongst the nations of the world. There has been a rise in anti-Semitism not seen since before the Holocaust. This summer my mother-in-law sent me a David Harris Blog: "What I Hope to Hear at High Holy Day Services". Harris is the Executive Director of the AJCommittee, he is an eloquent spokesman and a leading advocate for the Jewish people. His concerns are the rise in anti-Semitism and the importance of supporting Israel. This summer there were anti-Semitic incidents from Australia to South Africa, in South America and here in North America, but most especially in Europe. With Survivors, thankfully, still living in our midst, there were anti-Semitic incidents, demonstrations and even attacks in France, German and Italy; the foreign ministers of each issued a call for restraint. Chants of "Death to the Jews," "Hitler was right" and "Reopen Auschwitz" were heard in the streets of Berlin and Paris. Synagogues have been attacked and Jews have been killed. With the words "Never Again" permanently etched into the mind of every Jew, these are scary times and we must remain vigilant.

In the weeks leading up to the HHDs, I read articles on why rabbis would not, should not, speak about Israel this year. And yet, every rabbinic conference call, webinar and meeting that I participated in this summer was about how to talk about Israel during the holidays this year. As I speak about Israel every year, I knew that I was going to this fall as well. Over the summer I took to reading Ari Shavit's book on Israel, My Promised Land. In his own words, My Promised Land is not an academic work of history. Rather, it is a personal journey through contemporary and historical Israel, recounting the larger Israel saga by telling several dozen specific Israeli stories that are significant and poignant. [Kindle location 6745]

Shavit begins by telling the story of his great-grandfather, Herbert Bentwich's arrival in Palestine in 1897, with a vision of Jews again settling in their ancient homeland. He writes of the birth of the kibbutz movement, the establishment of orange groves as a reclaiming of the land and the role of Masada in forming a new vision of an Israeli that was the antithesis of the weak scholarly Jews of Europe. He writes about the inevitable clashes between these new Jews in their ancient land and the indigenous Arabs living there. He writes of a country formed by strong personalities doing what needed to be done in order for the Jewish state to be established and then to survive. He sees Iran as the existential threat of the 21st century. He thinks the Settlement movement was the biggest mistake Israel has made and unless resolved will be our doom. But in a way that only an Israeli can be, he is an optimist in the face of multiple threats. I found his analysis to be both eye opening and painful. It was a sobering and disturbing book to read, especially as missiles rained down upon Israel.

Over 2000 missiles were fired into Israel this summer, for those of us with the Red Alert app on our phones, it buzzed constantly, each time a reminder that death and destruction was being sent towards our brothers and sisters in Israel. Hamas was at war with the Israeli people, but Israel was only at war with Hamas, not the Palestinian people, because every life matters to us. For Israelis it meant spending the summer running to a safe-room every time the sirens went off. It meant that families could not go to the beach because you only had 15 seconds to get to safety when the alarm sounded. Even President Obama said, 'Israel has the right to defend itself.' A statement that I hope all of us take to be self-evident, but in spite of it, Israel was routinely criticized for doing just that, for defending herself. A combination of US financial support and Israeli ingenuity and knowhow allowed Israel to design, develop and deploy the Iron Dome missile defense system to protect her citizens from the missiles that fell endlessly from Gaza.

In response, Israel bombed Gaza in an attempt to destroy Hamas missile launching sites, which tragically they placed strategically in schools, mosques and hospitals. Israel would drop leaflets in advance warning people to vacate the area, Israel would drop a knock-knock device on a building before a bomb to warn any inhabitants that the last moment to escape had arrived. Israel even called individual cell phones in Gaza to warn residents to get out of an area that was going to be bombed. And in spite of all this, Israel was routinely criticized by western nations for the disparity of Israeli to Palestinian casualties that was a direct result of how the two governments chose to use their resources. Isn't it interesting that now that the US and our allies are bombing the Islamic State in Syria the White House has acknowledged the deaths of civilian women and children are unavoidable and acceptable under the circumstances. This summer Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu said, "Israel uses rockets to protect its children, but Hamas uses children to protect their rockets."

While Israel used her resources to protect and defend her citizens, Hamas took millions of dollars in aid money, that they could have put to good use building schools, mosques, hospitals and homes; and instead purchased weapons and built terror tunnels into Israel. According to reports in the Israeli news this summer the plan was to use the tunnels on Rosh Hashanah to infiltrate with the hope of kidnapping and killing Israelis. Can you imagine how different this Yom Kippur would be if they had succeeded? Israel went into Gaza to find and destroy these tunnels to eliminate this threat. They found more than 30 of these terror tunnels. But sadly some were used before they were discovered and destroyed.

On the 12th day of Operation Protective Edge on Saturday, two soldiers were killed and two were wounded in a firefight with a Hamas squad that infiltrated Israel in the Eshkol region via a tunnel from the central Gaza Strip on Saturday morning.

The squad of nine terrorists was headed toward an Israeli community when it encountered an IDF patrol, a senior military source said.
An exchange of fire ensued and one Gazan was shot dead, while a senior officer was wounded. The other terrorists fled back into the Strip through the tunnel.

The terrorists were dressed in IDF uniforms and were armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, syringes, sedatives and handcuffs – the latter apparently to be used in taking hostages. [Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2014] Imagine the chaos that would have ensued had they reached their target in the neighboring community.

In spite of destroying the terror tunnels, there were still other terribly tragic moments, like when the three teenagers, Gilad Sha'ar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel were kidnapped and then found murdered. And then when in an act of revenge-killing Jews kidnapped and murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teen. Near the end of the war when a 4 year old Israeli child was killed by Palestinian rocket fire. And the death of many Palestinian women and children.

When the IDF went into Gaza with a ground offensive that they knew would produce causalities on both sides, but they concluded that they were left with no choice, and so they did what had to be done to protect the citizens of Israel. The IDF follows a code of conduct called Tohar HaNeshek – Purity of Arms – it is guided by Jewish values and every soldier must live by it. And they used it even when it meant putting our own soldiers in harm way to do so.

What happened to the Palestinian people this summer was tragic, but it came about as a result the decisions made by their Hamas government. No people should have to live under a government that does not protect its citizens, that puts them in harm's way. Everyone deserves a home that is not threatened by rockets, a school that does not teach hatred and violence.

Israeli writer and peace activist Amos Oz was interviewed this summer by a German newspaper, Deutsche Welle –

Amoz Oz: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusual way: by presenting one or two questions to your readers and listeners. May I do that?
Deutsche Welle: Go ahead!
AO: Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?
Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?
With these two questions I pass the interview to you.

DW: Where do you draw the line?
AO: Destroy the tunnels wherever they come from, and try to hit strictly Hamas targets and no other targets.
DW: There seems to be a problem here. The tunnels are an elaborate system and difficult to find. The entries are hidden in public and private buildings, so you would have to do house-to-house searches - which implies a civilian toll. The same applies to destroying rocket launchers in civilian areas...
AO: Well, I am afraid that there can be no way in the world to avoid civilian casualties among the Palestinians as long as the neighbor puts his child on the lap while shooting into your nursery.

Israelis and Jews the world over want p eace, but it has to be a real peace, an enduring peace, a genuine peace. How do you make peace with an enemy that does not understand that hospitals are for healing and schools are for teaching, they are not for storing weapons. Israel is not only open to negotiations, but eager to negotiate; however, they have not been able to find a negotiating partner. Partners must have mutual respect, mutual recognition, Israel cannot negotiate with an enemy that still professes to destroy them, to kill Jews wherever they find them as the Hamas charter calls for. It is amazing to me that Hamas and ISIS slaughter their fellow Arabs and beheads innocents on camera and yet it is Israel that gets the negative headlines in the press and is accused of war crimes by the UN. If you're like me, then you are incredibly frustrated by this double standard, by these constant attacks on the Jewish state.

My brother-in-law, Moshe, is a prolific reader who often sends things my way to read, suggested that I read the most recent posting by Daniel Gordis in the Jerusalem Post, "What We Talk about When We Talk about Israel." Gordis posits that when we focus on the conflict of the summer, we miss the point. He points out that the important core discussion is about why Jews live in Israel, that it is first found in the Bible itself; that was passionately debated at the time of the first Zionist Congress between Herzl and Ahad Ha'am and that it continues to this day. Some Jews will always choose to live in Eretz Yisrael while others of us will choose to support Israel from the Diaspora. So what is it that we can do from here?

First, and foremost, we need to share that we love Israel! We can defend Israel. Whenever you hear Israel being attacked or criticized, you can stand up for Israel; at the water cooler, on campus, in the supermarket. When you read something critical of Israel, you can respond with a letter to the editor. When the government takes action, you can encourage or if supportive, thank our representatives.

Next we can support Israel. We can do it by joining Mercaz USA. It is our connection to the World Zionist Organization as Conservative Jews. The more of us who join, the more votes we will have at the WZO elections and the more money will be directed to pluralistic endeavors in Israel. This summer was an exciting time for the development of pluralism in Israel. There were high level talks between the PM and leaders of CJ and the Reform movement. You may have seen the posting on Facebook the other day, "For the first time in Jewish history, this Yom Kippur, the Kotel's ancient stones will bear witness to men and women – and families praying together, side by side. These services are being let by two young Israelis, one a rabbinical student and the other the daughter of a good friend. I am so proud!

We can also support Israel by purchasing the Israel Bonds we promoted on RH and we can do it by purchasing Israeli products from stores to help boost their economy which was hurt by this summer's conflicts. You can send/encourage your children to go on an Israel trip. If they are in high school, then USY Israel Pilgrimage is the way to go; if they are in college or young adults, then Birthright is the way to go.

And for the rest of us, let's go to Israel together – this year! I would like to see us form a group to go together in May. I agree with what Larry Seidman said on RH during the Israel Bond appeal, now is the time to support Israel financially or to visit to help you understand why you should want to do so. Please come talk to me if you are interested. I have colleagues who manage to take trips every 2-3 years; it is time for us to go as a congregation. When I talk with students who have gone on Birthright trips, they all have a great time; but those who go with their Hillel also talk about the bonds they have when they return to campus. Many of us have been to Israel, but it is not the same as the bonding that takes place when it is a congregational trip. Solidarity missions took place this summer when things were at their worst, even though we didn't go then, we can and we should still go this year; join me this May in Israel on a Shomrei Torah trip!

So let's make sure that each of us in our way does what we can to support and defend the Jewish state, to stand in solidarity with Israel, to help see that she thrives in spite of everything. Am Yisrael Chai!

Mon, August 10 2020 20 Av 5780