Note: The following is a letter sent today to the Reform Movement by Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, Vice President of the Reform Zionist and Israel Committee for the Union of Reform Judaism and the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). It is worthy to be read and distributed widely.
“The Zionist movement had a central goal of creating a Jewish State. Yet, it also had a goal of instilling Jewish pride. Of creating the “New Jew”, or as Max Nordau referred to it, to create “Muskeljudentum” or “muscular Jewry.” This would be the antithesis of the old Diaspora Jewry, who was weak and defenseless, who couldn’t handle physical labor and were not masters of their own destiny. But Jewish pride wasn’t only about backbone and brawn. It was about getting past the self-deprecation, being the anti-nebech and being proud of our tradition, our heritage, and of what we were able to accomplish.
Many Jews the world round felt that sense of pride with the State of Israel – especially in its triumphant moments after the Six Day War, the raid on Entebbe, and every subsequent Nobel Prize or public achievement. When Maccabi Tel Aviv won its first European championship and American-born Israeli star proclaimed “anachnu al hamapa, ve’anahnu nisharim al hamapa!” a literal translation of an English phrase into his adopted language, but a novel saying in Hebrew, became a new, popular phrase in Israel meaning: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything.”
Having Jewish pride meant the ability to raise our flag high and be unabashed to waive it proudly. But Jews never really had a flag until the Zionist movement came around. Which is why it was so deeply troubling that the Washington DC Dyke March chose to ban this flag as well as any semblance of the Magen David at today’s march.
Friday’s march, according to its organizers, seeks to celebrate groups of people who organizers said typically are excluded from messaging around Pride, including those of various races, religions, socioeconomic classes and gender identities. I don’t level this accusation lightly, but despite being promulgated by two Jewish activists, this reeks of antisemitism. The ban is so full of irony and hypocrisy as Rabbi Rachel Timoner writes:
“…you can’t be against nationalism when it comes to the Jewish people and in favor of nationalism when it comes to the Palestinian people. In this line of thinking, DC Dyke March organizers say that they’ve banned the Jewish star on flags because it’s a nationalist symbol, but that they welcome the Palestinian flag. They say that they stand with the Palestinians because they are a displaced people. A cursory study of Jewish history would demonstrate that the Jewish people have been displaced over and over again, all around the world.”
So, where does the symbol actually come from?
According to scholar Gershom Scholem’s “Magen David – History of a Symbol“, which was released 27 years after the author’s death, the symbol was seen in biblical times as decoration, but the first book that referred to the symbol as “Magen David” was written by Maimonides’ grandson, Rabbi David Ben Yehuda HaHasid, in the 14th century, and as a mystical talisman in the early middle ages.
The official usage of the Star of David as a Jewish symbol began in Prague. Scholem writes that it was either chosen by the local Jewish community or by the Christian rule as a means of branding the Jews, who later adopted and embraced it. In 1354 Emperor Charles IV granted the Jews the privilege of raising a flag of their own, and this flag contained the Magen David. (One of these flags can still be found in Prague’s famous Altneushul).
During the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 the Zionist flag, which bears a blue Star of David, was chosen. But Prof. Scholem claims that the symbol only became truly meaningful during the Holocaust, after the Nazis used it to mark the Jews, and thus sanctified it. According to Scholem, this gave the graphic symbol a spiritual sense of sacredness it never had before.
Of course, not every Jew feels that sense of pride. For some, that symbol may stand for occupation and oppression. It is our job and to change that. Not through spin-doctoring or propagandizing, but through the real work of making our society better and righting the wrongs that have occurred. To make our flag stand for our values of Jewish peoplehood, and a Jewish Nation-State and just society. And a flag of justice, equality and peace.
The Dyke March and Pride marches the world around are incredibly important for LGBTQ rights and recognition. For the simple and basic human notion that a person should be able to be who they are, to be open, and free. We need more marches. We need them in places where those rights – after all these years of struggle – are still not a given.
We, as Jews, need to be there. To say that we’re proud to be Jews of many identities and orientations. And we need to fly our flag.
As Reform Jews, I’m proud that our Movement helped lead the Pride March in Jerusalem yesterday and that we led it with our Torah and values flying high.
On this Shavuot take pride in who we are. Learn our Torah and sacred tradition. And don’t be afraid to fly your flag high.”
…Because I am not a citizen of the State of Israel, do not pay taxes or send my children into the military, and because I respect the democratic right of Israelis to determine their own future, I am considering anew what I personally can do from America to help Israelis who believe as I believe in a progressive, Jewish and democratic Israel to fulfill the vision of a democratic and Jewish state as articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
For my complete blog at the Times of Israel – see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/putting-our-money-where-our-values-are-after-the-israeli-elections/
Last evening I participated on a panel at the American Jewish University with moderator Rabbi Elliot Dorff and with fellow panelists Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabb Elazar Muskin in a conversation between rabbis of different religious streams (Reform, Conservative/non-denominational, and Orthodox) that, if not checked, can tear apart the fabric of the American Jewish community.
The three of us panelists represent similar and dissimilar approaches to what we believe is appropriate for rabbis to discuss on the bima and within the synagogue setting. We didn’t always agree – in truth, at times we disagreed substantially.
For my full statement and a link to the discussion, go to my Times of Israel blog at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/politics-on-the-pulpit-is-there-a-line-and-where-do-you-draw-it/
After my last post, a reader asked how contributing to the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), and J Street can help Israel remain pluralistic, democratic, and just.
I answer this question on my latest blog at the Times of Israel – see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/follow-up-2-american-zionist-organizations-liberal-american-jews-can-support/
Member of Knesset Stav Shaffir (Israel Labor Party), the youngest parliament member in Israel’s history, entered public life after her leading role in the 2011 social justice movement, Israel’s largest-ever, cross-party protest, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to take to the streets and set up protest camps throughout the country.
Shaffir is now serving her second term in the Knesset and is known for her relentless fight against the corrupt use of taxpayer money. She successfully exposed and blocked, for the first time in Israel, the massive use of government funds for political purposes.
A former journalist, Stav studied for her master’s degree in Philosophy and History of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University and holds a BA in Journalism and Sociology from City University of London, where she was the recipient of the Olive Tree Program scholarship for conflict resolution.
This video was likely released to the American Jewish community in advance of Stav’s appearance at the AIPAC Policy Conference, March 24-26 in Washington, D.C. She explains here, and hopefully she will do the same before the AIPAC thousands, why PM Netanyahu does NOT represent the vast majority of Israelis.
Note: The following d’var Torah was written by my friend, Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, Vice-President of the Union for Reform Judaism on Israel and Reform Zionism and President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). This week marks the 30th anniversary of Women of the Wall and their peaceful prayer was interrupted by violence from the Ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem.
The unfolding drama this week takes us to the center focus point for all Jews from time immemorial. Reports of angry mobs showing up to kick, fight, spit at, and rip off the tallitot and kippot of those coming to pray and celebrate with the Women of the Wall on the occasion of their 30th anniversary, filled the air of the Western Wall plaza this morning. Rabbi Noa Sattath left bloodied but unbowed, and Yizhar Hess, head of the Israeli Conservative (Masorti) Movement wrote that in “ten years of praying at the Kotel each Rosh Hodesh, he had never seen such hatred, such violence, and such rage in their eyes.”
The drama has been at this place, and at this exact place on earth, for three-thousand years. In fact, it is this week that we read in the Haftarah of Parshat Pekudei (Kings I Chapters 7-8) about that moment when King Solomon built his Temple.
בָּנֹ֥ה בָנִ֛יתִי בֵּ֥ית זְבֻ֖ל לָ֑ךְ מָכ֥וֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֖ עוֹלָמִֽים׃ (מלכים א’ ח:יג)
“I have now built for You a stately House, A place where You May dwell forever.” (Kings I 8:13)
This was the place that was meant to be for worship, for pilgrimage and as the single symbol meant to unify our people. The Temple Mount is the single most important symbol that we have as a people. It served as the focal point for all of Jewish society while it stood, and its memory served as the most important force in keeping us alive during our centuries of exile.
The term Zionism was coined (c. 1890) to connect directly to the memory of the Temple in Jerusalem as the last time we had sovereignty in our Land. It was also to say that the establishment of a Jewish sovereign political entity would, in fact, be the Third Commonwealth, the Third Temple.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, when the famous 3 words roused the entire Jewish world “הר הבית בידינו” “The Temple Mount is in Our Hands,” we then had sovereignty over the remnants of our ancient site. Soon after it again became a point of contention. The Israeli government and the antiquities authorities could have turned the area surrounding the Temple Mount into a historical/archeological preservation site, and place of pilgrimage, a ceremonial plaza, and tourist attraction like Massada, Tziporri, Gamla, and many more. But instead, it became an Orthodox synagogue. Yes, Jews have been praying there since we had access, and yes it was a mystical custom to place a note in the cracks of the wall, but no other site became an officially sanctioned prayer space like this one.
The significance of the Temple Mount is more than just a place of prayer. It in fact symbolizes the national struggle and for some is a symbol for national liberty.
Philosopher Tomer Persico wrote in 2014:
“Make no mistake – this is not about untrammeled longing for the burning of sacrifices. It is neither the observation of the biblical commandment nor the upholding of the Halakhic stricture that matter to these Knesset Members, even the religious ones among them. The Temple Mount serves Regev, Feiglin, Edelstein, and Elkin as a national flag around which to rally. The location of the Temple to them is nothing more than a capstone in the national struggle against the Palestinians, and the sovereignty over the mountain becomes a totem embodying the sovereignty over the entire country in its commanding figure”
And today, it became once again a place of senseless hatred, of rage, of violence, a place where Jews showed up to fight and to prevent their fellow Jews from welcoming this happiest of months.
Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz appealed to the groups saying, “that the Western Wall plaza is not a… demonstration area and asked [for attendees] to refrain from provocations, and to guard the Western Wall as a unified place, and not a place of division.”
“On Rosh Chodesh Adar II (Friday), I urge everyone to refrain from bringing their war to the Wall,” he said. “Please – the Western Wall is not a platform for ideas and not a platform for holding demonstrations.”
Oh, the irony. Not a platform for ideas??? Huh?
This is the exact spot where Hillel and Shammai argued, where our sages sat in the Sanhedrin, where Christians attribute some of the most important actions of Jesus, the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven (according to Islam). Not a place for ideas???
If you don’t want demonstrations Rabbi Rabinowitz then please call on the leaders of your movement, and movements such as Hazon (not the Jewish environmental organization) who placed a fake front page newspaper showing that “The Reform Jews Have Conquered the Kotel” and calling on everyone to show up this morning to rescue it. Call on those who spit, rip clothing and tallitot, and physically assault fellow Jews that this is not a platform for holding demonstrations.
Just imagine that today, on the beginning of the month of Adar II, the authorities of the Western Wall said “Today we are commanded to be happy, and we welcome you with open arms! Today, we realize that you are not a threat to our form of Judaism, and you are just trying to pray and exalt God’s name like we are! Please come, read the word of the living God, and rejoice in this most joyful of days.”
Just imagine what would happen if so many people were praying and dancing and singing and celebrating that they didn’t even notice a couple of hundred women coming to this holiest of spots.
Now, there is great debate among us, even in the Reform Movement about the place, significance, and efforts around the Kotel. Some say it’s insignificant, and some say it is.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall shared with us this pearl of wisdom in his drasha on this weeks’ Torah portion today: “But ongoing and persistent action has the power to create real change in someone’s life.”
Thank you, Rabbi, that is sound advice.
I can’t help but feel how much further we’ve come as a nation since Dr. King’s life ended so suddenly and tragically. Anyone alive then will remember where you were when you heard the news, and we’ll remember Robert F. Kennedy’s poetic, compassionate and eloquent response in the rust belt states that evening of Dr. King’s death.
With the blaring light of this corrupted Trump era, it ought to be clear to anyone with a conscience that we still have much distance to travel to fulfill Dr. King’s aspirations and the aspirations proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence.
Trudge on we must! I’m confident that these next two years will move us forward as a nation in many areas with our new Congress, and as candidates begin to declare their quest for the White House, we’ll be setting the stage for another epic battle at the polls next year which, with effort, a far better outcome will be forthcoming than was the case in 2016.
We at Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles celebrate Dr. King’s life and vision every year on the weekend commemorating his birth, and we’ll do so again this coming Friday during Kabbalat Shabbat services – January 18 at 6:30 pm. If you live in Los Angeles, please come and join us. The community is welcome.
We will play 13 minutes of a 43-minute sermon Dr. King delivered from our bimah at Temple Israel of Hollywood in April, 1965. The recording is so clear it’s as if he’s in the room with us, though it has been nearly 54 years since he stood before a packed congregation.
You can hear the entire speech here – https://www.tioh.org/images/audio_collection/MLKSpeech_TIOH_1965.mp3
For a longer selection of Dr. King’s most memorable quotations – go to my blog at the Times of Israel where I have posted them – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/dr-martin-luther-king-in-celebration-and-memory/ .
Note: The final quote is Dr. King’s statement of support for Zionism and the State of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
Request – Share the list with your friends from the Times of Israel. They will remind us not only of the greatness of the man, but of our own prophetic tradition and engagement as Jews in the struggle for human rights.
Note: This was sent to our congregants at Temple Israel of Hollywood in support of the LA Women’s March. Please note the strategic activities we have scheduled around this event.
To Our TIOH Family,
It would be impossible to overstate the power and uplift so many of us have felt witnessing and participating in the past two Women’s Marches. These marches, harnessing multigenerational expressions of women’s dignity and power and bringing to light so many issues of critical importance to our country, have been catalysts for much good in our world.
It is, at the same time, impossible to ignore published accounts claiming that specific individuals in leadership positions of the National Women’s March have made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks.
We at TIOH have been and remain committed to the Women’s Rights Movement, gender justice, and civil rights. We also refuse to let anti-Semitic statements or actions go without response. Our challenge is to hold both truths in this complicated and fraught time, which at its core, holds so very much potential for change.
We share with you our thoughts on this moment:
- If you look to the homepage of the Women’s March Los Angeles (WMLA), you will see a strongly worded statement stating clearly that WMLA “has no affiliation and was never part of the Women’s March Inc. WMLA is its own separate organization with separate leadership, board, and funding.” Part of what has come to light in the face of recent allegations of anti-Semitic comments by a few leaders of the National Women’s March is that the national leadership does not represent, nor is it connected by finances or governance, to many of the hundreds of local marches across the country, including Los Angeles.
- Anti-Semitism is a very real problem in our world and lies at the heart of white supremacy. There has been an historic increase, according to surveys published by the ADL, in anti-Semitic hate crimes over the past two years in our country and abroad. Acknowledging, learning about, and fighting anti-Semitism wherever it occurs, including in the National Women’s March leadership group, is of critical importance to everyone concerned about promoting an inclusive and decent America.
- That being said, the Women’s March Unity Principles reflect much of the justice work in which TIOH and our partner organizations are engaging. We are pleased that changes have been made to these Unity Principles to explicitly include Jewish women and that representatives of national Jewish leadership organizations were part of the crafting of the 2019 Women’s Agenda. Being involved in the real work of this movement is very much in line with our justice principles.
- Despite the anti-Semitic statements by some individuals in the National Women’s March, we believe that it is critical for representatives from the Jewish community to remain in dialogue and actively engaged with them, as well as to continue the important work of eradicating anti-Semitism at every level of our society. Teshuvah, a return to each person’s best self, is always possible. We believe strongly that The Women’s March, as an intersectional movement, must include Jewish women because it is there, in the heart of the movement, that we can both act on our social justice principles and combat anti-Semitism.
- We especially encourage TIOHers to participate in our local Women’s March Los Angeles. We also encourage TIOHers to explicitly speak out against all expressions of anti-Semitism whenever we encounter them. Our public engagement in both the women’s movement and our work to combat anti-Semitism is at the core of who we are as American Reform Jews.
Please read these comments from the Union for Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism. You will see that our position at TIOH is cast in the same spirit as our Reform movement’s leadership.
Join us at the LA Women’s March! TIOHers will be joining Jewish Center for Justice (JCJ), as well as folks from synagogues across Los Angeles, at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 19th to pray and march together. Meetup details will be forthcoming.
In addition to marching, come to the following events:
- At TIOH this Sunday, January 4, at 10:00 a.m., join Rabbi Jocee Hudson for bagels, coffee, and an open informal conversation about what it means for us as members of the Jewish community, who are committed to Women’s Rights and Civil Rights, to participate in the Women’s March.
- Please join members of the broader community on Sunday, January 13, at 7:00 p.m. at University Synagogue for a Teach-In with Zioness and JCJ.
- Please join us at TIOH before Shabbat services on Friday, January 18, at 5pm, to show our public resistance to anti-Semitism as we hear from David Lehrer on “How anti-Semitism Lies at the Heart of White Supremacy.”
For questions about our Social Justice work at TIOH, please contact Heidi Segal email@example.com.
Rabbi John L. Rosove – Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh – Rabbi Jocee Hudson – Shelly Fox, Cantorial Soloist and Musical Director – Heidi Segal, TIOH Vice President, Social Justice – Aliza Lesser, WoTIOH Chair