This sermon was given Friday April 12, 2013 at Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood CA.
Israel at 65
Next Week we celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday! Far from retirement-Israel is just getting started. It is a nation in progress. Who would have dreamt 65 years ago-from the grief of the Shoah and the grips of a World War, a glowing shining nation-state would arise in the lands of our ancestors. Who would have thought that after 2000 years the age-old dream of L’shanah HaBaha B’yerushalyim would have manifested itself after centuries of longing, hard work and yes, war into the modern state of Israel? Medinat Yisrael. So tonight we celebrate this miracle in our lives.
I am not ashamed to say I am a Zionist. I grew up a Zionist. Belong to Zionist youth groups like Young Judea, B’nai Brith Youth, NFTY and worked closely in college with consortium of Zionist groups working on aliyah to Israel. But it is not fashionable to be a Zionist or pro-Israel today.
But as you know Israel is under attack. Yes we know about Hamas and Hezbollah. But Israel is facing even more difficult attacks in the BDS movement. Perhaps you have heard about it.
The BDS movement sweeping across universities and in mainline churches such as the Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians is an anti-Israel movement that would urges divestment in Israeli corporations . The BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT And SANCTIONS group is a Palestinian based organization that has been very successful in attacking Israel world wide. Most recently the US Mennonite Church pledged to divest from any Israeli companies that are in its portfolio.
And only this week the Student Assembly at the UCSB, University of California Santa Barbara voted down a proposal for divestment after the incredibly hard work of the Jewish students and Rabbi Evan Goodman who is the Hillel Rabbi there.
The BDS movement is strong across this country.
Fueled by lots of money from Arab countries including Iran the BDS movement has activated thousands of Palestinian and Arab students in University settings across the US. Academic communities including faculty in many of America’s and Britain’s prestigious universities have called for boycott of Israeli scholars, ended cooperation with Hebrew University and the Technion and Tel Aviv University, and some have stopped their year in Israel or semester in Israel programs. While others have urged divestment of University funds in Israel in protest of Israel’s lack of progress in peace negotiations. The latest ploy is to bring Israel and its leaders up on charges in the International Court in The Hague turning the imagery of the Nazis the greatest perpetrators of Anti-Semitism upon Israel itself.
As we gather to celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, we do so against this world background of increasing Anti-Semitism in Europe in Greece and Hungary especially as right wingers demonstrate in the streets and this surge of Anti-Zionist and Anti-Israeli fervor. That is why Israel needs us more than ever.
As Jewish Americans our support of Israel should be paramount. But let’s be honest for many of us there is a disconnect as well. We think that Israel ought to have settled its differences with the Palestinians. Perhaps it shouldn’t be building settlements on disputed lands. Perhaps we have issues with the rabbinate there-that puts our style of Judaism, liberal Judaism on unequal footing.
Even this week as Women of the Wall led Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel as it has for the last 25 years on the morning of the new month. Five leaders were arrested for wearing a tallit during prayer. But this time it was different. For the first time they were released by court order written of course of by a woman judge. And after prominent American women rabbis were arrested over the last several months Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered Natan Sharansky head of the Jewish Agency to find a solution to the dilemma of prayer at the Western Wall which has been given over to the Orthodox as a synagogue.
In high level meetings with American Jewish leaders including Rabbi Rick Block president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Rabbi Rick Jacobs president of the Union for Reform Judaism, as wellas Conservative and Orthodox movement leaders, Sharansky unveiled a plan to create better egalitarian worship space at the Kotel. This would include major renovations to the Robinson’s Arch area and the ramp that goes up to the Temple Mount controlled by the Islamic Waqf-religious police that control the Temple Mount. But it would be a vast improvement over the present situation. What is remarkable is that the Rabbi of the Wall Rabinowitz has agreed in principle to this compromise when President Peres called him this week to remind him that all Jews have a place at the Kotel and in Judaism. The President of Israel stood up for pluralism and for you and I who live outside of Israel!
My friend at teacher Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit Halachmi who is on the staff of the Shalom Hartman Institute and will soon be a faculty member of Hebrew Union College-our seminary recalled in a recent article that:
in an address in 1956 on Yom Ha’atzmaut – (Israel Independence Day, in an essay later called “Kol Dodi Dofek – “The Voice of My Beloved is Knocking”) Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik – the Rav -taught about two kinds of covenant: a Covenant of Fate Brit Goral, and a Covenant of Destiny, Brit Yeud. For the Rav, the sense of a Covenant of Fate is based on the experience of our shared suffering, and this shared memory generates shared responses and the behaviors of mutual responsibility. A Covenant of Destiny, Brit Yeud, on the other hand, wrote the Rav, is one which emerges anew because of the rebirth of the State of Israel. Israel is an opportunity for the Jewish people to become actively engaged in shaping our future, rather than only responding to our past.
Because of the State of Israel we can now respond to the call of the future collectively and actively with a new consensus about our shared sacred purpose.
As Dr. Sabath Beit -Halachmi states:
But, if we are honest, we must admit that today Soloveitchik’s notion of a dual covenant -while inspiring – is at best [only] an aspiration. In fact, one might argue that while Israel unifies the Jewish community in times of crisis, on an ongoing basis its complex realities often confuse, distance and divide world Jewry. No single aspect of the Jewish reality today challenges Jewish peoplehood and the possibility of a Covenant of Destiny more than the realities of the State of Israel.
We learn from this and from efforts to stop the BDS movement. Israel needs us as much as we need Israel. Israel the land of our ancestors, Israel the glorious miracle is not without her warts and problems. But the Israel of today needs Jewish Americans to remind Israelis we are still One People even with our disagreements over religious practice. Israel needs us to help her continue to thwart efforts to delegitimize it. Israel needs us to remind it of equality between men and women. Israel needs us to help it remain Jewish and Democratic and not succumb to fundamentalist trends. And We need Israel because it shapes our Jewish identity.
As Rabbi David Hartman said in his book “A Heart of many Rooms” Israel is too important to leave to Israeli’s”
In most places in the world-even with full citizen ship rights- Jews are a very separate group. In America-we have moved beyond for the most part the quotas and CCR’s that kept us from schools and certain neighborhoods. We have integrated fully in this culture so much so that many through intermarriage, or emphasis on secularism have been lost to the Jewish people. But Israel provides for many American Jews their thread of connection.
As we celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday this Tuesday, let us pray for peace for Israel and her neighbors. Let us pray for Israel’s internal strength to thrive and remain a Jewish Democratic state so that the destiny of covenant will be the inheritance of us all.