Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Rousing Words

Yesterday I was only allowing myself to hope. Today I am filled with hope. My faith in our country is restored. To witness a Black man with a Middle Eastern name become president is remarkable. You do not need to be schooled in history to appreciate this moment's significance. Given how unlikely this moment was--even one year ago--gives me renewed hope that anything is possible. I was especially stirred by Obama's words as he hearkened to the cadence of the Bible and called us to take responsibility for our future. This country, like our Jewish tradition, was once built on responsibility and action. It will be rebuilt on these ancient truths. "In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never given. It must be earned." Amen! I especially applaud our president's warning to our enemies. "And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, 'Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.'" Even more important than this warning to others were the numerous calls for our country to return to its ideals. Fear has eroded our values. Terrorism succeeds when we allow it to destroy our greatest treasures--the values on which our nation was founded. "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." Amen v'Amen! I sense our country is once again ready to rekindle its spirit and work to a better future. Today I believe Maya Angelou's assessment in Sunday's Washington Post may be correct. Our new president is the "real deal." He is a man of great intelligence, ability, depth of character and devotion. I am inspired by his words. "Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism--these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility..." Kein y'hi ratzon--may it be so!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration

Tomorrow Barack Hussein Obama will become our president. And I am going to allow myself to hope. I have spent the last days watching the festivities, reading about the final weeks of his transition and of course listening to Obama's words. There are two notes in particular that give me hope. Obama more than any of his predecessors appears to listen to his ideological opponents. He has for instance sought out the counsel of John McCain. He has listened to the thoughts of leading conservatives. He is not blinded by ideology. He is comfortable with debate and dialogue. Maureen Dowd took note of this character trait in yesterday's Times, while also cautioning that this can turn into a tragic flaw. Obama is "...a complex, polysyllabic professor sort who will make a decision only after he has held it up to the light and examined it from all sides." Most important of all Obama possesses a remarkable ability to be honest and forthright about our struggles while still sounding a note of hope. His hope is not pollyannish. Our country does indeed face many challenges. Yet despite this, and perhaps because of our new leader's words, I am once again hopeful about the future and the great potential of our country. Until tomorrow I conclude with Obama's words from yesterday's ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial: "...Despite all of this -- despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead -- I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.... There is no doubt that our road will be long, that our climb will be steep. But never forget that the true character of our nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard. I ask you to help reveal that character once more, and together, we can carry forward as one nation, and one people, the legacy of our forefathers that we celebrate today." I am going to allow myself to hope. I am also going to answer the call to strengthen our nation's character.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hamas Again

Bret Stephens writing in Tuesday's Journal offers a telling reminder of the nature of Israel's struggle against Hamas. He reminds us of Hamas's slogan: "God is [Hamas's] target, the Prophet is its model, the Quran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of God is the loftiest of its wishes." How can one emerge victorious fighting against someone who sees death as a victory? How can one compromise--the very essence of cease fires and peace agreements--with someone who would prefer death over life? In past wars military victories were quantifiable. One destroys 60% of their tanks and the remaining 40% limp back to within their state's borders. Victory in conventional terms is an illusion. Peace is therefore also an illusion. Such is the nature of Israel's present struggle. Israel can best hope to minimize rocket attacks on its South and prevent the smuggling of more advanced weapons into Gaza. Perhaps Israel can push the Palestinian people into rejecting Hamas and the cult of death it offers. Then again if it pushes too hard the people may choose death by their own hands and in keeping with Hamas's jihadist theology rather than at the hands of Israel's soldiers. I support Israel's right to defend itself and protect its citizens. I pray that Palestinians will see living alongside Israelis and the Jewish state as the best hope for life. I pray that Palestinians will see compromise as the road to eternal life. In the meantime I pray that Israel's soldiers will succeed in bringing some measure of shalom--quiet and calm--to its borders.
Watch Rabbi Donniel Hartman to hear an excellent analysis of the moral questions Israel faces in waging war against Hamas.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Helping Israel's Soldiers

If you would like to support Israel's soldiers directly I recommend these three organizations:
Package from Home delivers cares packages to combat soldiers. This is my favorite. I have packed many care packages for soldiers through this organization. Even more than the food, your personal letters are most appreciated by the soldiers. Since the start of the war this organization has delivered more than 4,300 packages.
IDF Pizza delivers pizza to soldiers. Its promotional video offers a touch of humor to the current situation.
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces is the well-known American charity that raises funds to support Israel's military. Take particular note of the ways to help injured soldiers.
Don't underestimate the good will generated by sending a pizza to tired and hungry soldiers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Qassam Rockets


Qassam rockets piled up at the Sederot police station. This picture was taken when I traveled to Israel on a UJC Rabbinic Mission in October 2006, only a year after Israel's disengagement from Gaza. I wonder how large the pile is today. Enough said! Well I wish that was all I needed to say to offer moral clarity to the current situation of why Israel sent its troops into Gaza! Pray for Israel's soldiers who are struggling to ensure that no more rockets are ever added to such piles and that Israel's citizens can live in peace.
Watch this video of a Sederot playground to get a better feel for the situation.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gaza and Hamas

I just returned from a vacation in Israel. It was as always a wonderful trip. We live in a remarkable age. There in Israel my son Ari can read Torah on the very rubble the Romans pushed down from the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago. There in the holiest of places--a place centuries of rulers attempted to destroy--my son can affirm his Jewish heritage. Despite the efforts of countless enemies the Jewish people lives. Nothing can keep us from our most treasured city, Jerusalem. I returned from Israel with a renewed conviction that just as we overcame centuries of enemies we will overcome their modern day inheritors. Today it is Hamas. Two years ago it was Hezbollah. One day it will be Iran. This past week the IDF attacked its avowed enemy, Hamas. Yet, we only read of Israel's disproportionate response. There seems to be some confusion about the moral calculus. Let me clarify. Hamas' stated objective is the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas purposely targets civilians. Hamas leaders train their own sons to be suicide (nay, homicide) bombers. In short, Hamas loves death more than life. Israel is willing to make peace--even with its enemies. Even during the past six month so called tahadiya (calm), when Israel exercised remarkable restraint, Hamas continued to fire rockets at Israel's southern towns and cities. Israel goes to great lengths to avoid civilian deaths--even dropping leaflets warning of impending attacks. Israel prays that its soldiers might live--and mourns the loss of all life. After Ari finished the Torah reading we prayed for Israel's soldiers, and in particular the sons of our friends gathered there at the Wall to celebrate with us. Their teenage boys were waiting on Gaza's borders. I pray for them. I pray for peace. But as God commanded Joshua, we must be strong and resolute before our enemies.
Watch Mayor Bloomberg to hear an excellent defense of Israel's right to self defense and the question of proportionality.