Based off requests I received, I am adding my Israel Sermon from Rosh Hashanah as a post:
It is so wonderful to see so many people gathered together today to join us in worship. Parents are united with children, grandparents with grandchildren, uncles and aunts with nephews and nieces. I want to be sure that everyone knows that you always have a place here at the new Jericho Jewish Center. The brochure that we provide is just the tip of the iceberg of what we are offering during this year. Please be frequent visitors and please give me your input as to what you’d like to see at your Jericho Jewish Center.
When I was growing up spending Shabbat with my parents, one of the highlights was always discussing the rabbi’s sermon at lunch. My parents loved getting my thoughts on the sermon and sharing their own. My father especially loved when the sermon was about Israel, referring to it as a “red meat sermon.”
This year I cannot imagine a rabbi not speaking about Israel on the High Holidays. So much has happened in such a short time, much of it tragic and upsetting. I think back to June 12, 11 days after I was married, when the 3 yeshiva boys were captured by Hamas. Those 3 boys were the classmates of family friends in Efrat, who I had had the pleasure of staying with twice. When the boys were captured, I was travelling to San Diego to be with my wife and her parents, and I did not learn about the situation until I attended a Sephardi shul on Shabbat morning. When they said to pray for yeshiva boys who had been captured, I was in shock. I remembered celebrating 3 years prior when Gilad Shalit was released; thinking that the days of captured soldiers was a thing of the past. As we now know, Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach were murdered by Hamas, along with Hadar Golin. We also know that Hamas systematically built a network of tunnels into Israel with the desire of kidnapping Israeli civilians and taking them through the tunnels on this very Rosh Hashanah. Thankfully, Israel discovered and destroyed these tunnels before Hamas could carry out its plan.
Israelis had a summer running back and forth between their homes and bomb shelters after hearing sirens about rocket launchings. Thankfully the Iron Dome destroyed most of the rockets before they landed. Israel distributed leaflets warning those in Gaza to evacuate their homes, while Hamas kept them in their homes and set up its facilities in schools and hospitals. Israelis had large public funerals to mourn their dead while Hamas encouraged them to be martyrs.
We also had a summer filled with terrible anti-Semitic actions, including the murder of 4 people outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels, a rabbi who was attacked by 4 youths in Berlin for wearing a kippah and rallies in European cities in which “Death to the Jews” was chanted-just as it was chanted in 1896 at the Alfred Dreyfus trial. We saw the beheading of two American journalists and one British journalist by the Islamic State-one of whom happened to also be an Israeli citizen. We saw war crimes and terrorist atrocities committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia and by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq-all of which are sending a simple message: convert to Islam or die. We see Iran ever closer to building a nuclear weapon.
Why am I talking about this today? Many of you have read the newspapers, seen the reports on television and know the details of Operation Protective Edge and the anti-Semitism in Europe far better than I do. My job is not to be a news reporter or to offer a picture of doom-and-gloom for the New Year: rather it is to address the events of the day and find a hopeful message from them. How do we combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel reports in the media? Two words: JEWISH UNITY. Let’s look at a few examples.
Max Steinberg, a lone soldier from Los Angeles, was killed in battle along with 12 other soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Max had no family or friends living in Israel. There was concern about him having a suitable and proper funeral on Mount Herzl. What happened? 30,000 people showed up to honor Max’s life and his dedication to service in the Israeli Defense Forces. 30,000 people! Saying that Max had no family in Israel is not true: the entire people of Israel was his family! What makes it even more incredible is the 20,000 who came to lone soldier Nissim Carmeli’s funeral two nights before. These were two powerful acts demonstrating Israelis standing together as one people.
Another sign of unity in Israel was Israeli and Americans’ reactions towards Operation Protective Edge. The Knesset, Israel’s governing body, is often divided on every matter, yet the Jewish votes in the Knesset were almost unanimous in their support of Operation Protective Edge. It did not matter whether one was right or left wing: when the reports on the kidnappings and on the tunnels came out, there was support across the board to act. I also saw this in our country. Those who are often dovish on Israel wrote in support of the military efforts: one even wrote “I’m done apologizing for Israel.” People were able to put aside their legitimate disagreements on governmental policies, recognizing that Israel’s well-being was at stake. Unfortunately, it often takes danger to lead to unity, and this situation was no exception to that.
A third way we saw Jewish unity this summer was through participation at Israel rallies throughout the country. There were numerous rallies in Manhattan, one of which had over 10,000 attendees, as well as a rally at the Mid Island Y. This summer, we literally stood for Israel. We made banners, sang together and heard engaging speakers who called us to action: If Not Now When?
How do we begin a new year at a point of uncertainty for Israel and for Jewry? We do so with an optimistic outlook, actively working towards a better future. We do so by “not giving up hope,” in the words of Racheli Frankel, whose son was one of the 3 yeshiva boys killed. If Racheli Frankel can still be hopeful for the future after the tragedy she went through, how much more so do we need to be. These examples of Jewish unity demonstrate to us that by working together, we can send a strong, powerful message that Jews of all stripes stick together.
There are multiple ways that you can help our congregation stand unified with Israel. One is by joining us on Sunday October 26 at our Musical Arts Gala concert. This concert features Israeli artist Rita, dubbed “The Israeli Madonna.” A portion of the proceeds from the concert will benefit the lone soldier organization A Hero in Heaven. Not only will you be supporting Israeli music but you also will be supporting an organization that helps those who choose to make Aliyah and serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Another way you can show Jewish unity is through visiting Israel and making your own personal connection to the Land of Milk and Honey. The Jericho Jewish Center is planning a trip to Israel in the Fall or Winter of 2015-16. This trip is open to all, whether you have been to Israel 50 times or have not yet had the pleasure of going, and the itinerary will be determined in part by the participants. Our opening meeting is at the synagogue on Wednesday October 29, and we hope to see you there.
A third way for us to all stand together is to continue to educate ourselves about the situation in Israel. Whether you are a member of AIPAC, JStreet, ZOA or another organization, there are numerous programs and resources devoted towards education about Israel’s political situation. I do not care if you are right-wing, as I am, left-wing or in the center: what I DO care about is that you care about our community and the worldwide Jewish community. As Elie Wiesel said, “The peril facing mankind today is indifference.” There are numerous speakers about Israel at the Mid Island Y and at various congregations in town, as well as a plethora of media sources that you can use to educate yourself about Israel. I am hoping to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference this March to continue my education about the situation in Israel.
A fourth avenue we can take is to support Israel financially. Israel was hit hard economically by the war this summer, especially through a lack of tourism. To do our part to help make up for this, we raised over half a million dollars in Israel Bonds. While our Israel Bonds event was in August, there is no end limit to when one can purchase a bond or make a donation to strengthen the Israeli economy, and I encourage all to do so.
I pray that the coming year will present numerous opportunities for us to come together as one people. I pray that we will fulfill the motto that “Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel,” for we are am yisrael, the people of Israel. Let us not lose sight of the biblical precept that though few in number, we are a strong and mighty nation, prepared to encounter the challenges that face us. May this truly be a year of renewed peoplehood, of being empowered to act together for a better future. AM YISRAEL CHAI! The People of Israel live!