On Tuesday, I was honored to be part of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s National Rabbinic Symposium in Washington, D.C. The Symposium brought together 150 rabbis from across the country to learn from national and international leaders as they shared their insight on Israel, the complex situation in the Middle East and the American-Israel relationship. We were fortunate enough to hear from Senator Joseph Lieberman, Dr. Tamera-Cohen Wittes (former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern-Affairs for President Obama), Dr. Charles Krauthammer, Mr. Leon Wieseltier (Literary Editor of The New Republic), Ambassador Michael Oren and other well-respected leaders.
The speakers addressed the myriad of complex issues facing Israel and the American-Israel relationship. The turmoil in Egypt and Syria, the threat from Iran, the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan, the dramatic strengthening of terror groups in Lebanon, the fragile Israel-Turkey relationship, the international delegitimization campaign against Israel, the resumption of peace talks and the European Union’s attempt to predetermine the outcome of these talks were just some of the issues discussed. I was eager to gain some insight on the peace talks and was struck by the fact that virtually every speaker, whatever their political leaning, felt that a true and lasting peace was unimaginable at this time. And, with all of Israel’s neighbors in turmoil, one must ask how peace talks between Israel and her neighbors stands a chance.
I was not surprised by the experts assessments of the peace talks. Nor was I unfamiliar with the crises affecting Israel’s neighbors. What I did find alarming was a statistic shared by one of the speakers: less than 4% of the caring and involved Jewish community stands up and supports Israel. As a Jewish community, we are tiny to begin with. When you consider that less than 4% of us do anything to support the Jewish State, it is shocking. This statistic is even more troubling when you consider that among the 4% there is incredible division. Among the 4% – we don’t listen to each other. This division was discussed by many of the speakers who expressed serious concerns about the health of Am Yisrael – the Jewish People. Zionism and the State of Israel is grounded in the concept of Jewish Peoplehood. And the Jewish people appear to be divided over not just Israel – but many other issues including, but not limited to, American politics. People have hunkered down in their “camps” and are unwilling to find a solution and, as result, the Jewish community is fragmented. This undermines Israel and the Jewish People. As we prepare for a new Jewish year, the speakers urged all of us to speak to our communities about the importance of Jewish Peoplehood and the need for us to come together and unite around our love for Judaism and Israel.
Another issue that was discussed at the Symposium involved our kids. Given that only 4% of the caring and involved American Jewish community stands up for Israel, the sense of apathy among American Jews is seriously affecting the way our kids, the next generation of American Jews, perceive Israel. The vast majority of kids today are not raised in homes where a love of Israel is taught. Instead, kids learn about Israel from the media, anti-Israel groups on campuses and other sources that are, for the most part, extremely critical towards and biased against Israel. So, our children are growing up with a negative impression of the Jewish State. This is why I am determined to share all that is wonderful and incredible about Israel with our kids here at Ramat Shalom. It is why I urge us all to learn the facts about Israel and be a pro-Israel voice in the larger Jewish community. It is why I will be taking our 11th and 12th graders to Washington, D.C. to the AIPAC Policy Conference again in March 2014 – and I invite you to join us. And it is why I am looking forward to bringing members of the Ramat Shalom family to Israel next summer.
As we begin the new Jewish year, let’s each of us commit to being a voice for Israel and getting a few more voices to join us!