Radical Evolution Throughout the History of Judaism – Reform Voices of Torah

I respond in this 10 minutes of Torah through the Reform Movement’s website to Dr. Ruhama Weiss, Ph.D.  the director of the Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.

See link to both Dr. Weiss’s piece and my response at http://bit.ly/2HRPzMi

This post originally appeared on ReformJudaism.org and is part of “Ten Minutes of Torah” http://www.reformjudaism.org/sign-receive-ten-minutes-torah

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” – William Butler Yates

David Leonhardt in today’s NY Times talks about the shrinking of Europe’s traditional political parties reminding me of William Butler Yeats famous poem quoted by Churchill in the darkest of days during WWII (see below)

“The shrinking of Europe’s traditional political parties continues.
In Britain, the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives, finished in third place and fifth place in this weekend’s European Parliament elections. The populist right-wing Brexit Party finished first, with close to 32 percent of votes.
In Germany, the two establishment parties — one center-right and one center-left — lost more than quarter of their combined seats. The biggest gainers were the left-leaning Greens.
In France, the Greens gained as well, although the right-wing National Rally (known until recently as the National Front) finished first. The two traditional parties finished fourth and sixth.
Many people felt relief that far-right parties — which traffic in xenophobia — didn’t do better in this weekend’s elections. Instead, candidates who support the idea of the European Union combined to win a majority of seats. I share that relief.
But I think it’s important not to lose sight of the main story line. Across much of Europe and the United States, dissatisfaction with the status quo remains the dominant political mood. That’s why so many European parties that were powerful only a few years ago now finish well outside the top two spots. It’s also why Donald Trump was able to take over the Republican Party and win the presidency — and why control of Congress has flipped back and forth in recent years.
In the 2020 presidential campaign, Trump will no doubt attempt to tap into this anti-establishment mood once again. He will be the incumbent, which will make that strategy trickier for him. But he will be an incumbent like no other, one who constantly shows his disdain for the status quo.
Democrats will need their own plan for speaking to this desire for change, especially if they nominate the decidedly establishment Joe Biden.”

 “Things fall apart;  the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, / And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

-William Butler Yeats


Is it time to impeach President Trump?

I am a fan of Preet Bharara, an American lawyer who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. Preet has a podcast called “Stay Tuned with Preet” in which he comments on  legal and prosecutorial matters and interviews experts on the law and diplomacy.

This week, Preet responded to a question from a listener who asked whether he thought it is the duty of our Congressional Representatives to uphold the law or to demur because of the feared negative political consequences that might result.

In his response, Preet framed the issue of impeachment of the President well. I transcribed that response here. He said:

“You’re a House Dem and you aren’t sure impeachment is electorally smart, but you are sure that it is constitutionally warranted based on the facts. What’s the right thing to do? Isn’t duty greater than speculation?

…if you have the view that there’s overwhelming evidence someone committed some transgression, and you have the power to hold that person accountable, then yes, you do have the duty.

I recognize Democrats’ hesitation – of Nancy Pelosi and others…what are you supposed to do? I understand that as a political prediction-matter if you think that the most important thing for America in the world in the next couple of years is for Donald Trump to be defeated in 2020, and you also think your reading of semi-ancient history of 20 years ago [i.e. the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his political comeback after the fact] that your reading of impeachment will undermine the ability to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, why you might have some hesitation. While in good faith you are still working toward this important election you don’t want anything to get in the way of that. I understand that. But the problem is that dubious calculations are being made by members of Congress. Knee-jerk timidity based on 1998 jitters is not leadership.

So, on the one hand, if you have this concern about the election and the effect that impeachment proceedings will have on that election, but on the other hand you have certitude – moral, ethical, and factual certitude – that the President committed acts that justify impeachment, how do you choose?

To me, the first thing is speculative, and people have been very bad about speculating what is going to happen in the future. And so, in a world in which one decision is merely speculative and the other you feel in your heart and mind is certain, then you go with the certain – you go with the definite, and you hope that that changes hearts and minds, and people understand that you are doing things in good faith and you are proceeding in a way that is about the truth and about accountability and values as opposed to scoring political points; and people can see you are doing things in that way – then you have to proceed.

I’m not saying that tomorrow articles of impeachment need to be filed. What I am saying is that as a member of Congress you feel deeply that impeachable offenses have been committed, then you can’t shy away from moving towards that, whether it’s by having hearings along the way to get more evidence and to put more of the picture of what happened before the American people where you get to a point where you pursue formally that thing called impeachment, then you need to proceed.

However, if you don’t think that impeachable offenses have been committed, then it’s an easy decision for you – and you don’t proceed…every Congressperson needs to decide for themselves what they think happened here and not to unduly shy away because of some speculation about how it will be perceived in some future election.”

Catch-67 – Why Trump’s “deal of the century” is folly

I hold no hope for Trump’s Palestinian-Israeli peace proposal even before he reveals it because neither he nor his son-in-law Jared Kushner understands the dynamics within Israeli and Palestinian societies or between the two peoples. They think they can solve this intractable problem by infusing money into the Palestinian community. The Middle East doesn’t work that way. The history of failed peace attempts is proof.

Micah Goodman, an Israeli philosopher, author, and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, has written an important book called “Catch-67 – The Left, The Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). He describes well the conundrum facing Israelis and Palestinians within their own societies and in light of their histories, ideologies, demographic claims, religious and political orientations within each society, and in their relationship with each other.

For his conclusions and more detail, please go to my blog at The Times of Israel at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/catch-67-why-trumps-deal-of-the-century-is-folly/


I was a Prisoner at Santa Rita 50 Years ago

On Thursday, May 22, 1969, I was arrested in a peaceful mass bust of 482 University of California Berkeley students and faculty for protesting the police killing of one man and the injury of hundreds more with buck shot and bird shot during the “People’s Park” controversy. I was sent to and spent a 24-hour period at Santa Rita prison. What I experienced there terrified me and transformed me into the political and social justice activist that I would become.

See my blog at the Times of Israel to learn what happened that day in the prison at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/i-was-a-prisoner-at-santa-rita-50-years-ago/



National survey finds Democratic voters most likely to back presidential candidate who acts as fair and impartial broker in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations

WASHINGTON, DC — A clear majority of likely Democratic primary voters have favorable views of Israel and believe it is compatible to hold these views and be critical of the Israeli government, according to a new poll. The poll found that most Democrats believe that the US should act as a fair and impartial broker for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The national survey, conducted by GBAO and commissioned by J Street, found that Democrats have a positive view of Israel (+25-point favorability) and the Palestinians (+13) and a highly negative view Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (-27). An overwhelming 75 percent say that they would be most likely to back a candidate who supported both Israelis and Palestinians, while a similar 74 percent say that they want the US to act as a fair and impartial broker rather than side solely with Israel.

“The old playbook of unconditional support for the Israeli Prime Minister is clearly out of date, and presidential candidates should feel confident expressing both their support of Israel and their criticism of Netanyahu policies that violate long-held American positions,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. “When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s a clear path to a balanced, principled and forward-looking consensus position that the vast majority of Democratic voters are ready to rally behind.”

Democrats clearly believe that it’s compatible to be supportive of Israel and critical of its government. 81 percent agreed that “someone can be critical of Israeli government policies and still be pro-Israel” — including 92 percent of those who view Israel positively. 61 percent said they were less likely to support a candidate who believes that the US “must stand behind all of [PM] Netanyahu’s policies”, while 69 percent were less likely to support a candidate who says that the US “should continue financial and military aid to Israel without any restrictions, regardless of whether Israel expands settlements or annexes Palestinian territory.”

Democratic voters support Israel, and hold nuanced views toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Choosing between the Israelis and Palestinians is a false dichotomy for these voters, and they want the US to play an active role as an honest broker that helps the parties reach a peace agreement,” said pollster Jim Gerstein.

The poll found that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel is a non-issue among Democratic primary voters — only 36 percent have heard even a little about it, while 63 percent have heard nothing. There is neither strong opposition (13 percent) nor support (12 percent) for BDS. At the same time, however, Democrats are clearly against legislation that would penalize people who boycott Israel and potentially infringe on the Constitutional right to free speech. 54 percent oppose such legislation, while just 22 percent support it.

At a time when the policies of the Trump administration are increasing the prospects for a dangerous new conflict with Iran, the vast majority of Democrats (72 percent) believe the US should re-enter the JCPOA nuclear agreement, including 45 percent who strongly support doing so.

When asked who they were currently planning to vote for in the presidential primary, 36 percent said Joe Biden, 13 percent said Bernie Sanders, 8 percent said Elizabeth Warren and 6 percent said Kamala Harris. Other candidates receiving at least 1 percent support included Pete Buttigieg (5), Beto O’Rourke (4), Cory Booker (3), Amy Klobuchar (1) and Julian Castro (1).

GBAO designed the questionnaire for this national survey of 800 likely voters in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. It was conducted May 1-5, 2019 via landlines and cell phones. The sample is subject to a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Nathan Wolfson
Senior Digital Associate, J Street

The poll results, including the full surveycrosstabs and summary of findings, are available at https://jstreet.org/j-street-2019-poll-of-democratic-primary-and-caucus-voters

“The Order of the Day” and the Era of Trump

In this era of Trump, millions of Americans are stepping up to fight Trump’s distortions of fact, moral turpitude, corruption, and violation of law even as Senate Republicans neatly fold up their tents in ways similar to how Austria and Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium folded theirs eighty years ago. While our era and nation are in so many ways different than the 1930s and Germany, the moral collapse of societal norms in those years is similar to the moral collapse that we are witnessing today at the highest levels of the American government. One cannot help but read the past into the present when considering the era Eric Vuillard describes in his eloquent history-novella called The Order of the Day.

For the complete blog at the Times of Israel in which I compare Hitler’s march to war and the moral turpitude of the Trump era, see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-order-of-the-day-and-the-era-of-trump/


Note of Introduction: The following is a letter from Jerusalem written by Rabbi Dow Marmur, the Emeritus Rabbi of Holy Blossom Synagogue in Toronto and a Past President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Dow’s piece offers insight into what the rockets from Gaza (now there’s a ceasefire) may have been all about.

There seem to be many reasons for the recent barrage of some 700 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel that have taken lives on both sides: *an effort to prevent performers and audiences from abroad to come to the Eurovision contest in Tel Aviv; *Israel’s Independence Day celebrations which Palestinians tend to mark as their Nakba, the anniversary of their displacement that followed the establishment of the State of Israel: *Ramadan, the sacred month in the Muslim calendar, a potential period of violence; *another attempt to please the Iranian paymasters wanting to punish Israel for its many attacks on Iranian installations in Syria; *the delay in the arrival of cash from Qatar.

All this also had the unintended consequence for the terrorists who rule Gaza of strengthening the ultra-right forces in the Israeli political system just as they’re engaged in negotiations about the composition of the next government. The rockets from Gaza may have strengthened those who don’t lose sleep over the terrible conditions under which most Gazans live.

Similarly, there’s no evidence that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is troubled by the suffering of their kith and kin in Gaza. Over the years there have been many attempts at reconciliation but apparently without success. It may be difficult for Israelis to be concerned about the welfare of Gazans if their own people in the West Bank are not.

Gideon Levy, the Ha’aretz controversial columnist, described the events of the last few days as the Gaza ghetto uprising. He tends to put the blame on Israel. But it’s difficult to see how Israel can act in favour of Gazans as long as their leaders seem to be passionately committed to giving the Jewish state and its residents along the Gaza border as hard a time as possible.

Every concession that Israel makes seems to be perceived as a sign of weakness and an encouragement to attack it next time with ever greater ferocity. The Israel Defense Forces know how to fight and win wars, but it’s not clear that this fight can ever be won as long as Hamas and Islamic Jihad don’t want peace.

Though there’s now a cease-fire, allegedly brokered by Egypt and the United Nations envoy in the area, nothing much has changed. More clashes are bound to follow for it seems that of late the terrorists have made military progress: their missiles were remarkably effective, even in the face of Israel’s Iron Dome that tried to intercept them; their tunnels seem to protect them; the standing of their leaders has been enhanced by the recent attacks.

Yes, Israel is infinitely stronger than Hamas and Islamic Jihad, even with the military help they get from Iran and the cash that comes from Qatar. But this is a kind of war that military might doesn’t seem to be able to win. Though Israeli planes repeatedly attack military targets in Gaza, the war goes on. We may have a lull today but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Of the little I understand about the situation I find it difficult to share the view of those that Israel alone can resolve the crisis, even though it’s possible that it could do things for the population in Gaza that would give the Gazans a greater stake in keeping the peace instead of allowing to be used as pawns. What seems to be needed is imaginative diplomacy which neither the Gazans nor the Israelis seem to be endowed with.

Jerusalem 6.5.19                                                                                                            Dow Marmur










A Must-See Documentary – Who Will Write Our History – The True Story of the Warsaw Ghetto

Who Will Write Our History_May7_TIOH

In November 1940, days after the Nazis sealed 450,000 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, a secret band of journalists, scholars and community leaders decided to fight back. Led by historian Emanuel Ringelblum and known by the code name Oyneg Shabes, this clandestine group vowed to defeat Nazi lies and propaganda not with guns or fists but with pen and paper.

Now, for the first time, their story is told as a feature documentary. Written, produced and directed by our Temple Israel of Hollywood member, Roberta Grossman, and executive produced by Nancy Spielberg, Who Will Write Our History mixes the writings of the Oyneg Shabes archive with new interviews, rarely seen footage and stunning dramatizations to transport us inside the Ghetto and the lives of these courageous resistance fighters. They defied their murderous enemy with the ultimate weapon – the truth – and risked everything so that their archive would survive the war, even if they did not.

I learned of Ringelblum’s project in the late 1960s, but few people know the extraordinary story – until now. The Oyneg Shabes documents are the produce of more than a dozen Jewish writers, journalists and historians who were captives in the Warsaw Ghetto. They wanted to tell the story of the ghetto and not leave it to the Nazis to tell the story. When the uprising began and the writers knew that they likely would not survive, they buried in three metal milk containers all their documents. One of them, however, did survive, and after the war when the Warsaw Ghetto had been completely destroyed by the Nazis, she was able to lead rescuers to two of the three milk cans.

That provides the basis for Roberta Grossman’s film. Roberta is an award winning documentary film maker who became completely engrossed in this project, as she does with every film she conceives, writes, directs, and produces.

A disclaimer – Roberta is a friend, but the film should be seen by everyone who seeks uplift even from the ashes of the Holocaust. This is a film not to miss.

If you live in Los Angeles, we will be hosting a showing of the film for the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival in our own synagogue theater on Tuesday, May 7 at 7 PM. For tickets – go to https://arts.tioh.org/event/la-jewish-film-festival-2019/.

If you live elsewhere, be sure to watch the film. It will be one you will not forget.