Israel at 65: How and Why to Support It

— by Lee Bender

Israel has turned 65 last May, and it is worth reflecting on what the modern State of Israel has done to create a strong and vibrant home for many Jews around the world.

At 65, Israel is clearly no “senior citizen” about getting on Social Security, and on the road to the golden years of retirement. On the contrary, Israel is vibrant, young, and alive. Even for those of us who do not live there, Israel resonates in our hearts as our historic homeland, as the focal point of the Jewish people, as a spiritual center, and as a continuing source of wonder, pride and joy.

More after the jump.
No matter what political stripe you are from, we all have a far larger mission and commonality that binds us. Because quite simply, whether we appreciate it or not, recognize it or not, like it or not, the fate and safety of the Jewish community, even here in America, is inextricably linked to the strength and security of the State of Israel.

Make no mistake: the loss of Israel, or even a crippled Israel, would fundamentally alter American Jewry, and would arrest the revival of Jewish life in Europe, Canada, South America. Most of us do not know what it was like to have lived in a world without the State of Israel, where Jews were paralyzed, persecuted, and powerless, with no refuge to escape to, and no Israel Defense Force to protect us.

As Rabbi Daniel Gordis has observed, the simple but overlooked truth is that what has made the difference for Jews all over the world is the State of Israel. The world finally saw the Jews as people who would shape their own destiny, unlike the poor, stateless Tibetans, Chechnyans, Basques, and Kurds, to name a few. Jews no longer have to tiptoe around the world, waiting to see what the world had in store for them.

The miraculous rebirth of the Jewish state has also changed how we see ourselves. The days of “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we appeared to them” (Numbers 13:33) are gone. This is why the security of Israel is not optional for us.

A little geography lesson is always instructive for perspective. Israel is one of the tiniest nations on the planet:

  • It is 260 miles long, with a coastline of 112 miles;
  • It is 9 to 71 miles wide;
  • Israel’s land mass, 8019 square miles, is about the size of New Jersey’s, and is only 1/625 (1/6%) of the size of the Arab world’s;
  • Israel is surrounded by 22 hostile Arab/Islamic dictatorships — even with this so-called Arab Spring — including some very nasty and murderous Arab Islamic terrorist organizations, such as Hizbollah and Hamas, whose charter unabashedly calls for global jihad against Jews and the destruction of Israel.
  • There are 56 Islamic nations, and 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide. The total population of the Arab states plus Iran is 350 million. By comparison, only 5.9 million Jews live in Israel, yielding a regional population ratio of 56:1 in the middle east.
  • Israel has 1.2 million Arabs living as full citizens with equal rights — which are also far more than their brethren have in Arab/Muslim countries.
  • Israel is the only place in the Middle East where the Christian population is not oppressed, and is in fact growing.
  • The world’s Jewish population is a mere 13.5 million, which sadly is 5 million fewer than in 1939. It is so small, that it is the margin of error of the population of China.

It is little Israel who is the “David,” fending against the Arab/Muslim world’s “Goliath.” And yet, it is always Israel that is expected to shrink even more.

What accounts for the key to Israel’s survival? We showed an amazing film this lat year as part of the JerusalemOnlineU.com’s mini-course, Step Up for Israel, entitled: Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference. The film very effectively identified the elusive core characteristics that make modern Israel a nation unlike all others: Chutzpah, transforming adversity to advantage, powerful family links, the Israeli unwavering determination to “get things done,” challenging the status quo, looking for ways to do and make things better, and rejecting and ignoring the naysayers.

Israel is not merely the “start up nation” — it is the “innovation nation.” But we dare not take this for granted, despite the incredible accomplishments that no sane, level-headed person could have possibly imagined 65 years ago: A language brought back to life; an economic engine that is the envy of many far more established countries; a burgeoning haven for scientific innovation and high-tech, communications, computers, medical equipment and agricultural know-how that is shared throughout the world — and top-notch medical treatment provided to all citizens, including Arabs, and terrorists and terror victims alike. In Israel, biology trumps ideology.  

Can you imagine this occurring in Arab or Muslim dominated countries? Israel’s neighbors, unfortunately, tragically, do not share this ethos of tolerance and tikkun olam (help repair the world). Could the sane person 65 years ago imagine a thriving robust democracy composed of immigrants from around the world of all different colors and backgrounds, including Muslim refugees escaping tyranny from Sudan, Eritrea and the Ivory Coast? And it all takes place in an arid land of desert and harsh climate.

The Jewish ethic, that life is sacred and paramount, and shall be cherished, was recognized by a Syrian citizen who recently tweeted, “I envy the Israeli government because it cares for its citizens; their government is prepared to pay the ultimate price for one citizen, while our government kills us like we are animals, and our Arab neighbors say that it is an internal matter.”  

And thank Hashem that Israel possesses a citizen army that keeps it so safe, that we tend  to take for granted that its enemies will be contained and defeated. That includes the murderous and genocidal mullah regime in Iran, that denies the Holocaust, denies that the Jewish people have any historic connection to the Land of Israel, is the largest state sponsor of terror, defies international sanctions in an unrelenting quest to achieve nuclear breakout capability, and vows to wipe Israel off the map — and we better believe them. In case you have forgotten, Israel is the “Little Satan,” and America is still the “Great Satan,” according to Iran.

And yet, despite the efforts to de-legitimize and demonize it from a multitude of fronts, including the mainstream media, anti-Israel NGOs, the U.N., European Union, and Arab states, Israel is one of the happiest nations in the world, according to a recent annual survey. Israel came 11th out of 156; most of the top ten were North European countries. Mexico was #16, the U.S. was #17, and most Arab countries trailed well behind. This is a tribute to the Israeli spirit, the ruach.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu said that his late father, the great historian and professor Benzion, on his 100th Birthday taught him that “Those who are unfamiliar with the past cannot understand the present, and those who cannot understand the present cannot see what lies ahead.” Well, if you could take a time-machine back to the early 1930’s, you would scream from the rooftops about the threats on the horizon. Today we have total clarity about what we are facing with a potentially nuclear Iran, the surrounding Arab Spring, especially in Egypt and Syria, which is becoming more like an Islamist nightmare. Those countries are closing in on tiny Israel, circling like sharks sensing blood in the water, and we must scream from the 21st Century rooftops.  

In today’s world, without a strong Israel, there is no Jewish people. We cannot allow a second Holocaust to happen within 80 years — it is our responsibility to give Israel the tools, means and ability to defend itself.  

By every measure, Israel should be praised and admired. Instead, Israel is treated by most of the world as a pariah. Overt Antisemitism is being replaced by anti-Zionism.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Islamo-fascism, incitement, military threats and de-legitimization campaign against Israel, is the seeming inability to help. Israel yearns for and offers peace. It has in fact made painful concessions for it, including returning Sinai to Egypt; and Gaza, and civilian control of large areas of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Authority. But its Arab neighbors refuse to negotiate for a co-equal, co-existence and peaceful settlement, and instead consistently wallow in a culture of hatred, and call for Israel’s destruction.  

While we may not be able to stop the terrorists or rocket attacks, we can combat the lies about Israel, and can educate others and take action to lift the spirit of Israelis. In Kabbalistic terms, we may not see the immediate results of our actions, but every action we take makes a difference, and could indeed be the “tipping point.”

So what is your charge — what can you do? Let me suggest six ways:

  1. visit Israel
  2. Challenge bias in the media. And do not be deceived — words do matter. My new book, co-written with my good friend Jerome Verlin from Elkins Park, entitled: Pressing Israel exposes the hidden agenda behind this language, and addresses the challenge to call things what they are — because surrendering the language forfeits our narrative and our story, and puts Israel’s very existence at risk. This past year we have spoken at over 20 synagogues, churches, schools, and Federation and other civic and Jewish organizations.  

  3. Stay current on the news on what is happening in Israel in the Middle East. Be an ambassador for the truth and our people, and speak out.
  4. Lobby our elected officials. Vote — and take Israel into the voting booth with you. You must remind everyone of the importance of a mutually beneficial U.S.-Israel relationship, emphasize that Israel is an asset to the U.S. militarily, diplomatically and scientifically, with shared cultural values and ethics. Israel has been described as “the equivalent of 5 CIAs,” and due to its ability to be America’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” thousands of U.S. troops need not be stationed in the Middle East to protect America’s interests.  
  5. Buy Israeli products and services. Go out of your way to support Israel’s export trade, and act locally here at the grocery store.
  6. And, of course, buy an Israel Bond. Even at these difficult financial times, Israel’s flawless record for debt repayment has been applauded by financial agencies, and for a good reason — since the first bonds were issued 61 years ago, every payment of principal and interest has been met on time, and in full. And while a purchase seems to be an act of tzedakah, it is really an investment. And it has proven to be a very good one, paying better than most others today. The Israel Bonds program is a positive, proactive, non-political expression of our attachment to Israel. The funds generated by every purchase serve people — not political parties, helping to create strong Israeli businesses, industries, infrastructure and economy. Through the purchase of an Israel Bond, we are making a direct connection to our Israeli brothers and sisters.

It is hard to think about Israel Bonds, when nobody is standing before you making the annual Israel Bonds Appeal. Seven years ago, when my wife Jane and I were on our first bar mitzvah circuit with our boys, and were going to affairs virtually every week, we decided to not perfunctorily write gift checks, but instead purchase far more meaningful gifts: Israel Bonds.

I would make weekly trips to the Israel Bonds office at 1500 Walnut Street during lunch hour, to purchase the Bonds in person, and got to make some good friends there. Most people do not do this, and you do not have to, of course. It is now much easier than ever before to purchase the Bonds online, and they make incredibly moving gifts. So do not be lazy, and simply write that $36, $50, $100, $200 check for that bar mitzvah or special affair. That same money can purchase a lot, and be put to work for the State of Israel. Make the affirmative effort to buy Israel Bonds. You would be amazed how quickly these seemingly small sums add up, and you can also designate the local Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El for credit too.

This is your wake-up call. It is no exaggeration that Israel needs our unwavering support now. Israel is a miracle. Hashem has given us the tools and means to defend ourselves. Investing in an Israel Bond now is the best way to show that.

Lee Bender gave this speech to Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El before Kol Nidre on Erev Yom Kippur 2013. He spoke not in his role as the Israel Action Committee Chairman at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El or as the co-President of the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America, but simply in support of Israel Bonds as a Jew, a proud Zionist, and fellow congregant.

Occupy Wall Street – Commentary Still Doesn’t “Get” Young Jews

— by Kenneth Bob

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” Yogi Berra’s overused aphorism, fits this moment perfectly.

Mid-week before Yom Kippur, Daniel Seiradski, a new media activist, asked on Facebook whether people would attend a Kol Nidre service at the site of the Occupy Wall Street. First there were a hundred people who responded in the affirmative, then two hundred and by the time the service was held a few days later, press reports estimated that there were 1000-1500 people in attendance.

In addition to the impressive numbers, the press quotes and online comments from the mostly young attendees, whether they skipped their regular synagogue observance or would not have attended services otherwise, were uniform in their appreciation of the organizers and in their sense of meaning they felt from their participation. All in all, an inspiring story of organization and communal engagement.

Mathew Ackerman, writing for Commentary, was not pleased. He admitted that

“it must be said there is, of course, justification to be found for specifically economic protests of a leftist variety in the prophets, perhaps most especially Isaiah. But it stretches truth far beyond the breaking point to claim such texts based on conditions in ancient Israel offer much guidance for the policy questions of our day, or impel a religious believer to a particular side of the political aisle.”

His tone became harsher, suggesting that “the organizers’ attempts to combine Judaism and today’s fashionable politics are simply incoherent.”

Seeing this critique of young, Jewish progressives by a Commentary writer took me back 40 years. In the February, 1971 issue of the magazine, four articles were dedicated to the Jewish role in the brewing “revolution” in America. In particular, writers took aim at Arthur Waskow‘s recently published The Freedom Seder and the entire radical Zionist movement that emerged on campuses at that time in response to the anti-Israel New Left.

More after the jump.
Norman Podhoretz, the magazine’s editor, wrote that the The Freedom Seder should be considered “a contribution to the literature of Jewish anti-Semitism” and suggested that Waskow and his ilk “belong to the tribe of the wicked son.”

Walter Laqueur, the noted historian, wrote that “the hope that young radicals of this generation will become “good Jews’ is a slender one, comparable perhaps with the hope of a psychoanalyst for the recovery of a patient with a weak ego structure or a serious intellectual deficiency.”

With the benefit of time, we now know that these “young radicals” have become Jewish Federation directors, Rabbis, not-for-profit executives, Jewish Studies professors, Jewish journalists, and active lay leaders in a wide range of Jewish life. Laqueur also challenged the sincerity of the movement’s “strong identification with Israel,” but that prediction was terribly off the mark as well when considering the number of kibbutzniks, social activists and others the movement produced for Israel.

As satisfying as it may be to settle old scores, what is truly important is that the Jewish community ignore >Commentary’s hope regarding the organizers: “Let their successes be few, and the passage of their movement from the American Jewish scene swift.” On the contrary, efforts like those on Kol Nidre should be encouraged and supported by the community.

Why? Regardless of your view of Occupy Wall Street (I am supportive) the related Jewish effort inspires creativity, develops leadership and results in community. Are these not all values that the Jewish community strives for?

I, for one, would expect that “graduates” of 2011 Wall Street Kol Nidre service and other such events will be activists in our community for years to come.

And one footnote, for historical purposes, linking this span of 40 years that I have described. Arthur Waskow, the author of the The Freedom Seder, is now a Rabbi and contributed the inspiration that became the New York Kol Nidre service this year.

Kenneth Bob is the National President of Ameinu.

Does The Spirit Matter?

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Last week, The Shalom Center suggested and encouraged Jewish communities to carry the celebration  of Yom Kippur into public space — in the “Occupy Wall Street”  protests.

In New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Washington, and other cities, people worked out ways of celebrating the most sacred Jewish festival while affirming that it  speaks powerfully to issues of justice, equality, the “99%” of Americans who have had more and more of our power to govern ourselves yanked away by the 1% most rich and powerful.

We have received dozens of letters from people who connected prayer with action in this way and who wanted to thank The Shalom Center for its support. Here is one:

My girlfriend (who is Jewish) and I (who am a Christian) attended the Kol Nedrie service across the street from Occupy Wall Street, on Friday evening. It was by far the most moving religious service I’ve ever attended. Such an example of a community consciously engaging with G_d to dream of change and a better world. I understand that you were one of the sparks that brought this event to fruition. Thank you so much.

More after the jump.
Indeed, we DID strike a spark with Dan Sieradski in NYC, and then with other creative people;  from those sparks, these sacred burnt-offerings arose.  

You can see and read a powerful video and article about the New York Kol Nidre, put together by the Forward newspaper, by clicking here.

One participant wrote:

The high point came during one part of the sermon, as Getzel’s voice rose louder and louder:
“Yom Kippur is the day that we are forgiven for worshipping the golden calf!
“What is the golden calf?
“It is the essence of idol worship!
“It is the fallacy that gold is God!”
Afterward, I felt like I was walking on air, and judging from the spontaneous song session that sprung up later, I suspect I wasn’t the only one.

One passage from the ancient prophet Isaiah and one from the modern prophetic teacher  Abraham Joshua Heschel were used again and again in these services across the country:

“This is the fast I have chosen:
to unlock the shackles of injustice,
to loosen the ropes of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free!”

“Prayer  is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow  and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism,  falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary  movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the  promise, the hope, the vision.”

The Yom Kippur prayers ask, “Who shall live and who shall die? Who by fire, who by flood?”

In our generation,  it is the whole planet, in the sacred Name of YHWH, the Interbreathing of all life, that asks this question. For we face the  danger of planetary Death, rooted in greed and domination —  and the joyful possibility of a Living Future rooted in love, in justice, and in compassion.  

What are we choosing? Can we make Spirit matter by infusing our pocketbooks with prayer, our compassion with commitment? With your help,  The Shalom Center will keep striking sparks of  sacred transformation.

Jews Among The Many: Where Should We Pray This Yom Kippur?

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Who ever imagined the question: “Where should we pray Yom Kippur?”

For centuries, the answer has been obvious: In our own sacred space  — a synagogue, or mini-fellowship, a havurah.

For more information about this extraordinary decision, please email Daniel Sieradski, visit the Facebook event page or call 347.560.0440.

But this weekend  — In the glowing light of “Occupy Wall Street,” more than 60 Jews in New York City have decided to take Kol Nidre, this Friday evening, into public space – God’s public holy space.

“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.” — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

More after the Jump.
Dan has asked us to make absolutely clear that this effort is a personal initiative of his own, not connected to any workplace or other institution.

The Shalom Center applauds this as one among several possible ways of honoring YHWH, the Interbreathing God of freedom,  in the midst of Yom Kippur.

That way may remind us that at the Burning Bush, God declared public holy space on behalf of freedom from suffering and oppression- “Take off your sandals,” spoke the Voice to Moses, “for this is Holy Ground.”

A second way:  Bring the values and visions  of “Occupy Wall Street” into highest awareness in the already established Jewish holy space of synagogue and havurah. This is not hard to do:

We have a profound teaching that on Yom Kippur morning, we read the passage from Isaiah in which he breaks into the official liturgy and calls for us to “FAST” not only by feeding the hungry and housing the homeless but by breaking off the hand-cuffs from our imprisoned millions – a very political act.

When you reach haftarah time on Yom Kippur morning, read it as an incitement to action. Intersperse the Isaiah passages with news stories straight from the daily paper or progressive magazines and Websites, of the struggling middle class and suffering poor in America.

See our translation and read past the translation itself into my comments on what Isaiah was doing – and what we should do.

Third way: Do Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur morning in synagogue, and then come pouring out into the streets to visit your local focus-point of “Occupy Wall Street.”

When you arrive, read the Isaiah Haftarah aloud. Reclaim for the Spirit, for Judaism, for all the great religious traditions, the radical roots that say deep prayer is subversive, and that sacred public action for justice can be prayer — if it is done in compassion and nonviolence.

Beneath these ideas is a basic question: Jews, who for millennia have felt  we were “on our own” and had no allies to our basic values, have been unwilling to sacrifice our own unique spiritual-political practices and spaces and symbols amongst the larger bodies of the Spirit.

Are we still so isolated? Or can we turn the question upside down? Can we come out of our closet to make our own symbols and practices available to enrich the work of others?

Is the outpouring of “Occupy Wall Street” the teaching of our God of Ironies that it is time for all the peoples to make a “Yom Kippur” in which we face a Planetary Death and choose whether to choose life instead?  —  Jews can name where their own truthful wisdom comes from, while others bring and create their own —  they do not need the label.

Can we choose life in plural parallel? That is the basic question, and we will keep exploring it.

With blessings for this Turning-time in the history of the earth, that we choose shalom, salaam, healing, peace —  Arthur