A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 12.2.22

December 2, 2022


As most of you know, I was unable to go on my long-anticipated trip to Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Dubai a few weeks ago because of a bout with Covid. It was a great disappointment, of course. I’m hoping there will be another opportunity next year. The purpose of the mission was to explore Israel’s relations with three distinct groups: Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and the greater Arab world. 


In the meantime, in my preparations for the trip, I had been doing a lot of reading, researching, and talking to people so that I would be in a better position to understand what I would be hearing once I arrived. The trip was programmed by folks at the Shalom Hartman institute (a renowned research and education institute based in Jerusalem), and we were going to be meeting with some very serious players from all sides. For months prior to the trip, I was imagining that I was going to Israel in an effort to get some answers to all the many vexing questions that arise out of the three above-mentioned sets of relationships. In the final weeks before I was to go, I began to understand things differently; it wasn’t answers that I was seeking – it was questions.


Needless to say, the subject of Israel and her relations with her Arab neighbors engenders strong emotions. At least in the Jewish community, many many people have an opinion, and a strong one at that. And, generally speaking, whatever side they see themselves on, everyone on the other side is wrong (I have been guilty of this too, by the way). So many of us see ourselves as armchair experts on the Middle East. We know what needs to be done – we know who’s at fault, we have a pretty good idea of how to fix it, and if only those other people would get out of the way, everything would be fine and we would finally start to see some progress. 


But the truth is, very few of us are experts. And from our media-fed (left-wing, right-wing – you choose) vantage points, at a distance of 5,700 miles, we have very little idea of what’s really happening on the ground in Israel. The situation is so extraordinarily multi-layered, and the often simplistic, ideologically-driven information that we feed on does nothing but confirm what we already believe, the facts be damned. Had I traveled to Israel looking for answers, that would have implied that I knew what the questions were. I understand now that I don’t, and that that is the first order of business – knowing what the questions are.


This coming Wednesday, Elad bar Ilan (our wonderful shaliach from the Jewish Agency and trip co-leader) will be joining us to report on the mission to Israel (called Abraham’s Tent). Originally, we had planned to have three NightShul sessions, each week unpacking one of the three relationships. Since I was unable to join, we decided to condense Elad’s report into one session, and now we are hoping to find speakers to help us explore these relationships in greater depth in other sessions in the near future. Please stay tuned for those.


In the meantime, I hope you can attend this Wednesday’s NightShul session and join us as we attempt not to answer questions, but to question answers. I think Elad will have some very interesting things to share.  

Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,


Rabbi Sam Levine


NightShul – Israel Now

Key Takeaways from November’s Mission to Israel

Rabbi Sam Levine Interviews Elad bar Ilan

Wednesday, December 7th 7:30 pm

Email info@emjc.org for the Zoom link