A BDS Leader’s Fundraising Campaign Leaves Me Stumped

This week, the Jewish community continued to be rocked to its core by anti-Semitic acts, including more bomb threats called into Jewish institutions across the country and the desecration of the Chesed Shel Emeth, a Jewish cemetery in University City, Missouri. While the President has been criticized by many for his delayed response to this hatred, the outpouring of support that the cemetery has received has been tremendous. The Vice-President visited the cemetery on Wednesday along with people of all different faiths to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community. Our own Julie Cole, a student at Washington University, has worked with her Hillel to raise funds needed to repair the damage done to the cemetery, which is just ten minutes from her apartment. Many other individuals and organizations are doing the same thing, including Linda Sarsour, the outgoing Executive Director of the Arab American Association of NY, a former Democratic National Convention delegate (she was a supporter of Bernie Sanders) and an organizer of last month’s Women’s March on Washington. Ms. Sarsour, in partnership with Tarek El-Messidi of Celebrate Mercy, has raised more than $100,000 for the cemetery on Launchgood.com.

During this challenging time, it’s extremely meaningful to see so many people from various faiths and backgrounds reach out and support the Jewish community. This being said, I’m struggling with Ms. Sarsour’s support. My struggle is based on a larger struggle I have with “intersectionality,” the trendy, sociological term that describes how different groups that form around various religious, socio-economic, national, racial, ethnic and/or gender identities can, at times, share a common struggle. Unquestionably, both the American Jewish and Muslim communities have been confronted with terrible hate and violence. We do understand, to an extent, each other’s pain and fear and must stand with each other during these trying times. Many members of the Jewish community have supported the Muslim community when they have faced acts of hate, and I’m grateful to all members of the Muslim community who have supported our community – including those who have given to Ms. Sarsour’s Launchgood fund – when the hate has been directed at us.

This being said, Ms. Sarsour is a staunch advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) which is designed to delegitimize the State of Israel. Democratic Senator Chuck Shumer states very clearly that BDS is a “modern form of anti-Semitism.” And the Anti-Defamation League, which has stood in opposition to all forms of Islamaphobia, states:

The delegitimization of Israel is at the heart of contemporary anti-Semitism. BDS is one of its most visible and dangerous manifestations.  ADL is committed to exposing the bigotry at the core of the movement and discrediting the leaders of BDS.

Ms. Sarsour, who has built strong relationships with some American Jewish organizations and leaders, claims she’s not an anti-Semite. Her strong support of BDS (watch Ms. Sarsour testify on behalf of BDS in NYC last September here), however, tells a different story. And her hateful comments about Zionists drive this story home:

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Interestingly, while organizers of the Women’s March on Washington worked hard to keep Israel-Palestine issues from being part of last month’s protest, Ms. Sarsour’s involvement in the BDS Movement did keep some individuals and organizations from participating.

In addition to being a staunch BDS advocate, Ms. Sarsour believes that the solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis is a one-state solution, a solution that will ensure a Palestinian majority and, thus, the end of the Jewish State (yes, during the press conference with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this month, you heard about a one-state solution that would favor Israelis). Ms. Sarsour states:

I don’t think a two-state solution is viable, is logistically possible…My hope is that it will be one state, one man one vote, that everyone is treated equally. Then you can say that part of the world is a true democracy.

Ms. Sarsour, who has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny lately, believes that by supporting the restoration of the graves at Chesed Shel Emeth, we can send “a united message…from the Jewish and Muslim communities that” makes it clear that “there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America.” I certainly agree that as two powerful religious communities, we do have the ability to send such a message. However, I personally believe that Ms. Sarsour’s involvement in the delivery of this message is completely inappropriate and inauthentic to her position and the position of many of us in the Jewish community.

Pinned to the top of Ms. Sarsour’s Twitter account is the following tweet:

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Sadly, Ms. Sarsour has no problem denying the rights of others to exist. We see this in her support of the BDS Movement. We also see her reject those who want to stand up to Islamaphobia but don’t meet all of her requirements. When Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, promised to register as a Muslim if the Trump administration created a religious database, Ms. Sarsour attacked Mr. Greenblatt’s promise by tweeting:

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Ms. Sarsour belittles Mr. Greenblatt’s support because the ADL has come out againstCongressman Keith Ellison becoming the chair of the Democratic National Committee due to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements he made. You can read the ADL’s statement on Congressman Ellison here.

Back in November, American Muslims for Palestine (an organization that, according to the ADL, promotes anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views) held their Annual Convention for Palestine in Chicago. Ms. Sarsour spoke at the convention saying (you can also hear a recording of her speaking these words here):

We have limits to the type of friendships that we’re looking for right now…and I want to be friends with those whom I know have been steadfast, courageous, have been standing up and protecting their own communities, those who have taken the risk to stand up and say – we are with the Palestinian people, we unequivocally support BDS when it comes to Palestinian human rights and have been attacked viciously by the very people who are telling you that they’re about to stand on the front line of the Muslim registry program. No thank you, sisters and brothers.

Ms. Sarsour told NPR earlier this week that her fundraising effort for Chesed Shel Emeth is “another way for us to publicly defy the idea that Muslims and Jews can’t get along.” However, her comments at the American Muslims for Palestine convention, comments which are very similar to her pinned tweet posted above, make it explicitly clear: if you don’t share her views on BDS and the Palestinian cause, you are no friend. And if you are an Israeli, she will work tirelessly to undermine your country’s legitimacy. How does this encourage Muslims and Jews to get along?

As troubled as I am by Ms. Sarsour’s statements, she has every right to say them and believe in them. But, her positions highlight the absurdity of intersectionality here.  She wants the Jewish community to join her and stand up to hate. But, in order for us to do so, to genuinely stand with her, she has one major condition: we must support the delegitimization of the Jewish State – a condition that many of us see as anti-Semitic – a condition that is grounded in hate.

There are those who believe that, despite Ms. Sarsour’s condition, her effort to help Chesed Shel Emeth is admirable. Some American Jews can separate the hateful rhetoric of BDS from the well-being of the American Jewish community. I can’t. Working to undermine the existence of the Jewish State is, as Senator Shumer states, anti-Semitism. And anti-Semitism is hate that is dangerous to Jews in Israel, in America and across the globe. I can’t enter into a partnership with someone who threatens the very survival of Israel.

Many of us in the Jewish community stand in opposition to BDS and in support of the ADL. Given this, Ms. Sarsour would not befriend us, making it extremely difficult to stand together against the desecration of Chesed Shel Emeth. And this leaves me struggling to figure out why Ms. Sarsour is raising funds for the cemetery. Is it a good will gesture? A show of compassion? An attempt to build bridges? If she dropped the condition to unequivocally support BDS – perhaps. But, since this condition is still very much on the table as Ms. Sarsour leaves her position at the Arab American Association of NY and lands in the national spotlight, I can’t help but wonder if this is a well-orchestrated public relations campaign. If so, it’s worked exceptionally well. Everyone is talking about Ms. Sarsour’s support of the Chesed Shel Emeth. But, for those of us whose pro-Israel and anti-BDS positions would keep Ms. Sarsour from befriending us, we’re willing to be the “out of key instruments” in that well-orchestrated campaign. While on the surface, Ms. Sarsour’s support of the cemetery seems like a beautiful effort to unite the Jewish and Muslim communities, when we dig deeper it is clear that there are more genuine ways for Jews to support the restoration of Chesed Shel Emeth. I encourage you to learn more about Washington University’s Hillel fundraiser by clicking here. And, as always, I urge you to do your homework before you give your resources and lend your name to a cause.

 

What The Pro-Israel Community Can Learn From Black Lives Matter

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Do black lives matter or do all lives matter? This question was posed to the Democratic presidential candidates during Tuesday’s debate. While the answers that were given highlighted some of the challenging racial issues we face as a nation, it was not the answers that concerned me – it was the question. Created in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter has quickly grown into a powerful activist movement that has led the charge against law enforcement after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. In a relatively short period of time, Black Lives Matter has pushed its way onto the national stage and forced national leaders to talk about the safety, security and rights of black Americans.

While there are aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement that disturb me greatly, including their support of the anti-Israel BDS movement, this is not why I was concerned by the fact that Anderson Cooper chose to ask a question about Black Lives Matter on Tuesday night. I have to give Black Lives Matter credit for pushing America out of our comfort zone and making all of us, not just national Democratic leaders, talk about the racial divide we must overcome as a nation. I was concerned by Cooper’s question because as it was asked, Israel was reeling from another day of terrorist attacks in which three Israelis were killed and another 20 were wounded – part of an endless series of bloody attacks that continue to rock the Jewish State even today. I was concerned because on Tuesday evening most major news outlets, including CNN, had either ignored or shared misleading information about what was going on in Israel. I was concerned because Israel was only mentioned once in passing during a good debate that included comprehensive answers to questions regarding major global issues like Syria and Putin. I was concerned because, while I knew what was going on in Israel, it appeared that mainstream America was oblivious to the crisis. Of course black lives matter, but given the bloodshed in Israel, I wanted to hear one of the most prestigious news organizations in the world get our candidates talking about the fact that Israeli lives matter. I was concerned because it didn’t happen.

Many in the pro-Israel community shared my concern. While some tried to blame this on the Democratic candidates, others tried to blame Anderson Cooper and CNN. There are those who argued that Israel’s absence in Tuesday’s debate shouldn’t just be blamed on CNN, but on the media in general which has poorly reported on the terror crisis. A few experts argued that Israel was not discussed on Tuesday because there really is not much our next President will be able to do to resolve the tension between Israelis and Palestinians. In my opinion, Anderson Cooper’s question about Black Lives Matter helped me understand that there is only one group that is to blame for Israel being left out of Tuesday’s debate: the pro-Israel community.

Within the last few days there has, thankfully, not been a racial issue that has gotten the attention of national media, yet Black Lives Matter, a movement that isn’t even three years old, had the power to take center stage on Tuesday night. For those of us in the pro-Israel community, Zionism has been around a lot longer than three years. The State of Israel has been in jeopardy for decades. Our tradition encourages us to speak up for the underdog and our history teaches us how important it is to remember and learn from the horrors of our past. We can blame politicians and media outlets all we want for the way the crisis in Israel is portrayed – or we can come out of the shadows and stand up for Israel ourselves.

Again, there are aspects of Black Lives Matter that deeply trouble me, but we in the pro-Israel community have much to learn from them. They took an issue that has been festering for years and made it important. It is time that the pro-Israel community learns that Israel will not get the respect she needs and deserves simply by adding an Israeli flag to our Facebook profile picture. While financially supporting the Jewish State is essential, it is not enough to change the way Israel is portrayed in our country. We must be activists ourselves, gathering together to show strong support for Israel, being in constant contact with our local and national leaders about issues pertaining to the safety and security of Israel and powerfully speaking out against the media when they don’t report the truth about Israel. The Black Lives Matter movement wouldn’t matter if there weren’t strong, vocal, passionate people at its core who are willing to give it their all to make America wake up and appreciate that black lives do matter. It is time for the pro-Israel community to wake up and teach our country that Israeli lives matter too. Thank you to those who are already activists for Israel. I hope that more of you will join us as we do what we can to make the safety and security of Israel an issue for all Americans.

I know you join me in praying for a peaceful Shabbat in Israel.

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.

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.

The Time I Almost Joined An Anti-Israel Rally…

In 1988, I was an 18-year-old freshman at Vassar College.  Having been pretty sheltered by my comfortable, suburban upbringing, I was overwhelmed by all of the causes, issues and campaigns that my fellow students were committed to with great passion and zeal.  It seemed that every day there was a different campus rally or political meeting about something that evoked a lot of emotion. While I was not unfamiliar with political activity and protest, prior to arriving at Vassar, my world really rotated around my friends, working hard in high school and my various theatrical pursuits.  Because of this, as I settled into life at Vassar, I found myself craving a cause.  I wanted to be like so many around me, deeply committed to something that would make the world better.  I just was not certain what my cause was.

To continue reading, please visit Israel360 (I thank them for publishing my article)

A Follow-Up Letter On BDS (see previous post)

So, I watched the videos and read the links that others shared regarding the BDS Movement.  Thank you for sharing.  I also watched videos from the PennBDS conference.  I must say that I am disappointed that no one out there in cyber world who counts him/herself as a BDS supporter responded to the questions/concerns/links that I shared yesterday.   I know everyone is busy and if I were not leading a series of workshops dealing with the delegitimization of Israel on college campuses, I probably would not be spending so much time on this.  This being said, I shared my concerns with this group and would like to get some feedback from those who support BDS please.

 

My homework over the past two days has not only validated my concerns but also elevated them.  The video featuring J.J, Goldberg, Hannah Mermelstein, Kathleen Peratis and Yonatan Shapira (http://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/jewish-perspectives-boycott-divestment-sanctions-bds-campaign) disturbed me greatly not just because of the anti-Zionist sentiments that were expressed in the video but also because of the hatred of Israel that was expressed in the video and the tremendous distortion of the facts by speakers.  I shared the video with my regular Tuesday study group this morning.  This group consists of many long-term Reconstructionists – and to say that they left upset would be an understatement.  I also watched Ali Abunimah’s keynote speech at PennBDS (http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/video-my-penn-bds-speech-and-how-zionist-filmmaker-pretended-be-canadas-cbc).  His demonization of Israel was over the top.

 

Overall, the videos make it clear to me that the ultimate goal of BDS, a goal explained by Abunimah, Mermelstein and Shapira, is to dismantle the Jewish State of Israel and replace it with a new, “democratic”, pluralistic society – a society that is not a Jewish homeland.  This would be the death of Zionism and a horrific loss for the Jewish people.

 

While I am no J-Street supporter, I found myself cheering on Peratis as she said she is committed to a two state solution that includes a Jewish State. 

 

As I see it, one of the huge problems with the BDS movement and many other anti-Israel causes is an issue Daniel Gordis talks a lot about: the faulty assumption that when it comes to democracy, Israel is a Hebrew-speaking, mini-America.   On the contrary, Israel is not like the democracy that we live in here and, if it remains a Jewish State, it never will be. This is a challenging reality for many liberal American Jews – one that must be discussed.

 

The very nature of Israel is to be a Jewish homeland that, in turn, gives Jews a favored status.  This is, as Gordis explains, an “ethnic democracy” which is a democratic system described by Professor Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa (http://hevra.haifa.ac.il/~soc/lecturers/smooha/files/1572.pdf). 

 

An ethnic democracy is one that “combines the extension of civil and political rights to permanent residents who wish to be citizens with the bestowal of a favored status on the majority group.”  In an ethnic democracy, “the state belongs to the majority and serves it more than the minority.” Israel is not the only ethnic democracy out there.  Latvia and Estonia, Malaysia and Slovakia are also ethnic democracies.  Many consider an ethnic democracy a “diminished” form of democracy and thus many don’t like it.  But, Gordis points out that Professor Smooha, who is a Jew, a critic of ethnic democracy and a passionate defender of the rights of Israel’s Arabs, admits that “the democratic framework is real and not a façade.”  It is part of the reality that is this on-going Jewish project that many of us love with all our hearts and souls – this project we call Israel.

 

I have been thinking a lot about this idea of “ethnic democracy”.  As a congregational rabbi of a liberal synagogue that praises itself on being a democratic, welcoming institution – we, as a congregation, are an “ethnic democracy”.  Our constitution forbids a non-Jew from holding certain board positions including the positions of President and Ritual Chair.  While non-Jews can be members, they are not granted full rights and 99% of the time are expected to be partnered with a Jew.  Non-Jews can’t take part in all aspects of our services.  We will not grant membership to Jews-for-Jesus – this has been discussed – and anyone else who has no “real connection” to Judaism.  We will not enroll students in our religious school unless they are being raised solely as Jews.  In order to become a Jew (not just at Ramat Shalom), we expect people to pledge loyalty to Judaism and renounce all other religions before a beit din.  Once one becomes a Jew, they are given full rights.  Is it fair to compare a synagogue to Israel? Probably not – but there is no question that my congregation is an “ethnic democracy”. (I also think about my days as a Vassar tour guide – telling people that while the school went co-ed in 1969, officials will never allow men to outnumber women because this would change the character of the school.)

 

I know that Israel has many issues to address when it comes to her non-Jewish citizens.  This being said, I accept the fact that Israel is not and will never be a mini-America.  Israel is an ethnic democracy and must remain one in order to remain a Jewish State.  And I always want there to be a Jewish State.

 

I believe, unlike Mermelstein, Shapira and Abunimah, that we Jews need our own nation, our own safe place, our own haven.  Sorry, I don’t believe that the Holocaust is in the rearview mirror.  I believe “Never Again!” and I don’t believe this makes me paranoid.  I believe it makes me a realist.  I also believe that we are entitled to the nation that was created by the UN in 1947.  And I believe that Israel had and still has the right to defend herself.  And I believe that Israel has the right to resolve unsettled territorial disputes that were the result of numerous attacks upon her sovereignty in a manner that insures her safety and her security.  I believe that Israel has the right to be a Jewish State and uphold the law of return for Jews while preventing the return of Palestinian refugees.

 

Because of this, I find the BDS Movement, which singles out, demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish State and endorses (through BDS) the punishment of the citizens of the Jewish State as a means to achieve its ultimate goal, being the dismantling of the Jewish State, to be not only (obviously) anti-Zionist, but, yes, anti-Semitic.  Please note I said I find the MOVEMENT to be anti-Semitic.  I can’t pretend to know the motivations of individuals who support BDS.  But I can say this: the BDS Movement is committed to end Jewish self-determination in the Jewish homeland officially given to the Jewish people by the United Nations 65 years ago.  (see Professor Dina Porat’s (Tel Aviv University) article “Defining Anti-Semitism in which she argues that denying Jews the right to self-determination by saying Israel is a racist endeavor is anti-Semitic, http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2003-4/porat.htm) Attacking Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, comparing it to a Nazi State, applying double standards not expected of other nations (as opposed to working to change Israeli governmental policies) is widely accepted as anti-Semitism.  And when a Jew stands with, supports, gives a platform to the BDS Movement s/he legitimizes this anti-Semitism.  And this brings me back to my original post in which I said: “I fail to understand, am embarrassed by, and am, quite frankly, tired of having to explain to my congregants, the desire among some of my Jewish colleagues to aid those determined to destroy Israel.”