STOP THE INSANITY: SPEAK UP FOR ISRAEL

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These are incredibly trying times for Israel and the Jewish people. While I wish I could return to weekly messages that are uplifting and spiritual or that publicize exciting events coming up at Ramat Shalom, my thoughts are focused on Israel, the security of her citizens and the safety of Jews across the globe. I pray for peace, but realize that, at the same time, we need to talk about the war.

As you know, Israel is again forced to defend herself from Hamas which fires missiles into Israel and, as has now been exposed, digs tunnels into the Jewish State from which terrorists enter the land to slaughter Israelis. Hamas deliberately uses Palestinians as shields, launching attacks on Israel from crowded urban areas. Israel has no choice but to defend her people. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) works extremely hard to avoid civilian casualties – but Hamas works extremely hard to put Palestinians, especially children, in the line of fire. Why? Because the images of these dead children horrifically helps Hamas demonize Israel, makes people who do not know the facts question Israel’s actions and, worse, encourages people to hate the Jewish State and the Jewish people. As we have watched across the globe, many people act on this hate. Anti-semitic violence in on the rise. And the propaganda war against Israel is encouraging people to shout “Hitler was right!” We – the Jewish people – need you to help us all stop this insanity. We all say – “Never Again!” Now, it is time to mean it. It is time for each of us to find a way to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people. Correct friends on social media. Challenge your co-worker who speaks poorly about Israel in the office. Sit your children down and teach them about the importance of Israel. And, most importantly, spend time educating yourself about the Jewish State. I know – I say this a lot and have been preaching this a great deal over the past few weeks. This is because we really need you to stand up now. This is serious and it is time for us – American Jews – to step outside of our comfort zones and speak out strongly in support of Israel, her people and Jews around the world who are in danger.

Here is some material to help:

Tomorrow night, there will be a protest against Israel in downtown Fort Lauderdale. There was a similar protest on July 20th in Miami. Please, watch some of the footage from July’s protest and see that right here in South Florida, openly on our streets, Hamas is seen as the hero and Israel is cursed.  The insanity, the lies and the hate are right here in our own neighborhoods! We can’t ignore this.

Today, you will probably hear about the Israeli attack on a school in Gaza. You will hear about the tremendous number of casualties in Gaza. You will hear Israel be accused of committing “war crimes” and “genocide”. Given this, I ask that you watch this clip from CBS featuring Israel’s Ambassador speaking out about claims Israel attacked a school last week AND this clip from FOX  of the Ambassador discussing yesterday’s attack.Also, as you see the video of UNWRA spokesperson, Chris Gunness crying in Gaza, please know that while it is heartbreaking that people in Gaza are being killed, just two weeks ago, Israel asked the UN to suspend Mr. Gunness because because of his blatant anti-Israel bias and support of Hamas.  Please, share this information.

Finally, I encourage you to read this article from the Times of Israel which asks: is the war with Hamas a “watershed moment” for Jews living outside of Israel? The article highlights how Jews across the globe, including South Florida, have been affected by the situation in Israel.

If you watched and read the material that I shared, I thank you! Now, please, share this information with others. I know this is not easy. But – “Never Again!” We are obligated to speak the truth and do our part to stop the insanity.

This is my last Friday night “off” for the summer. I look forward to getting back on the bimah next week and seeing many of you at services. I thank Mike Richmond and Jim Kraut for filling in for Cantor Debbie and me this evening.

May this truly be a Shabbat Shalom.

Remembering Max Steinberg z”l

Please join me for an Israel Advocacy Workshop – Wednesday July 30, 7:30pm
It is more important than ever to get the facts, understand what is going on and learn how to speak up for Israel with family and friends and on social media. You don’t need to know anything about Israel – you simply need to want to do your part to help support the Jewish State. The workshop is free, however participants are urged to make a donation to one the special Israel campaigns being organized by Federation, Friends of the IDFJewish National Fund or One Family Together.

RSVP required by noon on Wednesday July 30 to barbara@ramatshalom.org

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This week, I share with you the heartbreaking words of my good friend, Rabbi Mark Blazer. Mark and I began began rabbinical school together in Los Angeles. He was the best man at our wedding. He and his family live in Southern California where he serves as the Rabbi of Temple Beth Ami. Many of you met him recently as Mark is also the founder of The Albert Einstein Academy – a charter school which will be opening a new school in Broward.

Nine years ago I was Max’s rabbi as he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah with his younger brother Jake. I had the chance to be with him as he took on more responsibility as a young Jewish man. He read from Parshat Devarim, the portion where Moses prepares the Jewish people as they make their entrance into the Promised Land. A new generation finally ready to take on the mantle of living in Israel.

I can’t tell you how proud I was to learn that Max Steinberg was living in Israel a few years later, as a 22 year old, inspired by a Birthright trip. After his visit he decided immediately to return and serve in the IDF.

He had no family there, and did not consider himself religiously observant. But a spark was lit by his time in Israel, and he found a new direction and passion just by being there.

Tragically, I learned about Max’s transformation, his love for Israel, the same time I learned of his death. Max was one of the first military casualties in Gaza two days ago.

He had volunteered for an army combat unit because he wanted to serve with every fiber of his being. And he made it into the Golani Brigade, one of Israel’s elite units.

I asked Max’s mom Evie whether he had ever fired a gun before he went to Israel, and she said she didn’t think he had. He must have had some natural proficiency (combined with his love of the Call of Duty video game) because she told me he was the top marksman in his unit.

When he first went into Gaza his armored vehicle was in an accident with another vehicle, and Max was shaken up. Some of his friends more so. He could have been sent back for medical reasons, but he wanted to go back in. He told his parents this was where he had to be. That was the last conversation they ever had.

I spoke to Max’s mom Monday morning, just before she and the family boarded a flight to Israel. They decided, as a family, to bury Max in Israel. A land where he should have celebrated a wedding, and started a family. A place where he should have lived. Instead, today he was laid there to rest, and now lives in each of us.

As Max is now bound up with the Eternal, may he always be an inspiration to us.

Rabbi Mark Blazer

JOIN ME – Support Israeli children and families in danger now!

Please join me in supporting One Family  as they provide a safe haven to Israeli children and families at this time.  This is a perfect opportunity for those who chose not to send their children to Israel right now – protect our children who are there.

Visit: http://www.onefamilytogether.org/operation-protective-edge-can-help/

Thank You!!!

Follow-Up To Last Post

I am truly amazed at the number of people who have read my last post regarding sending a teen to Israel. I appreciate all of the messages and phone calls I have received thanking me for my words. I also appreciate the messages I have received from those who disagree but have shared their thoughts so respectfully. In addition, I am grateful for the many people who have shared ways that we can help Israel at this difficult time. Local Federations have put together emergency funds as have organizations like Friends of the IDF and The Jewish National Fund. It is so important that we reach out and do something to help Israel right now.

For many American Jews, sending their children to Israel during this military operation is an extremely challenging issue. The reason I chose to share my thoughts openly on my blog is because I feel strongly that our dedication and commitment to Israel is not determined by whether we send our child to Israel during this tense time or wait for things to settle down a bit. There should be no shame or guilt with making a decision to protect a child.

A few people have shared with me pieces of Torah and halakhah that obligate us to travel to Israel no matter what. In response, I share these lines from the Shulhan Aruch:

Wherever there is a potentially life-endangering pitfall or obstacle, it is a positive commandment to remove it, to be on guard against it and to take very good care in the matter, as the Torah says: “Guard yourself and guard your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10). And if one leaves dangerous pitfalls and obstacles and fails to remove them, he has not fulfilled the positive commandment, while also transgressing the negative commandment of “Do not put blood upon your house” (Deuteronomy 22:8). The Sages prohibited many things that can endanger life. Anyone who violates these and similar prohibitions, saying “What business is it of others if I choose to put myself in danger” or “I am not bothered about such things” is liable to get punished for rebellion against the Sages, while those who are careful will be blessed with good.
(Shulhan Aruch, Hoshen Mishpat427: 8-10).

In response to this, Rabbi Moshe Rivkes, in his commentary Be’er Hagolah , explains:

In my humble opinion the reason why the Torah commands us to guard our lives is because the Holy One, blessed is He, created the world in His kindness to bestow good upon His creations, so that they might recognize His greatness and do His service, fulfilling His mitzvos and Torah, as Scripture states, ‘All that is called in My name, I created for My honor’ (Yishaya 43:7), and to give them reward for their effort. When someone puts himself in danger, it is as if he is rejecting the will of his Creator, as if he desires neither His service nor His reward, and there is no greater dishonor and impudence than this.

Many of our Sages would certainly agree that parents have a responsibility to do everything in their power to protect their children. Different parents will make different decisions. And we must respect each other. If parents choose not to send their children to Israel right now – it does not make them bad Zionists. On the contrary, these parents and their children can help Israel remove the danger there by supporting the Jewish State financially and by speaking about Israel to those in the US – where the bias and propaganda is terrible. And these parents can and will send their children to Israel in the near future.

A few have argued that some Jews still send our children to New York City or Chicago or other places that are “dangerous” – why should we not send them to Israel? I am the first to get upset at people who say, when the status quo prevails in Israel, “Israel is not safe so, instead, we are going to Turkey/Spain/New York/London…..” Israel is safe and secure most of the time. However, right now, most of the country is at risk. One can’t deny this. The Prime Minister has openly stated this. And to condemn parents who don’t want to send their children there now is a terrible thing to do. It only alienates these parents them from Israel and divides the Jewish people. We can’t afford this.

This is not the time to attack each other over how we express our Zionism and Judaism. For those who want to do that, who want to call each other names, who want to insist that there is only one way to be a Jew, who demand that their way of being Jewish and their way of being a Zionist is the only way – you overlook our rich, diverse history. Most importantly, you build walls and borders that divide us. Jewish history teaches us that we are strong when we are unified. Whether we send our children to Israel right now or not. we can ALL STAND STRONGLY WITH ISRAEL.

My Words To “The Teen Who Was Supposed To Leave For Israel On Sunday”

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PLEASE SEE FOLLOW-UP TO THIS POST ADDED TO MY BLOG ON 7/15

These were the words I shared at Kabbalat Shabbat Services on Friday July 11, 2014

Yesterday, I had to do something that I never thought I would have to do. I had to tell one of our families NOT to send their teen to Israel for a special summer program. It felt awful. It felt like I was betraying Israel – especially at this precarious time. How could I not support sending one of our teens to Israel – to stand with the Jewish people, not backing down to terrorism? Am I not giving in to Hamas and helping this terrorist organization, in a small way, accomplish exactly what it wants – to rid the land of Israel of Jews!? Undermine tourism!? Scare people away from the Jewish State!?

Tonight, I owe it to this teen to explain WHY his rabbi, who is a strong Zionist, who believes in the right of Israel to do everything in her power to stand up for herself, who, if he was younger and did not have a wife and children and a congregation, would enlist in the Israel Defense Forces – why did he tell his parents he can’t go to Israel!?

And so tonight, I want to share my thoughts with you – because maybe it will help me deal with the terrible feelings of guilt I have for the part I played in this teen not getting on an El Al flight this Sunday and experiencing the power of Israel.

Many of you know that until this recent escalation of violence, I have always felt that Israel is a safe place. My wife, Cheryl, and I have had no problem bringing our kids to Israel and traveling all over the country. And once the missiles stop falling – we would bring them back in a heartbeat. There are places I would not visit in Israel – specifically in the West Bank – but overall, until yesterday, I would talk everyone into traveling to Israel. And everyone I talked into going would always come back and say something like: “You were right Rabbi. I actually felt safer in Israel than I do here.”

There is a part of me that is tempted to take the El Al ticket that was issued to the teen who is not traveling to Israel and use it myself. Part of me wants to fly to Israel for a very short visit – just to show my support for the Jewish State. Some rabbis and other Jewish leaders are doing this. And while I would love to do it because I, in my heart and soul, stand with Israel – I also question if such a trip accomplishes anything real. The fact is, if I were to go to Israel with an organized rabbinic group – I’d be kept as safe as possible. I’d stay for a short time. Most likely spend some time in a bomb shelter. Take a few photos that would be shared with the media to show “I stand with Israel” and “I am not afraid”. But, eventually, once the photos were taken and the appropriate meetings took place, I would get back on a plane and return home to my very peaceful life here in South Florida.   And I would be welcomed home by Cheryl, who would have been on pins and needles while I was gone, and my kids who are old enough to know that I was literally traveling to a war zone. They would be afraid. And honestly, if I were to go, I would be afraid too.

The truth is, the situation in Israel right now is very serious. We have seen that Hamas militants have gotten their hands on Iranian and Syrian made missiles that can reach deep into Israel – threatening the major metropolitan areas of the Jewish State, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva – and now even Haifa (perhaps coming from Lebanon). Missiles have been directed at the city of Dimona where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located. Thankfully, the Iron Dome has intercepted many of the missiles before they were able to wreak havoc and kill Israelis. But, the Iron Dome is not invincible – missiles have hit, damage has been done, people have been injured and at least one person has died as a result of trauma related to the missile attacks.

Certainly, missile attacks in Israel are nothing new. However, we have seen over the past week that Hamas is using more advanced missiles now that can reach much farther into Israel – placing most of the heart and soul of Israel in imminent danger. When the missiles used to fall, trips could alter itineraries and stay away from certain parts of the country. Right now, missiles are falling over Northern, Central and Southern Israel – including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There are very few safe places.

To the teen who was supposed to leave on Sunday, while your tour organizers might have said that they could change your itinerary to avoid missiles – you just have to look at this map and realize that, unless you wanted to spend three weeks in Eilat – a very hot , southern beach town lodged between Egypt and Jordan, which is, for the time being “missile free” – there is really no other place that is missile free at this time. In addition, given that Israel tours involve a lot of time on buses, it is important to remember that when the Red Alert sounds and you are outside or on the roads – depending upon where you are exactly – you have at most 90 seconds to get to a bomb shelter. The roof of a bus won’t protect you.   And we don’t know when and where Hamas will fire their missiles.

To the teen who was supposed to travel to Israel on Sunday – I love Israel with all my heart and soul. But I am not willing to put you in the crosshairs of Hamas. Too many of our children – Israeli children – are in these crosshairs as we speak. Six million Israelis (a chilling number) – 75% of Israel’s population – are under the threat of rocket attacks. Too many children have had to run into bomb shelters this past week. I don’t want you to have to run to a bomb shelter. I don’t want you stuck in the middle of the highway as you watch the Iron Dome intercept a missile over your head. And I don’t even want to mention other scenarios.

Yes, for a teenager, the events going on in Israel might sound exciting – something out of the movies. But it is real. And, unfortunately, I know all too well the toll terrorism can take.

My first experience with terrorism was when I was 15 years old. On October 7, 1985, my close friend’s uncle, Leon Klinghoffer z”l, was murdered on the Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists.

My second experience with terrorism was when I was 18. On December 21, 1988, Pan Am 103 was blown up by Islamic extremists – killing one of my classmates at Vassar College.

My next experience with terrorism was when I was 25. On February 25, 1996, less than a year after I visited Israel as part of my graduate studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a fellow student and dear friend of Cheryl’s, Matt Eisenfeld z”l and his fiancé Sara Duker z”l, were killed when Hamas – the same group that is firing rockets into Israel right now – blew up the bus they were traveling on in Jerusalem.

In 2001, as many of you know, I came face to face with terror as I saw American Airlines Flight 11 fly right by my window before it hit the World Trade Center. The Vice-President of the synagogue that I was working at was a VP for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center. While most of his colleagues were killed, he was late for work and was caught in the elevator when the plane hit. He was severely burned and spent months in the hospital and rehab – but did survive. We lost too many others that day.

On April 17, 2006, one of our own Broward County, Jewish teens – a student at our local day school – a friend of many students here at Ramat Shalom – Daniel Wultz z”l – was killed in Israel when a member of the Islamic Jihad blew himself up on the street.

I know too well that terrorism is real. It is not something in the movies. It maims and destroys and kills. To the teen who was supposed to leave for Israel on Sunday, this war that is being fought in Israel right now can’t be avoided by even the best tour guides. Guides have been able to avoid previous wars – but not this one. The missiles are falling everywhere – and your itinerary can’t be changed to keep you safe. Not this time.

There will be a time – I do believe – a time very soon, if Israel does what she needs to do, going all the way to strip Hamas of her missiles and power to terrorize Israel, when you can and will get on that plane and travel safely through Israel. But, right now, Israel has a very important, very serious, very dangerous job to do. A job that is not pretty. A job that is not “exciting”. A job that involves defending Israel from those who are determined to destroy the Jewish State. A job that involves waging war with Hamas and her supporters. Sadly, there will be lives lost as this war goes on. Many Palestinians who are being used by Hamas as human shields have already been killed. And until Hamas is defeated, sadly, more will be killed. And Israelis – particularly Israeli soldiers – will also lose their lives. This is the reality on the ground. This reality is part of Israel. It is a tragic but necessary part of the Jewish State’s survival. To the teen who was supposed to leave for Israel on Sunday – you need to understand what we as a people will do in order to survive – what we have to do to survive – BUT, there is no need for you, at this point in your life, to witness this first hand, or G-d forbid, be a part of the violence.

So, teen who was supposed to leave for Israel on Sunday, yes, I want to keep you safe right now because, well, you are still a kid and we adults still have some control over your life. But, I am not just worried about your safety. Six million Israelis have had missiles launched at them. Six million. While we think it is great to be present in Israel during this trying time, the fact is, we are just more people who need space in a bomb shelter. We are more people that the IDF need to look out for and worry about. We are more people who will get on buses that clog important roadways and might need to be flown out of the country if the situation gets worse.

Yes, Israel needs us now more than ever. But, Israel needs us here, speaking up, spreading the truth, standing up to the lies, the distortions, the bias. Israel does not need us in the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv right now. She does not need us trying to get selfies with real missiles being blown up by the Iron Dome over our heads. She needs space to do the work needed to insure the survival of the Jewish people and the Jewish State so that you CAN come to the land and travel freely.

So, teenagers who is not going to Israel on Sunday, you are not going because:

  • We need you to be a part of the future of Israel. Too many Jews have been hurt and killed by Hamas and      supporters of this terrorist organization. Your job is to stay here, keep up to date on what is going on, speak up for Israel and plan your future trip to the Jewish State.
  • Going to Israel right now does not make you a better Zionist, does not make you tougher, stronger. If anything, it gives the IDF room to do their job. Now is not the time to go and see the sites of Israel.

As Ecclesiastes teaches us – there is a time for every matter under heaven.

 

         A time to break and a time to build

         A time to weep and a time to laugh

         A time of wailing and a time for dancing

         A time for war and a time for peace

 

Now, sadly, is the time for war. Peace is, I believe, around the corner – a time of building and laughing and dancing – and a time when we can see you off to Israel for an experience of a lifetime. And, if your parents let me, I will join you on the trip to airport to see you off. I promise.