Keeping The Promise Alive

This week, I attended a program sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that featured an incredible lecture by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, the Senior Vice-President of the Shalem Center in Israel and a former professor of mine.  It has been a while since I attended a lecture that affected me as powerfully as this one did.   Rabbi Gordis’ words continue to resonate with me.  Below, I have attempted to capture what Rabbi Gordis shared with the 600 of us who were in attendance on Tuesday evening.  The power of his words are not captured in my synopsis.  To experience this power, I encourage each of you to get his book, Saving Israel. I plan on doing a few classes on this book during the summer months and hope you will join me.

Summary of Rabbi Daniel Gordis’ Lecture before AIPAC, 27 March 2010

Israel is often referred to as the Jewish homeland.  But, it is so much more than this. Israel is a promise, a promise to every single Jewish man, woman and child that gone are the days of living in fear and having to run from your home, your town or your country because it is being attacked by people who hate you simply because you are Jewish.  Every single day, the State of Israel is a beacon, shining brightly, proclaiming to every Jew on the face of the earth that the nightmare of being attacked, abused and murdered because of our Judaism is finally over.  It will never happen again.  The rebirth of Israel put an end to the days when others could choose whether or not the Jews would live or die.  With Israel, Jews now take care of ourselves.   With Israel, Jews have power.  Jews have security.  Jews have a future that is secure.

Most of us here in the United States, we know nothing about fearing for our lives because of our Judaism.  We take for granted that we live safely within our neighborhoods.  Being Jewish isn’t dangerous – especially in South Florida.  And, so, Israel just becomes the “Jewish homeland” that we talk about now and then.  It being a “promise”, a promise that the nightmare is over, this is lost on us.  The nightmare is part of the past.  We read about it.  Maybe we have a parent of grandparent who can tell us about it.  But, it is long gone and no longer a concern of ours.

But, will we feel so secure if we wake up one morning to learn that Israel is gone and with her all the Jews who lived within her borders?  “Oh Rabbi,” you say, “that’s not going to happen!”  Sadly, we know of countless Jews who did not rush to leave Europe in the 1930’s because they were convinced that the worst would never happen.  We know that the worst did happen.

The fact is – the way things are rapidly unfolding in the Middle East, the stage is being set for the “worst” to happen once again.  Most experts report that Iran is very close to having a nuclear bomb.  Her President has made it clear to the world that he wishes to destroy Israel.  As soon as the bomb is in his hands, there is nothing to stop this maniacal dictator from making his wish a reality.  It can happen.  And, the way things are going, it can happen in the near future.  What would it feel like to wake up to the news that Israel is no more?

Right now, Iran doesn’t have the bomb.  And as Israeli parents tuck their young children into bed tonight they can say to them, “I’ll see you in the morning.”  They can say this because their older children are out there in the military, protecting their country from the countless enemies committed to destroying the Jewish homeland.  For 62 years, young men and women have stood guard to insure that Israel will be there when Israeli parents go to wake up their children in the morning.

The day Iran has the bomb, Israeli parents will no longer be able to say “I’ll see you in the morning” when they tuck their children into bed.  The best they’ll be able to say will be “maybe I’ll see you in the morning” – because overnight, the lunatic might launch the bomb.  And all will end.  Israeli parents know that their older children who are out their protecting their nation will not be able to do anything to stop a nuclear weapon once it is launched.  Once Iran has the bomb, Israel is completely vulnerable.  Once Iran has the bomb, Jews return to the nightmare.  They are no longer safe.  Once Iran has the bomb, Ahmadinejad has the ability to decide when Jews live and when they die.  Once Iran has the bomb, the promise that is “Israel” dies and Jews across the globe, even right here in South Florida where we feel so safe, we lose our security as a Jewish people.

Lately it seems that the world is obsessed with Israeli apartment buildings being built in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.  These apartment buildings, the world says, are jeopardizing the lives of the Palestinian people. “Israel must stop!  Israel must respect the Palestinians,” cries the world.  But who cries out for the Israelis who will be annihilated when the bomb is launched?  Where is the global outrage?  Where are those standing up to protect the lives of Israelis?

This week, the United Nations elected Iran to serve on the Commission on the Status of Women that is charged with monitoring the humanitarian rights of women worldwide.  Given that Iran, as has been widely reported, severely violates the human rights of Iranian women, this election is absurd – yet says so much about the UN.  Next week, Ahmadinejad is planning to attend a UN conference on nuclear weapons here in the U.S. and our country is busy preparing a visa which will allow him to enter the country without any problems.  U.S. government officials announced yesterday that Ahmadinejad would not be permitted to “disrupt” the conference in any way.  Does the world forget that his last appearance before the UN resulted in the Prime Minister of Israel feeling the need to bring blueprints of a concentration camp to podium when he spoke as proof that the Holocaust did take place!?  Was the world not outraged that Israel’s leader was put in this position!?  Is the world not troubled by the fact that Ahmadinejad can enter the U.S. with no problems, yet Tzipi Livni, the opposition leader in Israel, has had an arrest warrant issued against her for war crimes by the British government?  It does not bother the world that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have not been stopped?  Apparently none of this bothers the world.  But the building of Israeli apartment buildings in Jewish neighborhoods, this is what the global community is disturbed by.

In 1947, when the UN gave the Jewish people her blessing to create a Jewish State, the world seemed to feel sympathy for the Jews. Given everything that the Jews had been through, how could they not?  But, more than six decades later, the tide has changed.  A despot who is openly committed to annihilating Israel is welcome within the halls of the UN while Israeli leaders who insure that their country is protected from the bombs and missiles of terrorists are labeled “war criminals” and threatened with arrest if they enter one of the most powerful nations in the world.  The world is no longer sympathetic towards Israel.  It seems that the world believes that the 1948 rebirth of Israel was a mistake.

The fact that Israeli parents can kiss their children goodnight and still say “I will see you in the morning,” this is not a mistake.  The fact that the global community includes a Jewish nation run by Jews, this is not a mistake.  The fact that after centuries of violence and persecution in foreign lands, Jews today can put down roots in their own land without fear of having to run, this is not a mistake.  The fact that Jews have their own country, their own government, their own military – the ability to protect and defend themselves – this is not a mistake.  The land that the young Israeli soldiers are protecting right now, as you read this, this land is not a mistake.  The work that these soldiers are doing, it is not a mistake.  Israel is not a mistake.

We owe it to the young soldiers over there right now to do everything in our power to insure that they do not become obsolete.  We owe it to them and to their parents to insure that Iran does not get the bomb that will make them useless.  We owe it to them and to their younger siblings to raise our voices and speak out in defense of Israel so that every night, Israeli children can hear their parents say “I’ll see you in the morning.” We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do everything in our power to insure that Israel will be there for them.

How will you feel if Israel is gone tomorrow? If the answer is, “I won’t care,” I remind you that “first they came for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.”

  First they came for the Jews of Israel and I didn’t speak up because Israel wasn’t that important to me…..If the answer is “I would be devastated” I say to you, what are you going to do to make certain that you will never feel this way?  It is time to figure out the answer to this question and live it.

Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Happy 62nd Birthday Israel – Antithesis MC

Can’t think of a better way to celebrate it!  Turn it up and sing along (lyrics below video).  This is fantastic!

Proud To Be A Zionist

Yo, it’s time to set the record straight
Fed up with all the man proclaimin all this hate
No room for debate, well hold up wait
Cos Antithesis comin to step up and state
Yo the movement of my people been getting this stick
Equated with racism and other bullish
And if you can’t see it – that’s just foolish
So shut up and listen, to my hip hop schooling
We talking freedom, emancipation
A home, a land for a persecuted nation
Liberation, democratisation
A dream fulfilled, a Jewish safe haven
2000 years this desire had lied
Dormant but restive – it never died
In the 1800s, it was brought to life with this
Movement of my people, proud to be Zionists

I’m a Zionist – and yes I’m proud
I’m a Zionist – so shout it loud
I’m a Zionist – that’s my vocation
I’m a Zionist – self-determination for the Jewish nation
I’m a Zionist – and I’ll never cease
I’m a Zionist – who just wants peace
I’m a Zionist – and I say it with poise
I’m a Zionist – if you are too, then make some noise!

Antithesis gotta give my props, respect
To the man who got this all going and rocked the set
To be honest though, there’s no way this verse’ll
Come close to doing justice to Theodore Herzl
Ben-Yehuda, course rocked the language tip
And I already showed him love on Ivrit Daber Ivrit
Ahad Ha’am represented for the people
A cultural centre was his ideal
A man of steel was my boy Jabotinsky
I wish I had time to stand and list the
Endless achievements of AD Gordon
Love the land was his plan, and it was awesome
The Lord was put forward by the man Rav Kook
His intellect and stature never done shook
That’s the look, so take pride in it
Pay respect with me, cos I’m proud to be a Zionist


I’m a Zionist, so give me my word back
There’s too many man, trying to turn that
Into something negative, something bad
I’m a Zionist who ain’t ashamed, I’m glad
That I support universal suffrage, free press
Only place in the Middle East to pass that test
Nothing less, cos we strivin for perfection
It’s a work in progress, like all other Western
Nations, but to be Zionist don’t equal extreme
Don’t make you obscene, unkind or unclean
What it means, is that you believe that the Jewish state
Has a right to exist, secure and safe
People livin without fear, living in peace
That’s the essence of a Zionist belief
No more beef, I’m done defining it
Join with me and shout that we proud to be Zionists


Respecting Teachers

Today, Governor Crist vetoed a bill that would have based teachers’ salaries and job security on the test scores of their students.  In doing so, the Governor stood up for teachers.

Over the past several days, I have spoken to so many Ramat Shalom members who have dedicated their professional lives to teaching children.  Many of these members teach students who get no academic support at home.  As I mentioned in my message last week, a teacher cannot educate a child on her own.  She needs parents, grandparents, coaches, and other mentors to be positive role models and reinforce the lessons that are taught in the classroom.  Sadly, many students do not have these role models.  Too many teachers today not only find themselves having to teach their students how to read and write and perform basic math, they find themselves struggling to teach their students respect, manners, responsibility, hygiene.  Some even need to insure that their students have eaten properly.  No matter how a good a teacher is, if a teacher’s lessons are not reinforced in other aspects of a child’s life, if no one makes certain that the child is doing his homework, if the child has no discipline and structure at home – the child won’t be prepared for school the next day.  This is not the teacher’s fault.  It is, unfortunately, the teacher’s problem.  Today, however, Governor Crist insured that a teacher’s salary and job security will not suffer as a result of the irresponsible behavior of other adults in a child’s life.

Jewish teachings support Governor Crist’s actions.  Our tradition demands that we show our teachers the utmost respect.  Maimonides, the medieval Jewish philosopher, captures this when he wrote in “The Rules of Torah Study”:

Just as a person is obligated to honor and be in awe of his father, similarly, he is obligated to honor and be in awe of his teacher more than his father. If his father and his teacher were each carrying a burden, first he relieves his teacher’s burden and then his father’s.  If his father and his teacher were both held as captives, first he redeems his teacher and then he redeems his father.  There is no greater honor than that due a teacher, and no greater awe than that due a teacher.

Certainly a teacher should be held responsible for his performance in the classroom.  But this should be left up to school administrators who have many ways of measuring this performance and the ability to take action against teachers who are not educating our children properly.  By grading a teacher simply on his students’ performance on standardized tests insults the teacher, his commitment to his students, and the integrity of his lessons.  Teachers deserve our utmost respect. Many of you, especially those who had incredible teachers in your lives yet happened to be terrible test takers, will agree with me that the gifts a good teacher gives to her students cannot be measured by a test.  Fortunately, our Governor realized this and took an important step today.

To all of our teachers, thank you for your wisdom, commitment, and love.  And to all of our students, particularly those who stood up for their teachers this week (thanks to our own Greg Bernstein for playing an important role!), thank you for living the Jewish values that teach us to honor and respect our teachers.

10 Truths About Israel

One of the things that I have found most troubling in the nine years since I was ordained is the Jewish community’s inability to stand up to the massive amount of anti-Israel propaganda that is out there. If Jews can’t counter the lies and hate that undermine the Jewish State, who can? We need to be the spokespeople for Israel – standing up for, defending, and teaching our friends and neighbors the truth about her. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Israel will celebrate her 62nd birthday on April 19th, most of us know very little about her. We rely upon the media to give us most of our Israeli knowledge. This is a huge mistake as most of the information on the internet, in the press, and on the air is either a distortion of the truth or a flat out lie. Below, I have listed what I consider to be the “Top 10 Truths About Israel” that every Jew and friend of Israel needs to be able to share with anyone and everyone who will listen.

1.  TRUTH: Jews have called what we now know of as the modern State of Israel home for over 4,000 years. The facts to back it up: 3,000 years ago, King David ruled a powerful Jewish kingdom which included modern day Israel and land that is now part of neighboring Arab nations. In 70 C.E. the Romans conquered the region and expelled the Jews, but many remained and countless others would return to their homeland over the next 2,000 years.

2.  TRUTH: Jews and only Jews have claimed Jerusalem as her capital for more than 3,000 years. The facts to back it up: Under King David’s reign 3,000 years ago, Jerusalem became the capital of the Jewish nation. In 1980 Israel established that the complete and united city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. (Important History: In 1947, it was determined that Jerusalem would be placed under UN supervision and remain a “neutral” city. When Israel was created in 1948, neighboring Arab nations attacked the young Jewish nation and Israel defended herself. As a result, Jerusalem was divided – the western half going to Israel; the eastern half, including the old city and the site of the ancient Jewish Temple, went to Jordan. In 1967, after Jordan attacked Israel, specifically the western portion of Jerusalem, Israel stood up for herself and pushed the Jordanians back and, in doing so, gained the eastern portion of Jerusalem, reuniting the city under Jewish rule for the first time since the Romans expelled the Jewish community in the year 70.)  In 1980 Israel enacted the Jerusalem Law which states that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.” In 1995, the United States passed The Jerusalem Embassy Act that states: Jerusalem “should remain a united city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected; that it should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.

3.  TRUTH: There was never an independent nation of Palestine or a distinct group of people known as Palestinians. The facts to back it up: After expelling the Jewish people from Israel, the Romans named the region “Palestine” in an attempt to erase the region’s powerful connection to Judaism. Palestine is a derivative of “Philistine” the collective name given to the biblical enemies of the Jewish people. The term “Palestine” was never associated with an Arab nation. In 1922, the British Mandate of Palestine was established. “Palestinians” was a term used to describe anyone living within the mandate. Jews living within this region were considered to be Palestinians. Palestine remained a region associated with Jews, so much so that before WWII, anti-semites in Europe would tell Jews to “go back home to Palestine.” After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the term “Palestine” was replaced by “Israel”. In 1964, the term was inaccurately revived by the Arab world with the creation of Palestinian Liberation Organization, a terror organization whose main purpose was to destroy the State of Israel, “recapture” the land and return it to the “Palestinian” people. From this point on, the world was inaccurately taught that “Palestine” was an Arab nation taken over by Jews and the “Palestinians” were a repressed people who were helpless victims of the Jews.

4.  TRUTH: In 1947, the Arabs refused to accept the United Nations two state solution which divided the region of Palestine/Israel into two independent countries, one Jewish and one Arab. The facts to back it up: The Jews accepted this two state solution. The Arabs attacked the new Jewish State when she was created in 1948. The young Jewish nation defended herself against the Arab attack and pushed them back. As a result, Israel expanded her borders to include West Jerusalem, territory bordering the West Bank and Gaza/Egypt and territory in northern Israel up to the Lebanon border. These borders, also known as the Green Line, were formalized by the 1949 Armistice Agreements which were signed by Israel and neighboring Arab nations. (Important History: In the 1956 Suez War, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and unilaterally withdrew from the region in 1957 despite the fact that Egypt refused to make peace. Nevertheless, Israel withdrew after Egypt stopped its illegal blockade of Israeli ships in the Suez Canal and Straits of Tiran and after the UN put peacekeeping troops along the Egyptian-Israeli borders.)

5.  TRUTH: In 1967, Israel was again forced to defend herself against the attacks of her Arab neighbors and, as a result, expanded her borders, gaining control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, Gaza, all of Jerusalem and the West Bank. The facts to back it up: These regions are erroneously referred to as the “Occupied Territories” implying that Israel aggressively took control of these areas. Israel acquired these regions as she defended herself. The “Palestinian” community made absolutely no claim to these regions until Israel acquired control of them in during the 1967 war. The territories that Israel gained control of after the Six Day War were previously controlled by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt nations involved in the 1949 Armistice Agreements.  (Important History: In 1967, Israel did accept UN Resolution 242-Land for Peace Formula- which called for Arab states to make peace, recognize Israel’s right to exist and to negotiate with Israel to create new, more “secure borders.” In return, Israel was to withdraw from some of the territory it had captured in the 1967 War. Arab states rejected the formula in their Khartoum Resolution with its “Three NOs”—no peace, no negotiations and no recognition of the Jewish State. In the 1979 Peace Treaty with Egypt: When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem and made a sincere peace offer, Israel welcomed him. Although Israel had discovered oil and gas in the Sinai, Israel gave the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt (91% of all the land captured in the 1967 War), dismantled all Jewish communities that had been built, ceded its oil drilling infrastructure intact and gave up the oil revenues the wells had produced. In 1981, President Sadat was assassinated by Egyptian extremists for striking a deal with Israel.)

6.  TRUTH: Israel was forced to continue her presence in Gaza and the West Bank from 1967 until 1993 because no Palestinian leader emerged as a peace partner. The facts to back it up: International law and custom required Israel to administer the territories it acquired as a result of the 1967 war until a successful peace treaty could be negotiated. International law and UN Resolution 242 required the Arab nations to negotiate with Israel to determine new borders that would be mutually recognized by Jews and Arabs. Initially, the international community assumed that Israel would negotiate with Jordan and Egypt, which had occupied the contested territory before 1967, but Egypt and Jordan refused to negotiate at the time. When both countries renounced their claims to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1979 and 1988, respectively, Israel was left with the responsibility to continue administrating these regions. Once Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization claimed they would accept Israel’s existence and negotiate for peace, Israel seized the opportunity to resolve the conflict by entering into negotiations and eventually signing The Oslo Accords in 1993.

7.  TRUTH: Despite the fact that Palestinians have failed to live up to their promises to end violence and recognize the right of Israel to exist in peace, Israel has taken significant steps to bring about peace. The facts to back it up:

  • In 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed and called upon Israel to turn over parts of the West Bank and Gaza to the newly created Palestinian Authority in exchange for the Palestinians bringing an end to violence against Israel, renouncing terrorism and accepting Israel’s right to exist in peace as a Jewish State within secure borders. In the five years after the Oslo Accords were signed, Palestinian terrorist groups killed 282 Israelis, far more than the number killed (216) in the entire 15 years that preceded the Accords. Despite escalating terrorism and incitement, by 1997, Israel saw to it that 98% of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank were governed by the Palestinian Authority.
  • In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan.
  • In 2000 Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat met with President Clinton at Camp David to negotiate a “final status settlement”. However, as President Clinton has stated: “I regret that in 2000 Arafat missed the opportunity to bring that nation into being and pray for the day when the dreams of the Palestinian people for a state and a better life will be realized in a just and lasting peace.” Yasser Arafat rejected the 2000 Camp David proposals and the Intifada, a violent uprising of Muslims against Israel, began. Israel was forced to intermittently redeploy its troops in emergency counterterrorism operations that became necessary because terrorist groups refused to end hostilities against the Jewish State.
  • In 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Southern Lebanon despite continuing hostilities and threats from the Iranian and Syrian sponsored terrorist group, Hezbollah, and despite the fact that Lebanon had not made peace with Israel. Unfortunately, between 2000 and 2006, Hezbollah amassed over 12,000 rockets in Lebanon that were aimed at Israel, continued rocket attacks against Israel’s northern border, and performed multiple acts of violence in the region and elsewhere.
  • In August 2005, Israel withdrew from the remaining few areas it still held in Gaza and from sections of the Northern West Bank, which was three times the size of Gaza. In the process, Israel uprooted more than 8,500 Jews who had built thriving communities over the previous 30 years in Gaza, where Israeli residents had employed over 10,000 Palestinians from the surrounding areas. Israel left their expensive infrastructure intact for future use by the Palestinians. After Israel’s disengagement, no Jewish or non-Jewish Israelis remained in Gaza. Even Jewish cemeteries were moved out of the area.
  • Since Israel has pulled out of Gaza, the region has become a breeding ground for Hamas terrorists who took Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive in 2006 and use Gaza to launch missiles into Israel and torment, maim, and kill innocent civilians.
  • On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah launched an unprovoked attack against Israel, kidnapping two soldiers and killing eight while simultaneously attacking Israeli cities beginning the Hezbollah War.

8.  TRUTH: Hamas, the leading political part of the Palestinian Authority refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Ask yourself, how can Israel make peace with a government that does not recognize Israel right to exist?

9. TRUTH: Israeli settlements that were built in undeveloped, uninhabited areas of the West Bank and Gaza after 1967 are completely legal. The facts to back it up: The various agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians since 1993 contain no prohibitions on the building or expansion of settlements. On the contrary, they specifically provide that the issue of settlements is reserved for permanent status negotiations, which are to take place in the concluding stage of the peace talks. The parties expressly agreed that the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction or control over settlements or Israelis, pending the conclusion of a permanent status agreement. The right of Jews to settle in all parts of the “Land of Israel” was first recognized by the international community in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. The purpose of the Mandate was to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland. Indeed, Article 6 of the Mandate provided for “close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use.” For more than a thousand years, the only time that Jewish settlement was prohibited in the West Bank was under the Jordanian occupation (1948-1967) that resulted from an armed invasion. During this period of Jordanian rule, which was not internationally recognized, Jordan eliminated the Jewish presence in the West Bank (as Egypt did in the Gaza Strip) and declared that the sale of land to Jews was a capital offense. It is untenable that this outrage could invalidate the right of Jews to establish homes in these areas, and accordingly, the legal titles to land that had already been acquired remain valid to this day. It must be noted that Israel forcibly removed Israeli settlers from their homes in Gaza and parts of the West Bank in 2005 with the hope of bringing about peace. These actions only led to more violence from the Palestinian community.  (RELEVANT INFORMATION: Prime Minister Netanyahu declared a 10 month freeze on the building of new homes in settlements late last year. This freeze does not apply to the area of East Jerusalem.)

10. TRUTH: The world’s media and important organizations like the United Nations and are blatantly biased against Israel and foster global anti-Israel sentiment. The facts to back it up: to get a sense of the media bias against Israel, visit, or “Media Watch” at; UN Bias –

  • From 2008-2009, the U.N. General Assembly (GA) continued to spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, passing 20 resolutions which are one-sided or blatantly anti-Israel.
  • Of 10 emergency special sessions called by the GA, six have been about Israel. No emergency sessions have been held on the Rwandan genocide, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, or the two decades of atrocities in Sudan.
  • The U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC), which replaced the Commission on Human Rights in March 2006, has been even more hopelessly ineffective than its predecessor, and is permanently engaged in criticism of Israel while ignoring pressing international human rights crises.
  • For decades, Israel was the only member state consistently denied admission into a regional group. The Arab states continue to prevent Israeli membership in the Asian Regional Group, Israel’s natural geopolitical grouping. As a result, Israel sought entry into the Western and Others Group (WEOG) and in May 2000 was granted admission to that regional group in New York, but not in Geneva, the seat of several U.N. bodies and subsidiary organizations. Israel’s participation in the U.N., therefore, is still limited and it is restricted from participating in U.N. Geneva-based activities.
  • The following nations, many of which play important roles in the UN, do not recognize the State of Israel: Algeria, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sahrawi Republic, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, China (recognizes, but does not formally conduct business), North Korea, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia

Jewish Lessons, Teachers, Students, and Community

A few weeks ago someone asked me, “what’s most important when it comes to choosing a synagogue: feeling welcomed by the community, feeling that the religious school will be a good place for my kids, or feeling a connection with the rabbi?” It’s a great question. I thought about it for a bit. When you choose a synagogue, you are choosing a community, a place to religiously educate your children and a rabbi to be your spiritual teacher. Given this, my initial response to the question was that all three are equally important, as they are crucial aspects of synagogue life. But, I continued to mull over the question and now view things a bit differently.

One of the greatest aspects of Judaism is that we get to re-read our great books every single year. As we do so, we get a chance to catch the stuff we overlooked in previous years. Having just started to re-read Pirkei Avot, a compilation of ethical teachings of the ancient rabbis that is studied between Pesah and Shavuot, I came across a very simple teaching that answers the question posed to me a few weeks back. In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, within the first few lines of the book, we are taught one of the most important things that we as Jews must do: “provide for yourself a rabbi.”

Judaism is all about learning. We are not to stop learning when we become a bar/bat mitzvah or when we complete the conversion process. We are supposed to study Judaism daily. No matter how old or wise we are, learning never ends. In order to learn, we need a teacher. In Judaism, our primary teacher is our rabbi. Every Jew should have a rabbi in their life. “Rabbi” means “teacher”. A rabbi is not a priest. In Judaism, a priest was the person who performed the rituals in the ancient Temple and had the ability to connect with God through these rituals. The “common folk” did not perform these rituals and, as such, could not connect with God. The Jewish priesthood came crashing down with the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE. It was at this point that the rabbis rose to power. They were a new type of Jewish leader. They were and still are “common folk”. For centuries rabbis have been teaching other “common folk” how to use Torah and traditions to connect to Judaism, God and spirituality. Sure, rabbis might know more Torah than other “common folk” but, as Pirkei Avot points out, this does not make rabbis better than others: “if you have learned a lot of Torah, do not think that you are morally better than anyone, for you were created to learn a lot of Torah.” Even a rabbi is required to get himself a rabbi – a teacher. I am blessed to have many wonderful rabbis who teach me on a regular basis.

While Pirkei Avot does talk about the importance of teaching our children, it does so only after we are told to get ourselves a rabbi. So many Jewish parents today are looking for a synagogue that will teach their children how to be Jewish. They overlook the fact that it is Jewish parents who teach their children how to be Jewish. Afternoon Hebrew schools and Hebrew day schools can supplement what goes on at home, but nothing can replace the Jewish moments that are shared with family. Mom lighting the Shabbat candles or leading the family seder, dad putting on his tallit or preparing to read Torah for an upcoming service – these are the moments that truly teach children. And this is why, first and foremost, the rabbis of Pirke Avot teach us to get ourselves a rabbi. A rabbi will insure that you learn what you need to know in order to create powerful Jewish moments for your children. A rabbi will give you the wisdom you need to be your children’s best Jewish teacher.

Immediately after stating: “provide for yourself a rabbi”, Pirke Avot states: “and acquire for yourself a friend”, suggesting that when we get a rabbi we not only get a teacher, we also get a friend. This is supported by the fact that Judaism insists that learning is not an activity that we can do on our own. While we are the “people of the book”, we are not a people that curl up with our books and read them by ourselves. We are instructed to learn with someone else, as a pair. This system of learning in pairs is known as “hevruta” which comes from the word “haver” which means “friend”. When we learn from a rabbi, we develop a strong bond or fellowship with her since a rabbi teaches her students not only in her study or classroom, but at some of the most sacred and intimate moments in a person’s life: at the birth of a child, a marriage, a child’s bat mitzvah, a wedding, a funeral, a divorce…In doing so, a rabbi becomes an active participant in the life of a Jew and a special relationship is created. Because of this, it is imperative that a Jew feels a connection with his rabbi.

Pirkei Avot teaches us that in addition to needing a rabbi, a Jew needs a community: “Do not separate yourself from the community.” We can’t be Jewish on our own. We need each other to learn, to celebrate, to pray, to mourn. By providing ourselves with a rabbi, we immediately connect ourselves to a community. This is because rabbis usually have many students and, thus, many powerful relationships. Because of her teaching, a rabbi creates a community of learners – a community of people committed to growing Jewishly. Within such a community, learners meet and connect with each other and new bonds and friendships are formed.

“What’s most important when it comes to choosing a synagogue: feeling welcomed by the community, feeling that the religious school will be a good place for my kids, or feeling a connection with the rabbi?” You must feel connected to a synagogue’s community and you must feel good about the religious school. But, most importantly, you must feel a connection with the rabbi. This connection will insure that you get the knowledge and spiritual guidance you need, the bonds of community you want, and the skills required to become the incredible Jewish teacher your children deserve (and remember that you don’t need to know everything because your synagogue’s religious school should provide a good supplemental Jewish education!).

I value the connections I share with my congregants. I pray daily that I live up to both the expectations set forth in Pirke Avot and the responsibilities of being a rabbi.