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Li’fi Dati – Responding to Israel Now

The following is taken from a talk given by Rabbi Weintraub to the Congregation on Shabbat No’ach, October 17, when we joined hundreds of Congregations all over the country in a Shabbat of Unity about Israel.

Now in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, fear grips residents of all ethnicities and religions. Fifteen year olds are stabbing thirteen year olds, and the most common activities of daily living, picking up a carton of milk or walking home from school, are suddenly fraught with danger. The terror does not just affect Israel’s Jewish citizens. I have received several reports from friends in Israel that their Arab workers or colleagues are asking for special escorts for their own security as they go to and from work or home.

We are all areivim, responsible, for each other, especially in vulnerable times, and, admirably, many of you are wondering about what we can do from this distance. I recommend these steps:
First, remain in touch or refresh your contact with friends and acquaintances in Israel. With considerable justification, Israelis feel isolated during these times. I am always struck by how positive an effect a simple e mail “check in” can have. I encourage you also to reach out to more casual acquaintances or distant relatives with whom you are not in regular contact. Think of the man you met at a party last year, the cousin you haven’t seen since a family wedding twelve years ago, or a colleague you had a short conversation with at a conference. It doesn’t matter if you have been out of touch, or even estranged. Times like this, for all their pain, also make personal re-connections possible, welcome and even finally easy, although it may take a little gumption to pick up the phone and call.

It’s also important to understand what Israelis are experiencing these days. Try to read as much as you can day to day. There are many on line newspapers, reports, blogs, etc. I find the Times of Israel (timesofisrael.com) a good resource. It’s free, on line, and includes far-sighted regular contributors of different viewpoints and an active blogspace. This is a time to practice what is called in Chasidic counseling hitlabshut, a Hebrew word with the same etymology as the word “investment” in English or French. You try to put yourself in another’s vestments, as we’d say “in another’s shoes”. Often when we are scared we rush to political arguments or political judgements. These days call more for consolation, moral support and sympathetic presence.

One of the most powerful things that you can do is to book a flight and visit Israel. This is thank G-d not an intifada now and I pray that it will not become one. However, my travel to Israel, with a group of you, Kane Street members, 14 years ago, during the second intifada, taught me how powerful simple physical presence can be when Israelis feel abandoned and worry that others are turning aside or waiting for easier times.

You can also strengthen your support for organizations and groups in Israel which reflect your deepest Jewish values. We are now in a time when anti-democratic and triumphalist groups are exerting great pressures on political processes in Israel. It is important to also broadcast strongly the voice of democracy, tolerance, diversity and open discourse.

Also, there are now many groups in Israel, especially in the nonprofit sector –schools and youth camps and Synagogues–facing dramatically increased security costs They welcome the support of donors to offset these costs.

Finally, we need to remind ourselves that this wave of stabbings and terror, like the first and second intifadas, like all the major wars and defensive campaigns is not all that Israel is about. Israel is a robust modern country, which, as the US, for all of its very serious social inequalities, also maintains a strong democracy, contributes world changing advances in medicine and science, and boasts an artistic community of increasing world wide renown . Israel is an exciting laboratory in which men and women are working every day to see whether Jewish values developed in earlier, powerless Diaspora experiences can now speak to and ennoble a powerful, modern cosmopolitan country.

Israel is also a miracle, a testament to Jewish hope and faith. We have to remind ourselves, and teach others, that to be a Zioiost, as to be a Jew, is to stand for something deeply human and visionary. Israel is not an idea to be realized in some far off messianic time. It is a summons to our commitment, to our energy and imagination in the here and now.

Despite the depressing news of the last week one of the high point of my work was very much Israel-related. Two days ago I met with about ten colleagues—Rabbis, Jewish educators and Zionist leaders—to plan the first Brownstone Brooklyn professional Jewish leadership mission to Israel, which b’ezrat haShem, with
G-d’s help will take place in January. About fifteen of us will travel together to Israel , supported by UJA-Federation and under the direction of our Sh’licha, Orly Dabush Nitzan, to explore especially the challenges of diversity, civil society and Jewish renewal.

I have been to Israel about fifteen times but rarely have I been so excited about an upcoming trip.

We are hoping to meet with many pioneering groups in civil rights, pluralism, and social integration. We will visit for example Yad B’yad (Hand in Hand), a network of six schools around the county which have taught thousands of grade school Jewish and Arab children together in the same classrooms. And G-d bless the ten and eleven year old students in the Jerusalem School who for the past two weeks have put on their Hebrew/Arabic T-shirts in the morning and traveled to school together on busses, despite ridicule and sarcasm.

We look forward to meeting with Tamir Nir, the new Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, and a founder of the Yerushalmim movement, which unites secular, Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox volunteers to combat religious extremism, end gender discrimination in public spaces and promote a comfortable and culturally open quality of life in Jerusalem to draw young families of all backgrounds. We hope to meet with path breaking individuals and groups working to make divorce and conversion fair in Israel, to engage secular Israelis in the study of our classical, religious texts, to provide legal aid for victims of racism and sexual exploitation, and to build an environmentally sustainable country.

These groups are the hope of Israel and they define for me what it means to be a Zionist, to believe in a country and mission of Jewish idealism, human dignity, and social transformation. That vision helps me to keep my sanity and restores my hope during these dark weeks.

The fear in Israel today is very real and the pain is deep. But we are joined by a faith as old as G-d’s call to Abraham in this week’s Torah portion, a promise of a time of blessing for us and for kol mishp’chot ha’adama, all the families of the earth.

Chazak Ve’emtaz

Let us be strong, let us strengthen each other, and help Jerusalem to be kishma, as its name, a city of peace.

Rabbi Weintraub

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