March 5, 2014
It was a wonderful experience spending time in Israel in February as part of a clergy mission sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, the World Zionist Organization, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. We had an opportunity to meet with representatives of various branches of the Israeli government, including members of the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and advisersto the Prime Minister.
We also had an opportunity to see first-hand the work of our federation. We traveled to Kibbutz Erez near the border with Gaza to see the bomb shelters our community’s funds helped to refurbish, and the library we helped build. We met with religious leaders of the Ethiopian community we help support and to hear their concerns and the challenges of integrating into Israeli society. We visited a program that prepares Modern Orthodox girls in the year prior to their joining Tzahal, the Israel Defense Forces. It was gratifying to see the results of the Metro-West community’s efforts on behalf of Israeli society.
The Conservative clergy on the mission had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the Schechter Institute and with representatives of the Masorti movement. Of special note was our meeting with Masorti Rabbi Reuven Stamov and his wife, Lena, who were just about to return to Kiev. We pray for their safety and for the well-being of the entire Jewish community in the Ukraine.
But aside from all of the meetings and travel, this trip was for me, in large measure, about reconnecting with the land and its people. It has been a good number of years since my last trip. Much has changed. Israel is today a much more modern and developed nation. The skyline of Tel Aviv reflects the growth and strength of its economy. There is an impressive new light rail that connects the different neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The population reflects immigration from the four corners of the earth, somehow all melded into one society, which yes, has its difficulties and unsolved problems, but that is, in a very clear way, a most vibrant society.
Most important, these are our brothers and sisters, and it so behooves us to support them in every way we can, just as they support us. A common theme of our meetings and one emphasized by Natan Sharansky in the time we shared with him was this sense of partnership that needs to evolve. Israelis no longer see themselves as merely the beneficiaries of our largesse. They are rather our partners in dealing with all of the issues we face as Jews. For example,as government officials pointed out, it is Israel that has taken the lead in confronting those in Europe who seek to ban circumcision and shehita on the continent.
There were many magical moments. For now, I am happy to be back in Clark with my Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah community. But a part of me will surely remain in the Holy Land of our ancestors.
Cantor Steven Stern
March 5, 2014
I am an Orthodox Jew who works in a Reform temple. I believe all Jews comprise one big family. To me, pluralism means different types of people successfully cooperating to create a varied and rich whole. For example, Orthodox Jews are skilled at following Torah laws between man and God, like kashrut or Shabbat. Reform and Conservative Jews are excellent at promoting tikun olam, a betterment of the world through acts of kindness, compassion, and charity. Together, we represent one Jewish nation that is committed to Torah ideals and the improvement of the world at large.
That being said, I must remind your readers that the Torah defines a Jew. Whether we choose to focus on the laws between man and God or the laws between human beings, we are guided by the dictates of the Torah which have characterized Judaism since its inception. Jewish dedication to the perpetuation of Torah ideals and laws is what makes us the “people of the book” and what has enabled us to survive for so long when more powerful civilizations have failed. I advocate allowing people to pray and serve God as they wish, but there are certain laws in Judaism that affect our inherent Jewishness, and therefore cannot be tampered with. These include the laws governing conversion and marriage. Only the Orthodox conversion process ensures that those who convert to Judaism really understand and accept the incredible responsibility and commitment to all laws of the Torah. Marriage, too, inevitably affects our Jewishness. If a Jewish man and his non-Jewish wife have children, their children will not be Jewish according to Torah law. There is no compromise about what makes a Jew a Jew according to Torah law.
The reason the Israeli government is loath to ease the Orthodox control over such life-changing events as marriage and conversion is that doing so would literally compromise the Jewish character of the State of Israel and endanger our continuation as a Jewish nation. I understand that the situation is upsetting to Reform and Conservative Jews who view the Torah differently, but when it comes to the State of Israel and its continued Jewishness, all of us must defer to a higher power — that of God, whose Torah was given to us to define our lives and characterize us as a nation.
March 5, 2014
Re “Rush Holt: ‘I want to see Israel prosper’,”
Holt what you are doing, and Rush right out to say thank you!
Rush Holt has served as the congressmanfor the district that includes my congregation, Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction, for his entire time in the United States Congress.During that time, I knew him to be accessible, friendly, a careful listener, tolerant of people’s differences, and a good friend to the State of Israel. (“Rush Holt: ‘I want to see Israel prosper’”).
Whenever Israel needed help and support, I could count on Rush Holt to be there to help me bolster the State of Israel. This was not because he pandered to the Jewish vote — I would not expect an intelligent person like my congressman to conform his opinions to pressure or political expediency. Rush supported Israel because it was in the best interests of the UnitedStates, and because Israel was morally right.
There were times during his tenure in the House when both Rush and I questioned the actions of a particular Israeli government. Actually, there were times when Rep. Holt and I questioned the actions of a particular American government. No one should walk in lock-step with any government or politician. We should always question and seek for truth. As a rabbi, I respect Albert Camus, who said, “I should like to love my countryand still love justice.”
My congressman fostered harmony among the various religious sects in his district. He invited religious leaders down to DC and hosted a “religious tolerance” conference to bring us all together. His door and his ears were always open to different points of view; he listened and invited people to speak their minds. Rush Holt spent his career in the House, serving his constituents with truth, justice, and in the best American Way (OK, so I watched Superman when I was a kid).
I am a proud, unabashed "liberal," and so is Rush Holt. I am honored to have called him my representative and shall miss his voice in Congress.
Rabbi Eric B. Wisnia
Congregation Beth Chaim
February 26, 2014
Left, Right, or in between, Jewish youth and their parents must remember that whether they are pro-Israel or not, their status in the United States today is because of the existence of the State of Israel.
When the United Nations voted for the creation of this country, they gave a new pride and standing to all Jews. There was a feeling of elation and security that had not existed before that moment. After centuries of being displaced, disgraced, and almost annihilated, there was a Jewish homeland. After 1948, our world changed dramatically.
The Israelis, like any other people in this tumultuous world, are good, bad, and indifferent. We may disagree with their politics and decisions, as we do our own political mayhem, but we have little choice but to support a country which, if ever defeated by war or terrorism, will cease to exist.
How do we get this message to the many who are now advocating boycotts and measures that will hurt Israel and Jews for years to come?
February 26, 2014
As a parent of child with special needs I have struggled to find a home for my child within the Jewish community. We have left Jewish schools and synagogues in search of a home for Joshua. Joshua is now 13 and after early attendance in Jewish day school and two years of Hebrew school, he could no longer handle the social pressure and dropped out eight months prior to his 13th birthday. Rabbi Avi Friedman from the Summit JCC sat down with us and respected Joshua’s uniqueness and left the door open for future individual study.
I reached out to the Friendship Circle. They accepted and encouraged Joshua to be a volunteer, despite his having a high functioning form of autism, to those children who have what Joshua perceives as a “more disabling condition” than his own.
After his first night of volunteering, Joshua declared that the Friendship Circle could be his “bar mitzva project.” Then he decided to call Rabbi Friedman and ask to start bar mitzva lessons. We were four lessons in when Joshua was asked to participate in “Shabbat Shalem” or “Jewish Disabilities Awareness Shabbat” by the chair of the program. Josh was told they wanted to honor his role in helping others with disabilities. Much to my surprise he agreed.
At a recent Shabbat service, not only did he receive his certificate, he also spoke to the congregation about the children he has known in the community who have “bigger disabilities” than his own but how having his own disability makes him want to help others as much as he can.
I never imagined Shabbat Shalem would give me the gift of seeing my son as an articulate leader of the community; it gave the opportunity to Joshua and the community to see that having a disability does not preclude one from public speaking and helping others with disabilities.
I want to thank the Summit JCC, the Friendship Circle, and MetroWest ABLE for this precious moment that gave my son the opportunity to see himself as a leader and thriving despite a diagnosis of disability.
February 26, 2014
Re “If Kerry fails, the world will blame Israel,”
No one knows whether Secretary of State Kerry’s initiative to bring about a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will succeed, but Jonathan S. Tobin claims to know not only that it won’t, but who will be responsible for its failure (the Palestinians) and who will be blamed (Israel) (“If Kerry fails, the world will blame Israel”).
Tobin’s assessment is based on a flawed reading of history in which the Israelis have always done everything right and the Palestinians have done everything wrong. In reality, both sides have played a part in the failure of past attempts. Palestinian rigidity has caused problems, but so has Israel’s settlement policy, and Tobin mischaracterizes negotiations which ended because the Israeli prime minister left office before they could be completed as Palestinian rejections.
Surely Israel has often been singled out unfairly for criticism and may be again, but that doesn’t mean that all criticism of Israel is unwarranted. If Israel does bring about the failure of the talks, it deserves to be blamed. The same is true of the Palestinians, and I, for one, will not hesitate to add my voice to those blaming them if they deserve it. I hope the question will not arise because the talks will succeed, and I think we need to give them every chance to do so.
Tobin thinks the talks are doomed to failure and should therefore not be pursued at the risk of making things worse, but this kind of thinking would guarantee that a peaceful resolution will never come, leading to the ultimate demise of Israel as a secure, democratic, and Jewish state.
Martin J. Levine
The author is a member of the executive committee and communications cochair for the Northern New Jersey chapter of J Street.
February 26, 2014
Re “The quiet majority must bet on peace,”
Rabbi Sharon Brous, either intentionally or through naivete, does not understand the ultimate goal of the Palestinians. (“Quiet majority must bet on peace”). It should beclear to her, and the “quiet majority” she speaks of, that the Palestinians are still waging the 1948 war and will not stop until the State of Israel is destroyed, if not in one large cataclysm, then in stages.
How can there be a two-state solution that Brous advocates for when the Palestinian refusal to recognize the national aspirations of the Jewish people to a state of their own, a Jewish state, undermines the existence of one state in that solution?
As for urging “respect for the dignity of the Palestinian people and national ambitions,” where is Brous’s insistence on respect by the Palestinians for the dignity of the Jewish people? On the state level, there is Palestinian glorification of terrorists and incitement against Jews and Israel. On the street level, Palestinians who work and walk in Jewish communities do so unmolested. But when I go to the Rockefeller Museum just outside the walls of the Old City on the eastern side of Jerusalem, I get jostled on the street. Worse would happen if I ventured alone into an Arab neighborhood.
I am sick and tired, maybe more so than most because of the murder of my daughter Alisa in the early and heady days of the Oslo Accords, of having to listen to peace advocates, such as Rabbi Brous, advance the idea of respect for the Palestinian “narrative,” a touchy-feely word that has become so overused that it has already lost meaning.
There can only be peace between Palestinians and Israelis when the former accepts that Israel and the Jewish people are there to stay.
Stephen M. Flatow
February 20, 2014
Re “Affordable Jewish education: Fresh ideas,”
Jewish day school education is in crisis mode and we must have a strategy to prevent day school education from being an exclusive rite of passage only for those with more substantive incomes (“Affordable Jewish education: fresh ideas,” Jan. 9). The question posed in the articles — how do we reduce the cost of Jewish schooling? — was especially perturbing to me. Is the question really about reducing cost, or is it about freedom of choice? Why is it that schooling is defined almost exclusively by one’s zip code?
Many of our leaders and think tanks are not yet ready to rock the boat and mobilize the Jewish community to support school choice. The Nobel laureate and economist Milton Friedman began pursuing the dream in 1955 when he first introduced the idea of school vouchers. Rabbi Joshua Lookstein’s call for tax credits are part of Friedman’s vision for school choice, but Lookstein doesn’t appear to advocate for all of Friedman’s plan. Vouchers, education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships, and individual tax credits/deductions are currently in operation in various states. The political tide in favor of vouchers is slowly rising.
Public schools vanquish personal freedom; the values taught are often not those we would choose for our children. Furthermore, there is no competition. We all know of stories of incompetent tenured teachers and of epic waste. Friedman often compared the current school system to monopolies like Ma Bell and the United States Post Office that caused opportunity to dissipate.
Parents who seek alternatives, like Jewish day school, must pay twice: once in local taxes dedicated to the school system and once again in tuition. Vouchers are not just a viable solution to the current day school crisis, they are the most viable solution to the current education crisis in the United States. Despite all we spend as a nation on public education, the U.S. was recently ranked 26th in math and 21st in science. Isn’t it time public schools were forced to compete on a level playing field ? Isn’t it time that public schools upped their game to really allow the United States to compete in a global economy and release the unions’ stranglehold on our future?
February 20, 2014
One of the thorniest issues facing Israeli-Palestinian negotiators and Sec. of State John Kerry is the right of return of Palestinians to the homes and land they owned in 1948.
Israel claims the Arabs left voluntarily; Palestinians claim they were either forced or intimidated into leaving. The truth is both are right. How many left on their own and how many were forced to leave is still unclear. Under international law refugees whose homes and land were confiscated have a right to return and claim what formerly belonged to them.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is adamant. He will not allow one Palestinian back into Israel under the Right of Return. Most Israelis agree with him, fearing an erosion of Jewish political power. It is important to remember that Israel was created as homeland for the Jewish people.
The PA has said it will not sign any agreement unless the Palestinians are allowed to reclaim their homes and land. Many Palestinians have family members who lived in what is now Israel for generations. They feel that the land is their birthright.
The only proposal that has a chance of being accepted is land swaps as put forward by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Under his plan land now parts of Israel whose population consist mostly of Arab citizens of Israel would become part of the Palestinian state. In exchange, the largest settlements located outside the 1967 line would remain part of Israel.
Whether the plan would be acceptable to Palestinians and the settlers who would have to either give up their land and homes or remain under Palestinian control is questionable.
Without settling the issue of the right of return, the two-state solution is doomed. Without a two-state solution the chance of a peaceful solution will fade away.
February 20, 2014
As the chair of the West Orange Republican Party, I would like to express my support of Sen. Menendez’s efforts to maintain and increase American pressure on the terrorist state of Iran.
Iran has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, and has been the major supplier of arms and rockets to Hamas and Hizbullah, which are terrorist groups dedicated to Israel’s eradication by attacking from Gaza and Lebanon.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration is under the false impression that the Iranian regime will act in good faith in order to ease the pressure of the sanctions that the West has imposed upon it.
In fact, since the “interim” agreement of last autumn was announced, while Western sanctions on Iran have been reduced, Iran has actually increased its nuclear weapons procurement operations. Iran continues to call for Israel’s destruction, continues to deny the Holocaust, and continues to denounce America — even to the extent of sending Iranian naval vehicles close to our shores!
Recently, we were sickened to see a virtual video released from Iran that shows Iranian nuclear weapons destroying Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The Iranian regime is nothing more than a terrorist organization that has taken over a nation, and has wrapped itself in the cloak of godliness.
Unfortunately, every time the Obama administration declares that a major “breakthrough” with the Iranians has been achieved, the Iranians themselves quickly deny any such thing.
If anything, Pres. Obama should seek out Sen. Menendez’s council on how to deal with Iran.
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