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Showing posts from October, 2010

Day of Dialogue

On Wednesday I was asked to participate in a panel discussion entitled "Israel/Palestine and the Blockade" at Hofstra University's Day of Dialogue.  The following are my introductory remarks.  A video of the presentation and subsequent discussion is promised. This is what I believe.  And this is what I hold to be paramount.  Let me be brief and direct. A few opening facts should be mentioned at the outset.  Israel captured the Gaza Strip in 1967 from Egypt.  Palestinians never had sovereignty there under Egypt.  In my estimation, the Arab world has not supported Palestinian’s aspirations for sovereignty.  Throughout the years Egypt never even wanted to discuss Gaza.  During the Camp David accords Israel repeatedly tried to raise the question of Gaza but was rebuffed by Egypt.  My view is that Israel has tried to help establish sovereignty for the Palestinians while guaranteeing the security of its own citizens.  80% of Israelis support a Palestinian state with such saf

Dancing (Under the Gallows)

Here is a wonderful video about Alice Sommer, who at 106 years old is the oldest Holocaust survivor.  Not only is she an extraordinary person but a talented musician.  She survived, in Theresienstadt,  in large part because of her remarkable musical abilities.  But I like her most of all because of  her philosophy.  Among her powerful statements are the following: Music was essential to survival. Every day, life is beautiful. I was always laughing.  Even there [in the camps] I was laughing. Watch the video to learn more about Alice and to listen to her words. Recently I found myself thinking about this outlook and what I have now learned is Alice's approach to life.  It takes much hard work and devotion to shape optimism. When on vacation it is easy to have such an outlook. There are not the familiar pressures of work and school.  The daily grind is absent.  You are then free to explore the vacation paradise to which you have traveled.  So sometimes I imagine that I am on va

Chayei Sarah

This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, opens with Sarah’s death and the subsequent purchase of a burial cave in Hebron, a place that remains holy to this day, yet is still wrapped in controversy.  The portion concludes a few chapters later with the death of Abraham.   In between is the detailed account of the finding of a wife for their son, Isaac.  Here is that story. Abraham tasks his most trusted servant, Eliezer, with the duty.  Abraham commands him: “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord…that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24) In ancient times an agreement was solidified between men by placing the hand on the upper thigh.  I won’t of course discuss this at services but it is interesting to note that this practice and in particular the proximity of the hand to the testes provides the origins of the word testif

Shalom Chaver

Last week marked the 15th yahrtzeit of Rabin's assassination.  According to the Hebrew calendar it was during the bereft and already bitter month of Cheshvan.  I have been thinking about Rabin and his leadership during the course of this week.  Rabin was the last of  Israel's courageous soldier-statesmen.  He was in my estimation brave because he pushed through the Oslo peace accords.  He believed that this agreement was the best way to guarantee peace--and security.  Although I admire his courage and even more, his sacrifice, the assumptions that underlie Oslo proved false.  The main assumption was that with the promise of a Palestinian State and through the apparatus of an emerging government, the Palestinian leadership would have no choice but to cease their violent struggle and come to terms with the Jewish state on its Western border.  Unfortunately Rabin's darkest fears about Arafat proved true.  He preferred violence and suffering (as well as corruption and power)


This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, contains four stories: the announcement of Isaac’s birth, Sodom and Gomorrah (it did not go very well for those cities), Isaac’s birth and Ishmael’s subsequent banishment, and the binding of Isaac.  Let’s talk about the first story. God’s messengers arrive to tell Abraham that he is going to have a son.   “I will return to you next year, and your wife Sarah shall have a son!”  Sarah, who is nearly 90 years old and happens to be listening on the other side of the tent, laughs (that is why Isaac means laughter) and says to herself, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment with my husband so old?”  God of course hears Sarah’s laughter and what she said and angrily declares to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?'"  (Genesis 18) The Rabbis of old noticed that God does not accurately report what Sarah said.  Sarah had suggested that their infertility was due to Abraham’s age.  W

60 Minutes

Last night's 60 Minutes segment on the archaeological dig at Jerusalem's City of David is important to watch.  Be forewarned.  It does not paint Israel in a flattering light.  Both Jews and Muslims (and Christians as well) claim Jerusalem as a holy city.  In order to advance peace we must affirm the others claim to this city.  The Palestinians' continued denial of the Jewish roots of Jerusalem and their attempt at rewriting ancient history must stop.  Yasir Arafat used to claim that the Temple never stood in Jerusalem.  Such talk must end!  On the other hand the arguments of Jews that Mohammad never actually set foot in Jerusalem or that Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in the Koran is immaterial to the present crisis.  Today Jews and Muslims regard Jerusalem as holy.  We regard it as such because of our beliefs.  Denying each others beliefs will not change today's issues.  Digging for proof that our beliefs are more ancient and therefore more superior will not advanc

Lech Lecha Sermon

...What is the importance of reminding ourselves of the source of our blessings and good fortune? I have noticed that we tend to ascribe too much credit to our own hard work.  We say that we earned our good fortune, that we deserved this or that.  But it is not all due to our hard work.  It is also about mazel and yichus.  We must not forget that good luck and good connections also help us.  It is not all in our own hands.  But it is also not all in the hands of fate.  For if this was the case what would be the point of waking up and working hard.  It is a balancing act between these three. Yet there is a greater danger in seeing it all in our own hands.  Then we think we don't need others.  Then we forget how others helped us.  Then we think that God's hand is absent.  Then we forget that we can't control everything and begin to think that God does nothing. We must be honest with ourselves about how we achieved our good fortune.  Lean on any one of these legs of the

We Need Loyalty Acts, Not Loyalty Oaths - Shalom Hartman Institute

Gil Troy, "We Need Loyalty Acts, Not Loyalty Oaths" This past summer I had the pleasure of studying with Gil Troy at the Shalom Hartman Institute.  His insights on Israel's proposed loyalty oath are well reasoned.  I agree with much of what he states in this article.  He writes: Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, with its pluralistic population, in all its glorious contradictions, depends on loyalty acts not loyalty oaths. We need a renewed covenant between all of Israel's citizens and the government - not meaningless mouthings dictated by demagogues targeting one segment of the population - Israel's Arabs.... Israel's Proclamation of Independence promises all citizens civic equality, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or atheist; black, white, or brown; longstanding Jewish Jerusalemite, Holocaust survivor, Jewish refugee from Arab lands, or Arab villager from the Galilee. As with other Western nations, Israeli national identity can be d

Op-Ed Contributor - An End to Israel’s Invisibility - NYTimes

Michael Oren, "An End to Israel’s Invisibility" Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, wrote an excellent Op-Ed in today's Times. He reiterates some of my sentiments from yesterday's post, but of course states it more forcefully.  He writes: Affirmation of Israel’s Jewishness, however, is the very foundation of peace, its DNA. Just as Israel recognizes the existence of a Palestinian people with an inalienable right to self-determination in its homeland, so, too, must the Palestinians accede to the Jewish people’s 3,000-year connection to our homeland and our right to sovereignty there. This mutual acceptance is essential if both peoples are to live side by side in two states in genuine and lasting peace. The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this

Lech Lecha

This week’s Torah portion starts it all. In it the first Jew is born. Seemingly out of nowhere Abraham is called by God with the opening words of our portion, Lech Lecha. “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” The first question is why Abraham. The Torah offers little clue. Generations of commentators have read between the Torah’s lines and suggested that Abraham must have merited the call. He must been such a great man or have done something so great for God to take notice. This line of reasoning has sustained us for thousands of years. So ingrained is this thinking that many people believe that the famous story about Abraham minding his father’s idol shop is in the Torah. It is instead a midrash written to answer our first question. One day Abraham’s father Terah asked him to watch the store. First Abraham scared away all the business when he told customers, “Why would you want this lit

Settlements, Peace Processes and Loyalty Oaths

I have been reading with keen interest the reports on the current round of peace talks or better, the peace process or better still, the lack thereof.  The United States appears the most engaged of all the parties.  This of course presents the greatest problem.  Although history records that the US added a decisive push to conclude a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are no where near the final stage.  Instead the US is attempting to coax both parties to the table, most especially the Palestinians who are insisting that Israel renew its ten month freeze on settlement construction in order for them to reenter talks.  If the Palestinian leadership truly wants peace then come to the table and negotiate, about the settlements, about refugees, about Jerusalem.  Both parties should agree to talk no matter what.  There should be no agreements beforehand.  I remain suspect that Abbas, and Netanyahu as well, truly

Noah Sermon

At Shabbat Services I asked the question about repentance with regard to Noah and the flood.  Why were the generation of the flood not given the opportunity to repent?  Noah offers no defense of his friends and countrymen.  He says nothing in response to God's command.  He just starts building.  The rabbis suggest that the building of the ark was actually intended to be a sign, a goad, motivating the people to repent.  This sign obviously failed and the world was destroyed.  In the end maybe the story is not about the people's failures, despite our tradition's attempt to find a sin so great as to merit the world's destruction, but about God's.  In the book of Genesis God impresses order on creation.  God fashions order out of chaos in Genesis 1.  The Rabbis in fact suggest that God created many worlds before this one and destroyed them because they were flawed.  Only this world did God let stand despite its imperfections.  With this world God must learn to quell ang


This week we read the second Torah portion in Genesis, Noah.  It of course tells the familiar story of Noah and the flood. “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness.  When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, God said to Noah, ‘I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.  Make yourself an ark…’” (Genesis 6:11-14) I have often wondered about this story.  What could be so terrible that God would destroy everything and everyone, except of course Noah and his family and the animals, two by two?  There is much discussion in the tradition about this very question.  Some suggest that the people were guilty of gross immorality, in particular sexual aberrations.  Others, ruthless violence, in particular the strong taking advantage of the weak.  Still others, material prosperity and affluence caused peop

An Israeli Platform for Peace: A Foundation for Unity

Shalom Hartman Institute - Jewish Scholarship, Education, Leadership for Israel, Diaspora My teacher, Rabbi Donniel Hartman offers here a platform for peace.  He argues that Israelis are so divided that they need to agree on basic principles, rather than trivial policies.  He writes: Independent of what the Palestinians want or will accept we cannot afford to perpetuate the current void of conversation with regards to the key elements which must serve as the foundation of Israel's peace platform. Such a platform will never be the subject of a total consensus. It can, however, unite the vast majority of Israelis and create both the political backing for serious peace negotiations, as well as foundations for unity in the midst of vociferous political debate. He suggests a number of principles that would form the basis of a peace platform.  Among his ten principles are the following: 2. The Jewishness of the State of Israel will be determined by the identity of the majority of its