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.

Interactive Map Connects Young Adults to High Holiday Opportunities

— by Jason Edelstein

To help Birthright Israel alumni and their friends connect to communities and create their own meaningful experiences during the High Holidays, NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation today launched its 2013 High Holidays Initiative. With an interactive online map of High Holiday services and events around the country, along with the first-time offering of resources and small subsidies to host Rosh Hashanah meals and Yom Kippur break-the-fasts, the initiative empowers young Jewish adults to form communities of meaning with one another, and to celebrate the High Holidays in ways that are accessible and authentic.

More after the jump.
According to NEXT’s CEO Morlie Levin:

Taglit-Birthright participants have returned from their summer trips – joining the hundreds of thousands of alumni from past years – with a personal connection to Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people. Now is the time to build on that connection and help make Jewish opportunities and communities more accessible. We’ve found that Birthright Israel alumni are particularly interested in celebrating holidays with their friends, and the High Holidays Initiative offers them the opportunity to both create these experiences themselves and connect to community events they find meaningful.

More than 250 services and events in 145 U.S. cities were represented on the interactive map when it launched on August 5, with an increase expected in the coming weeks. Users can easily find events in their city and browse event details, including whether discounted or free tickets are offered. A new feature this year will enable users to filter events based on their preferences for things like egalitarian services, LGBT-friendly events, and more. This is the third year NEXT is offering this online tool.

The resources and subsidies for Birthright Israel alumni to create their own High Holiday experiences are being offered for the first time after the success of NEXT’s Passover Seder initiative. On NEXT’s website, alumni will be able to access traditional and modern insights on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tools that will help them host High Holiday meals-including Pinterest boards featuring recipes, table setting ideas, and fun High Holiday themes-will also be available. NEXT will additionally offer small subsidies to cover the cost of food for these meals.

The High Holidays Initiative is part of NEXT’s year-round efforts to create opportunities for Birthright Israel alumni and their peers to engage in experiences that deepen their connection to Judaism, Jewish communities, the Jewish people, and Israel. NEXT also consults with local communities and individuals on the most effective strategies for young Jewish adult engagement.

Levin adds:

We have an incredible opportunity to help young Jewish adults turn a ten day trip into a lifelong Jewish journey. Whether by empowering Birthright Israel alumni to find or create meaningful Jewish experiences, or collaborating with local communities and engagement professionals on best strategies to engage this demographic, NEXT is intent on helping young Jewish adults explore deeper Jewish living and learning, as well as their connection to the Jewish people.

NEXT’s other “do-it-yourself” offerings similarly aim to make Jewish experiences more accessible to Birthright Israel alumni. NEXT’s flagship initiative, NEXT Shabbat, has helped more than 7,000 Birthright Israel alumni host more than 16,800 Shabbat experiences for their friends, creating Jewish opportunities that have drawn a total attendance of over 235,000 young adults.

My Visit to Amsterdam

Having just learned that Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has abdicated her throne to her son Willem-Alexander, my thoughts return to that special place where I spent a few days two weeks ago — Holland.

Where can you munch on a herring sandwich topped with chopped onions and pickles, then polish it off with a Corenwijn chaser, while watching seven million tulip bulbs laboriously pushing their way above ground to greet the springtime sun? Why, in Keukenhof Holland, of course. But where in Holland can you get a plate of gefilte fish garnished with chrane, other than in your bubbie’s kitchen?
[Read more…]

A Special Kol Nidre for Congress

Kol Nidre is the traditional Aramaic declaration recited for the Yom Kippur evening service. This solemn ceremony is meant to release the community from oaths which were made in error or under duress. The Rabbinical Assembly of New Haven has created a variant of the Kol Nidre formula for use by Congressmen, Senators and otehr politicians trapped by their pledge to Grover Norquist.

Dissolution of “No New Tax” Pledge

All vows, renunciations, bans, oaths, formulas of obligation, pledges,  and promises that were made by members of the House of Representatives or the Senate and other public officials, lawmakers,  city officials and candidates for office in the United States of America  before this Yom Kippur 5773 (17 September 2012), whether in writing or orally, to not raise taxes or impose new taxes, all are undone, repealed, cancelled, voided, annulled, and released, and regarded as neither valid nor binding by our community.  They are hereby released and forgiven by this Earthly Court, and so may they be released and forgiven by the Highest Court.

Thus ordered, thus decreed and thus released by the signatories below, constituting a rabbinic court of three under our authority and the authority of the Rabbinical Assembly of New Haven, Connecticut,  USA, and others who have joined with us.

Beit Din

  • Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen,  
  • Rabbi Yaakov Komisar, and
  • Rabbi Baruch A. Levine

Witnesses

  • Rabbi Murray Levine,
  • Rabbi Alan H. Lovins, and
  • Rabbi Joshua Ratner

כל נדרי ואסרי וחרמי וקנמי וכנויי וקנוסי ושבועות והבטחות והתחייבויות דנדרו ודאשתבּעו
ודאחרימו ודאסרו ודהבטחו והתחייבו חברי בית הנבחרים והסנאט ופקידי הציבור
ומחוקקים וחברי וועדי העיר ומועמדים למשרד בארצות הברית עד יום כפור זה שנת
ה׳תשע״ג בין בכתב ובין בעל פה בכוונה ללא להעלות מיסים וללא להטיל מיסים חדשים
כלּהון יהון שרן שביקין שביתין בטלין ומבוטלין לא שרירין ולא קימין.  אין כאן לא נדר
ולא אסור ולא חרם ולא קונם ולא קנס ולא שבועה ולא הבטחה ולא התחייבות ויש כאן
מחילה וסליחה וכפרה.  וכשם שמתירים בבית דין של מטה، כך יהיו מֻ תרים מבית דין של
מעלה.  

כך צוים וכך גוזרים וכך מתירים אנחנו، חתומי מטה، בישיבת בית דין של שלשה של כנסת
הרבנים בניו היבן ומצטרפים עלינו עוד רבנים מוסמכים כאן בעיר ניו היבן קנקטקט במדינת
אמריקה הצפונית.

   

Wishes from the Obamas for Year of Health, Happiness and Peace

— President Barack Obama

As we look forward to the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays Sunday night, I want to extend my warmest wishes to all those celebrating the New Year.

This is a joyful time for millions of people around the world. But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are also opportunities for reflection. They represent a chance to take stock of our lives and look forward to the coming year with clear eyes and renewed purpose.

More after the jump.
In that spirit, the Jewish Tradition teaches us that one of the most important duties we have during this period is the act of reconciliation. We’re called to seek each other out and make amends for those moments when we may not have lived up to our values as well as we should.

At a time when our public discourse can too often seem harsh; when society too often focuses on what divides us instead of what unites us; I hope that Americans of all faiths can take this opportunity to reach out to those who are less fortunate; to be tolerant of our neighbors; and to recognize ourselves in one another. And as a nation, let us be mindful of those who are suffering, and renew the unbreakable bond we share with our friends and allies — including the State of Israel.

In that spirit, Michelle and I wish you and your families a sweet year full of health, happiness, and peace. L’Shana Tovah.

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.

Jewish Values Not on the Agenda For the 2011 Values Voter Summit

— David Streeter

2011 “Values Voter” Summit Schedule Featuring GOP Presidential Candidates To Conflict Yet Again with the Jewish High Holidays

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) today criticized the 2011 Values Voter Summit in part because — for the third consecutive year* — the conservative conference coincides with the Jewish High Holidays. The 2011 Values Voter Summit, which will feature a majority of the Republican presidential candidates, perfectly symbolizes how the modern conservative movement does not include Jewish values under its umbrella. This year, the conference occurs on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

More after the jump.

NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris said:

Conservatives have been aggressively targeting Jews recently by touting their pro-Israel positions. But what they continually fail to understand is that pro-Israel rhetoric only goes so far. Polling consistently shows that the sweeping majority of American Jews abhor the conservative domestic policy positions — particularly on social issues — that will be discussed this weekend. With this in mind, American conservatives should explain how they intend to make Jews feel welcome in a political movement that advances an agenda opposed by most in the Jewish community and continually holds its flagship conference on the Jewish High Holidays.

This year’s conference falls on Yom Kippur — the holiest day of the year — and will likely have significant ramifications for the 2012 Republican presidential ticket. Such a repeated scheduling conflict further symbolizes that the conservative movement and the Republican Party do not represent the values of most American Jews. Quite simply, this weekend’s confab is a textbook example of why Jews remain solidly committed to the Democratic Party and its positions.

Republican presidential candidates attending this year’s summit include:

  • Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney
  • Texas Governor Rick Perry
  • Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN)
  • Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain
  • Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)
  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)

Other Republican elected officials speaking this weekend include:

  • Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
  • House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)
  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)
  • Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  • Representatives Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Mike Pompeo (K-KS), Steve King (R-IA), and Jim Jordan (R-OH)
  • Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

Leading conservative media personalities Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity are also scheduled to speak.

In addition, the 2011 Values Voter Summit has many breakout sessions scheduled for the weekend that conflict with the sensibilities of most Jewish voters. While Republicans on Capitol Hill pay lip service to a supposed jobs agenda, this conservative summit focuses on such hot-button social issues as “How the Welfare State Erodes the Family,” “Exposing and Defunding Planned Parenthood, America’s Abortion Giant,” and “Straight Talk on Gay ‘Marriage'” [Values Voter Summit] — conflicting with the positions of the vast majority of American Jews.

With such an extreme lineup, most Jews would be unlikely to attend. But the scheduling of the event — which makes it impossible for any Jew observing Yom Kippur to attend — takes this year’s conference to new heights in repelling Jews from the conservative movement.

The 2011 Values Voter Summit’s content, in addition to its scheduling, contains nearly all of the elements that remind most Jews that today’s conservative movement and its Republican leaders do not reflect their values. Events such as this are a prime example of why the Democratic Party remains the historic and continued political home for the sweeping majority of American Jews.

* – Details:

  • In 2010, the Values Voter Summit was held September 16-19 — conflicting with Yom Kippur, which fell on September 17-18.
  • In 2009, the Values Voter Summit was held September 18-20 — conflicting with Rosh Hashanah, which fell on September 18-20.

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