Torah Tidbits

Sent from Israel!
Shabbat Parashat Masei
Shabbat Mevarchim HaChodesh
July 26, 2014 – 28 Tammuz 5774 featured-rabbi

Dear Friends,

I’m delighted to share with you the good news of the birth of my new grandson, born to my daughter, Nurit, and my son-in-law, Lotem, this past Monday, the day before I arrived in Israel. Both parents, and the baby, are doing just fine!

I also want to share with you the following message which Mercaz sent to its board members as it contains two very important and moving pieces written individually by my friends and colleagues, Rabbis Menachem Creditor and Daniel Goldfarb. These two pieces will give you a taste of what life is like here in Israel at this time.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

TO: MERCAZ USA Board of Directors
FROM: Janet Tobin, President
Rabbi Robert R. Golub, Executive Director
DATE: July 23, 2014 – 25 Tammuz 5774

Haverim :
As we enter into the third week of fighting in Gaza, we continue to pray for the safety of Israel’s forces. We mourn the 29 IDF soldiers who to date have lost their lives. We marvel at the resiliency of Israel’s civilian population in the face of continued Hamas rocket fire and we are saddened by deaths and injuries among the innocent Palestinians of Gaza who are being used cynically as human shields.

We are forwarding two recent messages – and there are hundreds of worthy messages that we are seeing on a daily basis – for your information. The first by Rabbi Menachem Creditor, the Conservative rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom of Berkeley, CA, is entitled “I’m Done Apologizing for Israel” and appeared on the Huffington Post site. The second by Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, an American oleh who until his retirement last year was the Director of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, deals with the funeral today of Los Angeles-born IDF soldier Max Steinberg z”l.

Wishing you and all Israel a Shabbat Shalom, a Sabbath of Peace from Janet and Rabbi Bob!
I’m Done Apologizing for Israel

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

I’m done apologizing for Israel.

It’s tiring to apologize over and over. Instead, I’ve decided to come clean: I am a progressive American rabbi who leans left pretty hard. I’ve been engaged, as a US faith leader, in work to reform gun laws, extend LGBT rights around the world, grant refuge to illegal immigrants, protect women’s reproductive choice, and more. Paint me blue.

So, when it comes to Israel, many of those with whom I engage in social reform expect me to react to Israel’s military actions in Gaza with scorn and criticism. To be fair, there are times when I do. My Zionism demands I speak out on behalf of the Israel that remains, in my world-view, the most ambitious project-in-process of the Jewish People. Whereas Israel’s 66 short years have witnessed strength and resilience that have redefined Jewish identity in profound ways, the global Jewish family remains interwoven with Israel. If you question this, scan the last week’s news for anti-Israel rallies in Antwerp, Los Angeles, Paris, Boston, and elsewhere that featured widespread anti-Semitic chants and violence against Jews.

So I’m a progressive US faith leader. I’m a Zionist in Berkeley, CA. I’m a Jew in the world, worried for my family. So here is my response to those criticizing Israel this week.

To those who suggest that Prime Minister Netanyahu is over-reacting to the missiles, I offer this response which I have now shared regularly at campus and communal conversations:

Israel is treating wounded Palestinians during this conflict, risking Israeli lives in surgical strikes to destroy weapons-smuggling tunnels created with building materials Israel allowed into Gaza for infrastructure projects to benefit Palestinian society. Just for a moment, consider the deaths that would result from Israel wishing harm on Palestinian civilians. In just the last 48 hours, Israel has allowed over 10 tons of goods into Gaza. During the past weeks, Israel has agreed to two humanitarian cease-fires. In the first hours of those ceasefires, Hamas rained down over 70 missiles onto Israel civilians.

I ask: What do Israel’s enraged critics truly desire? How is it possible to hear indignant claims of human rights violations in the context of Syrians slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands, state-sanctioned terrorism around the globe, and young immigrants treated like chattel by the US and other? Israel is doing its best, sacrificing its own children to preserve the lives of Palestinians.

I also ask, regarding the world’s seemingly acceptance of Hamas’ tactics as the only remaining option left for a desperate leadership:

Were Hamas to truly lead its people forward to a life of stability and peace, wouldn’t it use building materials for schools instead of smuggling tunnels? Wouldn’t Hamas stop stockpiling weapons in mosques and transporting them in UN ambulances? Wouldn’t Hamas stop firing missiles from civilian population centers if it valued Palestinian lives as much as Israel does? If Israel weren’t so concerned for Palestinian lives, wouldn’t it respond to Hamas’ horrific decisions in kind?

I ask the enraged critics of Israel’s defensive responses to Hamas: Would you have us not respond to this monstrosity? Do you think it’s not worth losing the PR battle to retain our humanity and save as many lives as possible? What country would stand by when thousands of terrorist missiles assault its citizens? I, a Jew, have lost 20 of my sons in the last three days, because I will not lose my humanity and stage a careless ground war in Gaza that would cause mass casualties. Though I fight monsters, I will not become one.

My response has changed these last few weeks, in which three Jewish teens were murdered by Arab terrorists and Palestinians celebrated by distributing sweets to children and an Arab teen was murdered by Jewish terrorists and the Jewish world condemned the hatred. I am done trying to apologetically explain Jewish morality. I am done apologizing for my own Jewish existence.

Some will call this needless hyperbole. But, having watched in this last week anti-Semitic “die-ins” in Boston, violent assaults against Jews in Los Angeles and Antwerp, and an almost pogrom at a synagogue in Paris, I’m done mincing my own words.

We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else.

No more apologies.

Impressions of a Funeral
by Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb

Ada and I attended the funeral of Max Steinberg this morning here in Jerusalem. When pulling off the Begin highway north, towards Shaare Tzedek Hospital and Har Herzl, the traffic was already jammed. Tens of thousands of people who never heard of Max Steinberg before yesterday were coming to his funeral. We parked half a mile away, illegally, and joined the crowd.

On arrival at the cemetery area, young women soldiers gave each person a piece of paper. I thought naively it would be about Max Steinberg. In fact, it was a message from the Home Front Command, “Guidelines for Protection within the Cemetery in case of a Rocket Alert.” When’s the last time you were told on attending a funeral that you have 90 seconds to take cover if there is a siren? “Lie on the ground and protect your head with your hands. Wait 10 minutes and then you may resume your routine.”

The huge crowd was all over the cemetery and it behaved very non-Israeli – there was no pushing, no cell phones range, complete silence, even during the remarks in English by Max’s parents and sister and brother. Max’s father said he had no regret that Max had decided to leave Los Angeles and come to Israel and join the IDF. Max’s brother Jake recalled their last time together, watching a film about Bob Marely, of whom Max was a big fan: “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” Max had found satisfaction and meaning in Israel, Jake said. He concluded with another quote from Bob Marley: “Live for yourself and you will live in vain; Live for others, and you will live again.” Max, he said, addressing the fresh grave, “you lived for others. You will live in the hearts of all us, again.”

I recalled a statement made by our wise colleague Chaim Listfield over 35 years ago when we were learning Brachot Mishna 7:3, about enhancing the name of God in the zimun before Birkhat HaMazon. In practice we follow Rabbi Akiva, by adding “Elohenu” for any crowd over 10, but the Mishna gives Rebbi Yossi Hagalili’s view that for 100, and 1000, and even 10,000, the name of God is enlarged. And “when there are ten thousand v’hu, and one more…” it changes the invitation to bless God. “This is amazing,” Chaim said, “you can have 10,000 Jews together, and one more comes, and he/she makes a difference.” We were not close to the burial area, we couldn’t see the family (though there were speakers so we could hear), but we could feel that every Jew there made a difference. We came to pay last respects for Max Steinberg and to support his family, and we came away saddened and strengthened. Max “will live again,” but the “routine” we returned to after the funeral will never be the same. Yehi zichro baruch.