Candidates in the 4th Congressional District Offer Perspectives on Israel

With the primaries next week, candidates are crisscrossing the 18 newly drawn congressional districts in Pennsylvania, talking to voters about a host of issues, ranging from gun violence to education to healthcare to the environment. However, the issue of Israel is rarely discussed during candidate forums and speaking engagements. Since this issue is profoundly important to many of our readers, we have decided to ask some of the candidates about their views on Israel, starting with those in the 4th Congressional District, which now consists primarily of Montgomery County. [Read more…]

The Direction of Prayer

By Rabbi Chaim Galfand

Sunday, May 13, is Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Reunification Day. This Israeli national holiday celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 in the wake of the Six Day War. As we prepare to mark this occasion when the Kotel (Western Wall) and the entirety of the Old City came under Israeli control, it seems like a very appropriate time to answer a question that has been posed to me: why do Jews face east when they pray? [Read more…]

Why Israel Should Not Be Extolling President Trump

Photo by Wayne McLean (Jgritz) http://www.waynemclean.com/

Jerusalem. Photo: Wayne McLean

Israel is going gaga over President Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There are over 110 “God bless Trump” signs in Jerusalem. There are plans to name a future rail station near the Kotel (Western Wall) after Trump. The Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise.

A major reason is that Trump, along with a majority of Republicans, is in denial about climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US, and the world. Despite the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and the many recent severe climate events, Trump is the only major world leader denying climate change. He has pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate pact agreed to by all of the 195 nations attending, including Israel. He appointed a climate denier as director of the US Environmental Protection Agency. He also has filled many other important positions with those who deny anthropomorphic global change. He is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken recent efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, claiming that he is freeing businesses from regulations.

Israelis should be especially concerned about climate threats. Due to climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier and, according to military experts, this makes violence, terrorism, and war more likely. If the rapid melting of polar icecaps and glaciers continue, the coastal plain that contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure will be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.

Israel is already facing the effects of climate change, now in the fifth year of a severe drought. The water level of the Sea of Galilee is at a 100 year low, much of the Jordan River is reduced to a trickle, and the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly.  Water experts warn that if the Sea of Galilee continues to shrink, it could become a salt sea like the Dead Sea, as underground springs release saline water into it.

Another important reason is that Trump’s policies are contrary to basic Jewish values in terms of concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry, and the poor. Rather than improving Obamacare, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported health legislation that would have caused up to 32 million Americans to lose their insurance and others to pay higher premiums. Rather than supporting efforts to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure (given a grade of  D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers), Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that greatly benefits the wealthiest Americans and large, profitable corporations. This will increase the U.S. national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and environmental and health protections.

Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As NY Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post, put it in a recent article, Trump’s character involves, “lying, narcissism, and bullying.” He continues: “In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.” Do we really want to honor such a person and make him a role model for our children and grandchildren?

In addition, lavishing praise on Trump is adding to the current split between many American Jews and Israel. Almost 80% of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to a September poll by the American Jewish Committee. So when they see how Israel is going overboard in praising Trump it adds to the alienation many Americans feel due to recent Israeli decisions on prayer at the Kotel, conversion, and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political, and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.

Yes, but doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow negative things about Trump’s positions and statements about Israel are being ignored. For example: Trump has not kept his pledge of seeing that there would be no space between the US and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction. Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge. In his Holocaust remembrance statement Trump omitted any mention of Jews. Trump appointed white supremacists to senior positions and retweeted neo-Nazi propaganda on several occasions. He failed to quickly condemn anti-Semitism several times. He has left the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism vacant since taking office. He ended President Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House Seder. He compromised Israeli intelligence by sharing top secret information with Russia. Since Trump became president there has been a sharp increase in incidents of anti-Semitic and other bigoted statements and acts. There are many other examples.

Trump deserves praise for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but not to be lionized, for the reasons above and more. Of course, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always has been and always will be. But the nations of the world will only acknowledge that if it is part of a comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s pronouncement about Jerusalem is good for Israel’s morale, it did not change the overall situation. It did cause much resentment among the Palestinians, other Arabs, and many nations, led to some violence, showed further evidence of widespread opposition to Israel’s position on Jerusalem through the votes in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and resulted in a further decrease in the potential of a peace agreement. Also, Trump again signed a waiver so that the US embassy will not soon be moved to Jerusalem and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that it will likely not be moved during Trump’s current term.

Yes, the peace process has been basically dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to obtain a resolution of the conflict in order to avert continued and possibly increased violence and diplomatic criticism, effectively respond to her economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain a Jewish and a democratic state. Many Israel strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living ex-heads of the Shin Bet. Of course, Israel’s security has to be paramount in any agreement.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island

 

Jerusalem Reunification From the Eyes of a Child

Western Wall, Jerusalem, June, 1967

Western Wall

-Written by Eli Yaron

I witnessed the reunification of Jerusalem firsthand. I was a nine-year-old boy when this modern-day miracle unfolded during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Three weeks before the war, I was enjoying the Yom Hatzmaut (Independence Day) celebrations, which included the IDF parade during the day, and the yearly Israeli song festival in the evening. The parade took place in Jerusalem that year. However, because the occupying Jordanians had restricted the access of Jews within the walls of the ancient part of the city, the parade had to be held in the newer part. Due to the cease-fire agreements with Jordan, the parade was limited to marching troops and jeeps. Although the air force flyby and the columns of tanks were not allowed, the parade was still a show of force.

Singer Shuly Nathan with her guitar on stage

Singer Shuly Nathan

The song festival included 12 songs that competed for first prize. I recall my family sitting around the radio listening to the songs. Then, it was announced that the mayor, Teddy Koleck, had asked for a special song, that was not part of the contest, to be written about Jerusalem. A young singer whom none of us had ever heard before, Shuli Nathan, started singing “Avir Harim Tzalul K’Yaytin” (Mountain Air That Is Pure as Wine), written by Naomi Shemer. We were mesmerized. My mother came in from the kitchen, and when the refrain of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) was sung for the first time, I saw her wiping a tear. On the radio, we could hear the crowd singing the refrain, followed by a brief silence and then applause that seemed to last forever. My father simply said, “Hayinu Kecholmim (as if we are dreaming).”

Most Israelis do not recall which song won the 1967 song festival contest. But all those who listened to the broadcast recall vividly that at the end of the evening, Shuli Nathan came on stage again to sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” with the audience joining her and choking back tears.

The next morning, the 7 a.m. news started with Nasser, the president of Egypt, demanding the removal of the UN peace-keeping forces between Israel and Egypt. The UN forces vacated their position on the border, and the Egyptian army took their place. In response, Israel mobilized those in military reserve units. Within a few days, our neighborhood changed — only children, young women, and the elderly were left. School continued as usual, and the only difference in my life was that my parents were working long hours. My father was working around the clock at ZIM, the Israeli shipping line. He came home every third or fourth day for a quick shower and meal, before going right back. My mother was working full-time at a friend’s hardware store, as he was called to reserve duty as well.

A few days later, two major events took place. On the foreign affairs front, Nasser announced he was closing the Tiran Straits to Israeli ships. And on the home front, our cleaning lady, a widow who lived in downtown Haifa in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood, came crying to my mother. Our cleaning lady said that her Arab neighbor told her, “Wait until we win. We are going to kill your children first, and then we will kill you!” My mother told her not to worry about a thing, because that would never happen. Tuning in to the Arab radio stations that broadcasted in Hebrew, we repeatedly heard the same message: “We will slaughter you and throw your bodies into the Mediterranean Sea, as none of you will remain alive at the end of the war.” [Read more…]

Film Screening & Discussion: Wrestling Jerusalem

The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War is an occasion to both celebrate and to reflect on how we move forward. As a result of this victory, Jews were once again — after 2,000 years — able to pray at the Western Wall, their most holy site. However, the Six-Day war also left Israel in control over millions of Palestinians, while stalled efforts at peace have caused trauma and suffering on both sides.

In light of this anniversary and the complex issues that surround it, we invite you to join us for a screening of the critically acclaimed film, “Wrestling Jerusalem,” starring writer-actor Aaron Davidian. The movie takes viewers on a multi-dimensional journey into the heart of the Middle East, and the intersection of politics, identity and spiritual yearning. Davidman, the sole actor, gives voice to 17 different characters on all sides of the existential divide — moving between male and female, Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Arab — modeling what it takes to bear witness through the eyes of the other. Following the film, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), will moderate a discussion with the actor.

Ticket Prices
$36 (adult)
$18 (student with ID)

Get your tickets here.

Jerusalem Facts for the Democratic National Convention

The Democratic and Republican parties will meet soon in Philadelphia and Cleveland and adopt their party platforms. They will address questions about Jerusalem.

Before they make this important decision, it is important to make sure they have the facts straight. StandWithUs has created this educational fact sheet about Jerusalem to distribute to members of the platform committee as well as to other convention delegates and key policymakers:
[Read more…]

The Kotel Compromise- A win or pyrrhic victory?

kotel-black-and-white-0The Kotel is a special place. As a remnant of the Temple, we have gravitated to it to feel a special closeness to our history, to a Divine place, the home for the Almighty that we built. We feel a deep emotional and often mystical connection that draws us into the space. Otherwise it is nothing more than a large brick wall.

I recall arriving in Jerusalem for my first year of rabbinical school in Israel. I got off the plane, hopped into the sherut to Jerusalem dropped off the bags and then headed to the Wall. It was late. I had traveled for what seemed like days and although exhausted, I was compelled to go to the Wall. The emotions welled up from deep inside. I stood in the plaza gazing upon this place. With the kind of intense reverence and awe that happens rarely, I slowly approached the Wall. It was powerful. The thing that happened to me was an extraordinary moment, an encounter between my history, my people, my God and me. But the Kotel is not the sole place of my Judaism. The Makom or place of my Judaism extends beyond time and space and includes the idea of a Jewish people. This vision of Judaism however is compromised by the very compromise announced to create separate spaces for different kinds of Jews to pray.solitary wall prayer

The arrangement for the space at the Wall has in many ways undermined what the space itself means for Judaism. Each denomination of Judaism now has a place it can call its own. The Wall of the Temple has been segregated, sliced and diced so each sect has an area where it can feel comfortable. The gain of a place for egalitarian Jews at the wall however is also the loss of the symbol of the Wall for us all as a place of unity; for these partitions are along the fault lines of Ashkenazic observances segregating us from each other instead creating a place accessible to everyone. The remnant of where God dwelled amidst the Jewish people has become a place of division and discord within God’s people.

1891amonthinpalestineandsyria We have all seen the photographs of the wall at the turn of the century. Men and women were there together. The Wall was a private space to connect individually in a public place. How you practiced or the community with which you identified did not matter. In the early post-1967 days that sense of Klal Yisrael permitted a similar experience. It was fleeting, and sadly, it has devolved into staking territory in a turf war. Although liberal Judaism may have won something important in getting a place at the wall to pray, we must regretfully acknowledge that in this agreement something else important continues to elude us, namely the unity of the Jewish people.

Perhaps we should re-focus the issue as one regarding the kind of ceremony and ritual that are generally permitted in this public private space. The kinds of rituals that permit us to be together could be more important in the grand scheme of things than the particular observances that create schisms among us. In my experience I was solitary but in communion with Am Yisrael. Under our current circumstances an experience at the Wall might require we visit both areas, one to be among those who share our beliefs and practice and the other to be with another part of our people, to taste their experience and ponder the ideas of the Judaism values that guides us all and strive to create a Judaism that connects us all.

Inquirer Headlines Go Easy on Terrorists

— by Sean Durns

The following “letter to the editor” was sent to The Philadelphia inquirer, but went unpublished.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted an AP story entitled "American killed in Palestinian attack was peace activist" with the vague title "US Educator Dies in Israel."

The Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted an AP story entitled “American killed in Palestinian attack was peace activist” with the vague title “US Educator Dies in Israel.”

Recent Inquirer headlines U.S. Educator Dies in Israel and Israelis Kill 3 Palestinians have the potential to mislead readers by not accurately reflecting the news articles beneath.

The first article itself makes clear that American-born Israeli educator Richard Lakin did not just “die” in Israel; he was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Lakin’s son told The New York Times his 73-year old father was the victim of Palestinian “incitement and hate.” Yet, the headline could lead readers to mistakenly infer that Lakin just happen to pass away.

Similarly, Israelis did not just happen to “kill 3 Palestinians” without justification as readers might infer from the headline. Again, as the article beneath the headline notes, three Palestinian Arab terrorists were killed by Israeli security forces after attacking Israelis, both civilian and soldiers, with knives. The headline fails to convey essential facts regarding both the chronology and causation leading to the death of the terrorists.

Space restrictions can make headline writing challenging. However, precise terminology and chronology must be used to prevent readers from drawing false inferences. We trust that in the future Inquirer headlines on contentious issues such as these will accurately represent the stories they summarize.