A War Over Values

Each day I read about the war in Israel, I get increasingly upset because I realize that this is a war over the values that we hold dear. I see the anti-Zionist protests throughout Europe and I understand that this is not about “Free Palestine” but about fighting against western society, a society which promoted the freedom of women, gays and lesbians and people of all religions. As the model democracy in the Middle East, Israel is a country where everyone can live freely as he or she chooses, as opposed to most of its neighbors, where people confirm to the majority out of fear of being persecuted or killed. I see this as the primary reason why the United States has been such a staunch supporter of Israel: it recognizes that Israel promotes the same freedoms on which our country was founded.

What scares me the most is what will happen in the years ahead. I look at European cities with 40% Muslim populations which have 3 times the number of kids as the typical European family and realize that Islam will become the majority religion in parts of Europe within a decade. The Muslim population in the West Bank is also growing at a staggering rate and will likely surpass the Jewish population within a couple decades. What does this mean and why is it important? As others have said before me, there are two wars going on. One is the current battles between Israel and Hamas. The other is the “waiting game” where Islam is gradually growing in numbers in western countries and will eventually attempt to take over through the western democratic process or through sheer numbers. Why is this an issue? As we see in Muslim countries, there is an emphasis on the need to conform to the practices of the majority religion and to oppose those western values of liberty that we hold dear. It is also the difference between a people that values life (as it says in Deuteronomy “Choose life”) versus one that values martyrdom and sacrifice as a means for obtaining its objectives. Israel, through promoting life, stands out as a beacon of hope throughout the Middle East.

As Israel needs the support of each and every one of us, now more than ever, I would urge you to join us as the Israel Bonds Breakfast on Sunday August 10 at 10:15 a.m. in the Jericho Jewish Center Ballroom. My colleague Cantor Barry Black and his family will be honored at the event. Please join us to support a strong, secure Israel.

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Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism

Seeing the anti-Israel protests in Europe, with people shouting “Death to the Jews” in Paris makes me realize once again that anti-Zionism truly is anti-Semitism. Let me be clear as to what I mean. Zionism is belief in a homeland for the Jewish people. Anti-Zionism goes beyond criticizing Israeli policy to denying the right of Jews to have a country of our own. Without a Jewish homeland, we will lose the cohesive force of unification that binds us together as a people. Whatever Jews’ personal views are of Israel, we band together during times like this to stand united behind our Jewish state. At the same time, others are banding together to castigate the Jewish homeland. These individuals are not criticizing policies: they are condemning the right of our people to have our own country while concurrently uttering anti-Semitic slurs. These anti-Zionist rallies are revealing the true, anti-Semitic colors of the protesters.

Look at the following responses and tell me you disagree:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/07/23/jews-into-the-sea-european-jews-plagued-by-death-threats-jew-bans-and-violence-from-pro-palestinian-protesters/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/27/isis-s-black-flags-are-flying-in-europe.html

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/11/19/fk-em-just-kill-yourself-kim-kardashian-jon-levitz-face-backlash-death-wishes-for-defending-israel/

http://twitchy.com/2014/07/28/wtf-what-standards-facebook-gives-pass-to-page-calling-for-death-to-jews-photo/

A Rally To Support Our Accomplishments

Today there is a big rally outside the United Nations building in support of Israel. Thousands are gathering to hear motivational speakers and rally their support for Israel. Personally I think rallies are wonderful opportunities for the Jewish community to come together. My question is why do we always come together when the situation is difficult? Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us to come together to celebrate Israel’s technological advances or the continued survival of our people amid challenges? My hope and prayer is that in addition to coming together to support Israel in the difficult war it is fighting, we also will come together to support our people’s accomplishments and achievements. In addition to being united in times of war, let us also be united as one people to showcase all the wonderful things that Jews are doing throughout the world.

The New Jewish Center

When I told my congregants in Tucson that I was going to become the Rabbi of the Jericho Jewish Center, a number of them said, “Oh, so you’re going to be the Rabbi of a JCC?” My response was “No I’m going to be the rabbi of the JJC, a shul called the Jericho Jewish Center.”

The confusion is not for naught. A number of shuls in the greater New York City area are referred to as Jewish Centers. Why is this the case? Jewish centers emerged from Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s idea of the “synagogue center,” a “shul with a pool.” Rabbi Kaplan believed that the synagogue should be the center of social, cultural and community programming, in addition to a place of religious worship. He began with his own congregation, The Jewish Center, which he founded in 1917. As the Jewish community moved into the suburbs, the majority of Conservative synagogues followed Kaplan’s line of thinking, inscribing their building as a Jewish center. There are dozens of these shuls today, including the Fresh Meadows Jewish Center, Midway Jewish Center, Princeton Jewish Center, Riverdale Jewish Center and of course the Jericho Jewish Center. Many of them formed in the 1950s and 1960s, when Jews began to move to the suburbs.

As the years passed, the synagogue lost its place as the center of Jewish gathering. A number of YMHAs (Young Mens Hebrew Associations) began taking the name Jewish Community Center (JCC). These organizations centered on athletics and social programming as well as preschools and teen programming and over time became the central places where Jews would congregate for big community events (Yom HaShoah ceremonies and Yom HaAtzmaut parades, to name a couple). The JCCs are more in vogue today, as they appeal to people’s fitness and social needs.

My challenge for the contemporary synagogue is to reacquire some of the appeal of the Jewish Center of the past through focusing on engaging the entire person. Shuls today have to realize that some will come for prayer services but others will come for social action, yoga, bridge or athletic competitons. We need to embrace the synaplex model that different activities appeal to different congregants and to meet people where they are at rather than where we want them to be. If we do this, we can start to regain some of the glory of Kaplan’s synagogue center of the past.

My Heart is in the East

Judah HaLevi said it best: “My heart is in the east but I am in the west.”That is exactly how I feel when I watch the war in Israel on television or read about it in the paper. I pray for the day that rockets are no longer fired into Israel and that no more innocent civilians are killed. I pray for Hamas to be destroyed and a viable peace partner to come to the forefront. I pray for the safety of the soldiers and of volunteers who risk their lives to bring food, water and supplies into the heat of battle. I pray each and every day for a cease fire and for an eventual peace.

As we begin the Book of Deuteronomy, I cant help but think about what Moses felt being so close to the Land of Israel yet so far away at the same time. Moses begged to enter the land but no no avail. As the Book of Deuteronomy begins, “These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness.” Moses wanted to be in the Promised Land yet he was separated by the Jordan River. Similarly, I long to be in the Land of Israel, the Jewish homeland, but I am separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

The war has in part impelled me to begin planning a congregational mission to Israel, to take place in Winter 2015. I want to return to this land with such a rich history, where Hebrew is spoken every day and where people courageously progress in their lives each and every day. I want to return to this rich tapestry of cultures and religions, a land where I am at home for being a Jew yet which numerous Christians, Muslims, Bedouins and Druze also call their home. It has been 5 years since I was last in Israel, and I am ready to return and to lead a group to this wonderfully rich country, the homeland of the Jewish people. Israel needs our support more now than ever. I applaud those who are continuing to take trips to Israel this summer and look forward to my return to this wonderful country of survivors-those who persevere in the face of terror and continue to live life with such meaning and richness.

May the coming week bring a calming of the violence.