Israel is fighting two wars – One is military and the other is Psychological

Hamas warfareThere are two wars being waged against Israel by Hamas. The first is military and the second is one of public relations. Israel, as the far more powerful army, will always win the first, but Hamas is winning the second.

Headlines around the world called Israel’s action to prevent a massive breach of the fence through which thousands of hostile Palestinians would pour into Israel intent on killing Israelis in southern Israel a “slaughter” and a “massacre” of innocent and unarmed Palestinian civilians. Many Palestinians were indeed unarmed, paid and forced by Hamas to charge the fence. However, Hamas was the primary perpetrator of the violence. Had Israel “slaughtered” or “massacred” Palestinians, far more would have been killed on Monday, the day the American Embassy opened, than the 60 who died. Hamas itself said that nearly 50 of those were Hamas fighters.

Dr. Irwin J. Mansdorph, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs who conducts research into the psychological aspects of the Israel-Arab dynamic, published a piece this week worth reading – “Psychological Asymmetry: Understanding the Gaza ‘Return Demonstrations.” see

Dr. Mandsorph’s main points include the following:

  • Psychological asymmetry is the relative advantage of the weaker party in a conflict to engage in otherwise immoral and illegal behavior against a militarily stronger opponent.
  • Hamas and other groups have used their psychological asymmetry in engaging Israel for years, exploiting and placing civilians in danger to meet strategic goals.
  • The current Gaza demonstrations are a prime example of psychological asymmetry being used as a strategic weapon by Hamas against Israel.
  • The difference in perception among people who support and those who criticize Israel for civilian casualties in Gaza is not due to “facts” or “logic” of the situation.
  • Rather, it is a result of an ideology of intersectionality that sees Gaza civilians as victims and as such immune from any responsibility for their fate.
  • Consequently, in this ideological framework, the more powerful party, namely Israel, must assume the responsibility for keeping these civilians safe.
  • Violating this responsibility, a difficult if not impossible situation, is what Hamas builds upon in presenting their case.
  • The dilemma faced by Israel is exacerbated by media reports, which adopt this subjective view of intersectional ideology and present morally symmetric descriptions in a situation where asymmetry abounds.

Dr. Mandsorph’s perceptions of the intersectional argument is worth reading. I recommend that you read the entire piece.



“Why So Many Israelis Won’t Condemn the Carnage in Gaza” by Don Futterman – Haaretz – May 17, 2018

Note: I trust Don Futterman. He’s moral, a humanitarian, a smart critical thinker, a loyal left of center Israeli. In this piece, he asks all the right questions and doesn’t give knee-jerk opinions or succumb to Israeli self-justifications and hasbara. He understands the depth of despair in Gaza felt by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as well as Israeli fears that the Gaza-Israeli border will be breached and thousands of Palestinians could pour into Israel with violent intentions against Israelis living in small communities in southern Israel. He knows that Hamas is a brutal demagogic and dictatorial ruler that is taking full advantage of the moment for its own anti-Israel purposes, and he’s well aware that Israel (and Egypt) blockaded Gaza thus exacerbating the poverty and despair of Gazans. Don suspects that the demonstrations of the past few weeks are more than simply innocent Palestinians acting out, though there are many unarmed Palestinians among them. In other words, we are witnessing both a humanitarian crisis and a complicated, confusing and bloody mess. Read what Don says. (I urge readers to subscribe to Haaretz. I am printing Don’s entire piece because I know many of you would not see this otherwise).

“Out of exhaustion, complicity or alienation, we increasingly defer to the endless spin of our arrogant leaders. We’ve stopped asking ethical questions about our responsibility for the death and despair in Gaza.

To the victor go the spoils, but also the moral dilemmas. And Monday’s events – the U.S. embassy opening and the bloody day at the Gaza border – should pose painful and profound questions to those Jews and Israelis who still care about the morality of our actions.

When Israelis consider the Gaza protests and confrontations at the border fence, we are dizzy from the political spin, and genuinely confused about what’s going on, and what we are seeing. That makes it almost impossible to ask ethical questions about our own behavior.

Here’s what we see on Israeli news: tens of thousands of Palestinians milling about, burning tires to create a thick, black spiraling smokescreen to obscure the view of our soldiers, including the snipers.

We are repeatedly shown videos of Palestinians in small groups or throngs running at the fence, placing explosives next to the fence, trying to cut the fence with wire cutters, carrying what appear to be explosives, throwing Molotov cocktails, in one case, firing with rifles at Israeli soldiers, or sending burning kites over the fence to try to start fires in the adjacent fields.

Among the Gazans trying to breach the fence we are told there are armed terrorist cells with missions to kidnap soldiers or blow up Israelis, which suggests that live fire is justified.

So we think we know that the protest is violent, coordinated, and meant to lead to a dangerous large-scale incursion into Israel. And we become amateur tacticians, justifiers and apologists, quickly agreeing that the fence must not be breached at any price, as if we know what we’re talking about.

Some of us believe a non-violent protest was organized by unaffiliated Gazans but their efforts were hijacked by Hamas, others believe it was always run by Hamas.

The day after, Nakba Day, when Hamas told Palestinians to stay home or go to funerals, and very few Palestinians came to protest or riot at the fence, it became clear to Israelis that Hamas is running the show and always has been. Unless they haven’t always been, and we are seeing only what we want to see.

We are also told that Hamas needs martyrs, and does not mind getting Palestinians killed, or even wants more dead Palestinians, because this provides effective imagery, and dovetails with the stories we tell ourselves about their use of suicide attackers.

The explanation circulating here for the unexpected calm on Nakba Day is that Hamas gave up on breaking through Israeli lines, and Egypt convinced them that video of 61 martyrs and 1000 wounded was sufficient for its PR purposes. And Gazan hospitals couldn’t handle new casualties – as if they are able to handle the load they have now.

But should we not ask what responsibility we bear for creating conditions in which so many young Gazans are willing to throw their lives away for so little?

We also hear that there are agreed upon ground rules between Hamas and Israel, and Hamas has decided to attempt to change those ground rules, and Israel has decided not to let them. In other words, the protest exercise is a deadly form of jockeying for position, a game initiated by Hamas. If this is true, is it right for us to participate in this game?

Our dismissal of Gazan misery as exclusively the fault of Hamas –  if Gazans wanted peace they would not have elected Hamas, or would have overthrown them by now – has become a self-serving mantra, more deeply embedded from one war to the next.

We know that openly opposing Hamas risks death for Gazans, but we lock that information in the closed cabinets of our brains because it makes it harder for us to blame Gazans for the predicament they are in.

If we were utterly indifferent to Palestinian deaths, we tell ourselves, there would be hundreds or thousands of fatalities, and we believe the rules of engagement are being followed, usually. But again, it’s their fault, isn’t it? Or could it be both of our faults?

The sheer volume of events that has overloaded Israel’s news cycle for months has left little headspace for introspection. We have stopped asking ethical questions that might impact policy, such as whether the blockade on Gaza is morally defensible in 2018, or if it ever was.  We slough off any responsibility for the misery of Gazans, including the deaths of the last six weeks.

We offer apologetics instead of investigation, treat every incident instrumentally, asking not whether our behavior is right but only of it achieves its ends or can be explained away.

It’s always their fault and there’s never sufficient cause to stop and question ourselves. Those who do are dismissed with contempt as disloyal, or self-flagellating.

We have become expert spinmeisters, on point, always on message, and amateur tacticians. 

As we Israelis, out of exhaustion, complicity or alienation, continue to defer to leaders whose arrogance grows as they achieve their short-term goals, we may find that our own moral compasses are spinning too fast and out of control to direct our judgment at all.

Don Futterman is the Program Director, Israel of the Moriah Fund, a private foundation that works to strengthen Israeli democracy. He can be heard weekly on TLV1’s The Promised Podcast.”



If Gaza Deaths are ‘Disproportionate,’ How Many Israelis Have to Die for Symmetry? Rabbi Eric Yoffie – Printed in Haaretz – May 16, 2018

Note: Rabbi Eric Yoffie is always worth reading, and his column on the Gaza War  does not disappoint. As I explained in a letter to Eric (a friend), this is as sensitive and difficult a challenge as we liberal Jews and lovers of Israel have faced in some time. Just because liberal commentators who I respect (as does Eric) are critical of Israel’s response to the thousands of Gazans attempting to breach the fence along the border doesn’t make them right or balanced, and I am sad to say, they are in this case neither.

“The death toll in Gaza has left me reeling. Many of the dead were innocents; some were children. Each and every death was tragic, rending the heart.

And the questions had to be asked: Who was to blame? Was Israel the guilty party? Had the Israeli army acted carelessly, shooting hastily into crowds of helpless civilian protestors? Or, even worse, were the killings an intentional act of cruelty, intended to teach a lesson to the hated Hamas enemy?

For some, the answers were easy.

Eddie Glaude Jr., a professor of religion at Princeton, said on MSNBC Monday that the only important thing was that “all of those babies are dead.”  To the claim that Hamas was using those dead children as tools in their political struggle, he offered these words: “That’s like saying the children in the Children’s March in Birmingham – it is their fault that Bull Connor’s attacking them.”

Excuse me?

Is a professor at Princeton really saying that the leaders of Hamas, known for their wholesale murders, casual cruelties, obsessive anti-Semitism, and devious terror are somehow comparable to the leadership of the American civil rights movement?

And that Israel’s need not to be overrun by huge, angry mobs of terrorists and demonstrators is equivalent to Bull Connor’s desire to perpetuate permanent segregation of black and white in America? And that the prayers of civil rights leaders that their children not be harmed are equivalent to the desire of Hamas leaders that their children be wounded or killed?

Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times acknowledged in passing possible grounds for blaming Hamas. But she more or less dismissed such claims, and noted “(t)he Israeli military’s disproportionate violence.”

John Cassidy, writing in The New Yorker, used similar language, pointing out that the “the casualty count was hugely asymmetrical.”

Again: Excuse me?

Charges of disproportionality are among the most common leveled against Israel in her long struggle against Hamas, and they are among the most infuriating.

Are Goldberg and Cassidy suggesting that if there were a lot more Israeli dead, and a hundred Jewish bodies were strewn across the desert in southern Israel, then Israel’s action would be acceptable, or at least more readily forgiven? If not directly stated, that is what is implied.

Such a thing could happen easily enough, of course. If the fence were breached and a single terrorist were to reach one of the civilian towns or settlements that have long been the intended targets of Hamas rockets and tunnels, the Israeli and Hamas death tolls might quickly “balance out.”

But Israel will not sacrifice a single life in these long-suffering towns without a fight. Neither will Israelis permit an Israeli soldier or civilian to be kidnapped without doing their utmost to stop it.

That is why Israel will do what she must to repel these mobs, and it is a moral obscenity for Goldberg and Cassidy to propose that she should do otherwise. And if either of them was a resident of a town near Gaza, they would be quick to demand – just as the current residents do – that Israel’s military do no less.

I should note that as an American Jewish liberal, I am a fan of both Goldberg and Cassidy, not to mention a regular viewer of MSNBC. And so I found myself asking whether my sympathies for Israel had skewed my thinking.  After all, we can all be victims of our ideological straightjackets, and Professor Glaude was right about one thing: Babies had died. And minimizing these deaths is unacceptable to me, as both an American and a Jew.

I therefore looked long and hard at the question of whether or not Israel’s military had alternative means available to contain the demonstrators.  Multiple commentators have argued that non-lethal methods of restraint would have been sufficient and greatly reduced the death toll.

But this argument seems to me more a wish than a reality. The rules of engagement were not a secret. Israel is a small country, her army is a people’s army, and its preparations for the May 13 demonstrations were widely reported in the media.

What one learns from reviewing this material is that 40,000 to 50,000 determined protestors – the number at the height of the protest – cannot be contained with water hoses or conventional crowd control.

All reports indicate that Israel’s training of its soldiers was intense, instructions were detailed, and experienced officers were in command.  Shoot-to-kill was not a first resort but an absolute last resort.

Nonetheless, if resorting to deadly force had been ruled out, a breach of the fence by thousands of demonstrators was likely inevitable. And the result would have been chaos, terror, and locking down all of southern Israel. No Israeli government, of the right or the left, could tolerate such an outcome.

Does this mean that Israel is blameless? Not at all. The misery in Gaza has reached intolerable levels, and while Israel is not the sole, or even the primary villain here, it must share responsibility with others for the suffering of her neighbors.

In 2007, the Quartet – Russia, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States – set out the conditions for normalizing the political status of Hamas and for moving ahead with a plan to provide international support for Gaza residents. These conditions included a Hamas commitment to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and support of past international treaties and obligations relating to the Middle East.

Hamas refused then, and refuses now, to meet these conditions. It is this refusal, and not the actions of Israel, that isolates Hamas and makes it a terrorist group and an international outlaw.

To all of the above must be added its ongoing feud with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority and its redirecting of humanitarian aid for military purposes. And the result is the humanitarian crisis that has made life in the Strip unbearable for all but a tiny elite.

Israel cannot resolve these problems alone, and the politics of resolving them are complicated.

Israel would prefer to help the residents of Gaza without strengthening the hands of Hamas. But it is neither practical nor moral to ignore the plight of nearly 2 million people on its southern border – which is mostly what she has done up to now.

So now is a good time for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is basking in the glow of his recent diplomatic triumphs, to put forward an Israeli plan to relieve the suffering that Hamas has inflicted on the residents of Gaza.

Now might be a good time for Israel to reach out to America, Saudi Arabia, and the Sunni world for help in implementing such a plan. And now might be a good time for Bibi Netanyahu to take advantage of ideas proposed by his own cabinet members – such as building an artificial island off the coast of Gaza – to improve Gaza’s economy.

There will be no magic cure or immediate solution. But Israel should take the initiative and start moving right away. To do otherwise is to send the message that Israel is indifferent to the abysmal plight of Gaza’s residents.”


The moral challenge of Gaza – Rabbi Donniel Hartman

I’m glad that Rabbi Hartman wrote this piece. I too have been paralyzed into silence by the demonstrations and violence on the Gaza-Israeli border and remaining silent is not a position in which I take comfort. Donniel Hartman articulates my own position well.

A few thoughts before you read Rabbi Hartman’s reflection in The Times of Israel below.

The people of Gaza are suffering, and the reasons for their suffering are complex. On the one hand, Hamas is a brutal dictatorship that cares more about destroying Israel than caring for its own people.

On the other hand, Gazans have 4 hours of electricity a day, unsanitary drinking water, 40% unemployment, and far too much despair that their situation will change any time soon.

The Gaza strip is blockaded by both Egypt and Israel. Though most Gazans are non-violent, Hamas has turned the demonstrations into a war. Israel has responded as any nation would. We can debate whether it is necessary to use live ammunition, but we are not there and we have to trust the judgment of the IDF commanders who are.

That being said, I defer to Rabbi Hartman.


May 15, 2018, 3:02 pm 12

Late last night, as the death toll in Gaza neared 60 human beings, my daughter called me with one simple question.

“Abba, what are you writing about Gaza?”

Before her call, I hadn’t intended to write. Gaza paralyzes me into silence.

When I read reports or hear discourse about Israeli Army use of lethal force against demonstrators, I cringe. To call what is happening at the Gaza border a demonstration, is a perversion of reality as I know it.

The inhabitants of Gaza have every right and reason to demonstrate against the tragedy which is their life. Not only do they live under unforgiveable and deplorable conditions, no one is taking responsibility either for their predicament or for the path to rectify it.

What is happening on the Gaza border is not a protest against the reality of life in Gaza, but an attack against the sovereignty of Israel and its right to exist. Palestinians have every right to view and experience the formation of Israel as their Nakba (catastrophe). They have every right to view the Six Day War and Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem as a deepening of this Nakba. When tens of thousands of people, civilians interspersed with thousands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, march on our border with the intent to destroy it, and penetrate into Israel, and allow the terrorists to murder Israelis, it is not only not a peace demonstration, it is not a demonstration at all. It is a battlefield, where anyone who approaches the fence is a combatant.

While Palestinians have every right to their narrative of Nakba, my people have every right to celebrate our independence and our victory in 1967, and to express joy at being home in our country, whose capital is Jerusalem. And we have every right to defend our rights.

The challenge is that when it comes to Gaza, for Israelis our moral conscience is by and large, silent. We argue that our unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, including its setting of the precedent of dismantling Jewish settlements, should have inspired Gazans to embrace or at the very least explore, the possibility of peace, instead of the path of war. It should have inspired the trade of goods and the fostering of economic ties, and instead it led to missile fire and the resulting partial blockade.

We hold the Gaza population personally responsible for the choices they have made. We hold the leadership that they have chosen, a leadership that regularly declares its desire for my destruction and acts on it, as responsible both for the tragedy of Gaza and its rectification. And as a result, most Israelis believe that from this moment henceforth, our moral responsibilities are limited to our efforts at self-defense. The plight of Gazans is taken out of the equation of our moral discourse.

Gaza paralyzes me into silence, for I am like most Israelis. I am not only saddened by the choices they have made and by the paths that they have chosen not to take, I am angry. I am a devout two-statist, who believes in the right of the Palestinian people to sovereignty in their own state, living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security for both of us. I am angry, because I believe that the hatred and violence spewing out of Gaza has possibly buried Israelis’ belief in the viability of the two-state solution in our lifetime. Any discourse about a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria is immediately rejected under the counter-argument: “It will just become another Gaza.” And this Gaza will be able to shut down all of Israel with mere mortar fire.

But as my daughter’s phone call reminded me, we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed, and to create a moral black hole in our society. I do not believe that Israel is principally responsible for the reality which is Gaza, but it does bear some responsibility. I do not believe that our soldiers on the border of Gaza are firing on demonstrators, but are engaged in a war. I do not believe that the Hamas-inspired action on the border poses an existential threat to the State of Israel. It does, however, pose a life-and-death danger for many Israelis. At the same time, 60 human beings were killed and thousands were injured in one day.

While 60 human beings lost their lives, and Israeli soldiers were engaged in the horrific challenge of protecting our border, tens of thousands of Israelis converged on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to sing and rejoice with Netta Barzilai on her and our victory in the Eurovision contest.

When the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea, our tradition recounts that the angels in heaven began to sing a song of praise to God. God silenced them with the words, “My creation is drowning in the sea, and you want to sing a song of praise?”

The Book of Esther recounts a particularly chilling moment. After Ahasuerus and Haman sent forth the pronouncement decreeing the murder and destruction of all Jews throughout the kingdom in one day, it states, “And the King and Haman sat down to drink and the city of Shushan was in chaos.”

We do not need to take moral responsibility for the reality which is Gaza, but at the same time we cannot allow our humanity and moral conscience to be so inert as to sit down and drink, not to speak of dancing in our city squares, when we are causing, justifiably or not, death and chaos.

We can believe that the events in Gaza are a war against Israel, support our soldiers, and still desire a public debate over the means necessary to win this war. I don’t value Monday morning moral philosophers, nor expressions of “concern” for loss of life. I do value serious moral reflection on how to ensure that we live up to our military moral code, which demands that even when force is used in self-defense, we only use the amount of force necessary and in proportion to the danger that we face, and that we do everything in our power to avoid civilian casualties. I do desire an Israeli society which welcomes and engages in this discourse.

I do not believe that our soldiers are violating international law, yet I am interested in a public discourse about what our soldiers on the front lines in Gaza are experiencing. I am interested in defending our soldiers from being placed in situations where their orders are not clear, and thus placing our soldiers in morally compromised situations.

Gaza paralyzes me, because human beings are dying at my hands, and I do not know how to prevent it. Gaza frightens me, because it is so easy to forget it and sing, regardless of what is happening there. Gaza challenges us, for it is in Gaza that our commitment to the value of human life is and will be tested.

We may not be principally responsible for the reality which is Gaza, but like all moral human beings, we must constantly ask ourselves whether and how we can be part of the solution. As Jews, we are commanded to walk in the way of God, a God who declares, “My creation is drowning, and what are you doing about it?”

Hamas has not shot into Israel since August 25, 2014 – Yoram Cohen

No objective individual can deny Hamas’ brutality and ultimate intent, but it’s worthwhile to note that despite the Naqba demonstrations each Friday at the Gaza border, that front has been relatively quiet for years. Here is a statement from a former head of Israel’s secret service Shin Bet about the current situation in Gaza:
“In my opinion, reaching an agreement with the Palestinian Authority is an Israeli national interest and we have to aspire to attain it…Since August 25, 2014, all Gazan factions have withheld from shooting into Israel and maintain the state of calm…As we all know, we are witnessing the quietest period we’ve had in two decades.”
–Former Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen said during a security conference in Herzliya.

Jerusalem – A City of the In-between and Not-Yet Peace

[Photo by Peter Marcus]

Jerusalem, itself on a mountain, is made up of a series of mountains. On top of each mountain is an important symbol sacred to a religion or people. Taken together, these multiple symbols represent perhaps the most significant city in world history.

Har Habayit – The Mountain of God’s House, also known as Har Moriah – The Mountain of ‘Sight’ is, of course, the most sacred place in Judaism. Legend teaches that the dust that formed the first human being, Adam, was gathered here, and this mountain top is the place on which Abraham bound his son Isaac. It is here that King Solomon built the First Temple and King Harod built the Second Temple.

Har Habayit- Har Moriah is the gateway between heaven and earth, the umbilicus through which the milk of Torah flows from the Divine breast to the children of Israel, where there is Divine sight and insight.

This most ancient of Jewish mountains is claimed by Islam as its third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina. Muslims call it Haram al Sharif – The Noble Sanctuary where Quran says Mohammed ascended to heaven.

On another small mountain is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, now shared in a delicate and sensitive balance among Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Roman Catholic, Syrian, and Ethiopian Christians because Jesus was crucified there.

To the east is Har Hazeitim – the Mountain of Olives at the foot of which is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before their Lord’s crucifixion.

Har Hazeitim contains the most holy Jewish cemetery in the world, the closest burial ground to the “The Golden Gate” of Jerusalem that was sealed by the 16th century Ottoman Qalif, Suleiman the Magnificent, because he feared that the Jewish Messiah would pass into the holy city through this gate in the end of days. Jews have been burying our dead on the Mountain of Olives for centuries so their souls would be close and ready to follow the Mashiach (“Messiah”).

Just south of the Old City walls is Har Tziyon – Mount Zion from where the prophets Isaiah (2:3) and Micah (4:2) said that Torah and God’s word came into the world. For Christians, Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Last Supper here.

A few miles west is yet another mountain made sacred by Zionism and the State of Israel, Har Herzl, on which is built the military cemetery for those who died in the defense of the state and the nation’s leaders. Har Herzl is walking distance from Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum.

Jerusalem has been conquered thirty-four times since the age of David. It is arguably the most famous and fought over real estate in the world. It is a city of the in-between. It embraces old and new, past and present, east and west, reason and faith, earth and heaven, this world and the world to come, imperfection and messianic dreams, temporal and divine power. It has been and remains the symbol of a history of intensely competing interests.

Israel celebrates “Jerusalem Day” this Sunday, May 12 (28 Iyar), marking 50 years since Israel reunified the city after the 1967 Six-Day War. Though Jerusalem has rarely known peace, it is an enduring symbol of our people’s yearning for peace nevertheless.

What is to become of this sacred city for so many going forward? Most Israelis don’t want it ever divided again. For the past 50 years Israel has maintained the peace and security of Jerusalem and free access for peoples of all faiths to the city’s holy sites. Yet, distrust and hatred fills still too many hearts and pollutes too many minds. Spitting and shoving, vandalizing and threats, provocation and incitement, violence and murder continue despite efforts by Israeli security to prevent it.

The problems that continue are compounded by the absence of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. East Jerusalem’s Palestinian Arabs, non-citizens of Israel who live under Israeli military rule, do not share equal rights with Israeli citizens, nor is their property necessarily respected by Israeli military law and ultra-Orthodox Jewish squatters who use every opportunity to occupy Arab homes.

Two different sets of law are enforced and non-Israeli citizens almost always come up short.

In the coming weeks, the United States will formally move its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a controversial decision taken by President Trump that shook the Arab world. Yet, Jerusalem is the people and State of Israel’s capital city. Its government buildings, the Prime Minister’s and President’s residences are there.

For Israel’s sake as a Jewish and democratic state and for the sake of the Palestinians the status quo is unsustainable, and if Jerusalem is to be the beacon of and symbol for peace throughout the world, it will take our two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, every ounce of courage, patience, creativity, understanding, and mutual respect to make it happen.

I believe, despite the deep distrust and hostility that there is a solution, but that will take the willingness to compromise and accommodate the needs of the “other” not as some kumbaya liberal dream, but for the sake of peace, security, the survival of and the dignity of all peoples.




Ramifications of Trump canceling Iran Deal

The following was prepared by J Street

Q&A: This Week’s Iran Deal Deadline, J Street

“[W]ith a key deadline coming up this week, many believe that tomorrow the president will finally make good on his threats — and take action to violate the deal. If that happens, the consequences for Israel’s security, regional stability and US credibility could be dire. The president and his extreme advisers could start us down the path to a nuclear-armed Iran or another disastrous war in the Middle East. To help you better understand the decision the president is taking and what could follow, we’ve prepared the Q&A below.”

Rabbi Aaron Panken – A huge loss to our movement and the Jewish people

Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., z”l

This weekend, Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, was killed in a plane crash and this tragic death has stunned the Jewish world.

Aaron was a mensch, a scholar, a gentle man, husband, father, son, and brother. At age 53, the words of the Book of Samuel immediately come to mind – “Eich naflu hagiborim – How the mighty has fallen.”

Since becoming President of HUC-JIR four years ago, Aaron carried forward the work of the Reform movement’s starship educational institution with intelligence, gentleness and kindness, and with insight and vision about the future of liberal Judaism in America and Israel. He led the four campuses of HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem. In the last year, Aaron ordained the 100th Israeli Reform Rabbi. He was set to ordain the graduating senior class this week at the American campuses.

He is being mourned widely as a scholar, mensch, and friend. His death is a huge loss to the Reform movement and the Jewish people.

My sympathy extends to his wife, Lisa Messinger, their children Eli and Samantha, his parents Beverly and Peter, his sister, Rabbi Melinda Panken (Glenn Cohen) and their family, his father-in-law Martin E. Messinger, and his sisters-in-law Daryl Messinger (Jim Heeger), Rabbi Sarah Messinger (Rabbi Jeff Eisenstat), and Alice Messinger and their families.

Funeral services will take place on Tuesday, May 8, at 1:00 pm at Westchester Reform Temple, 255 Mamaroneck Road, Scarsdale, NY.

A live webstream of the service will be available on the WRT website at

Even as we mourn the loss of our colleague, teacher, and friend, the vision that Rabbi Aaron Panken brought to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion remains a source of hope and comfort to those who mourn and the Jewish community. Rabbi Panken’s family requests donations in his memory be made to help fulfill Aaron’s vision for his beloved HUC-JIR at or by mail to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, One West Fourth Street, New York, NY 10012.

Messages of condolence to the Panken family may be sent to:

Lisa Messinger and the Panken Family
8 Stonewall Lane
Mamaroneck, NY 10543

May Rabbi Aaron Panken’s family find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

“To Be Holy!” Simple But Not So Easy – Parashat Emor

There’s a story told that “Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach commissioned his disciples to buy him a camel from an Arab. When they brought him the animal, they announced that they’d found a precious stone in its collar, expecting their master to share in their joy.

‘Did the seller know of this gem?’ asked Rabbi Shimon. On being answered in the negative, he said angrily, ‘Do you think me a barbarian that I should take advantage of the letter of the law by which the gem is mine together with the camel? Return the gem to the Arab immediately.’”

When the Arab received it back, he said: “Blessed be the God of Shimon ben Shetach! Blessed be the God of Israel!” (Devarim Rabbah 3:3)

When my sons were young, their mother and I told them that what they did, how they behaved, and the way they spoke to and treated others outside the home reflect not only on them, but on us, their parents, and on our family name. We reminded them to be honest, kind, and modest, and to embody those values always.

I often tell Rabbi Shimon’s story to children and remind them that what we do not only says much about who we are, but about our families and the Jewish people.

Until the modern period when communal values changed broadly, the most respected Jew in the community wasn’t the wealthiest and most politically influential, nor the celebrity, business maven, professional, or financial benefactor. Rather, the highest moral, ethical, and religious virtues were expected to be emulated by the Torah scholar, but even the scholar struggled mightily against the yetzer hara (“the evil inclination”).

Here is Maimonides’ description of what’s expected of the great Torah scholar:

“…When a person …is a great scholar, noted for her/his piety, people will talk about her/him, even if the deeds that s/he has committed are not offenses in the strict sense. Such a person is guilty of profaning the divine name (hillul ha-Shem), if s/he, for instance, makes a purchase and does not immediately pay for it, in the case where s/he has the money and the sellers demand it, but s/he stalls them; or if s/he indulges in riotous behavior and in keeping undesirable company; or if s/he speaks roughly to her/his fellows and does not receive them courteously but shows her/his temper and the like. All is in accordance with her/his status as a scholar. S/he must endeavor to be scrupulously strict in her/his behavior and go beyond the letter of the law. If s/he does this, speaking kindly to her/his fellows, showing her/himself sociable and amiable with the welcome for everyone, taking insult but not giving it; respect them, even those who make light of her/him; in all her/his actions until all praise and love her/him, enraptured by her/his deed – such a person has sanctified the name of God (Kiddush ha-Shem). Regarding such a person scripture states: ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be gloried.’” (Moses ben Maimon, Yesodei Ha-Torah 5:11)

RAMBAM taught that “Sanctifying God’s Name – Kiddush Ha-Shem” includes business ethics, conduct in mundane affairs, refinement of behavior and public demeanor, kindness and humility before people and God.

Except for the rare individual, we’re all a continuing battleground between two yetzers (i.e. good and evil inclinations) and we must choose. For too many of us, base instinct rules. We’re driven by need, desire, greed, jealousy, envy, lust, anger, impatience, fear, and hate. Others have an easier time being kind and generous, and they struggle less. But we all struggle.

The reason Torah study is determinative for the scholar (and is important for everyone) is because we find ourselves everywhere in the text. Every human instinct and virtue is addressed.

Anyone who says that Torah is irrelevant to his/her life is hiding something. To the contrary, the opposite is true. It’s there in Torah that we discover our deepest selves, a sense of meaning and purpose that sustains and strengthens us for noble ends.

Shabbat Shalom!


“Netanyahu’s Use And Abuse Of American Jews: A Review of ‘Bibi’” By Anshel Pfeffer – Batya Ungar-Sargon for The Forward

For those of us watching up close the Prime Minister of Israel over the last number of years, this piece in the Forward is not surprising.
It documents the disdain that PM Netanyahu feels towards American Jews and why the relationship between the current Israeli government and the American Jewish community is so fraught with dissension. The blame/responsibility can be laid at Netanyahu’s feet. For any of us to think otherwise is to be ostriches with our heads in the sand.
“American Jews have always been prepared to forgive any of his shortcomings. This toxic relationship was the work of their love for Benjamin Netanyahu. Another Israeli leader must never again be allowed to use and abuse American Jews in such a way and take the Diaspora for granted.”
Anshel Pfeffer’s ‘Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’ is published by Basic Books.