Bullshit – In Defense of Israel – The internal threat to the Zionist dream – Adelson in bed with Trump

I recommend the following articles and videos

“On Bullshit” – A video of Harry Frankfurt – a professor of philosophy at Princeton university who has written extensively on such matters as “bullshit” and “truth.” Here he makes a convincing 5-minute argument that bullshit can be neither true nor false; hence, the bullshitter is someone whose principal aim—when uttering or publishing bullshit—is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression that something is being or has been done, words that are neither true nor false, and so obscure the facts of the matter being discussed. In contrast, the liar must know the truth of the matter under discussion, in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie; while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to their own agenda. https://vimeo.com/167796382

“Why We Fight” – A video of Rabbi Ammi Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, in New York of his sermon on May 20, 2016 – “Why We Fight” is an eloquent defense of Israel. Rabbi Hirsch is American born who made aliyah with his family in the 9th grade. He served in the IDF as a tank commander, then became a lawyer at the London School of Economics, and was then ordained a rabbi at HUC-JIR. For a number of years he served as the Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America. https://vimeo.com/167505737

“The Zionist Dream Is Threatened From Within. Here’s What What Israel Must Do to Save It” – By Ari Shavit- Haaretz, Sunday, May 29, 2016.

“Next year, Israel will mark landmark anniversaries of some of its greatest political, diplomatic and military milestones. It’s time for the reasonable majority to reject the people and forces bringing calamity upon us…. Israel is a land of seemingly limitless human treasures and lodes of goodwill. Israel is a small nation, whose small number of dedicated people can make a real difference, enact real change. If we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, we can save the Jewish democratic state. If we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, we can renew our sense of nationhood, secure our sovereignty – and at long last define our borders. With a loving heart and a common purpose, we can return Israel to its rightful role – an admirable, enlightened nation.” Ari Shavit is a journalist and the writer of the powerful ‘My Promised Land.’” http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.721627

“Adelson’s Money Puts Us All in Bed with Trump” – by Jane Eisner – The Forward, May 19, 2016
Now that Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest Jews on the planet, has endorsed Donald Trump and pledged to spend lots of his considerable fortune to elect the presumed Republican nominee for president, how should the Jewish community react?

Donald Trump and the Jews

We Jews are an intense and nervous people. We feel our politics deeply, this year being no exception.

It’s safe to say, I think, that the vast majority of the American Jewish community has been rattled by the thought of Trump reaching the White House.

I’ve been asking myself for some time (I’ve posted two blogs on this theme in the last week alone, indicative of my anxiety), what does the Trump candidacy mean for us Jews?

First, the positive – yes, there’s a positive.

Not in some time have I sensed Jewish communal solidarity against Trump. From a Jewish values perspective, Trump represents the worst of our people’s values concerning justice, compassion, welcoming the stranger, and concern for the most vulnerable in our community. His is a dog eat dog world of ego and power, of immodesty and braggadocio. Yet, having said all this, it’s possible to feel a measure of gratitude to The Donald for his bringing most of us Republican and Democratic Jews together. And so, as Shabbat falls shortly, let us sing – Hineh mah tov u-ma nayim shevet achim gam yachad!

Now the bad news – In a recent Huffington Post article, it was revealed that American Nazis and the KKK regard Trump as their standard bearer, just as do some right wing Jews and many members of the ultra-Orthodox community.

I don’t know whether Trump is an anti-Semite. One might think that given his roots in New York, his years in real estate, his second home in Palm Beach, a converted daughter and a Jewish son-in-law, that we have nothing to worry about, that he loves the Jews. He said so! Yet, Trump brings up old anti-Semitic canards left and right, such as saying a few months ago to a room full of wealthy Republican Jews that they probably won’t like him because they’re used to buying candidates and he doesn’t need their money.

Then there’s Sheldon Adelson who plopped down $100 million for Trump’s campaign (I guess he needs the money now!) after deciding that Trump will be a right-wing advocate for Israel like himself, and there are also many members of the Republican Jewish Coalition who prefer Trump over Hillary.

I don’t believe that history necessarily repeats itself so much as themes reverberate that are disturbing to the Jewish memory of the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. Times are different. We have a state of Israel today and we aren’t victims nor vulnerable as we were in Germany eighty years ago.

Yet, Trump’s call to indiscriminately bar all Muslims from our country, calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, sending 11 million non-documented Hispanic immigrants out of the country, his uber-testosterone-locker-room misogyny and sexism, his condescension to the disabled, to prisoners of war, and his cavalier and dismissive reductionist assaults on the accomplishments and lives of his opponents calling them Pocahontas, Lyin’ Ted, passive Zeb, little Mario, crazy Bernie, and crooked Hillary, would be ridiculous if it weren’t so insulting and disturbing.

What does Trump’s candidacy mean relative to the state of Israel? He said that he will be a neutral deal maker between Israel and the Palestinians because, after all, he’s a businessman and makes the best deals. Of course, he doesn’t understand the complexities of the Middle East, its history and challenges, being the Grand Marshal of New York’s Israel Day parade notwithstanding.

The Clintons, on the other hand, have proven themselves to be great friends of the people and state of Israel. In critical biographies of Hillary and in her most recent memoir “Hard Choices,” it’s clear that she knows Israel’s leaders well, considers them friends, respects, understands and supports the state of Israel as few American leaders can claim to do.

A nechemta (a word of comfort) – If history is a guide, Hillary will earn upwards of 80 per cent of the Jewish vote in November, and in that sense the election will be good for American Jews, assuming she wins, which I expect. Additionally, our overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton could isolate Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition who have revealed themselves to be out of step with the dominant Jewish values held by American Jews and with the vast majority of the American Jewish community.

* The Jewish vote has gone with the Democratic party in all presidential elections in the past 92 years by significant majorities: 1924 (51/29), 1928 (72/28), 1932 (82/18), 1936 (85/13), 1940 (90/10), 1944(90/10), 1948 (75/10), 1952 (64/36), 1956 (60/40), 1960 (82/18), 1964 (90/10), 1968 (81/17), 1972 (65/35), 1976 (71/27), 1980 (45/39), 1984 (67/31), 1988 (64/35), 1992 (80/11), 1996 (78/16), 2000 (79/19), 2004 (76/24), 2008 (78/22), 2012 (69/30)

Note: The views I have expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of my synagogue or any other organization.

Leadership insights from Judaism and the ages

In my last blog “Trump fails every standard of great leadership,” I presented ideas of what I believe makes for great leadership.

Below are passages gleaned from Jewish tradition and from thinkers beyond the Jewish world that address what constitutes great leadership.

Pick from each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and experienced, and I will appoint them as your heads. -Deuteronomy 1:13

Each [leader] must possess seven characteristic, as follows: wisdom, humility, fear of God, hatred of unjust gain, love of truth, respected, and of upstanding reputation. -Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sanhedrin 2:7

Anyone who is wise, humble, clear-headed, and fearful of sin…may be made a judge/leader in his/her city. -Tosafot Sanhedrin 7:1

“…  Such a person is guilty of profaning the Divine name, if he, for instance, makes a purchase and does not immediately pay for it, in the case where he has the money and the sellers demand it, but he stalls them; or if he indulges in riotous behavior and in keeping undesirable company; or if he speaks roughly to his fellows and does not receive them courteously but shows his temper and the like…He must endeavor to be scrupulously strict in his behavior and go beyond the letter of the law. If he does this, speaking kindly to his fellows, showing himself sociable and amiable with a welcome for everyone, taking insult but not giving it; respect them, even those who make light of him; honest in his dealings by going beyond the letter of the law in all his actions until all praise and love him, enraptured by his deed – such a person has sanctified the name of God.  ….” Rambam, Yesodei Hatorah 5:11

Who is the leader of all leaders? One who can make an enemy into one’s friend.-Avot d’Rabbi Natan, 23

When a person is able to take abuse with a smile, that person is worthy to become a leader. -Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

Rabbi Eliezar said: every leader who leads the community with mildness will be privileged to lead them in the next world [too]. -Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 92a

According to one opinion, the character of a generation is determined by its leader. According to the other opinion, the character of its leader is determined by its generation. -Talmud Bavli, Arakhin 17a

Show me the leader and I will know his men. Show me the men and I will know their leader. -Arthur W. Newcomb

The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. Servant-leadership model is one that promotes such values as collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment. -Dr. Steven Windmueller, Professor of International Relations

The best test [of a servant-leader] and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? –Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of modern servant-leadership movement

The true lawgiver ought to have a heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself. -Edmund Burke

Leadership is a passionate activity. It begins with a warm gratitude toward that which you have inherited and a fervent wish to steward it well. It is propelled by an ardent moral imagination, a vision of a good society that can’t be realized in one lifetime. It is informed by seasoned affections, a love of the way certain people concretely are and a desire to give all a chance to live at their highest level. This kind of leader is warm-blooded and leads with full humanity. -David Brooks, NY Times columnist

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”-Emanuel James “Jim” Rohn

A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss is interested in himself or herself,  a leader is interested in the group. -Russell H. Ewing

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. –John Quincy Adams

Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory and when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. -Nelson Mandela

…American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all. -President Barack Obama

Trump fails every standard for great leadership

In evaluating people’s suitability for positions of leadership in politics, government, diplomacy, business, non-profit organizations, education, and religion, I believe that certain qualities are essential for great leadership. Talent, knowledge of one’s field and skill in fulfilling one’s vision are critically important, of course, but so too are a leader’s moral qualities because the leader affects and influences the moral character of a community and the people who identify with that community.

Great leaders are honest, respect truth, have a love for humanity, and are inspired by the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, justice, compassion, and peace.

Great leaders are humble, empathetic and work on behalf of the dignity of every human being in their immediate orbit of authority and on behalf of humanity as a whole.

Great leaders are guided by a sacred commitment to improve the human condition. They are courageous in speaking truth to power regardless of consequences to themselves.

Great leaders are studious, thoughtful, self-reflective, and self-critical. They are idealistic and pragmatic in pursuit of their goals. They are open to compromise for the sake of progress and furthering the common good even as they hold onto their larger vision and maintain their idealism.

Great leaders are hopeful and positive. They appeal to the best in the human condition in word and deed. They are trustworthy and say what they mean and mean what they say. They change positions when new information and circumstances require it. They are not slaves to their ideas or ideology. They are forward-looking and flexible. They are tough and unflappable when their fundamental principles are threatened.

By all measures, Donald Trump fails as a great leader. Though the others in the race for President, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, are imperfect (indeed – we all are), on a continuum Trump is the quintessential ‘anti-leader’ and not even close in his qualifications and character for the presidency in comparison with the other two candidates.

Though I do not agree on most policy matters with Republican leaders, I respect the Republican Party as a legitimate option for America. In our two-party system, the country is better off when ideas conflict and our leaders are able to debate thoughtfully those differences and then find common ground and move forward on behalf of nurturing a more compassionate, just and fair country.

I respect those Republicans who hold to their principles. In this light, I have been deeply disappointed by Republican leaders who only weeks ago publicly called Trump a fraud, bigot, corrupt, and dangerous, and a candidate who appeals habitually to the very worst in the human condition, but who have decided for partisan reasons to put the interests of this new party of Trump over the best interests of the country and endorse him for President.

I know some Republicans who have decided not to vote for President nor to contribute to Trump’s campaign because they find him unqualified for that high office and morally detestable, and instead support down-ticket Republican candidates. I respect them for their integrity and principled opposition to Trump. I have no respect for the hypocrisy of those who have now endorsed Trump despite their recent charges about his character and leadership deficiencies.

That being said, I am comforted to have read this week in a cover story in the Sunday New York Times (“Donor’s Aversion to Trump…”, May 22, p. 18) a statement by a leading Republican donor, Michael K. Vlock of Connecticut, who will not vote for or support Trump because of his belief that Trump is a “dangerous…ignorant, amoral, dishonest and manipulative, misogynistic, philandering, hyper-litigious, isolationist, protectionist blowhard.”

I would hope that more Republicans come to the same position as Mr. Vlock. Unfortunately, that is proving not to be the case.

In my next blog, I will post a number of statements from Jewish tradition and other sources that focus on what good leadership requires. It will be evident that Trump violates them in word and deed.

Note: The views I have expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of my synagogue or any other organization.

Hearing aids for baby-boomers – it’s time for a lot of us!

“What? Can you say that again?” I ask.

“Did you hear what I said?” Others ask me.

A confession: I’ve found it increasingly difficult in the last several years to hear people sitting next to or across from me in noisy restaurants. My family has been telling me that I’m missing a lot of what they say. And so, I decided at last that it was time to find out definitively if I had a hearing problem.

First, I went on-line to learn what common symptoms are associated with hearing loss. I was alarmed to discover that I was experiencing many of those symptoms, including frequently asking people to repeat what they’d just said, turning up the TV and car radio volume, not understanding what’s being said in movies, theaters and public gatherings, straining to understand conversations in a group, not hearing easily what’s being said from a different room, not understanding others when I couldn’t see their faces, straining to hear some conversations altogether, not hearing ‘low-talkers’ (i.e. people who speak softly), thinking that many people mumble, and avoiding noisy environments whenever I can.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that one in eight people in the United States (13% – 30 million people) aged 12 years and older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations. 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. Men are more likely than women to report hearing loss. 2% of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. The rate increases to 8.5% for adults aged 55 to 64. Nearly 25% of those aged 65 to 74 and 50% of those 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.

15% of Americans (26 million) between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to noise at work or during leisure activities. Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss that could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30%) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (16%) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.

Reading all this, recognizing that there was clear evidence of my own evolving hearing disability, I decided to see an audiologist. She led me through a series of tests and, indeed, I have high frequency hearing loss. She told me that her own father, a man six years younger than me, has the same problem.

“Does he wear hearing aids?” I asked.

“Of course he does,” she said. “John – if you were my Dad you’d be wearing them too.”

She added that her father has never been happier now that he wears them because now he can easily hear everything clearly.

That did it. I ordered a pair and a week later they arrived.

My mother (z’l), and others too, used to complain to me that hearing aids didn’t work well for them, but that generation of hearing aids is already ancient history. Hearing aids have advanced dramatically over the last decade. They are now digital and connect with an app on IPhones, and are very effective.

For the past two weeks since wearing these little ear pieces (most people don’t notice that I’m wearing them because they are small and their color matches my hair color – increasingly more gray), my life has changed dramatically for the better. I can hear everything now, even sounds I didn’t know I wasn’t hearing.

My devices have three adjustable settings and I can control them either on the ear phones themselves with the push of a tiny button, or on an app on my IPhone; one setting is for normal every-day conversation; another is for restaurants with lots of ambient noise; and the third is for music. I can also listen through the hearing aid to music, news and podcasts wirelessly transmitted from my IPhone.

Above my audiologist’s desk is a powerful quote of Helen Keller: “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.

It’s true! I found that as my hearing worsened, I was gradually stepping away from some conversations I couldn’t hear and just sitting quietly while others conversed. I felt more disengaged, separate, apart, and frustrated. No longer!

If hearing is your problem or the problem of someone you love or someone with whom you work, get yourself tested or encourage them to get tested. If you or they have a hearing deficit, then do yourself, your family, friends and co-workers a favor – get hearing aids.

One problem – hearing aids are not (yet) covered by insurance or Medicare, so be ready to make an investment. Nevertheless, don’t be deterred. It’s worth it and you won’t be sorry.

“Calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to black South Africans” – Leon Jamaine Mithi

Leon Jamaine Mithi is a law student at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He grew up under what he called the “strictest regime of apartheid in South Africa.”

This week he wrote in The Oregonian:

“… I used to support the BDS movement [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], but I withdrew my support after I visited Israel and Palestine (the West Bank). Having been there, having seen what the BDS movement calls “apartheid,” I have to say that calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to black South Africans who suffered under the now defunct system of strict racial segregation… I feel a terrible loss of the true black South African apartheid narrative, because the term has been appropriated to wrongly label Israel when referring to [its] conflict with Palestine. Apartheid was colonialism on steroids. For Israel to be an apartheid state, it would have to be a colonial entity. The comparison of Israel to South Africa, from the view of a South African, is not correct. It would require us to ignore the archeological history of the Jewish people. … It is ahistorical to consider a people with ties stretching over thousands of years to an area as a colonizer … Israelis are not some colonizers from Europe. They are a community that is nation building in an area where they have always lived.” http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/05/calling_israel_an_apartheid_st.html

Six years ago in a response to the charge by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu that Israel is an “apartheid state” Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of South Africa, wrote “An open letter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu” (International Jerusalem Post – November 12-18, 2010):

“…Israel has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws or any of the myriad apartheid laws. To the contrary, Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its peoples, including its more than one million Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, and judge at every level, including that of the Supreme Court. All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multiparty elections. There are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel’s parliament. Arabs and Jews share all public facilities, including hospitals and malls, buses, cinemas and parks, universities and cultural [venues].” https://blimpdeflator.com/tag/apartheid/

The BDS movement insists otherwise and has persuaded unsuspecting sympathizers to believe the apartheid slander.

What is the aim of the BDS movement?

BDS is led by the international Palestinian Solidarity Movement whose aim is to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian land including both the occupied West Bank and the state of Israel itself. These people are not only anti-Israel but most likely also anti-Semitic.

There are, however, supporters and sympathizers of BDS who restrict BDS to Jewish West Bank settlements only, and not to the state of Israel. These people, many of whom are Jews and believe that the state of Israel has a right to exist within the Green Line, are not anti-Israel nor anti-Semitic. The problem is that they are allied with people who are. It is debatable whether BDS is a tactic that can work. I believe it can’t and won’t.

All this being said, it’s true that Arab citizens of Israel within the Green Line don’t enjoy the same benefits and rights that Israeli Jewish citizens enjoy including equal access to government funds and services and the right to live anywhere in the state of Israel. To his great credit, Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin has called upon the government of Israel to address these inequities out of his belief that all citizens of the state, Arab and Jew, are entitled to equal rights and privileges.

At a special Cabinet meeting last December 30, PM Netanyahu promised after a contentious vote that over the next five budgetary years, the Arab sector of Israel would receive a total of 15 billion shekels ($3.8 billion) to develop its infrastructure, housing and construction, employment, education and public transportation as a corrective to past discriminatory policies against the Arab sector. However, despite the PM’s promise, he set preconditions for its implementation. See http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/01/israel-arab-sector-development-plan-buried-netanyahu.html#ixzz48jRgHWdV

Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank are different in status from Israeli Arab citizens. They are not Israeli citizens and don’t enjoy the same protections, rights and privileges as those living in Israel. For them, their fight is and has always been against occupation. We Jews may not like that claim, but it’s true.

While the case can be made that Israel’s often harsh security measures imposed on Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank are a necessary evil in light of Palestinian terrorism, we can’t ignore the truth that Israel’s holding onto this territory for nearly 50 years has had an oppressive impact upon Palestinians and a corrupting moral influence on Israelis.

David Ben Gurion recognized the dangers of the occupation on Israeli democracy and the soul of Israel when he said in 1967 following the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War: “Return [the captured territory] immediately, even if no one wants it back; return it.”

The foundational Zionist principles articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that was signed exactly 68 years ago today (May 15, 1948) did not envision the Jewish people becoming military occupiers, nor did Israel’s founders anticipate the corrosive effects that occupation would have upon both Arabs and Jews.

BDS is no answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and calling Israel an ‘apartheid state’ is a lie. The only adequate response Israel can make is to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority a two-state solution in which all claims are settled and two peoples can live side by side in peace, security and mutual cooperation. The Palestinians will have to transcend their historic knee-jerk rejectionism and compromise on its maximal positions to do this, and Israel will have to compromise and show that it can meet the Palestinians half-way.

Israel at 68 – Today’s test of leadership

I’m reminded every Independence Day of how blessed we Jews are, how privileged we are to be able to do what my grandparents never did – to walk on the soil of the Land of Israel, to build a nation there and be rebuilt through her, to plant and harvest there, to build great cities, communities, universities, and hospitals, to gather in the exiles from the four corners of the earth, and to offer safety and an enriched Jewish life to children who then speak the ancient tongue and carry on what Israel’s pioneers began more than a century ago.

For the Jewish people, the state of Israel is a miracle of our history, and a continuing source of gratitude, fulfillment and joy. The Zionist movement and the Jewish state have restored the Jewish people not only to our homeland but to sovereignty after 2000 years of exile. Israel has returned our people to history.

It has not come easily. We Jews are schooled in both the idealism of the Biblical prophets and the realism of Israel’s pioneers and leaders. With sovereignty has come difficult ethical challenges. We’ve had to weigh competing moral claims and make sacrifices that 2000 years of exile never demanded; how to remain moral despite the compromises that come with sovereignty.

I live and breathe Israel. My family helped to found Petach Tikvah, one of Israel’s first settlements in 1880. My second cousin is now the President of the State. I am always worried about Israel’s security and the safety of our people there, and for many years I’ve also worried about the negative impact that the exercise of power, including the occupation of 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, has had on the state’s Jewish and moral character.

Saying this, I know that Palestinian rejectionism is the primary reason that there’s no peace between Israelis and Palestinians today. I know too that there can be no dignity for Israelis if there’s no dignity for the Palestinians. It should be clear that how this conflict is resolved matters, that our fate as a people is dependent upon the fate of the Palestinian people.

In an op-ed in Haaretz this week, Rabbi Eric Yoffie challenged Israel’s Prime Minister to do what he has so far failed to do, become the leader that Israel so desperately needs:

“Great leaders shape their reputations by making tough calls on big issues. Prime Minister Begin withdrew from Sinai, Rabin committed to Oslo, and Sharon pulled out of Gaza. Right or wrong, they were risk-takers and big-picture leaders. But Netanyahu, a shrewd and calculating politician, likes to put off dealing with the big questions. What is his position on preventing a bi-national state, or on dealing with Hamas, or on stopping the third intifada? We don’t know because he refuses to tell us. Netanyahu is not only cautious but careful to the point of paralysis, usually a hostage to his rightwing base.

But the problem is that his strategy is backfiring. It is true that Israel should not be blamed for the current diplomatic impasse, and Hamas thirsts for Israel’s blood. But absent an Israeli initiative, it is too easy to believe that Israel does not really want peace. Anyone who has spent even a week on an American college campus knows that the problem is not only the Israel-haters in BDS but the anguished questions of Israel-lovers who want to know why Netanyahu continues to build settlements if he really wants a Jewish and democratic Israel. Why, young Jews ask, does the prime minister not put a peace plan on the table? Why does he not tell us what he envisions as Israel’s borders? Why does he not talk of the need to separate from the Palestinians, negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, and, when security can be assured, create two states for two peoples? How can it be in that in Netanyahu’s fourth term as Prime Minister we do not know where he is going or what exactly he wants?”

These are tough questions and serious demands. It is time that the Prime Minister explain himself. If he does, that could be the greatest gift he gives to the Jewish people on this 68th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

Response to Bernard Avishai’s New Yorker Piece on American and Israeli Reform Judaism Challenges

Bernard Avishai’s piece in The New Yorker “A Missed Opportunity to Support Secular Life in Israel” (May 6, 2016) addresses important issues about religion and state in Israel and the American and Israeli Reform movement’s recent support for the new egalitarian prayer space agreed to in an Israeli government compromise. But, I regret that his piece was overly critical of the strategic decisions made by the American and Israeli Reform movements, and misses what is actually happening within Israel.

The following 5 passages require greater context and response:

“When we [Rabbi Rick Jacobs] spoke in late February, in Jerusalem, Jacobs told me that he considers Israel’s state-supported Orthodox rabbinate “one of the most corrupt and corrupting institutions ever to happen in the history of the Jewish people.” But the compromise over the Wall is one of several signs that suggests he is ambivalent about whether some kind of a state-supported rabbinate is not, after all, what makes the Jewish state Jewish.”

I believe that Avishai misstates the Reform movement’s antipathy to the state-supported Orthodox rabbinate and its support for a compromise on the Kotel when he says that our movement is somehow “ambivalent.” Rather, as Rabbi Jacobs himself told him, this position is “strategic.” We recognize that despite great antipathy in Israel felt by the vast majority of Israelis against the official Orthodox Rabbinate, this clearly exclusionary and anti-democratic institution is not about to be abolished. Our Reform movement took a pragmatic decision when we agreed to compromise and thereby create an egalitarian prayer space at the holiest site in Judaism to enable the Jewish people as a whole to pray according to their non-Orthodox customs at the Kotel.

“Jacobs insists that the focus on making headway for Reform rabbis is strategic. He told me that, if he could have civil marriage instead of a dedicated prayer space at the wall, he wouldn’t have to think about it for a second. But it is one thing to advance a more open Judaism as the state’s official religion and another thing entirely to advance an open society for all citizens. Sadly, on the latter effort, the Reform movement may be missing a greater opportunity to make common cause between secular Jews in North America and those in Israel.”

My question to Bernie Avishai is this: ‘How are we missing an opportunity to make common cause with secular Jews in North America and Israel?’

The Israeli Reform movement, supported by the Union for Reform Judaism, is constantly advocating for religious pluralism and diversity before the Israeli courts and Knesset even while our Israeli Reform Rabbis and community leaders are building the Israeli Reform movement’s congregations, schools, youth movement, kibbutzim, social justice work, and pre-army programs. A rich liberal Judaism is taking root in Israel. Yes, it has a long way to go. It currently receives almost no financial help from the Israeli government, though Orthodox yeshivot and synagogues receive close to $1 billion annually from Israeli taxpayers due to the corrupting influence of Orthodox political parties in the Israeli government.

“A Pew Research Center report found that forty per cent of Israelis describe themselves as secular Jews; another twenty-nine per cent see themselves as not religious but “traditional.” (Only about three per cent identify as Reform).”

The Pew report vastly under-reported the commonality felt by Israeli Jews towards the Reform and Conservative movements. In other polls, 30-40% of Israelis said they would attend a Reform or Conservative Synagogue Center if there was one near them. There are currently nearly 50 such Reform centers strategically placed around the country. That amounts to between 1.6 and 2.2 million Israelis who feel that Reform or Conservative Judaism best represents them, their worldview and Jewish values.

“Uri Regev, the head of Hiddush (“Renewal”), a human-rights organization with a focus on religious freedom rather than a strict separation between state and religion, laments the American Reform movement’s focus on rabbinic privileges rather than on citizenship. His organization polled Israeli Jews and found that, not surprisingly, seventy-one per cent support the freedom to marry and divorce independent of the Orthodox rabbinate, while only eleven per cent attach importance to the battle over the Western Wall plaza. “The American Reform movement has been distracted,” he told me.”

Rabbi Regev, a friend, does important work in Israel, but he misses a strategic point. This is not an either-or situation. He is right that civil marriage and divorce is a high priority for most Israelis. The Reform movement also advocates for this basic right in Israeli democracy, as it advocates for a whole host of other human rights issues in the state of Israel. See the work of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC – http://www.irac.org).

“For Reform rabbis, then, drawing attention to Israel’s constitutional deficiencies can feel like delivering too much bad news. Jacobs told me about the “rhetorical mess” he had to clean up after an Israeli activist talked to a congregation about “case after case, issue after issue, the things they’re fighting in the Supreme Court.” The congregants reported that “Israel sounds like the most horrific place,” Jacobs said. “And we’re supposed to teach our kids to love Israel?”

Avishai closes his article with this paragraph, and the Association of Reform Zionists of America (the Zionist arm of the American Reform movement) takes what he says as a legitimate and important challenge. As the nominated chair-elect of ARZA, I believe that the best way to teach our kids to love Israel is first to get them there, and then to encourage them to attend American Reform summer camps where Israelis serve as staff, to support the Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE) program for high school students, to form American-Israeli synagogue sister relationships with Israeli Reform congregations, establish school exchanges between Israeli and American schools (such as the LA-Tel Aviv partnership in which my own 6th grade Day School students are paired with an Israeli elementary school in Tzahalah – they are there right now as I write this), support the important social justice work of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and the IRAC, and be certain that all our young people visit Israel on a Birthright program.

Israeli Inventions and Innovations – Celebrating 68 Years of Independence

Israel’s 68th Independence Day (Friday, May 13 – 5 Iyar, 5776) inspires appreciation, admiration and respect for its remarkable accomplishments not only since the establishment of the State of Israel, but over the past 119 years since Theodor Herzl convened the First World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland.

The only democracy in the Middle East (i.e. within the Green Line) remains, despite its many challenges from within and without, a vital engine of research, invention, innovation, and ingenuity that benefits not only Israeli citizens and the Jewish people, but nations and peoples everywhere even if they are unaware that they are benefiting.

Those benefits include significant advances in medicine, healthcare, microbiology, genetics, agriculture, energy, water conservation, the environment, communications, engineering, transportation, navigation, computer technology, optics, robotics, safety, security, and defense.

Here are just 76 inventions and innovations created, developed and marketed by Israeli scientists, physicians, researchers, bio-tech and hi-tech companies, and entrepreneurs (not in any particular order):

Given Imaging – patient-friendly solutions for visualizing and detecting disorders of the GI tract – best known for its PillCam (aka capsule endoscopy), now the gold standard for intestinal visualization.

Netafim – a worldwide pioneer in smart drip and micro-irrigation operating in 112 countries with 13 factories worldwide.

Ormat Technologies – geothermal power plants supplying clean geothermal power in 20+ countries.

Pythagoras Solar – the world’s first solar window combining energy efficiency, power generation and transparency. This transparent photovoltaic glass unit can be integrated into conventional building design and construction processes.

Hazera Genetics – yielded the cherry tomato.

BabySense – a no-touch, no-radiation device designed to prevent crib death. Made by HiSense. The device monitors a baby’s breathing and movements through the mattress during sleep. An auditory and visual alarm is activated if breathing ceases for more than 20 seconds or if breath rate slows to less than 10 breaths per minute.

Iron Dome – a mobile air defense system designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery shells.

3G Solar – pioneered a low-cost alternative to silicon that generates significantly more electricity than leading silicon-based PV solar modules at a lower cost per kilowatt hour.

MobileEye – combines a tiny digital camera with sophisticated algorithms to help drivers navigate more safely. The steering system-linked device sounds an alert when a driver is about to change lanes inadvertently, warns of an impending forward collision and detects pedestrians. MobileEye has deals with GM, BMW and Volvo, among others.

Leviathan Energy – innovated the Wind Tulip, a cost-effective, silent, vibration-free wind turbine designed as an aesthetic environmental sculpture, producing clean energy at high efficiency from any direction.

Rav Bariach – introduced the steel security door that has become Israel’s standard. Its geometric lock, whose cylinders extend from different points into the doorframe, is incorporated into doors selling on five continents.

BriefCam – a video-synopsis technology lets viewers rapidly review and index original full-length video footage by concurrently showing multiple objects and activities that actually occurred at different times. This technology drastically cuts the time and manpower involved in event tracking, forensics and evidence discovery.

GridON – makes the Keeper, a three-phase fault current limiter that blocks current surges and limits the current for as long as required to clear the fault, and is of interest to major utilities companies around the world.

Waze – a GPS-based geographical navigation application program for smartphones with GPS support and display screens, which provides turn-by-turn information and user-submitted travel times and route details, downloading location-dependent information over the mobile telephone network now available in over 100 countries.

GetTaxi – an application that connects customers and taxi drivers using its proprietary GPS system, thus enabling users to order a cab either with their smartphone or through the company’s website.

Better Place electric car network – provides a model for a worldwide electric car grid.

Intel Israel – changed the face of the computing world with the 8088 processor (the “brain” of the first PC), MMX and Centrino mobile technology.

Disk-on-Key – the ubiquitous little portable storage device made by SanDisk, is an upgraded version of disk and diskette technology through the use of flash memory and USB interface for connection to personal computers.

TACount – real-time microbiology enables the detection and counting of harmful microorganisms in a matter of minutes, rather than the conventional method of cell culture that takes several hours to a few days. The technology applies to the fields of drinking and wastewater, pharmaceuticals and food and beverage production.

Solaris Synergy – innovated an environmentally friendly and economically beneficial way to float solar panels on water instead of taking up valuable land, generating energy while protecting and limiting evaporation from reservoir surfaces.

HydroSpin – a unique internal pipe generator that supplies electricity for water monitoring and control systems in remote areas and sites without accessibility to electricity.

Produce drinking water from a condenser that absorbs the air’s humidity, holding it in silica based gel granules, and then condensing it into water. 85% of energy used is pumped back into the system. Developed by EWA.

The Volcani Research Center of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development – improves existing agricultural production systems and introduces new products, processes and equipment. Basic and applied research is conducted at six institutes and in two regional research centers by more than 200 scientists and 300 engineers and technicians.

Rosetta Green – develops improved plant traits for the agriculture and biofuel industries, using unique genes called microRNAs.

Mazor Robotics’ Spine Assist and other surgical robots – transforms spine surgery from freehand procedures to highly accurate, state-of-the-art operations with less need for radiation.

Optical heartbeat monitor – a revolutionary medical technology using a fast camera and small laser light source.

Elya Recycling – an innovative method for recycling plastic based on a specialized formulation of natural ingredients. Making the new raw material for handbags, reusable totes and lumber products requires 50 percent less energy than current recycling methods and 83% less energy than virgin manufacturing.

Like-A-Fish – unique air supply systems extract air from water, freeing leisure and professional scuba divers, as well as submarines and underwater habitats, from air tanks.

WatchPAT – an FDA-approved portable diagnostic device for the follow-up treatment of sleep apnea in the patient’s own bedroom, rather than at a sleep disorders clinic.

•  Zenith Solar – a modular, easily scalable high-concentration photovoltaic system (HCPV) whose core technology is based on a unique, proprietary optical design to extract the maximum energy with minimal real estate.

AFC (Active Flow Control) – an intelligent gas-air mixing system to replace all existing mixing technologies.

Space Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) unit of Elbit Systems – makes a “space camera,” a compact, lightweight electro-optic observation system for government, commercial and scientific applications.

Turbulence, the world’s first hyper-narrative, interactive movie – technology that allows the viewer to choose the direction of the film’s plot by pressing buttons on the PC, Mac or iPad at various moments in the action.

EpiLady – the first electric hair remover (epilator), secured its leading position in the international beauty care market and since 1986 has sold almost 30 million units.

Decell Technologies – provides real-time road traffic information based on monitoring the location and movement of phones and GPS devices. Swift-i Traffic is incorporated in leading navigation systems, fleet management services, mapping operations and media channels in several countries.

NDS VideoGuard technology – the pay-TV industry’s advanced suite of conditional access (CA) solutions protecting branded service from piracy and ensuring that consumers have choice and flexibility in broadcast and on-demand content.

PrimeSense – revolutionizes interaction with digital devices by allowing them to “see” in three dimensions and transfer control from remote controls and joysticks to hands and body in a low-cost, high-performance 3D machine vision technologies for consumers.

Takadu – provides monitoring software to leading water utilities worldwide offering real-time detection and control over network events such as leaks, bursts, zone breaches and inefficiencies.

Indigo digital printing presses – general commercial printing, direct mail, photos and photobooks, publications, labels, business cards, flexible packaging and folding cartons print without films and plates, allowing for personalized short runs and changing text and images without stopping the press.

Solid rapid prototyping machine (Cubital) – crafts 3D models of engineering parts directly from designs on a computer screen used in the automotive, aerospace, consumer products and medical industries, and engineering firms and academic and research institutions.

Viber – an app download on any smart phone allowing hi-speed calls using Wifi to be made across the world for free.

Zomet Institute – a non-profit, public research institute where rabbis, researchers and engineers devise practical solutions for modern life without violating Sabbath restrictions on the use of electricity. Zomet technology is behind metal detectors, security jeeps, elevators, electric wheelchairs and coffee machines that can be used on Shabbat, as well as solutions requested by the Israeli ministries of health and defense, Ben-Gurion Airport, Elite Foods, Tnuva Dairies, Israeli Channel 10 Television and others.

EarlySense – continuous monitoring allows hospital nurses to watch and record patients’ heart rate, respiration and movement remotely through a contact-free sensor under the mattress. The system’s built-in tools include a wide range of reports on the status of patients, including alerts for falls and bedsore prevention.

TourEngine – reduces fuel consumption and harmful emissions by common engines through a sophisticated thermal management strategy that can be easily integrated with future hybrid engines, further improving their efficiency and environment-friendly attributes.

The superconducting fault current limiter (FCL) – designed for limiting short currents.

Heliofocus – provides solar-energy boosting for existing coal or gas power plants, reducing carbon emissions and overall costs.

Transbiodiesel – makes enzyme-based catalysts (biocatalysts) used in the production of biodiesel.

SolarEdge – makes a module that optimizes every link in the solar PV chain, maximizing energy production while monitoring constantly to detect faults and prevent theft.

3D tethered particle motion system – allows for three-dimensional tracking of critical protein-DNA and protein-RNA cell interactions in the body.

Panoramic Power – provides a current monitor solution that enables enterprises and organizations to reduce their operational and energy expenses using a breakthrough power flow visibility platform.

Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation – a notation system for recording movement on paper that has been used in dance, physical therapy, animal behavior and early diagnosis of autism.

Azilect – a drug for Parkinson’s disease.

Copaxone immunomodulator – a drug for treating multiple sclerosis.

Taliglucerase alfa (Elelyso), a recombinant glucocerebrosidase enzyme produced from transgenic carrot cell cultures. Taliglucerase alfa won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May 2012 as an orphan drug for the treatment of Type 1 Gaucher’s disease.

Nanowire – a conductive wire made of a string of tiny particles of silver, a thousand times thinner than a human hair.

World’s smallest DNA computing machine system – “the smallest biological computing device” ever constructed, composed of enzymes and DNA molecules capable of performing simple mathematical calculations and which uses its input DNA molecule as its sole source of energy.

Protector USV – an unmanned surface vehicle, to be used in combat.

USB flash drive – a flash memory data storage device integrated with a USB interface.

The first PC microprocessor – the intel 8088 the first PC microprocessor that used on the first PC IBM PC.

Quicktionary Electronic dictionary – a pen-sized scanner able to scan words or phrases and immediately translate them into other languages, or keep them in memory in order to transfer them to the PC.

Laser Keyboard – virtual keyboard projected onto a wall or table top and allows to type handheld computers and cell phones.

Hybrid cucumber seeds – hybrid seed production of cucumbers and melons, disease-resistant cucumbers and cucumbers suitable for mechanical harvesting.

Grain cocoons – provides a simple and cheap way for African and Asian farmers to keep their grain market-fresh, as huge bags keep both water and air out, making sure the harvest is clean and protected even in extreme heat and humidity.

Biological pest control – breeds beneficial insects and mites for biological pest control and bumblebees for natural pollination in greenhouses and open fields.

AKOL – gives low-income farmers the ability to get top-level information from professional sources.

Reusable plastic trays – used to collect dew from the air, reducing the need to water crops by up to 50 percent.

“Zero-discharge” system – allows fish to be raised virtually anywhere by eliminating the environmental problems in conventional fish farming, without being dependent on electricity or proximity to a body of water.

TraitUP – enables the introduction of genetic materials into seeds without modifying their DNA, immediately and efficiently improving plants before they’re even sowed.

Judean date palm – oldest seed ever to be revived, restoring an extinct cultivar.

Super iron battery – A new class of a rechargeable electric battery based on a special kind of iron. More environment friendly because the super-iron eventually rusts.

ReWalk – a bionic walking assistance system to enable paraplegics to stand upright, walk and climb stairs.

Robotic guidance system for spine surgery.

World’s smallest video camera – a camera with a 0.99 mm (0.039 in) diameter, designed to fit in a tiny endoscope.

Azilect – a drug for Parkinson’s disease.

Copaxone immunomodulator – drug for treating multiple sclerosis.

Bio-Bee – biological pest control breeds beneficial insects and mites for biological pest control and bumblebees for natural pollination in greenhouses and open fields.

“How Can I See You, Love” – A Poem for Yom Hashoah

How can I see you, love,
Standing alone
Amid storms of grief
Without feeling my heart shake?

A deep night,
Blacker than the blackness of your eyes,
Has fallen silently
On the world.

And is touching your curls.

My hand will clasp your dreaming
And I shall lead you between the nights.

Through the pale mists of childhood,
As my father once guided me
To the house of prayer.

by David Vogel, Translated by A.C. Jacobs. Holocaust Poetry, compiled and introduced by Hilda Schiff, publ. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996, p. 14

Biography – David Vogel was born on May 15, 1891 in the town of Satanov in the Podolia region in the Russian Pale of Settlement. The family spoke Yiddish. In 1909-1910, he arrived in Vilnius as a yeshiva student. He worked as the caretaker of a synagogue and studied Hebrew. In 1925, he settled in Paris, where he wrote prose and poetry. In 1929, he and his wife, Nada Adler, immigrated to Palestine, where their daughter, Tamar, was born. After spending time in Poland and Berlin, the family returned to Paris. When World War II erupted, Vogel and his daughter fled to southeastern France where Nada was recuperating in a sanatorium. He was interned as an Austrian citizen and freed in 1940 when the Nazis occupied France.

Various stories circulated about his life after that. In 1944-45, the Hebrew newspapers in Palestine reported his “disappearance.”  He was presumed to have died in the Holocaust.

Israeli literary scholar Dan Pagis discovered that he returned to Hauteville after his release from internment camp. In 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo, imprisoned in Lyon, and sent to Drancy, a transit camp for French Jews. Four days later, he was murdered in Auschwitz.

Temple Israel of Hollywood will commemorate Yom Hashoah on Wednesday evening, May 4 at 7 PM with the showing of the Academy Award Nominated Short Documentary “Spectres of the Shoah” about Claude Lanzmann, the director of the seminal 10-hour film “Shoah” commemorating the 25th anniversary of the film.

See http://oscar.go.com/nominees/documentary-short/claude-lanzmann-spectres-of-the-shoah


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