You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Israel’ category.

The next World Zionist Congress will be held in October 2015.  More than 500 delegates from Israel and the Diaspora will gather in Jerusalem to discuss key issues confronting Israel, Zionism and world Jewry, and to determine allocations made by the World Zionist Organization.  These decisions are determined by the vote of delegates, who reflect a wide diversity of ideological and religious perspectives.

If you care about the Reform Movement in Israel, if you support egalitarian prayer, if you believe in freedom of religion, the right of Reform rabbis to conduct marriage, divorce, burial and conversion, if you believe that women should have equal status, here is your chance to make a difference.

The Zionist Congress is the World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) supreme institution and legislative body, holding elections every five years. The Congress influences policy throughout Israel and directs hundreds of millions of dollars towards Jewish life globally. The Reform Movement’s victories in the past WZO elections have empowered Israeli Reform Jews with increased support and respect. Many of us already support such efforts as members of ARZA—The Reform Israel Fund, www.arza.org. ARZA’s presence at the Zionist Congress has empowered the Movement to fight for Reform Judaism around the globe:

  • Support for Progressive Jews across the FSU and Israel
  • Training Israel’s next generation of Reform Rabbis
  • Reform Jewish programming on six continents
  • Almost $2 million dollars in annual funding to Israeli Reform Jewish projects

The time for elections is again upon us, and your support is vital to our success.

The first step towards victory will be voter registration. Registration campaigns will be initiated in every Reform synagogue around the world, and we are asking for your support throughout this election. Registration materials will be made available to our entire community. We hope that you will take the pledge to vote by registering here: www.reformjews4israel.org. This will give ARZA a way to contact you directly when it is time to vote later in the winter.

If you have any questions, contact Gene Carasick for more information at gcarasick @ gmail.com.

Help Beth Tikvah raise a voice of celebration and support for Reform Judaism!

These words were delivered as the Rosh Hashanah Sermon for Temple Beth Tikvah on September 25, 2014.

Yom Teruah. That is another name for Rosh Hashanah. Yom Teruah – the Day of Teruah Blasts. What is a Teruah blast? We know it is the call of the shofar. It could be for joy or it could be for war. Today, it is a wake up call. Not just to wake up from a spiritual slumber as Maimonides instructs us, but a call to action. A call to wake up because our people – the Jewish People – they need us.

I remember the tour to Israel that I led a number of years ago now. We went into the underground tunnels below the Kotel. There was an area that was blocked off because of the excavations. Our guide, Zvi, somehow managed to get the guard to look the other way so we could go into this chamber…which, quite frankly, looked pretty dangerous.

As he was telling us about the room, he held onto some scaffolding and dangled himself over what seemed to be a tremendous ledge. He was scratching around in that section of rock and then… he came out and opened up his hand.

It had ash on it. Soot. It was from the Roman destruction of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem in the year 70 of the Common Era. There was our history, right on his hand.

…and here we are in Roswell, Georgia.
Ashes from destruction are a symbol not simply of death, but also of survival. Of resiliency: the resiliency of all of those Jews who made sure that there would be another link in the chain. And not just a link… not just another generation of existence, but of creativity, innovation, adaptation, dare I even say Reform.

Those generations heard the blast of the shofar. They heard the call… to life.

When I think of resilience today, I am inspired by our brothers and sisters in Israel. Let me tell you why:

When Hamas calls for a revolution, they purchase rockets.

When Israel calls for a revolution, they purchase computers.

When Hamas wants to build new construction, they invest precious resources in not-so-secret tunnels to enter into Israeli territory to do harm – to attempt to kidnap or maim innocent civilians.

When Israel wants to build, it sends cement to Gaza as humanitarian aid with the intention of building new homes and helping to ease the pain of a depressed society.

When Hamas fires against Israel, it aims indiscriminately from residential areas, mosques, and hospitals.

When Israel fires against Hamas, it takes great pains to warn the people to get out of the way.  Israel first drops … not bombs … but leaflets, to let residents know that real fire will be coming. Along with the leaflets, there were text messages and voicemail messages to cell phones. Then there was the “roof knocking,” where the Israeli Air Force dropped a non lethal bomb to make a loud noise with minimal damage, just to encourage people to get out of the way. From the point of view of a military strategist – this defies all logic because you are basically informing your enemy when and from where you are striking. Hamas, in turn, encouraged people to stay and go to rooftops so that they can say: Israel took these lives! Look at what Israel did.[1]

When Hamas kidnapped and killed innocent Jewish teens, they saw a victory – some morbid achievement.

When Jews murder an innocent Palestinian child, Israelis travel to East Jerusalem to extend their condolences…by the busload. The Prime Minister, the President, national leaders apologized and said that this kind of murderous behavior is not only criminal, it is un-Jewish. And congregations around the world added Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the fifteen year old Palestinian child killed by Israeli Jewish radicals to our Kaddish Lists, along with Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel.

With all of this said, this is what concerns me….

In Genesis, we learn that Esau is approaching Jacob’s camp with his own men. The two brothers haven’t seen each other for years. After all, Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright and the blessing of their father, Isaac. The last they saw each other, Esau threatened Jacob’s life! As Jacob learned of Esau’s approach, the Torah says: “And Jacob was greatly frightened and distressed.”[2]  Our sages ask why the two descriptions: “frightened and distressed”?

The great medieval commentator, Rashi, explains that Jacob was “frightened – lest he be killed; and distressed – lest he kill [his brother Esau].”

It reminds me of Golda Meir’s famous quote: “When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”[3]

Israel has been going through great pains to minimize innocent civilian life amongst the Palestinians, putting their own soldiers in even greater risk. From a typical military officer’s point of view, this approach would most likely be considered foolish. From an Israel Defense Force military officer’s point of view…. It is right and it is just.

What other country would ever consider such a thing?

One of the most interesting pieces that was written during the conflict was by Amos Oz. Oz is not only a world renown writer, but a devoted peacenik and activist.  Just before this interview, he was hospitalized and for each rocket that came close to the hospital, he was left vulnerable, unable to be moved to a shelter. Listen to how he addressed the reporter:

Amoz Oz: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusual way: by presenting one or two questions to your readers and listeners. May I do that?

Deutsche Welle: Go ahead!

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

With these two questions I pass the interview to you.[4]

He added in this interview:

… This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas. It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew everywhere in the world. It quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion [a notorious forgery created by Russian czarist police officers in 1903 and later used as Nazi propaganda and still used in the Middle East to “prove” that the Jews are taking over the world]… It quotes the Protocols and says that the Jews controlled the world through the League of Nations and through the United Nations, that the Jews caused the two world wars and that the entire world is controlled by Jewish money. So I hardly see a prospect for a compromise between Israel and Hamas. I have been a man of compromise all my life. But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: ‘Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.’

Let me explain why I have shared this. It is one of the few times we have seen such a wide spectrum of Jewish and Israeli leaders come together in support of Israel. Left to right. Only the fringes were left out. What they don’t agree on is what to do next, how far to go to advance the cause of peace. But that is a different sermon.

I know that some struggle with my pronouncements of sympathy for Palestinians. Some might think that all Palestinians are the same. We, as Jews, object to such generalizations made about us. For good reason. I do not want to be associated with the people that killed the Palestinian teenager or who vandalize mosques in Israeli Arab cities.  So how do we dare perpetuate such generalizations about Palestinians or Muslims?

If Jews believe, as the Torah asserts, that everyone is created in God’s image… if we believe that in every person, there is a reflection of God, then how can we have a cavalier perspective with another human being’s life? Even if that human being hates us.

At the same time, The Torah tells us that we are obligated to defend ourselves. There is a text in Exodus[5] where a thief is discovered tunneling into a house. The assumption is, since he is being so covert about it, that if he makes it inside, not only will he steal from the homeowners, but he will threaten the lives of whoever is in the house. It is shockingly similar to what Hamas was doing this past summer. Our sages explained that if someone is coming into your home with the intent to kill you, you can not only defend yourself, you will not be guilty of murder if you kill him first.[6]

We are also taught in the Talmud that when the Israelites left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, they started to celebrate. When the angels up in the heavens wanted to dance along with the Israelites, God…seeing his Egyptian children drowning, rebuked the angels, saying: “My handiwork is drowning in the sea – and you are singing?”[7]

I will always be proud of Israel for choosing ethics over strategy. For, despite what anyone says, continuing to provide electricity to the very people shelling Israeli cities so that all of Gaza wouldn’t be dark is a Jewish decision. Sending in truckloads of humanitarian aid during a war is a Jewish decision. Setting up a field hospital in Gaza for Palestinians injured in the fighting is a Jewish decision.

Don’t get me wrong, the people of Gaza are living and have been living under terrible circumstances. And no matter what they think, it is their own leaders – the leaders of Hamas – who are guilty of war crimes.

How does the rest of the world miss that? Honestly, I can’t comprehend it. When rockets are being launched from Gaza into civilian areas, Israel is at fault for responding?

There is something even bigger going on here. It is not only that anti-Semitic incidents are increasing, but increasingly tolerated, cloaked as “anti-Zionist” views.  Make no mistake – they are on in the same.

There has been a marked increase in anti-Semitism, manifested by vandalism, violent attacks, and chants of “Death to the Jews” across the world.

In a recent report, the U.S. State Department found that throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life on Internet fora, in soccer stadiums, and through Nazi-like salutes, leading many individuals who are Jewish to conceal their religious identity.”

Calls for Jews to be gassed were heard in Germany. More than 100 congregants were besieged for hours in a central Paris synagogue by an angry mob. The Turkish nongovernmental organization IHH (which instigated the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident) has threatened that “Turkish Jews will pay dearly” for Israel’s actions in Gaza. In Britain in July, there were roughly 100 anti-Semitic incidents, double the usual number. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan stated that Israel’s defense against Hamas rocket fire amounts to “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”

Signs were posted in Rome urging a boycott of 50 Jewish-owned businesses. In central London, anti-Israel protesters targeted a Sainsbury’s grocery, and the manager reflexively pulled kosher products off the shelves. (The supermarket chain later apologized.)[8]

We have seen conflicts in our own country where students are directly challenged on college campuses, where pro Palestinian … I should say anti-Israel student groups are planning an international day of protest…today, Rosh Hashanah.

An Episcopal priest at Yale University wrote in the New York Times that “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.”[9]

And this summer, a Hamas spokesman went on the record to state that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children to make matza — one of the oldest anti-Semitic canards around. It is hard to fathom that in 2014 we are still confronting blood libel allegations.

J.J. Goldberg of The Forward just wrote: “If there’s one thing we should have learned from the 20th century, it’s that wars are wicked, murderous affairs that defile the spirit of humankind. That despite this universal truth, there are some wars that must be fought, as wicked as they might be, because the alternative is even more unspeakable.”[10]

I think that statement is correct. Gaza is not Atlanta and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal isn’t Dr. King. Hamas isn’t fighting for peace nor for self-determination. They are fighting to get rid of Israel. If they wanted self-determination and justice for Palestinians, they would have sat down with Israel at the peace table and concluded a treaty.

Friends, what should our response be?

When we hear allegations about blood libel, what do we do?

When we learn about shootings in a JCC that are targeting Jews as we did this year in Kansas City, how should we respond?

When we hear of candidates for Congress who openly claim that “you will lose with Jews” as we hear today in Kentucky, what needs to happen?

When we hear about vandalism, physical and verbal assaults in Europe, are we to be silent…again?

I understand that people are fearful. These are scary things. They are terrifying. But if the fear paralyzes us, then they win. If we stop being Jewish, then the ashes in the tunnel will be all that is left. We cannot go back to a place of fear, checking out, leaving the work for others to do.

Nor is it enough to just cry Gevalt. It is time to live our Judaism out loud, as if each Jewish action is another blast of the shofar, proclaiming to all that Judaism matters, the Jewish people are strong and that Jewish values can help make the world a better place.

For every anti Israel, anti-Semitic, anti Jewish act, we return with a greater resolve to observe a mitzvah. We will not just complain or make a new Jewish joke, but will make a Jewish choice that can change the world. We will show greater support for Israel. We will be more generous to agencies that reflect our values. We will be inspired to light Shabbat candles and invite our non-Jewish neighbors to celebrate with us as we reclaim our truth to be an Or L’Goyim – a light unto the nations. We will become ambassadors for light, warmth, tolerance and mutual respect.

For every act of vandalism against a synagogue, we will show up at our own synagogue.

For every attack against Israel, we will be getting ready to plan our next trip to Jerusalem.

We will be waiving the flag for birthright Israel for our young adults and we will raise resources to send our teens there for the summer or a semester.

For every slur against the Jewish people, we will advance the rule of law, we will fight discrimination, and we will speak out against racism, homophobia and sexism. We will strive for greater inclusion and deepen our interfaith relations with our neighboring churches, mosques, temples and holy places.

And we will answer ignorance, indifference and untruths with Emet – Truth, one of God’s Holy Names… Emet/Truth.

And yes, we will strengthen those institutions that are on the front lines, where the American Jewish Committee works with Parliament leaders around the world, where the Anti Defamation League continues to help us as our fact finder and advocate. We will urge our politicians to strengthen the office of the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Ira Forman.

Each morning tefilah, we recite the prayer L’dor Vador.

L’dor Vador nagid godlecha
To every generation we will declare Your greatness

U’l’neitzach n’tzachim k’dushat’cha nakdish
And for all eternity proclaim Your holiness.

V’shiv’checha, Eloheinu mipinu lo yamush l’olam vaed.
Your praise, O God, will never depart from our lips.

We teach the next generation how to stand up by living Jewish lives even when it isn’t easy. We show the next generation that we care enough to bring them here, today, to listen to rabbis preach and to pray with a community. We teach the next generation by modeling what it looks like to support the Jewish community, to write letters to our representatives, to send them to Israel for a summer, to support the community so that we can send more who can’t afford it together. We hold leaders accountable and we speak the truth within our hearts.

It is Yom Teruah – the day of the shofar blasts. The blast is as much as a wake up call as it is a call from the voices, the cries, the fears of our people. We can do our part to assist them, strengthen them, and reach out to them by living with conviction. And by doing so… we strengthen ourselves and our own community.

It is a privilege, beyond words, to dream with Israel and share its destiny. To be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

As the prophet Isaiah says: “For Zion’s sake I shall not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I shall not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness and her salvation as a flaming torch.”[11]

May the blast of the shofar envelop us, inspire us, and encourage us to listen…and to act and to be a spark in that torch.

[1] http://www.idfblog.com/blog/2014/07/16/idf-done-minimize-harm-civilians-gaza/

[2] Genesis 32:8.

[3] Press conference in London (1969), as quoted in A Land of Our Own: An Oral Autobiography, edited by Marie Syrkin, 1973: 242.

[4] “Lose-lose situation for Israel,” Deutsche Welle, July 30, 2014. http://www.dw.de/oz-lose-lose-situation-for-israel/a-17822511.

[5] 22:1.

[6] Rava: “If somebody comes to kill you, kill him first” (Sanhedrin 72a); Rabbi David Golinkin, “What Can We Learn from our Sources about the War in Gaza?” Volume 8, Issue No. 10, August 2014. http://www.schechter.edu/Responsa.aspx.

[7] Megillah 10b.

[8] Sources are from Jewish Council for Public Affairs, JCPA Action Alert, “Confronting Anti-Semitism,” September 10, 2014.

[9] Rev. Bruce Shipman, Letters to the Editor, August 21, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/opinion/the-rising-tide-of-anti-semitism.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%222%22%3A%22RI%3A13%22%7D&_r=0

[10] I found Goldberg’s words right on target, but I don’t believe he would apply the same message to the war in Gaza. This article addresses the threats of ISIS: http://forward.com/articles/206078/like-the-nazis-isis-must-be-confronted/#ixzz3E395IN5z.

[11] Isaiah 62:1; Rabbi Marc Angel concluded a sermon this way and it is has always left an impression with me.

A message from AIPAC’s Synagogue Initiative

As the deluge of rockets from Gaza endangered millions of Israeli lives this summer, the Jewish state was able to rely on a remarkable technology to protect its most populated areas with the Iron Dome missile defense system. Thanks to this groundbreaking, U.S.-backed technology, most of the rockets destined for Israeli schools, buildings and neighborhoods were shot down out of the sky.

The Iron Dome air defense system is unique in its capabilities and is one of the most tangible manifestations of American aid to Israel. Designed by Israel’s Advanced Defense Systems LTD., it was first introduced in 2011, after successfully intercepting several Grad rockets that were fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel. Since then, Iron Dome has undergone numerous improvements and has become a critical component to Israeli deterrence against terrorist rocket fire.

The system provides robust, selective defense and can discriminate between threats headed toward population centers and those that will land in open fields or in the ocean. It is effective at destroying incoming rockets in all weather conditions, including low clouds, rain, or fog.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, has joined a chorus of praise from both Israeli and American officials regarding the United States’ funding for this life-saving device. “If there has been a more substantial contribution than the aid and funding for [Iron] Dome, that saves lives, I can’t imagine what it is,” he said.

For years, pro-Israel activists across the country have lobbied their members of Congress to provide annual funding for the Iron Dome system and other critical missile defense programs. As of this summer, the United States has allocated more than $700 million towards Iron Dome with Congress considering an additional $576 million in fiscal year 2015.

Additionally, American lawmakers have so far contributed nearly $2 billion for Israel’s mid-range and long-range missile defense programs including David’s Sling and the Arrow II and III systems.

The United States played an essential role in helping Israel protect its people from its enemies and eliminate the possibility of mass casualties during the Hamas offensive this past summer. The work of AIPAC and the pro-Israel community to lobby our legislators in support of these vital security subsidies will remain an indispensable facet of the robust U.S.-Israel partnership.

stop-the-sirens_600x400_FBPostFriends,

I am hearing from many of our congregants asking similar questions:

“Why is there such a bias in the media against Israel?”

“What can we do from here to support Israel?”

“How come people don’t seem to be holding Hamas accountable for their actions, using their own people as human shields?”

 

I wish I had a simple answer for you. I believe that most people out there really have no sense of what the conflict is about or how it plays out. Most don’t realize that Israel has no presence — military or civilian — in Gaza. They don’t realize what Hamas is at its core.

So, we need to respond. We need to give to the Stop the Sirens Campaign, we need to tell others to do the same, we need to write to our Senators and Representatives to encourage them to continue their support for the State of Israel, and we need to inform, teach, and share resources on social media.

Here are a few pieces, some harder to access than others, to help arm ourselves in defending Israel as best as we can from Atlanta.

One of the things that I think is very important is for us to also affirm: we believe in a two state solution, a Palestinian state side by side a Jewish State of Israel. I don’t mind saying that there are times when I wish Israel would make different decisions. But I share my critiques out of a love for Israel, not a desire to break it.

So stand with Israel. Teach our friends and neighbors important truths. Pray for peace in Jerusalem and for the Palestinian people. No one wants bloodshed. But we need to listen to each other’s narratives and hope for one another’s success.

However today, I need my community to read these resources and act.

 

Statement Not Issued by the UN Security Council (this is a great piece of what they SHOULD have declared)

Support the Stop the Sirens Campaign with your act of tzedakah. This is the American Jewish community’s collective response to Israelis needs.

Live Updates from a leading Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz: click here.

Israel May be Raising the Moral Standards of Warfare

Getting the Law Right on the Israel-Hamas Conflict

8 Things You Need to Know about the Gaza – Israel Conflict

David and Goliath: Perception and Misconception (discussing one approach to why there is so much negative feelings against Israel)

Hamas War Crimes Provoke Response

Read the IDF Blog – there are tons of resources to SHARE

What if Terrorists Could Should this Rocket in Your Country? Then scroll down, and enter in YOUR CITY to see the range Hamas’ rockets can reach.

 

Regarding Hamas using its own people as human shields:

Hamas Uses Civilians as Human Shields

Main Points 

  • Israel targets terrorists to protect its civilians. Hamas targets civilians while using its own people for cover.
  • Since the beginning of Operation “Protective Edge” Hamas has been actively encouraging Palestinians in Gaza to become human shields by praising it as an act of bravery and proof of steadfastness, an esteemed Palestinian value.
  • Hamas cynically exploits the Palestinian civilian population as human shields to protect its terrorist activity against Israel.
  • Rocket launching pads and weapon caches are hidden in private homes and public buildings such as schools and mosques.
  • Hamas exploits any collateral damage that results from its use of human shields for propaganda purposes.
  • Hamas’ actions are in clear violation of the most fundamental principles of international law, including the principle of distinction which requires Hamas to clearly distinguish itself from its own civilian population.
  • Hamas uses this horrific tactic knowing full well that, as opposed to Hamas, Israel takes every precaution to avoid harming uninvolved civilians. For example, Israel routinely warns residents about impending attacks to enable them to evacuate to safety despite the tactical difficulties this poses.

Recent Examples of Hamas Encouraging Civilians to Become Human Shields

  1. On 8 July, Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri appeared on the terrorist organization’s al-Aqsa TV network. In the clip, Abu Zuhri can be seen saying that “the fact that people are facing Israeli warplanes bare-chested to protect their homes, I believe this procedure has proved its efficiency. And we in the Hamas movement call on our people to adopt this procedure.”

A reporter is heard saying that “the citizens performed a brave deed by congregating on this roof to prevent the conquering force’s planes from bombing.”

The clip can be viewed by going to: http://youtu.be/7ejXZuvQ52E

  1. A cartoon produced by Hamas calls on Palestinian civilians to form human shields against Israeli attacks. The cartoon depicts how a large group of civilians standing on the roofs of houses creates a metaphorical shield against incoming bombs, and praises the “steadfast people.” Cartoons are an important medium for influencing public opinion in Palestinian society.

The cartoon can be viewed by going to: http://imgur.com/P3HevwB

 

Israel Under FireIt is with a heavy heart that I write to you. I want peace, I pray for peace. But I am a committed Zionist who believes in the enterprise of a Jewish State, a state entitled to defend its citizens. Former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren has recently said how he was on the battlefield and served as the representative of Israel in front of a TV camera. Today, those lines have become increasingly blurred. I cannot understand how news “reporters” are so one-sided. It truly baffles me. I have no problem asking critical questions. I encourage probing questions. I want to be sure that the Israel Defense Force continues to embrace its mission of defending Israel more than punishing Palestinians. I also give credit to Israel’s government and its rule of law when individuals cross that line, they are held accountable. So why is it that Israel is blamed for an entire conflict? When did others forget that Israel is an underdog? I hope and pray for a speedy end to the bloodshed. I join thousands who say that blood is blood and revenge has no place in our Jewish communities. Where it shines its head, it needs to be brought to justice for desecrating our Tradition, our Truths, our God and the Land itself. There are many of us who are having trouble getting past the heartbreak of the murder of the three Israeli boys, the murdered Palestinian boy, the acts of vengeance and the celebrations over the death of the Other. I am concerned for the welfare of the Palestinians. Many are falling victim due to no fault of their own. Nevertheless, I blame Hamas. How dare they use their own people as human shields! It is astounding to me how the IDF releases a video that shows them firing a warning shot at a building in Gaza to encourage innocent civiliants to leave. When civilians went on top of the roof, the IDF aborted the mission. Hamas, used the same footage to encourage its people to go on top of the buildings to stop future attacks from Israel. Hamas has launched over 550 rockets into civilian areas in Israel, which has been met by Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which has countered with over 500 air strikes in Gaza. But before this Operation started, there were more than 220 rockets that struck Israel. Hamas has boasted that it can now strike any city in Israel. (To see the range of rockets compared to Atlanta — or any other city — click here.) The situation looks like it will only get worse in the coming weeks. While it makes me sad that things have come to this, I believe that Israel has the right to defend itself and deter its enemy, Hamas, from continuing to send rockets into civilian centers in Israel. In the meantime, I will advocate on Israel’s behalf, I will educate those who will not look at nuance, I will cry when innocents become casualties — regardless of whether they are Jews or Palestinians,  and I will always pray for peace in the Land of Israel, for its inhabitants and its neighbors. Here are a few resources that I encourage you to explore so you can be a voice of support to the People and the State of Israel: The IDF Blog Israel Under Fire Ambassador Michael Oren’s Facebook Page Jewish Federation of North America’s Operation Protective Edge Resource Page — this has other links to Israeli news media in English among other external, reliable resources Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Blog An important piece on nuance when Israelis went to extend their condolences to the family of the Palestinian boy killed in an act of vengeance. Listen to the NPR story here.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg on a proportional response   “Where is the outrage over the bombardment of civilians in Israel” Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @rabbigreene where I am sharing lots of resources   From our prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah (p. 377):

O Heavenly One, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel which marks the dawning of hope for all who seek peace. Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it the canopy of Your peace, send Your light and truth to all who lead and advise, guiding them with Your good counsel. Establish peace in the land and fullness of joy for all who dwell there. Amen.

 

As summer winds down, children here in America are heading back to school. While they sharpen their No. 2 pencils and brush up on their reading, writing and arithmetic, children on the other side of the globe are preparing for an entirely different kind of education.

In June, Israel’s Ministry of Education unveiled a program to integrate 500 Arab teachers into Jewish schools. According to a report in Haaretz, the Education Ministry’s director general, Dalit Stauber, said that the plan reflects “a society that meets in the education system, recognizes the excellence in people and enables teachers to integrate. It’s a win for both sides. This partnership breaks down barriers and allows each side to get to know the other properly. It also helps meet the needs of the Arab community, which has a surplus of teachers.”

As Mohammed Hiadri, the chairman of the Monitoring Committee for Arab Educational Affairs, stated, “Employing Arab teachers in Jewish schools will be an important contribution that will help promote values of tolerance and acceptance of the other—as racism can stem from ignorance, fear and prejudice.”

As Israel works to promote coexistence, the type of ignorant prejudice that Hiadri described is being promoted in Gaza. Hamas, the U.S. designated terrorist group based in the Gaza Strip, issued a new education law prohibiting any relations with Israelis. According to The New York Times, the law “stipulates that any educational institution that receives aid meant to encourage or promote normalization of ties with Israel will face punishment: a 10-year prison term for an individual perpetrator and a fine of 20,000 Jordanian dinar (about $28,200) for any institution involved in organizing exchange programs or activities that include Israelis.”

This is following a summer where thousands of children in the Gaza Strip between the ages of 6 and 16 were invited to pick up AK-47s and engage in a series of quasi-military drills in the sand dunes of Rafah. The activities included weapon use, jumping over fire and crawling under barbed wire, all performed to the tune of exploding charges. Photographs of these drills show young boys dragging a Khaki-clad doll away from an Israeli flag, in what appears to be a re-enactment of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit being kidnapped in 2006. Organizers estimate that nearly 10,000 Palestinian children participated over the summer.

None of this should be particularly surprising; Hamas was founded in the late 1980s with the self-proclaimed goal of the destruction of Israel. Nonetheless, it is tragic. As Israel is demonstrating, even in the face of violent rejectionism the lessons we teach our children should be about inclusion, normalization, and ultimately peace.

 

The above message was prepared by AIPAC’s Synagogue Initiative.

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, z”l,  a former President of the (then) Union of American Hebrew Congregations made headlines when he called on Reform Jews “to revive the ancient tradition of pilgrimages to Israel as a religious obligation.” It was a bold move since early Reform Judaism had renounced a connection to the Land of Israel and many of those reformers (although not all) were opponents of the budding Zionist Movement. Rabbi Schindler maintained that visits to Israel should be seen “not as mere trips to an exciting land, nor to a place endeared by memory and affection, nor even as a means to be linked to its people and to bolster the confidence [of our fellow Jews in Israel]. They should be conceived rather as a sacred journey, a quest to be spiritually invigorated….” (“The Religious Implications of Zionism,” 1993 ARZA National Assembly Address)

I could not agree with these words more!

We have had a number of our students and adults venture to Israel for tours, for B’nai Mitzvah, for work, for continuing learning (like our ECEC Director, Jenifer Friedman), and even to help guide our Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Kesher Committee’s efforts to advance connections and support initiatives in Israel (welcome home Sheryl Blechner, Rhonda Povlot, Terry and Gene Carasick, and Denise and Barry Straus).

Whomever goes to Israel return feeling inspired, empowered, grounded, and ready to do more. This coming year, there are two tremendous opportunities to make your pilgrimage to Israel.

 If you have never been to Israel or the last time you were there was so long ago (and it is time to return) the join me for our next Temple Beth Tikvah Tour to Israel February 16-26. This will be a wonderful opportunity to journey to Israel with old friends and make new ones from our congregation. We need 20 people to make it happen.  If you are interested in joining me, please contact Michelle at michelle@bethtikvah.com or call the office. I will be glad to stay in touch with you about our plans.

 If you have been to Israel in more recent years and want to go and learn more of the contemporary issues facing Israel, our Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is sponsoring a Community Wide Mission to Israel on June 8 to June 16, 2014. For preliminary information, contact Cheri Levitan at 404-870-1604 or clevitan@jfga.org.

Often when I share plans with people about traveling with me to Israel, I hear a common theme: “It’s my turn.” Going to Israel is a rite of passage and I hope some of you will join me. Whether you are a first-timer or a veteran traveler, a single, a couple, I promise you ten days you will never forget. We will have several opportunities prior to departure to gather together and to get to know each other, and to learn together about the land and people of Israel to make for a more meaningful, personal trip. So join me and 20 friends for a journey that will open up your mind, touch your heart, and replenish your soul!

In pro-Israel circles, we often hear that Israel is a unique sanctuary of democracy, freedom and pluralism in the Middle East, protecting its citizens’ rights while upholding the progressive values it shares with America. When Israelis went to the polls in late January, they proved that this is indeed the case.

The newly elected parliament, Israel’s 19th Knesset, consists of 120 members who reflect a wide range of points of view and includes Israelis from all walks of life: Jews, Christians and Muslim Arabs and Druze. The vote was universal, countrywide, secret, and proportional.

Such open and free elections are a hallmark of the Jewish state and one of the many common features that the United States and Israel share. Commitment to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of religion and speech and human rights are all core values of both countries.

Both nations were founded by refugees seeking political and religious freedom. Both were forced to fight for independence against foreign powers. Both have absorbed waves of immigrants seeking political freedom and economic well-being. And both have evolved into democracies that respect the rule of law, the will of voters and the rights of minorities. Like the United States, Israel has an independent judicial system, which protects the rights of individuals and operates under the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

At a time when our country faces historic challenges, including increasing global threats and turmoil in the Middle East, the unique bond between the United States and Israel is more essential than ever. Close strategic, economic, political and diplomatic ties between the countries further U.S. interests, promote regional peace and enhance the security of both nations.

Moreover, bilateral ties in trade and technology launched in the 1970s and cemented in the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement of 1985 have yielded groundbreaking advances and joint economic growth for the two allies. The American and Israeli governments, as well as private business ventures in both countries, are partnering to promote new energy solutions and ensure our long-term energy security.

The military partnership between the United States and Israel has also helped both countries keep its soldiers safe, strengthen its military and protect its homeland. And Israel is working with U.S. government and private entities to develop technologies and equipment aimed at thwarting terrorism and safeguarding citizens from both nations.

Rooted in these shared values is the bond between two nations that are working together to make the world a better, cleaner, and more secure place.

 

The above message was prepared by AIPAC’s Synagogue Outreach Deptartment.

Little more than a flimsy plan at the Israeli Defense Ministry just seven years ago, the Iron Dome missile defense system is now hailed as a groundbreaking innovation, an example of the technological prowess of Israel, and an embodiment of the unique relationship between the Jewish state and the United States.

The system passed its first major test during Operation Pillar of Defense in November, successfully intercepting over 400 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli population centers. The system not only saved countless lives, but also allowed Israel’s decision makers to display restraint, thus averting an all-out war.                             

The idea for Iron Dome arose after Israel’s 2006 war with Hizballah, in which more than 4,000 rockets were launched into the country’s north. As rocket fire from Gaza targeting southern Israeli communities also intensified, it became clear that a system was needed to defend against short-range rockets and missiles.

Engineers from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems set out to build such a system as quickly as possible. As The Wall Street Journal explained, “An all-star team of engineers assembled from across Israeli defense companies worked around the clock. Pensioners were called out of retirement…And in 2009, during the first field test, an Iron Dome prototype successfully intercepted an incoming rocket.” By April 2011 an Iron Dome battery was fielded outside the southern city of Beersheba and shot down its first rocket fired from Gaza. Since then the system has achieved an 85 percent interception rate and is constantly improving, as its developers enhance its accuracy and expand its range.

Iron Dome uses missiles to destroy warheads in midair. Each battery covers an area roughly the size of a small city, protecting it against rockets and mortar shells with ranges of up to 45 miles. The system’s computerized radar and tracking system calculates where an incoming rocket or mortar shell is likely to land, and fires a guided missile to blow up the projectile only if it is headed for a populated area. Thus, interceptor missiles are not wasted on rockets that pose no threat to life or property.

Of course, a complex system like Iron Dome does not come free. In fact, each interceptor missile fired costs approximately $45,000. But thanks to the hard work of pro-Israel activists, the Obama administration and lawmakers learned early on that it would be a wise and important investment on the part of the United States. Congress thus approved a request from President Obama to include $205 million for Iron Dome funding in the 2011 budget, and has pending authorization for hundreds of millions of dollars more to aid in the production and deployment of the system. Now that the Iron Dome has proven itself, Washington will have the ability to use it in its own defense efforts against short-range rocket threats in the Persian Gulf and South Korea.

The above message was prepared by AIPAC’s Synagogue Outreach Deptartment.

Whatever its ultimate outcome, the conflict in Syria has sent shockwaves across the Middle East, adding instability to an already volatile region. The flood of refugees out of Syria, the presence of jihadist elements among the rebels and the threat of chemical weapons all pose significant challenges for the security and stability of Syria’s neighbors, as well as America’s national interests.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, creating a considerable humanitarian and political problem. Beyond the obvious difficulties for the refugees themselves, this mass exodus is taxing scarce resources and exacerbating existing economic woes. And as tensions between Syrian refugees and local residents rise, there is a real danger of violence and unrest.

While civilians have been escaping Syria, Islamic extremists have entered the country in growing numbers, joining the battle against the regime of President Bashar Assad. These extremists, many of whom are veterans of the ongoing strife in Iraq and operate under the banner of al-Qaeda, have claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks, most of them suicide bombings and car bombings.

Having contributed to the escalation of the violence in Syria, jihadist groups are also a security concern for neighboring countries. They have not hidden their intent to branch out and attack other countries, and Israel in particular has warned that these groups are liable to turn its border with Syria into a base for terrorist operations.

Perhaps the most dire regional concern is the possibility that Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons—the largest in the Mideast—could fall into the hands of terrorists or be used by the Syrian regime in an act of despair. This concern is well-founded: the regime has said it would be prepared to use these weapons against foreign attackers, and has moved parts of its vast arsenal out of storage.

Preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their use against a civilian population is not only a matter for Syria’s neighbors, but a key national security interest of the United States. Indeed, President Obama has said that the U.S. regarded the movement or utilization of such weapons to be “a red line.”

The horrific violence in Syria has turned cities into battlegrounds and led to a major humanitarian crisis inside the country. But the risks to the entire region from the ongoing turmoil are no less grave.

To learn more about the current challenges in the Middle East, visit www.aipac.org.

The above message was prepared by AIPAC’s Synagogue Initiative.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,463 other followers

Rabbi Fred Greene’s Tweets