Monthly Archives: March 2016

Olam Chesed Yibaneh- Thoughts on the Tragedy in Brussels

The terror and tragedy of events in Brussels today requires that we pause and reflect on the horror and pray for those who were injured or killed. I have had Rabbi Menachem Creditor’s rendition of Psalm 89 playing over and over in my head in an attempt to reassure myself that we will get through this too.

 Rabbi Creditor adapted a phrase from Psalm 89, Olam Chesed Yibaneh, in response to the birth of his daughter in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He translates the line as: “You will build this world with love.”

 We are charged, or maybe implored, to engage in the creating of a place where we care for each other, embracing each other instead of permitting hate or fear to separate each other.

 Cain Yehi Ratzon, May this be God’s

 

Come Together- The AIPAC Dilemma

ComeTogether_Desktop

Trump has spouted words that are divisive, angry, bigoted and hateful. These things are anathemas to Jewish sensibilities. Many Jews and Jewish organizations, the CCAR and the URJ among them, have denounced such hate speech. But we are about to hear the speaker in an appearance before AIPAC. This dilemma is of AIPAC’s own creation.

 AIPAC has created a large and powerful voting group of Jews coalescing around promoting its view of American support of Israel. Obeisance to AIPAC’s understanding of the American-Israeli alliance is the litmus test that will judge the suitability of the presidential candidates. So expect nothing more.

 The candidates should not rise or fall based on a single speech. But given the stakes, I expect all candidates to speak in support of a strong secure Israel. I do not expect thoughtful analysis of the Middle East or a path towards peace, just words espousing that peace is good, Israel must remain strong and we are Israel’s friend. I do not recall a candidate speaking otherwise to any Jewish groups or lobby. To expect more than these platitudes, however, would be to set unrealistic expectations. Even if both candidates did have detailed plans, given the deep fissures in the American Jewish community and our own inability to engage ourselves in meaningful dialogue, anyone with political savvy will play to the crowd rather that risk alienating a voting bloc.

 I will not judge a candidate’s suitability for President based on this opportunity to curry favor with AIPAC, nor should anyone attending the AIPAC conference. Mrs. Clinton was one of the earliest national leaders to speak to the idea of a two-state solution, which was most unorthodox at the time and did not sit well with many. Mr. Trump has not-too-deftly tried to balance his need to be an impartial mediator with pro-Jewish, pro-Israel sentiments. We must look to a record of thoughts and deeds to establish the bona fides of the candidates. We need to have someone who understands the complexities of the situation.

 The AIPAC convention is not the place where this will happen. So this phase of the conference is merely a beauty pageant. AIPAC can bask in its own glory, pleased in knowing it had the political clout to force the equivalent of a bathing suit competition. But we will learn precious little more than that.   This is a moment to reassess our true motivations for having such appearances and why we attend such staged events.

 Many friends and colleagues are heading to the convention to learn and show support for AIPAC and its work supporting Israel. I commend my colleagues and friends who are grappling with the appropriate response to Mr. Trump. I suggest that whatever course of action you decide, it is unfortunate that the AIPAC convention has become so focused on something so meaningless.

The Candidates at AIPAC

Candidates at AIPAC

AIPACI am troubled by the pending appearances of the presidential candidates at the AIPAC conference. It is important to hear from them. However, the value is in the substance of the presentation, not the celebrity surrounding it. We do not need a beauty pageant. I am concerned about the substance.

Candidates appear in venues like AIPAC order to get votes, hoping to share a message that appeals to the group. Unfortunately, in these constricted spaces it is unlikely that they will deliver a complete message and will instead present little more than some populist pandering to the voting block represented by AIPAC. I expect that each candidate will offer some rhetoric about his/her commitment to a strong and secure Israel. But we need more than words. Each candidate needs to elaborate a thoughtful policy of both a strategic and tactical process to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the United States and secure stability in the region. A single speech at the AIPAC conference cannot do this. Platitudes and promises whether eloquent or crass are worthless.

We in the rabbinic community are struggling with Donald Trump’s appearance in particular at the AIPAC conference. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) have taken a stand to express deep discontent with the hatred, bigotry and bullying that seems to characterize much of Trump’s message. The URJ and the CCAR are stating core Jewish principles. But this statement raises important overall questions about appearances at the AIPAC conference by the candidates.

The last time Mr. Trump publicly referenced Jews, we saw anti-Semitic canards played out on the public stage in the form of jokes. Jews in the room laughed nervously and uncomfortably at the joke, but it was not funny. Such words combined with other inflammatory divisive speech leads me to reluctantly conclude that this forum is not the appropriate place for Trump or his rhetoric. But such a position stands in direct opposition to my belief in free speech and the open exchange of ideas.

It is unrealistic to call upon AIPAC to rescind the invitations to the candidates. AIPAC needs to remain nonpartisan and promote its pro-Israel agenda. Conference attendees should be respectful of all speakers. No one, however, should be swayed by a single speech. It is critically important we look to the individual’s corpus of speeches and the existing records of each candidate to truly determine where they stand on Israel as part of a cohesive vision of American leadership and on the fundamental principles that we hold sacrosanct. Then we all must vote.