A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 3.17.23

March 17, 2023


Shabbat shalom from Israel.


As many of you are aware, I have been in Israel this past week with a UJA Federation-sponsored “mission to Israel,” along with 23 other New York-area rabbis. We arrived late Monday afternoon and parted ways last night. The ostensible purpose of the mission was to educate New York Jewish community leaders about the crisis that is embroiling the country right now. Maybe we would return to our congregations and communities with up-to-date information and hopeful tidings.


If you have been following the news from Israel, then you are aware that there is a political earthquake shaking the ground here; that the current crisis is existential; that President Herzog invoked the term “civil war” this past Wednesday expressing his fear of what might possibly happen if a compromise solution to the current crisis is not found. The gravity of the situation cannot be overstated. 


In a nutshell, the two principal values of the State of Israel, that it is a “Jewish” and a “democratic” state, have come to loggerheads, and its various constituencies have been thus far unable to come to any agreement over how to harmonize them. Incredibly, there is even talk of the country splitting into two states, as in the years after David and Solomon ruled over a united kingdom 3000 years ago (nearly impossible to imagine – politically, socially, practically…). 


The roots of the crisis are complex. By some readings, they date back to the time before the founding of the State, when tensions between the right and left were already expressing themselves. 75-plus years, and many, many layers of complexity later, the knots are tangled and tight. At the heart of the current fever is a long-festering absence of trust.


The hope, I believe, lies in Torah. I don’t mean to quote a particular verse or passage, or refer to a didactic story, but rather to emphasize that, for Israeli Jews, for all jews, really, there is a fundamental shared history and set of shared values, a foundation-stone of peoplehood. And that, with our prayers and with our voices, in the very near future, Israeli Jews and all of us who are invested in this moment will be reminded of that binding concept. We are our own redemption.


I will spend the next 4 days trying to dig deeper – talking to Israelis and trying to get a still-better understanding of this extraordinary, frightening, but pregnant-with-possibility moment in Israel’s history. I greatly look forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks.


In the meantime, my sincerest wishes for a shabbat shalom um’vorach aleinu v’al kol Yisrael – a blessed and peaceful Shabbat on us and on all of the people of Israel.


Rabbi Sam Levine