March 10, 2023
As most of you know by now, I am headed to Israel (please God, as they say) on Sunday night on a consolation-prize mission to Israel with UJA-Federation. As I have mentioned in several venues, I think the purpose of the trip is to demonstrate to the 24 congregational rabbis from the greater metropolitan area that “all hope is not lost.” We are meant to bring that message back to our congregations in order to shore up flagging support for Israel. As the country veers to the extreme right and the principal mechanism of a “check and balance” on political power (namely, the Supreme Court) is in jeopardy, and with it the democratic form of government, the concern is that the American Jewish community, not being able to abide a non-democratic Jewish state, will simply abandon Israel.
Prior to my intended trip in November, I remarked that I was going “to listen and to learn.” Circumstances have changed dramatically since that time, with the country in the midst in what many commentators deem to be the greatest existential crisis in its history. Still, there are many things that I don’t know and don’t understand, so my intention to absorb information remains. To that end, the UJA has programmed (I might even say over-programmed) 21 meetings in 3 days, including a meeting with President Herzog at the President’s residence in Rehavia. We will be meeting with elected officials, thought leaders, civil society leaders, journalists, and Israeli rabbinic colleagues working with organizations and communities, all from across the spectrum. Among the many organizations who will be hosting us are the Israel Democracy Institute, the Jewish People Policy Institute, and the Shalom Hartman Institute.
I will take copious notes, and I hope to be able to bring back a wealth of information. We (the American Jewish community, EMJC community members) haven’t always agreed about the direction that Israel has taken in, say, the second half of its existence. We have argued, sometimes acrimoniously, over how we talk about Israel. But now, in this moment of unprecedented crisis, where much of the seed that was planted over the last 30-40 years has come to ripen into this bitter fruit, Israel needs our voices more than ever. We must take a stand to support some form of democratic rule, of democratic principles, even if that has not yielded our idea of a perfectly fair state with equality for all. At least in a democracy, there is always the hope of change. Without democracy, there can be no hope of justice. That’s just the nature of the beast. One of the questions I hope to be able to gain insight into is: does the American Jewish community, in fact, have any sway over Israeli politics?
An existential crisis for Israel is an existential crisis for the Jewish people. We are potentially at a moment of sea-change in Jewish history that has the potential to end very badly. Let’s see what role we can play as upstanders rather than as passive bystanders.
Stay tuned for more. If I can work it out, I will Zoom in to our Shabbat service next week, possibly from the very northern Galil, a stone’s throw from the Lebanon border, for a quick dispatch from the Holy Land.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll join us tomorrow at one of our two services – the regular service at 9am in the sanctuary or the learners minyan at 10 am in the Beit Hamidrash (on the first floor). We’ll all convene for a light kiddush lunch-and-learn at noon, where I’ll take your questions on Jewish liturgy, parts and structure of the service, and any other ask-the-rabbi type questions.
Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.
Rabbi Sam Levine