Loyalty to a Jewish and Democratic Israel

Israel and the “peace process” have been making headlines recently and (surprise, surprise!) Israel is being portrayed as an aggressive, bigoted bully. As I say all the time, those of us who support Israel need to be part of her PR team. We need to get the facts and share them ˆ now more than ever.

The most recent controversy stems from the fact that Israel has begun building again in the settlements (the towns and villages in the West Bank ). For 10 months, the Israeli government placed a moratorium on building after being pressured by the US and others. Now that the moratorium has expired and building has resumed, the Palestinian community is in an uproar because they want ownership of the property on which the building is taking place.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that he was willing to extend the moratorium if the Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish State ˆ something the Palestinian leadership has refused to do in the past. The Prime Minister’s offer was rejected by the Palestinian leadership. They will not recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu is being accused by many of playing games and undermining the peace process. This is absurd. A fundamental component of the peace process must include the recognition of the Jewish State of Israel by the Palestinians. Israel has recognized the Palestinian people and their right to a state. We simply cannot move forward and discuss borders until both sides state publicly that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have the right to a nation.

Also this week, we have heard a lot about the new “loyalty oath” that is before the Israeli government. This loyalty oath will require new, non-Jewish citizens of Israel to declare their allegiance to the Jewish, democratic State of Israel. This loyalty oath has sparked outrage within Israel, the global Jewish community, and the international scene. Israel is being accused of being a racist country and denying people freedom of religion for requiring people to declare that they are loyal to the Jewish State of Israel. Many are arguing that the oath is a way to deter Palestinians and others from living within Israel.

While the timing of the oath is really not great, I want to remind all of the critics out there that all of the countries that surround Israel are Muslim nations ˆ many of which offer no protection to religious minorities ˆ specifically Jews. Being a Jew in these countries is dangerous. Sharia law (Islamic law), which has been adopted by Hamas, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority makes Judaism and every other non-Muslim religion inferior to Islam and this strips non-Muslims of significant rights and freedoms.

In Israel, freedom of religion is protected. You do not need to be a Jew to live safely in Israel, practice your religion openly and even serve in the government. From her birth in 1948, the modern State of Israel has openly declared herself to be a Jewish State that will guarantee the rights of “all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions” (Declaration of Independence, 1948).

Anyone can become a citizen of Israel. The “Law of Return” makes it easier for Jews to become Israeli citizens because Israel wants to insure that Jews have a safe haven to easily return to at any time. Non-Jews can and do become citizens of Israel and are given the same rights and privileges as non-Jewish citizens. This being said, non-Jewish Israelis are living in a Jewish State that emerged from the ashes of the Shoah (Holocaust). They are living in a country that embraces Jewish legal customs, rituals, holidays, and beliefs and is committed to the safety and well-being of the global Jewish community. Israel is a Jewish State and, at the same time, adheres to fundamental democratic principals.

People wishing to become US citizen must renounce all allegiances to foreign governments and pledge their loyalty to our country. Is there anything wrong with this? Is there anything wrong with asking new citizens of Israel to declare their loyalty to the one and only Jewish nation in the world? Doing so does not mean one needs to become a Jew! Of course the Palestinian community is outraged by Israel’s proposed loyalty oath. They won’t acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State! If one has a problem declaring their loyalty to Israel, they do not need to become a citizen. And if they do have a problem declaring this loyalty, why would they want to become a citizen?

What troubles me the most about all of the grumbling I have heard about Israel this week is that a lot of it seems to be coming from within the Jewish community. Certainly, as Jews we will never agree on everything! But, when it comes to Israel, we can’t allow ourselves to become divided. History has taught us that when this happens, we lose our homeland. This is not an option. And this is why it is so important for us to get the facts and talk about the issues as a community.

I hope you will join me on Monday evening October, 25 at 7:00PM for “An Evening With The Experts,” a discussion with Jewish leaders who are intricately involved in Israeli politics. The program is being held at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa. For more information (including cost) and to RSVP please contact AIPAC at (954) 382-6110 or flreg@aipac.org. Let them know you would like to be at the Ramat Shalom table.

UPDATE: SINCE THIS WAS WRITTEN, NETANYAHU IS SUPPORTING HAVING BOTH JEWS AND NON-JEWS WISHING TO BECOME CITIZENS TO PLEDGE LOYALTY TO A JEWISH AND DEMOCRATIC ISRAEL.

Don’t Tell The Bride She Is Ugly Even If It Is The Truth: What Happened to Juan Williams

This week, the Torah tells us how Gd informs Abraham that Sarah – at the old age of 90 – will give birth to a son. Abraham himself is 100 years old. Sarah overhears Gd tell Abraham that she will bear a child and she laughs, saying, “After I have withered, will I (now) have smooth skin? And my husband is old!” In the very next verse, Gd says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Is it really true that I will give birth, even though I am old?'” No, I did not write that incorrectly. When Gd repeats the incident to Abraham, Gd changes Sarah’s words. She said, “Abraham is old,” but G-d tells Abraham that she said that she is too old! Gd lied!?

Why?

The Talmud teaches us that Gd changes Sarah’s words to keep peace between Abraham and Sarah. Abraham would not have wanted his wife to call him old!

This week, we watched another member of the media lose his job because of something he said.

In an interview on Fox, Juan Williams of NPR and Fox said:

“I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

(It is important to note that Williams went on to say that America is not at war with Islam and anyone who attacks a Muslim or attempts to deny Muslims their rights is a “nut.”)

Just recently, CNN fired Rick Sanchez for implying that Jews control the media. Before that, Helen Thomas “retired” after telling Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back “home” to Eastern Europe. In addition, Octavia Nasr, a senior Middle East editor at CNN, was fired after writing in a post on Twitter that she was “sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah…. One ofHezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” Hezbollah is a terrorist group. And Fadallah was a supporter of suicide attacks against Israel. He was placed on a terrorist blacklist by the US.

There is no question that all the reporters mentioned above have said or wrote things that express personal bias. Is this something that should lead to their termination?

NPR CEO, Vivian Schiller stated that Williams is entitled to his opinions. As a new analyst, Williams was paid by NPR to give his opinions on various issues. At the same time, Schiller insisted that NPR journalism must be objective so that the “public can make their own decision about…issues.” Schiller stated that NPR’s code of ethics requires that staffers “cannot say things in other public forums that they could not say on NPR’s airwaves.” Schiller also stated that “news analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts…”

There is no question in my mind that the hate spewed by Helen Thomas and the absurd statements by Rick Sanchez undermined their credibility. They both deserved to lose their jobs for using their position to spread lies. Nasr expressed her opinion on Twitter. Unfortunately for her, her opinion showed the world that she respected a terrorist. Certainly, this was not a wise professional move.

The case of Juan Williams is, in my opinion, different. He shouldn’t have said what he said. However, when you look at his words in context of everything else he said – Williams was differentiating between the uneasy feelings that many Americans feel and the acts of hatred that are directed at the Muslim-American community. He condemns this hatred. In addition, he makes it clear that his fear is what he feels. It is not fact. He does not praise his fear. He simply states it. Is it wrong for a news analyst to state his feelings?

In addition to all of this, according to NPR’s CEO, Williams’ words violated the company’s policy that its reporters present fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest reports. However, one simply needs to look at NPR’s reporting on Israel to see that many NPR reporters do not adhere to company policy. So, why was Juan Williams fired while other reporters who expressed their bias were able to keep their jobs?

Returning to the Talmud, we read about the great rabbis Hillel and Shammai who often had arguments about Jewish law. One of these arguments was over whether one should tell a bride on her wedding day that she is beautiful even if this is not true. Shammai asserted that it would be wrong to lie. If she was not pretty, you don’t tell her she is pretty. Hillel held that a bride is always beautiful on her wedding day. Fortunately for all of us, Hillel won the dispute. Judaism demands that we are honest – but, at the same time, reminds us that there are times when honest comments can be unnecessarily hurtful and bring about discord.

Fair or not, Juan Williams was fired for speaking honestly about his feelings.

His colleagues at NPR might be leaving out extremely important facts and, in turn, doing NPR listeners an injustice by not giving them the whole picture – but to the best of my knowledge, they have not come out with statements that express their own discomfort with Israel. They keep their personal feelings hidden behind their “reporting”. Obviously, those of us in the pro-Israel world do not listen to NPR or we do not bother to share our frustration strongly enough with the powers that be and work to change the way NPR reports on Israel. This is our fault.

CAIR – the powerful American-Muslim “civil rights” group with documented links to Hamas did what they do best – they took action and put out a press release soon after Williams’ comments were made demanding that NPR take action. And NPR did just that, firing Williams, doing what they could to keep the peace.

In essence, Williams told the bride she was ugly on national television. Compared to some of his recently fired colleagues, Williams’ words were not hateful lies – but they were brutally honest – too honest for many. And, it is clear that in today’s world, whether we like it or not, the ancient wisdom of Rabbi Hillel still applies – no matter what, tell a bride that she is beautiful.

The Blessing of a Finite Life

Why were Adam and Eve banished from the Garden of Eden?

Usually, the answer is: “because they ate from the Tree of Knowledge”.  Indeed, the first humans did eat from this tree – a tree that God told the couple not to eat from.  After being enticed by the serpent, Eve disobeys God and eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and has Adam do the same.  Once they do so, the Torah tells us that their eyes were opened.

Prior to this point. Adam and Eve were pretty much clueless about the world around them.  They were God’s puppets.  They had no concept of right and wrong.  But, upon eating from the Tree of Knowledge – they gained the ability to discern between good and bad.  They immediately developed a sense of morality.  This is why the very first thing that Adam and Eve do after eating the fruit is sew together fig leaves to cover their nakedness.

God was certainly angry with the first couple for violating His orders and eating from Tree of Knowledge.  Adam and Eve were no longer clueless.  Given that they could determine between right and wrong, they now had the ability to make their own decisions and did not need to rely upon God.  In essence, they cut the puppet strings that were controlled by God.  And this filled God with rage.  But, this is not the reason He banishes the couple from the Garden of Eden.

God banishes them because His supreme authority was now threatened by the couple.  There was, according to the Torah, just one thing that separated Adam and Eve from God: immortality.  Their ability to know good and bad made Adam and Eve god-like.  If they were to live forever, they could become gods themselves.  And the problem was that in the Garden of Eden stood the Tree of Life.  If they were to eat from this tree, like they did from the Tree of Knowledge, well, they would gain immortality.  They had to be kept from that tree.  And so, God banishes them from the Garden of Eden insuring that His sovereignty would remain intact.

Despite the fact that Adam and Eve didn’t get us immortality, they still gave us all a tremendous gift.  By eating from the Tree of Knowledge, they gave us the skills needed to use the brain in our head.  They gave us the ability to make decision and, thus, the ability to act.  By breaking God’s rule, Adam and Eve gave us free will.  God does not control our actions – says the Torah.  The idea that our lives are controlled by God – that we are God’s tools – put here for a Divine purpose – this is not what this week’s parasha teaches us.  On the contrary, this week’s story teaches us that we have to make our own decisions.

All too often, I hear God get blamed for our poor choices.  Whether it be something huge and catastrophic like the Holocaust or something much smaller like a personal financial crisis – God is easy to blame.  “Why God!  Why are you doing this to me!?  Maybe You are testing me God!  Please God get me out of this!”  The story we read in the Torah this week makes it explicitly clear that with the exception of many illnesses, we are the masters of our destiny.  We are the ones who get ourselves into most of the situations we find ourselves in.  Poor choices – choices we had the power to make – present us with many of the challenges we have to face today.  (And we can make choices that get us out of these challenging times!) The current economic situation is a perfect example of this.  In this way, Adam and Eve’s gift of freewill has the potential to be a curse.  Our ability to make our own choices comes with ups and downs.

We learn this week that we are created in the image of God.  What this means is not totally clear.  Somehow we were created as a representation of God.  We know from the story of Adam and Eve – we were not created originally with knowledge or immortality.  Within the first generation of our existence – we gained that knowledge.  We are left with our own mortality.

While some would say we are left with the curse mortality, I prefer to think of it as being left with the blessing of a finite life.  Unfortunately, I believe that many of the problems we find ourselves facing today – personal and global problems – are the result of the fact that we fail to comprehend that we are mortal.  We go about our days thinking that we are, indeed, immortal.  And, thus, we don’t think about the ramifications of our actions.

We say things to people without giving a thought to the possibility that the words we shared might very well be the last words we ever share with these people.  We don’t ask ourselves: will my words accurately reflect how I feel about these people?

We do things that foster our own egos and advance our own selfish interests.  But we often do these things without thinking about the effects of our actions and the legacy that our actions will leave when we are gone.  We don’t ask ourselves: what will my actions tell the world about who I really was?

If we were immortal, perhaps it wouldn’t matter what we said or what we did.  We would always have tomorrow to fix things and try again.  We wouldn’t have to worry about the harm our actions might bring us.  But, we never got a chance to eat from that Tree of Life.  And, for that, we have to thank God – because, by keeping us from becoming gods ourselves, God has insured that our lives are finite.  A life with a beginning and an end should force us to make each and every single day the best day that it can be.  Our mortality urges us to make goals and aspire for great things.  It pleads with us to use our knowledge and free will to make the most out of our days and maximize each moment.

But, most of us don’t do this.  We think we know it all.  And, this week’s Torah portion, in some ways, supports this.  We do know it all or at least have the potential to know it all, thanks to Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  But that’s not why we were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.  We were kicked out to keep us mortal.  We know that we are – but we don’t like to admit it.  This week’s Torah portion is a very important reminder that we, unlike God, have a beginning and an ending – just like the year we have now started. This week’s portion tosses our mortality in our face.  But not in a spiteful way.  Rather as a gentle reminder to appreciate this temporary gift we have each been given.  May we all learn to appreciate our life and make each day a blessing.