Few events in Jewish history are as impactful on the character of the Jewish people in Israel and around the world as was the 1967 Israeli-Arab War that was fought exactly 50 years ago (June 5-11, 1967).
The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) has posted this week its considered Position Paper about that war on the occasion of this 50th Anniversary, and it can be read here:
On the same site, you can read our “Position Paper in Support of a Two-State solution.”
Each of these statements reflects the position of the American Reform Zionist Movement representing 1.5 million American Reform Jews.
ARZA’s website can be found at http://www.arza.org/ –
See the section “Statements and Position Papers” and then scroll down to read each of these positions.
Note: I serve as National Chair of ARZA. Rabbi Joshua Weinberg is President of ARZA.
My book “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation” is a common sense guide and road map for a generation of young men and women who find Jewish orthodoxy, tradition, issues, and beliefs impenetrable in 21st Century society. By illustrating how the tenets of Judaism still apply in our modern world, I offer direction not only to my own sons but to the sons and daughters of Reform Jews everywhere. My sons, Daniel and David, have written the Afterword. The book will be published on September 26 by Jewish Lights Publishing (a division of Turner Publishing).
Why Judaism Matters -Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation
Rabbi John Rosove
6 x 9, 240 pp, Paperback, 978-1-68336-705-5
Why Judaism Matters: Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation – Kindle edition by Rabbi John Rosove.
As we walked the halls of the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School for students grades kindergarten through 12th grade (the school was founded in 1998 with 20 students and today has 696 students enrolled), the students were passing together between classes, laughing and talking as one might expect in any high school in Israel or America. But this is a different kind of school and there was much more than meets the eye here.
The students all appeared alike, but this is not a normal secular Israeli high school. It is a bi-lingual school, an experiment in bringing the diversity of students that live in Jerusalem together to learn about each other, to hear each other’s narratives, to discover the beauty in each other’s respective cultures, to work through stereotypes and prejudices, and to become friends and partners in a shared society.
The school is a microcosm of Jerusalem’s urban diversity and has students coming from Jewish and Arab neighborhoods all over East and West Jerusalem and includes Arab Christian, Muslim, Armenian Christian, Druze, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, and Ethiopian Jews, and increasingly more religiously observant Jewish students.
The high school is like all good academic Israeli secular high schools, but Yad b’Yad includes what the directors describe as “a unique and supportive environment as our students become teenagers and prepare for life as adults after school, with dialogue groups, expressive arts, volunteering, and extensive civic studies.”
In the elementary school, all classes are taught by one Jewish and one Arab teacher. The kids learn Hebrew and Arabic, and the reality of racism and violence that characterize so much of the contact between Israelis and Palestinians does not exist here. It is what Mohammed Darawshe, the Director of Givat Haviva, told us is “a perfect model of a school in a shared society.”
Yes, Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have different perspectives and experiences than do Israeli Jewish citizens. But they talk and argue and listen and become friends.
I was moved deeply when I heard that during tense times such as the recent knife terror and the crossing points between East and West Jerusalem closed, Palestinian students living in East Jerusalem could not get home from school that is located in the southern area of West Jerusalem within sight of the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo beyond which is Bethlehem. So, what did they do? The Israeli Jewish students invited the East Jerusalem Palestinian students to stay in their homes until the checkpoints opened again. This could last days to weeks.
The school’s founders and leadership describe its mission as follows:
“Our Mission at Hand in Hand is to create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel through a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools and organized communities. We currently operate integrated schools and communities in six locations with 1,578 Jewish and Arab students and more than 8000 community members. Over the next ten years, we aim to create a network of 10-15 schools supported and enhanced by community activities, altogether involving more than 20,000 Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens. Jews and Arabs – learning together, living together – and inspiring broad support for social inclusion and civic equality in Israel.”
Yad b’Yad is yet another grassroots effort to bring peace to the land of Israel/Palestine. Truly a bright light in our journey as a Temple Israel of Hollywood Leadership mission to Israel.
See the Yad b’Yad website for more information – https://www.handinhandk12.org/inform/why-we-exist
Temple Israel of Hollywood Leadership Mission before meeting with Members of the Kenesset
Ever since the 2011 Social Justice Protests in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities and towns that drew hundreds of thousands of Israelis from many socio-economic and religious backgrounds to protest the escalating rise in the cost of housing, food, health, and education, I have been particularly interested in what impact these protests have had upon the younger millennial generation of Israelis.
On our recent sojourn in Israel, I wanted my synagogue leadership to meet with young Israeli activists to find out, and so we invited five young women and men to join us for dinner in a downtown Jerusalem restaurant to talk.
The five are progressive activists ranging in age from their mid-20s to late 30s. The oldest of the group is Mikhael Manekin, a modern orthodox man who heads up a new initiative called “Israel Tomorrow.” He was a founding member of “Breaking the Silence.” Itai Gutler is a member of the Jerusalem City Council. Maya Peretz is the chief organizer of a labor organization called “Koach La-ovdim” and is an assistant to Zionist Union Knesset Member Michal Biran. Uri Keidar is a Jerusalem organizer on behalf of the American pro-Israel pro-peace group J Street. And Bar Gissim is a volunteer activist with the left-wing Zionist Meretz Party.
I asked each to introduce him/herself and explain what they do and why they do it.
The all inspired us. They are smart, well-spoken, sophisticated, politically savvy, and committed to the state of Israel not just as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but as a pluralistic, just, and free democracy serving equally all its citizens (Jew and non-Jew) and inhabitants. They are all political progressives, yet their concerns mirror those of Israeli society as a whole.
They spoke briefly about “hamatzav” (the “situation”) referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though all advocates for a two-states for two peoples resolution of the conflict, they are not hopeful an agreement will come about soon under the leadership of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who each are either incapable of leading their respective populations forward, or unwilling to do what it takes to do so.
As a founder of “Breaking the Silence,” an NGO of Israeli army veterans that has collected more than a thousand testimonies of soldiers describing their experiences in the occupied West Bank beyond the Green Line, I asked Mikhail what motivated him and those in that organization to speak out as they have (Note: “Breaking the Silence” has been targeted as an anti-Israel organization by many right-wing Members of the Knesset, though in truth these young women and men soldiers love Israel and want it to live up to the highest of moral standards and cease to be an occupying power over 1.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank).
He said that his group believes that Israelis must confess and face the truth about IDF soldiers’ abuse of Palestinians in the territories, that this abuse defies the high moral standards set by the IDF and that such abuse compromises the moral character of the state and sullies the soul of Israel.
I asked Jerusalem city councilman Itai Gulter (a young man in his early 30s whose wife had just given birth the prior week to their second child, a daughter – he was very tired!), what he thought were the greatest challenges facing him as a Jerusalem City Councilman.
Many of Jerusalem’s challenges are similar to those in any American city (e.g. providing equal city services, transportation, housing, employment, and filling potholes, etc.), but he noted that additionally, the religious character of the city that is home to a very large and poor Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population and a very large and poor Arab population are among the most pressing.
I asked Bar Gissim, a young graduate student and left-wing Meretz activist why she believed that Meretz has lost so many mandates in the polls (it once had 11 Knesset seats – it has 6 now). She acknowledged that the country has moved to the right politically, that the key issue on most Israeli’s minds is security and that the people crave a “strong man” as Prime Minister. I asked about the Jewish orientation of Meretz and whether its leadership may be losing a lot of Israelis because though most are not Orthodox, Israelis do identify with Jewish tradition in one way or another and that a complete lack of attention to its party as based in liberal Jewish moral values may lose many Israelis who might otherwise identify with Meretz’s political agenda. This is a criticism of Meretz I have heard for many years. Bar herself had not considered this.
Both Bar (a secular Jew) and Mikhail (an orthodox Jew), reflecting (I believe) the group as a whole, said that they do not act out of “Jewish moral values” per se, but rather out of democratic universal moral values.
I asked the group about the rising cost of living and how they themselves and young Israelis make ends meet. Though all of them live on their own and not with their families, they said that for them and middle-class Israelis, making ends meet requires most people to work more than one job and to depend upon multiple family incomes. At times, they confessed, their parents have helped subsidize them.
Our conversation continued for hours. The takeaway for us as American Reform Jews was that these young Israelis take seriously the obligations of citizenship and consider political activism and advocacy their civic and national duty. As such, they represent the best of and the hope of Israel.
We were heartened, as well, that these millennial Israelis were happy to meet with us who were so obviously interested in them, in their work, their values, their lives, what that think, believe and hope for Israel.
They are truly bright Israeli lights about which we American Jews can feel inspired and proud.
Israeli Jewish tour guides are discouraged by the Israeli military administration from entering the West Bank to lead tours, so our Jerusalem tour operator (Daat/ARZAWorld Travel) engaged for us a Palestinian company “Beyond Borders Tours” and its founder, Rami Nafez Nazzal, to lead us.
Rami lives in East Jerusalem, carries a U.S. Passport, and is world-traveled due to numerous academic appointments, when he was young, of his distinguished professor parents Drs. Nafez and Laila Nazzal.
He was educated at the Anglican International School in West Jerusalem and later earned degrees in Business Management and Tourism from the University of Utah in 2003. From there Rami moved to Boston where he lived happily for seven years. But when his father told him that it was time for him to return home to East Jerusalem, he did so. Rami explained that when a Palestinian father makes such a “request,” the son complies whether he wants to or not.
When Rami returned to Jerusalem he founded “Beyond Borders Tours.” His facility with English and Arabic has gained him entry into many worlds. He is keenly intelligent, articulate and eloquent, good-humored and affable. His company grew.
Rami is also a journalist and regularly reports for Time Magazine, the New York Times, Reuters, and Der Spiegel on important stories related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His deep knowledge of the reality of Palestinian society enables his readers and those he guides to peer through a raw and authentic lens into the often difficult political and emotional terrain in both Palestine and Israel.
Rami was candid and honest with us, especially about the Palestinian predicament. He shared insights into Palestinian Muslim society, culture and family life and into the political, economic and social cross-currents that define so much of the life for Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank.
When Rami introduced himself to our group he shared his personal story as the son of academic parents. His first positive experience with a Jew wasn’t in Israel. Rather, it came in a close family friendship with the late Rabbi Leonard Beerman of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, who was my own childhood rabbi.
Leonard had told me about his and his wife Joan’s friends, Rami’s father and mother. As a child, Rami remembers spending time in the Los Angeles Beerman home. At the age of ten he first met Rabbi Beerman and couldn’t believe that Leonard was actually a rabbi not only because he didn’t appear Haredi, but because Leonard’s open heart to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, his principles, politics, and values were so unlike that of the Israeli Orthodox rabbis Rami observed in Jerusalem’s Old City.
I shared with Rami that Rabbi Beerman was among my most important rabbinic role models, and though Leonard and I didn’t always agree (e.g., unlike Leonard, I am not a pacifist), I loved and respected him for his principled life and remarkable rabbinic career, and I was touched by his pride in me which he shared so generously in his last few years of life.
Rami Nafez Nazzal is one of the very bright lights that my synagogue leadership tour encountered this past week in Israel and the West Bank. I recommend that anyone traveling to Israel also plan on spending time with Rami. You will not regret doing so. You can reach him through his website at www.beyondborderstours.com.
So much of media attention about Israel focuses on the negative. But there is overwhelming creativity, productivity, and goodness occurring daily that the world just does not see.
I have led five congregational missions over the past eighteen years and introduced two hundred individuals to Israel so as to understand Israeli lives, dreams, hopes, and aspirations.
I returned this week from the latest such trip and in this and the following entries, I will tell stories of people and projects that moved us deeply. I express gratitude to everyone we met and ARZAWorld Travel (i.e. Daat Travel in Israel) whose staff worked with me in putting this special itinerary together.
Our concerns transcended politics, though we met members of the Knesset, journalists, scholars, and activists who spoke to us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Beyond them, we met leaders who are helping to create a shared society between Jews of all kinds and Israeli Jews and Israeli-Arabs. We visited schools for Jewish and Arab Israeli children studying together. We spent time with Orthodox women, Muslim Arabs, and Bedouin leaders striving to educate their community’s women so they can assume their rightful place in the workforce and lift them and their families out of poverty. We toured the seam-line on the Gaza border with kibbutzniks who have suffered thousands of mortar attacks. We met four extraordinary leaders of Israel’s Reform movement who are building communities all over the state and advocating a liberal, pluralistic, inclusive, and democratic society. We met with one significant Palestinian leader in Ramallah and with the head of the Yesha Council of Settlers over the Green Line in the occupied West Bank. We took a tour with the top expert in what is occurring in East Jerusalem.
To begin, in this blog I want to shine a light on two organizations that deeply inspired my group of synagogue leaders:
Yemin Orde Youth Village is located in the Carmel mountains and is named in memory of British Major General Orde Wingate who trained Palmach troops (the advanced striking force of the Haganah before the establishment of the State of Israel) including Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yigal Alon.
Established in 1953, Yemin Orde has welcomed thousands of children from North Africa, Iran, India, Yemen, Ethiopia, the nations of the former Soviet Union, Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, and France.
Most of the children came to Israel on their own without family. Some are Israeli-born who grew up in tough drug-infected and violent neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and development towns. At Yemin Orde they learned that they could live differently. There they found a home and a family that cared about them and consequently have been able to chart their own positive and productive futures.
Yemin Orde graduates have succeeded in the elite units of the Israeli Defense Forces, as university graduates and leaders in hi-tech, as mayors of towns and villages and as Members of the Knesset, in business, the arts, and education.
There are 465 students (ages between 14-18) living at Yemin Orde and the youth village has a waiting list of 100 children. The staff gives each child emotional and psychological support so they can build their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, achieve academically and be productive Israeli citizens and leaders.
Yemin Orde receives two-thirds of its budget from the Israeli government and the rest comes from foundations and individual fundraising.
The second is The Orchard of Abraham’s Children – I visited this Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian Nursery School (ages 2-6) in Jaffa in February 2016 and blogged about it then. See https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/the-orchard-of-abrahams-children-towards-the-creation-of-a-shared-society/.
The story of the beginnings of The Orchard of Abraham’s Children is among the most inspirational stories we heard. A fine fiction writer could not have made this up.
Ihab Balha (a 47-year-old Muslim Sufi Palestinian-Israeli) and his wife Ora, a mid-30s Israeli Jew, met in the Sinai, fell madly in love, married each other the next day, transformed their families, an entire community, and the future of thousands of Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Now in its 7th year, The Orchard has 80 Jewish and Palestinian children and families.
There are many more positive and uplifting stories to come. Stay tuned.
On March 26, I posted a blog announcing the publication of a new Haggadah “A Jubilee Haggadah Marking the 50th Year Since the 1967 War” that brought together thirty Israeli and American Jewish peace activists (including me) who offered commentaries on aspects of the traditional Haggadah. See https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/a-jubilee-haggadah-marking-the-50th-year-since-the-1967-war/
I opened the blog announcing that
“A new Haggadah has just been published by SISO (“Save Israel – Stop the Occupation”). It is called the Jubilee Haggadah because it marks the 50th year since the 1967 War, a turning point in the history of the modern State of Israel that the writers and editors conjoin with the biblical Jubilee commandment – “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you…” (Leviticus 25:10) – and with the celebration of Passover, the festival of liberty.
The Haggadah is part of a new initiative begun by prominent Israeli individuals and organizations in partnership with Jewish leaders around the world who believe that the prolonged Israeli military occupation poses a very real threat to Israel’s safety and well-being, and undermines the moral and democratic fabric of Israel and its standing in the community of nations. See SISO’s website – https://www.siso.org.il.”
I received a thoughtful and friendly reply in Hebrew from Dr. Zioni Ben Yair (I do not know him) that said (translation is mine):
“I certainly sympathize with the need to break free from the corruption of the occupation [of the West Bank] because it contradicts the Torah and Haggadah and it’s making us an undemocratic apartheid state. Nevertheless, I believe we must continue to use the Haggadah as it is without changing even a single letter. The Haggadah has been read during all 82 years of my life, in different situations, in different countries and under different and unique circumstances, and in many cases, there are no proper reasons for change and new formulations….We need to be able to continue to read the Haggadah literally as we are used to doing from time immemorial.” (See Dr. Ben Yair’s original Hebrew letter: https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/a-jubilee-haggadah-marking-the-50th-year-since-the-1967-war/#comments
This past week in The Forward, J.J. Goldberg wrote a piece he called “Is Passover Broken Beyond Repair?” in which he discusses a plethora of new Haggadot written over the decades that is a fitting response to Dr. Ben Yair’s comments – see http://forward.com/opinion/israel/368555/is-passover-broken-beyond-repair/?attribution=author-article-listing-2-headline.
Once you read JJ’s article, I suggest asking who is right – The traditionalists who wish not to change a word of the traditional Haggadah, or the innovators of new Haggadot who seek to apply the historic Jewish experience of victimization and liberation to others?
In my response to Dr. Ben Yair, I noted that the traditional Haggadah is a compilation of Midrashim, commentaries, stories, rituals, and symbols that entered the Haggadah over the centuries for specific reasons. A prime example is the custom of opening the door for Elijah, a relatively “recent” addition to the Seder (500-600 years ago) that was introduced during times of anti-Semitic persecution and violence provoked by the blood libel accusation.
Jews opened their doors to show Christians who were sensitive to the New Testament’s deicide accusation against the Jews who happened to be passing by that nothing horrific and sacrilegious was taking place in Jewish homes.
I suggested to Dr. Ben Yair, whose letter shows his concern about the corrupting effect of the occupation on West Bank Palestinians, on the soul of the Jewish people and State of Israel that for the Seder to remain meaningful today, in our generation, its themes of liberation, justice, and compassion must be applied not only to our own Jewish conditions but to the injustices suffered by peoples everywhere.
What do you think?
The international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is deeply disturbing to Israelis and Jews around the world because it unfairly singles out Israel while ignoring all other nations that commit far greater human rights violations. However, BDS has become a significant distraction from the real existential threat confronting the State of Israel, the occupation of the West Bank and a lack of resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This past month Israel’s Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan brought the BDS fight home for the first time. He has sought to expand his ministry’s recently launched intelligence division that is collecting information on foreign BDS activists by compiling a database of Israelis working with the BDS movement.
The editors of the Israeli daily Haaretz reacted strongly against Erdan’s efforts:
“With frightening speed, Minister for Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan is becoming the Israeli heir to notorious U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy.” (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/1.778768)
Haaretz also reported that Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht have voiced their opposition to Erdan’s efforts and stated that the Public Security Ministry has no legal authority to gather intelligence and maintain a database on Israeli citizens.
The Editorial went on: “The struggle against the Israeli occupation, whether from Israel or abroad, is legitimate, just and moral – and every person of conscience is entitled to participate in it. Moreover, the means of struggle in question, boycotts and nonviolent sanctions, are legitimate in view of the illegal status of the settlements.”
Minister Erdan shot back: “A newspaper that calls on Israelis to oppose the struggle I am waging against the boycott against Israel and the BDS, apparently does not really understand what is happening here…Instead of Haaretz simply admitting that they support a boycott of Israel, they launched an attack on me, …I will continue to act so that those who want to bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish state will pay a price for their actions, and those who get bent out of shape, you already know what will happen to them.” http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/227148
Haaretz described ominously the significance of Erdan’s attack on sympathizers with BDS: “Databases on political activists have always been a hallmark of the darkest regimes. It is there, under the darkness of tyranny, that authorities gather information on regime opponents and compile blacklists. With his actions, Erdan is aspiring to have this sort of regime in Israel.”
I believe that Haaretz is right. However, lest I am misunderstood, I oppose BDS because too many of the groups that support it are out to delegitimize the State of Israel. I also oppose BDS as it is applied against only West Bank settlements because I don’t believe BDS can be successful as a non-violent political tactic in ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
BDS is a significant challenge, as Don Futterman, the Director of Israel’s Moriah Fund, noted this past week in “The Promised Podcast.” But BDS is not an existential threat to the State of Israel, though it could become one in ten or twenty years when large groups of western young people who have been influenced by the BDS movement come into power and influence in their respective countries. https://tlv1.fm/full-show/promised-podcast/2017/03/30/the-bds-and-the-rat-bastard-conundrum-edition/
Focusing too much of our attention on BDS obfuscates the real existential challenge facing Israel – the occupation and the continuation of the status quo that will end Israel as a Jewish and/or a democratic state.
Those who place the settlement movement as more important than Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic nation are the greatest threat to Israel’s future, not BDS.
Note: I speak only for myself and do not necessarily represent the views of my synagogue or any other Jewish organization.