Remembering Leonard Nimoy – Eulogy

(What follows is a portion of my eulogy at Leonard’s funeral on Sunday morning, March 1. He was married to my dear first cousin, Susan)

Leonard shared with me after he and Susan married 26 years ago that he had never met a woman like her, never had he loved anyone so dearly and passionately, that she’d saved his life and lifted him from darkness and unhappiness in ways he never thought possible. His love, appreciation, respect, and gratitude for her transformed him and enabled him to begin his life anew.

Susan – you were a stellar, loving and brilliant life-partner for your Leib. He knew it and in loving you he learned how to love his own children and grandchildren more deeply, and he came to recognize that his family was his greatest treasure and gift.

At the moment Leonard’s soul left him on Friday morning, his family had gathered around him in a ring of love. Leonard smiled, and then he was gone. It was gentle passing, as easy as a “hair being lifted from a cup of milk,” as the Talmud describes the moment of death.

What did Leonard see? We can’t know, but Susan imagines that he beheld his beloved cocker spaniel Molly, an angelic presence in life and now in death.

My wife Barbara and I shared much with Susan and Leonard over the years, in LA and in so many spectacular places around the world – so many joys and not a few challenges, and through it all we grew to love Leonard as a dear member of our family and were honored that he felt towards us as members of his own family.

At his 80th birthday celebration three years ago, I publicly thanked him for all he’d meant to my family and me, for being the love of Susan’s life, and for bringing her so much happiness.

Kind-hearted, gentle, patient, refined, and keenly intelligent was he.

As I listened to NPR’s story of his passing on Friday, I was struck by how uniquely recognizable to the world was his voice, not only because of its innate resonance and gentle tone, but because it emanated who he was as a man and as a mensch.

He was unflappably honest and warm-hearted. He embodied integrity and decency. He was humble and a gentleman. His sensitivity and intuition connected him with the world and offered him keen insight into the human condition. Whatever he said and did was compelling, inspiring and provocative. He strove always for excellence.

Leonard’s Hebrew name was Yehudah Lev, meaning “a Jew with a heart.” His interests and concerns were founded upon his faith and belief in the inherent dignity of every human being, and he treated everyone regardless of station, friend or stranger, with kindness and respect. His world view was enriched by his Jewish spirit and experience.

Leonard was nurtured in the Yiddish-speaking culture of his childhood on the West End of Boston, yet he transcended the particular categories with which he was raised. He cared about the Jews of the former Soviet Union, about Jews everywhere, and he was concerned for all people as well.

Because he grew up as a minority in his neighborhood, even sensing at times that he was an outcast living on the margins (which is what his Spock character was all about), Leonard adventured out from the conservative home and culture of his youth, courageously at a very young age, into the world where he sought greater truth and understanding. He was curious about everything and was a life-long learner.

Leonard appreciated his success, never taking his fame and good fortune for granted. He was generous with family, friends and so many good causes often contributing without being asked, quietly and under the radar, to individuals and causes selflessly, without need of acknowledgment or credit. In his later years, he learned that by fixing his name to some gifts, he could inspire others to give as well.

Over the years, from the time he performed in the Yiddish theater as a young actor, Leonard was particularly drawn to Jewish roles in film, television, stage, and radio. Most enduringly he brought the gesture of the Biblical High Priest to the world’s attention as an iconic symbol of blessing. He was amused that his fans unsuspectingly blessed each other as they held up their hands and said, “Live long and prosper!”

Most recently, Leonard created magnificent mystical images of feminine Godliness in his Shechinah photographs, one of which he gave to me as a gift graces my synagogue study and adds a spiritual dimension for me of everything I do in my life as a rabbi.

One year Leonard asked me what I thought of his accepting an invitation from Germany to speak before thousands of Star Trek fans. He told me that he’d been asked before but always turned the invitation down due to his own discomfort about setting foot in a country that had murdered six million Jews.

I told him that I thought it was time that he went, and that he take the opportunity to inform a new generation of Germans about who he was as a Jew and about the Jewish dimension of Spock’s personality and outlook. He liked the idea, and so on that basis accepted the invitation.

When he returned he told me that he had shared with the audience his own Jewish story and that Spock’s hand gesture was that of the Jewish High Priest blessing the Jewish community, an image he remembered from his early childhood attending shul with his grandfather in West Boston on Shabbes morning and peeking out from under his grandfather’s tallis at the Kohanim-Priests as they raised their hands in blessing over the congregation.

He told me that when he finished his talk he received a sustained standing ovation, an experience that was among the most moving in his public life.

There’s another incident worth recalling.

The Soviet Film Institute had invited Leonard in the mid 1980s to come to Moscow to speak about “Star Trek IV,” which he had directed. Leonard agreed to come on the condition that he be granted free passage to Zaslov, Ukraine to visit Nimoy relatives he’d never met. The Soviet officials refused, so Leonard declined. Then they had a change of heart and caved, and he and Susan visited the Ukrainian Nimoys thus reuniting two branches of his family tree divided eighty years earlier. Who else but Leonard Nimoy could stare down the former Soviet Union and win!?

Over time Leonard became one of the most positive Jewish role models in the world. He cared about all the right things, about promoting the Jewish arts, about peace and reconciliation between people and nations, and about greater justice in our own society.

He and I talked frequently about our love for Israel and its need for peace. He understood that a democratic Jewish state could survive only alongside a peaceful Palestinian state. He was disgusted by terrorism and war, disheartened by Israeli and Palestinian inability and recalcitrance to find compromise and a way forward towards a two-state solution and peace, and he was infuriated by continuing Israeli West Bank settlement construction and by both Islamic and Jewish fundamentalist extremism.

Though keenly aware of, knowledgeable about and savvy when it came to national and world politics and history, Leonard was at his core a humanitarian and an artist, and that was the lens through which he viewed the world.

Among his favorite quotations was that spoken by the 19th century actor Edwin Booth who claimed to have heard the solemn whisper of the god of all arts:

“I shall give you hunger and pain and sleepless nights, also beauty and satisfaction known to few, and glimpses of the heavenly life. None of these shall you have continually, and of their coming and going you shall not be foretold.”

Leonard did indeed glimpse the heavenly life in his artistic pursuits and in his love for his family and friends.

In thinking of him, I am reminded of Shakespeare’s words:

“Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

“Romeo and Juliet,” Act III, Scene 2

I’ve never known anyone like Leonard – he was utterly unique. I loved him and will cherish his memory always.

Zicharon tzaddik livracha – May the memory of this righteous man be a blessing.

Anti-Semitism at UCLA and College Campuses Nationwide and the Impact of BDS on Attitudes Towards Jews

The LA Jewish Journal this week reported that four of nine members of the UCLA student government’s highest judicial body “raised concern about a candidate for the board, Rachel Beyda, who could present a conflict of interest and make her unfit to serve impartially as a judge in the student government’s judicial branch.”

What was the problem with Ms. Beyda’s candidacy? She is Jewish, involved with UCLA’s campus Jewish community and therefore, they claimed, has a conflict of interest should the board vote on a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution targeting Israel.

Debra Geller, the chief administrative officer for student and campus life who oversaw the hearing, inserted herself after the vote and told these four board members that they did not appear to understand the difference between ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘perceived conflict of interest,’ and that virtually everyone, including them, could be seen to have a perceived conflict. The four then reversed their vote, and apologized – sort of.

They said: “We ask the Jewish community to accept our sincerest apology. Our intentions were never to attack, insult or de-legitimize the identity of an individual or people.”  (Daily Bruin, February 20)

The words sound right, but this incident reflects something deeper, more troubling, insidious, and pervasive not just at UCLA but on college campuses nationwide.

Though these four dissenters showed sincere remorse for their initial vote against Ms. Beyda, I question whether they and the UCLA administration understand adequately the nature of the problem.

I try not to speak with hyperbole. I am not one who sees anti-Semites lurking under every bed. I am not a fear-monger. I do not believe that all criticism of Jews or the state of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic.

Yet, our inability to use the term anti-Semitism when it concerns Jews, when we don’t have a problem calling other forms of ethnic and religious bigotry what it is, raises disturbing questions about prevalent attitudes towards Jews, Judaism, Zionism, and the state of Israel.

It is likely that the four members of the UCLA board do not regard their initial position as anti-Semitic. But I believe that it was, and we should call it what it really is.

The multicultural agenda in American liberal circles, that I personally support, includes virtually all other minorities but excludes Jews who, it seems, have been reduced to being simply a successful white American religious group. This attitude belies a deeper understanding of what constitute Judaism, Jewish religious history, Jewish peoplehood, Zionism, and the meaning of the state of Israel in contemporary Jewish identity.

This reductionist Jewish definition has the effect of challenging Israel’s legitimacy and feeding the international de-legitimization movement against Israel. It is not only an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist position, but it is anti-Semitic because it is essentially an attack on the right of Jews to define ourselves, and it plays on classic anti-Semitic stereotypes without appreciating how hurtful and offensive these stereo-types are to Jews, and how damaging they are to the fabric of our American multicultural society.

De-legitimizers of Israel have worked very hard over a number of years to promote the belief that the existence of the state of Israel represents a moral injustice to the Palestinians and that even a two-state solution is morally unacceptable. This position is promoted not just at UCLA but on college campuses nationwide, and is having an effect on student attitudes towards Jews and Israel.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this week that 54% of American Jewish university students have experienced or witnessed at least one anti-Semitic incident during a single year. These experiences “strongly suggests that anti-Semitism is a nationwide problem,” according to the report.

The attitude of the UCLA administration about what is happening there reflects a national attitude as well. One UCLA official wrote: “My impression, when I speak with students, is that there is more ignorance/lack of sensitivity than racism – and I do try to be on the look-out for racism and other forms of bias.

Perhaps this is the case with many students, but not all. The problem is the successful conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism fed by the de-legitimization movement as it plays upon unsuspecting and uninformed college students and faculty, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, who believe that the perceived underdog, in this case the Palestinians, must be supported regardless of context, merit and truth.

There is a silver lining in this incident. This may create a space on campuses for students and faculty to learn more about Jews, Judaism, Zionism, and Jewish identity, and thereby come to a more inclusive, compassionate and fair understanding of who we are, what hurts Jews, and what kind of attitudes we need to evolve about each other.

Dr. Martin Luther King put it exactly right when he said: “People don’t get along because they fear each other. People fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they have not properly communicated with each other.”

Obviously, this need to know each other works both ways. Jews need to understand Islam, Palestinians and other peoples just as they need to understand us. Now is the time for deeper self-understanding and self-knowledge, for better communication and better listening to the “other.”

Haaretz on Anti-Semitism on College Campuses – http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/1.644105

LA Jewish Journal – UCLA Judicial Board Questioned on Jewish Background in Apppointment - http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/ucla_judicial_board_nominee_questioned_for_jewish_background_in_appointment

 

“Sacred Faces” – A Photographer Evokes the Universal Human Spirit

There are hundreds of photographic images of Buddhas and Christ figures, Virgin Marys and Saints, and real-life human beings including a meditating 70ish woman graced with a beatific face, and a 93 year-old Terezin, Auschwitz and death march survivor.

There is a haunting shot of the “Shoe Memorial” in Budapest where thousands of Jews were shot and drowned in the Danube River by the fascistic Hungarian Arrow Cross militiamen, as well as Hebrew inscribed weathered tombstones in the ancient Prague Jewish cemetery, a secret small synagogue in Terrezin at the end of a driveway with magnificent Hebrew calligraphy calling upon God for redemption from the Nazi horror, and relief details and spires of countless churches in Poland, Prague and Germany.

Taken together these images reflect the diversity of human spiritual expression across time, place and culture, each image illuminated as if by a perpetual flame from within, captured by a gifted and inspired photographer who, a year ago in his 71st year, saw by accident the face of a Buddha that captured his soul as he walked in his neighborhood.

Inspired by a Koryo Buddhist painting entitled “15,000 Buddhas,” Andy Romanoff had an idea, to create an ever-expanding oeuvre of an additional 15,000 photographic images (more or less) of a diversity of religious icons, each representing an unknown artist’s sense of the sacred, and when taken together build a house of spiritual yearning for enlightenment and transcendent oneness.

Andy Romanoff is a Chicago-born Jew and a member of my synagogue community. He views the world as a Jew and with a larger universal vision. He has enjoyed a long career in Hollywood as a camera operator, a cinematographer and an inventor of camera equipment and technology that has enabled photographers to capture images in previously inaccessible environments.

Andy has now embarked upon the artistic and spiritual journey of his life, to record the world’s great religious traditions’ sacred iconography and place them into the context of the whole of humanity’s vision.

Andy calls his photographic enterprise “Sacred Faces.” An exhibit of some of his initial photographs opened in Los Angeles this past Saturday night, February 22, in the Shatto Chapel of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

The show includes many large framed photographs and a projected show onto a large screen of more than 140 images flowing into and out of each other against a background of contemplative music. When the cycle of photographs concluded, I found myself wanting more. Andy promises to oblige.

The exhibit continues for another five weeks. The senior minister of The First Congregational Church, R. Scott Colglazier, will deliver a sermon each Sunday morning through Easter Sunday focusing on one photograph, using it as a sacred text and then reflecting on a specific religious or spiritual theme that the image evokes, such as humility, gratitude, peace, suffering, and love.

This is an exhibit one should see. It is also an exhibit that ought to travel to the great cities of the world because it is moving, inspirational and universal, and it compresses the multitude of spiritual images into a single expression of faith and longing.

Avishai Artsy of KCRW (89.9 FM LA) reported on the exhibit last Friday and interviewed Andy. You can hear the story here:

http://blogs.kcrw.com/whichwayla/2015/02/sacred-faces-finds-inspiration-in-religious-imagery

You can see many of Andy’s images here:

http://andyromanoff.zenfolio.com/sacred

Enjoy!

Can Israel be a Jewish State and a True Democracy?

One month before the Israeli election, on Tuesday, February 17 in Tel Aviv, hundreds of journalists, political leaders, diplomats, and opinion-makers attended the “Israel Conference on Democracy” sponsored by the New Israel Fund, the Begin Heritage Center, the Israel Democracy Institute, and the ANU movement for social change. Reported on TLVI by Shoshi Shmuluvitz, I thought it important enough to pass the highlights of her report along to you in this blog.

One central focus of the conference was the future of the “Nation State Bill” and how the upcoming Israeli election will determine whether or not the Israeli government will pass this law.

This Basic Law proposal would define Israel as the “Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Introduced into the Knesset by Israeli right wing parties in 2011, its purpose is to prevent Israel from becoming a bi-national state.

The law says that the right to self-determination in Israel would be unique to the Jewish people, that the state of Israel should establish ethnic communities in which every resident can preserve its culture and heritage, that the Hebrew language would be the only official language of the state while Arabic would have special status, that the Hebrew calendar would become the official national calendar, and that Jewish law would serve as an inspiration to Israeli legislators.

Daniel Sokatch, the CEO of the New Israel Fund, a leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israeli citizens, described the serious challenge to the nature of the state of Israel that this proposed law presents:

“The Nation State Bill puts the state, which has to be the neutral arbiter for all citizens, on the side of one bloc of citizens, and upends the fundamental principle that was integral to Israel’s founding, that Israel was a Jewish homeland and a democratic state that provided equal citizenship for all. The Nation State Bill would make the Jewish part always outweigh the democratic part, and the democratic part subservient to the Jewish part. This is not only unnecessary but dangerous because the bill recasts the character of the state.”

Avram Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset and a former head of the Jewish Agency, warned that there is a significant distinction between a “Jewish state” and “a state of the Jews.” A “State of the Jews” is a place where Jews can live and be the majority. The “Jewish state” is a state that discriminates in favor of one group against another.

Ahmad Tibi is an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset and one of ten Deputy Knesset Speakers. He describes himself as Arab-Palestinian in nationality and Israeli in citizenship. He observed that Israel runs 3 types of regimes:

The first is democratic for 80% of the population that is the Jewish majority.

The second discriminates against 20% of the population (the Arab Palestinian population who are Israeli citizens) in all areas except voting. He says there is no equality between Jews and Arabs in the areas of budget, education, services, housing starts, and industry.

The third is a non-democracy in the West Bank under the authority of the military administration that treats the Arab non-Israeli citizen population very differently than it does  the Jewish Israeli citizen settlement populations.

MK Tibi said that “A state that runs the 2nd discriminatory regime and the 3rd non-democratic regime cannot gain the status of a true democracy, yet Israel demands that the world recognize it only by the first kind of society that is democratic.”

Tzipi Livni, running with Yitzhak Herzog on the Zionist List in the upcoming election, said:

“The Prime Minister can’t go to a synagogue in France and tell the French that together we’re fighting against ISIS in the name of western values like equality when a few weeks earlier he refused to say that those should be the values of the state of Israel. And then he undermines our democracy, undermines our values, undermines the legitimacy of Israel, and undermines the part of the world that defends those rights.”

Why has this Nation State Bill become such a hot-button issue now?

Sokatch explained:

“There’s a deep-rooted sense of fear and insecurity that creates an atmosphere in which those in power want to stifle dissent and roll back democratic norms to something that is unfamiliar to those of us who want to be part of the liberal democratic family of nations.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he continued, “that they care about the future of Israel; and foremost in their mind is the security of the state. The only way, however, to continue Israel’s future strength is as a modern, liberal, open democratic society that is also a homeland for the Jewish people.”

What is so disturbing about this Nation State Bill is that the value of democracy is being questioned and even assaulted by significant elements of Israeli society, and that not only presents  problems for Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, but it erodes the legitimacy of the Jewish state in the eyes of the western world.

Purim Lessons for Jews in 2015

It is Rosh Chodesh Adar and that means Purim is coming in a particularly difficult time for Jews and the state of Israel.

Given the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, the brutality and threat of Islamic extremists, the Iran nuclear negotiations, the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the threat of another Palestinian Intifida, the contested Israeli election, the battle for the soul of the state of Israel and the American Jewish community, one can argue that Purim offers us necessary relief on the one hand and intensified angst on the other.

Truth to tell, Purim should make every Jew feel very uncomfortable, despite the joy and care-free spirit of the celebration, the masquerade and sweet hamantaschen. The story of Esther, though celebrating the victory of the Jews of ancient Persia over Haman’s genocidal intentions, has an intensely dark side for us Jews that we ignore at our peril.

The book of Esther is a challenge to liberal Jewish moral values, and it shows that the human being is capable of just about anything:

“…on the thirteenth day of…Adar…the very day on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to get them in their power, the opposite happened and the Jews got their enemies in their power…Throughout the provinces of King Ahashuerus, the Jews mustered in their cities to attack those who sought their hurt…So the Jews struck at their enemies with the sword, slaying and destroying;…. In the fortress Shushan the Jews killed a total of 500 men… [and] they disposed of their enemies, killing seventy-five thousand of their foes….” (Esther 9:6-10, 16)

How do we modern liberal Jews justify Mordecai’s and the Jews of Persia’s blood-revenge? Though the Esther story’s historicity is suspect, this terrifying tale describes what can and has happened to Jews in exile, and it warns what can happen in any society, even Jewish society, when power falls into the hands of one group.

History has shown that our having our own state has not shielded us from committing moral crimes. Pastor Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the great figures of the 20th century, reminds us about the dangers of power:

“All power is a peril to justice…and the pride and self-righteousness of powerful nations are a greater hazard to their success than the machinations of their foes.”

Israel is a great democracy, but Israel’s military administration of the West Bank is not democratic. There are two systems are at work in the West Bank; one for Jewish settlers and another for Palestinian Arabs.

Though the Jewish response to their Persian enemies in the Esther story is not the story of Israel’s military justice in the West Bank, justice there is compromised by the two sets of standards for Jews and Arabs, and we Jews cannot turn a blind eye by justifying the status quo policy of occupation on the basis of divine right, ideology or security. Peter Beinart put it well this week in Haaretz (February 18, 2015):

“Israel is a decent country composed of decent young men and women who, in the West Bank, are obliged to police people who lack basic rights. And in such circumstances, decent people do indecent things. ‘We are making the lives of millions unbearable,’ declares one former Shin Bet head, Carmi Gillon, in the film ‘The Gatekeepers.’ In the West Bank, Israel has become ‘a brutal occupation force,’ notes another, Avraham Shalom. A third, Yuval Diskin, calls the occupation a ‘colonial regime.’ These men don’t hate Israel; they have dedicated their lives to protecting it…they are discussing the real Israel, not the one [others] have constructed in their minds.”

On Purim Jews are called upon to drink so heavily that we can no longer distinguish between the evil Haman and the virtuous Mordecai.

Do we really need alcohol to remind us that we so easily can assume the identity of Haman in the midst of our stupor? We need only to open our eyes and regard the reality of our situation. Yes, actions in our self-defense as a nation are morally justifiable even though mistakes and excess have resulted in suffering, but our gratuitously perpetrating evil as a matter of policy, which the occupation has become, is not justifiable.

Rather than Purim numbing us with hard drink and masquerade to the truth of our situation and human nature, this holiday arrives each year to remind us of the darkness lurking in every human heart and soul, and that our moral and ethical mandate as Jews, who have been graced with power for the first time in two thousand years, is to be exquisitely sensitive to the suffering of the “other,” to avoid becoming hard-hearted as a people, and to cease the infliction of gratuitous suffering.

Bibi is Irresponsibly Shaking Up American Jewish Bi-Partisan Support for Israel

The American Jewish community, American rabbis who normally do not speak critically of Israeli actions, members of Congress who have been part of a bi-partisan bloc of support for Israel and the Israeli Prime Minister for decades, are all being tested as never before by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because of his ill-advised, ill-timed and self-serving visit to the United States Congress in two weeks.

Israel’s security has historically depended upon American congressional bi-partisan support and the support of the President of the United States. Though most observers do not believe that the rock-solid relationship between Israel and the United States will ultimately suffer, Bibi has created a mess in Washington, D.C. He may say that his only motivation in coming in two weeks to speak on the unprecedented invitation of Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner only two weeks before a critically important and contested Israeli election is to remind Congress and the American people of the deadly danger of Iran gaining nuclear capability, history suggests otherwise. Bibi used another speech before Congress in another Israeli election campaign to send a strong election campaign message to Israeli voters that he and only he is capable among all candidates and parties for Israeli leadership of standing before the world and protecting Israel from the throng of hostile nations in Israel’s neighborhood.

In this election, PM Netanyahu wants to change the subjects that are in the minds and hearts of Israeli voters who by all polls are far more concerned about the growing economic gap between the rich and the poor, the vanishing middle class, the stranglehold of the Orthodox religious parties on marriage, divorce, conversion and burial in the state of Israel, the badly damaged international reputation of Israel as a consequence of Netanyahu’s policies, the social and political divide between mizrachim and ashkenazim, the growing alienation of non-Jewish Israeli citizens from the state of Israel, the lack of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the growing extremism of the Jewish settler movement, and a host of other domestic issues that this current government has failed to address adequately.

Bibi has come to the conclusion that if he can keep Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS, and Hamas on the front burner and in the minds of Israeli voters, and if he can frighten Israelis into thinking that only he can assure Israel’s security needs, then he will be re-elected Israel’s Prime Minister which is what he wants above all other things including, in my view, the best interests of Israel itself.

A former Israeli Ambassador to Turkey was speaking in Istanbul after the Gaza war to the Jewish community there, and he was asked what Netanyahu is most concerned about.

“Survival!” he said. The crowd cheered and he realized that they misunderstood him. He explained that Bibi wasn’t interested most in Israel’s survival but in his own as Prime Minister, and that above all else he desired to win re-election. The former ambassador was booed.

Yes, PM Netanyahu is deeply concerned about Iran and he has done everything possible to raise the world’s attention to the real threat of Iran becoming nuclear. He deserves credit for this, and I am happy to give it to him. But, he is not alone in his concern. President Obama has brought the western nations along with the United States to stop Iran’s march towards nuclear capability. Bibi, however, trusts no one and especially not President Obama.

We do not know as yet whether or not President Obama and the coalition of nations will succeed in reaching a negotiated agreement on principles with Iran before the end of March. That will be known shortly and then sanctions can be tightened if they do not succeed, which is what the President has promised and the US Congress is prepared to do – with all options still on the table!

PM Netanyahu could have waited until after the Israeli election and after the March deadline for negotiating principles to be determined with Iran, if they can be, before coming to the United States. He could have waited to be certain that President Obama approved the invitation from Speaker Boehner before he accepted it – but no, he arrogantly did not.

Given the way his visit to the Congress was put together by former American Republican operative Ron Prosser, now Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, and Republican leadership who enjoy nothing more than slapping down this President and, while they are at it, driving a wedge between Jewish Democratic congressional representatives and the American Jewish community on support for Israel. It should be clear that Bibi’s motivations to come to the US at precisely this time are largely political as the Israeli election approaches in one month.

The following article from The Guardian describes well the current mood in the American Jewish community, among prominent American rabbis, Jewish organizational leadership, and Jewish congressional representatives.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/14/netanyahu-congress-reaction-jewish-leaders-boehner

Being There – Parashat Mishpatim

More than twenty years ago I read a wonderful book the title of which I’ve never forgotten because it states such a profound and obvious truth – Where ever you go – There you are! The book was written by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The volume is both an instructional guide on how to meditate, how to sit, and how to breathe, how to calm the mind and live in the present, and it is about the physical, mental and emotional health benefits that meditators attain over time.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn wrote that we are who we are everywhere we go, that we reveal ourselves fully all the time whether we’re aware of doing so or not, in all of our relationships, at home and in the work place, in our most private moments and in the crowd.

I read the book when Barbara, our then-young sons and I spent a week one summer in a home loaned to us by friends on Malibu’s famed-Broad Beach.

Each morning I awoke early before everyone else, made a strong cup of coffee and walked out on the sand to a bluff to sit on a weathered wooden bench where I’d look at the ocean, smell the morning salt air, listen to the waves, and read.

The book inspired me to begin meditating, and I did so for a year fairly religiously, and though I haven’t continued in a rigorous way since, I still find that I can, even for just a few moments at a time, settle myself down as I learned to do so long ago and feel refreshed and more present.

I recalled those summer days this week as I studied Parashat Mishpatim and encountered one special verse:

“The Eternal One said to Moses, Go up to me to the mountain – and be there, and I will give you the stone tablets and the Torah and the commandment that I inscribed [that you may] teach them.” (Exodus 14:19)

“עלה אלי ההרה – go up to Me to the mountain, והויה שם and be there.

A redundancy to be sure! God told Moses to go to the top of a mountain. Once there, where else would he be? And why was it necessary for God to say to him also “be there?”

I would imagine that God wanted Moses to pay special attention, to open his sensual and spiritual antennae as he received Torah that he may absorb it as fully as he was capable as the preeminent and most intimate of God’s prophets. God knew, of course, that Moses was human, that he, like all of us, was distractible.

The Kotzker Rebbe commented that sometimes we expend a great deal of effort to reach an exalted goal – a great job, success, wealth, fame, love, family, friends, community – but once we achieve that which we thought we wanted sometimes we no longer want or need it at all, that it’s wrong and destructive for us.

It may be that we’ve lost so much of ourselves in the climbing that we’re no longer in touch with who we really are, having become fragmented and lost along the way.

In moments such as these, what do we do? I believe we need to remember that no one achievement, no one person in our lives, and no one identity, and certainly not wealth or fame, is ever the totality of who we are as individuals.

The Kotzker taught that the goal of our lives cannot be merely to ascend and to reach for an exalted summit, but to “be there,” to be here now and nowhere else.

The Kotzker continued that since God can be everywhere there never was a need for Moses to have had to go up onto the mountain at all, that all Moses ever needed to do was to stop where he was and achieve an ascent in that very place. There he could have received the Torah.

So too is it for us.

May we be like children awakening in the morning, fresh, alive, vibrant, and filled with wonder at the fact of living itself, at the miracle of simply being here.

Shabbat shalom!

Source for the insights of the Kotzker Rebbe – cited in Larry Kushner’s and Kerry Olitzky’s “Sparks Beneath The Surface,” Jason Aaronson Inc,. New Jersey. 1993. page 91.

Register to Vote in the World Zionist Congress Elections and Vote ARZA Slate

One of the most important steps that Diaspora Jews can take to support Israel’s democracy, pluralism and bond with world Jewry and the state of Israel is to vote in this year’s World Zionist Congress election that is open for registration and voting through April 15, 2015.

The only requirements for voting are that you must be Jewish and at least 18 years of age.

I ask you to click now onto the link below, register and vote for the ARZA Slate (i.e. the Association of Reform Zionists of America). Please do not delay.

I ask for your vote as a delegate on the ARZA Slate (I am #25) that includes many distinguished America rabbis and leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism representing 1.3 million American Jews.

All the information you need to know about ARZA’s platform can be found on this website. You can also register to vote and actually vote at the same time here: https://www.reformjews4israel.org.

The Slate of ARZA Delegates can be found at this site: https://www.reformjews4israel.org/slate/.

Important note: There is a one-time only administrative charge of $5 for young Jews between the ages of 18 and 30, and $10 for Jews over 30. This is required by the World Zionist Organization to administer this election.

Questions:

1. What is the World Zionist Congress?

The Parliament of the Jewish People representing all of world Jewry.

  1. What is the ARZA Platform?
  • Support for gender equality in the State of Israel
  • Support for religious equality in the State of Israel
  • Support for peace through commitment to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  1. Why does it matter that you vote for ARZA?

ARZA currently holds 39% of the US representation in the World Zionist Congress based on the results of the last election for the WZC. Consequently, over the past five years $20 million has been given to the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) to support its programs, congregations, rabbis, outreach, and social justice work. The Israeli government has also provided 4 new buildings for Reform communities around Israel because of our large American Reform Zionist representation.

The government of the state of Israel does not give any money directly to the Reform movement except through special programs. However, the government does fund generously orthodox schools and synagogues. This is not only unfair, it is a violation of the spirit of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence. We American Reform Zionists support our movement and others in Israel who are struggling through the courts to be treated equally under the law.

In the meantime, we must raise money to support our Israeli Reform movement, and our success in this WZC election is one sure way to do that.

Note that the Israeli Reform movement is a significant leader in support of the Israel Religious Action Center in Jerusalem and our 45 congregations, 2 kibbutzim, strong youth programs, nursery schools, Tali schools, and pre-military programs all over the country.

Our movement supports civil marriage unions in Israel without having to involve the Chief Rabbinate, egalitarianism at the Western Wall, anti-Racism laws, anti-Poverty activism, and many other social justice causes.

A vote for the ARZA slate will also deny funds for settlement building in the West Bank.

ARZA needs your vote and I am asking that you and every Jewish individual in your household register today at the above site, pay the $5 or $10 administrative fee depending on your age, and then vote for the ARZA Slate. Thank you in advance!

Rabbi John Rosove, delegate – ARZA Slate in WZC Election

PS – If you have trouble voting, please call 844-413-2929 or email AZM@election-america.com

 

If This Enrages You – Do Something About It

I have printed Anat Hoffman’s most recent letter in the Israeli Religious Action Center’s weekly email “The Pluralist” because, if you are like me, this will enrage you and inspire you to do something. If so, then please sign the IRAC’s Petition and send this blog to your friends asking them to do the same.

Sign Our Petition to the Interior Ministry

Dear Friends,

Israel is planning to deport two of its own citizens. Two children, David (14) and Michal (8).  Their crime?  Their Israeli father died before their non-Jewish mother was naturalized as an Israeli citizen.

Their father, Gershon, spent several years working as an Israeli emissary in Uzbekistan, where he met and fell in love with Valentina. Their first-born son was named David, after Gershon’s father, a Holocaust survivor.

They moved back to Israel and lived near Gershon’s large extended family. Gershon filed the necessary paperwork for Valentina and David to obtain Israeli citizenship. As the bureaucratic wheels turned slowly, and while the couple was expecting their second child, Gershon was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Gershon’s illness claimed his life the following year, while Valentina, David, and the couple’s newborn daughter Michal were visiting in Uzbekistan. Gershon’s last wish was for Valentina to return to Israel and raise their children as Israelis.

However, soon after Gershon’s death, the Interior Ministry closed Valentina’s file (“non-Jewish widows are not entitled to citizenship”). In 2013, IRAC filed a petition to request temporary residency for  Valentina. The response finally came last week. Even though David and Michal are recognized as Israeli citizens, Valentina was ordered to leave the country. Separating David and Michal from their mother would be unimaginable. So all three will have to leave Israel.

We have filed an urgent appeal with the Ministry of Justice, based on a precedent IRAC won in 2009, when we made history by proving in court that marriage continues after death. Our victory created the “widow procedure” which states that a non-Jewish spouse can continue his/her naturalization process (taking 5 years) after the death of the Israeli partner.

The appeal includes a letter from David and Michal’s 81-year old grandmother, asking to be allowed to live out the rest of her life surrounded by all of her grandchildren, and a letter from the children’s 16-year old half-sister who wrote: “My father served his country proudly, and his father barely survived the Holocaust. Why am I allowed to live in Israel but my brother and sister are not?”

David and Michal deserve to live in this country together with their mother and their entire extended family.

Help us fight for them at this critical point. Sign our petition to the Minister of the Interior to demand that this family be allowed to stay in Israel.

An avalanche of signatures can make the difference.

Yours,

Anat

Sign Our Petition to the Interior Ministry

Click here to sign IRAC’s petition to the Minister of the Interior to demand that David, Michal and Valentina be allowed to stay in Israel together with their entire extended family.

Lunch with LA Islamic Center Imam Asim Bukosvoy

Educated, soft-spoken, kind-hearted, moderate, and charming – Imam Asim Bukosvoy believes in interfaith dialogue and in developing inter-ethnic relationships with all communities in Los Angeles.

This was my third meeting with Imam Bukosvoy. He was one of a number of clergy we invited from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities of LA – Latino, Korean, African American, white, and Jewish – to my synagogue’s (Temple Israel of Hollywood) celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in our sanctuary just prior to the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.

Since our celebration I have reached out to all the visiting clergy who participated in this anniversary event to continue to build on our relationship.

Imam Bukosvoy hails from Istanbul, Turkey. He came to the United States 5 years ago to study, earn his undergraduate and then  Masters Degree in Religion from the Claremont Colleges. He is also working on his doctorate. He is 39, married with a 9 month-old baby boy, and when he speaks of his wife and young son a light glows from within.

Asim is articulate, intelligent, sophisticated, and painfully aware of the conflict confronting the Islamic world. He is a moderate, and he explained to me that the Islamic Center of Los Angeles, founded by the late Maher Hatout, established itself as a center to advocate for moderation and against extremist Islamic fundamentalism.

Imam Bukosvoy is deeply disturbed by ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all political movements that claim Koranic text and Sharia Law as justification of their actions, which he believes is a distortion and manipulation of Islam for violent and hateful purposes.

I shared with him that I am an activist with J Street, that I am pro-Israel and a passionate American Zionist, who believes that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in a two-state solution. I told that I am one of three national co-chairs of our J Street Rabbinic Cabinet of nearly 1000 rabbis, that close to 100 Congressional Representatives and Senators are J Street endorsed in Washington, D.C., that our goal is to advocate for an active American policy to help Israel and the Palestinians find a road to a two-state solution. I told him as well that I never hesitate to write or speak publicly about this issue.

Asim understood and seemed supportive of that view.

Then I said: “Asim – it is more important for people like you to speak out than for people like me.”

He looked at me quizzically. I explained: “Your faith is followed by 1.5 billion people; mine has between 15 and 17 million worldwide. The march in Paris following the murders of the 12 cartoon journalists and the 4 Jews in the kosher market included all French citizens, and many Muslim leaders.”

“What is necessary [recalling Tom Friedman’s op-ed in the NY Times] is not a million person march through the streets of Paris, but a million Muslim march against Islamic extremism through the streets of Paris and elsewhere.”

Asim listened. I acknowledged that “any Muslim leader like himself takes on far greater personal risk than a Jew who speaks out in this country. I am sure there are people who would not hesitate to strike out against outspoken Muslim leaders like you who advocate for a liberal interpretation of Islamic law.”

He agreed.

Our lunch went on for nearly two hours and I am pleased that we felt not only a warm personal connection that hopefully will continue to grow, but we shared common values about peace, justice, compassion, and the importance of inter-group dialogue and relationships.

I closed our lunch by saying the following to Asim: “You know – the opposite of peace isn’t war. It’s Truth. If we want Truth, then we must prepare for war. If we want peace, then we must prepare for compromise and honorable acceptance of the other. No one has all the Truth anyway – only God possesses that – and anyone who claims they do are essentially wrong.”

We parted and hoped for more contact soon.

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