Tag Archives: jstreet

Mission Israel

I had the privilege of joining 17 other rabbinic colleagues on a mission to Israel. The Federations of Greater Philadelphia and Metro West as well as the WZO (World Zionist Organization) sponsored this mission. It was a four-day whirlwind; up, north, down, south, east and west, I felt like the rabbinic equivalent of a Lulav. It was a very interesting trip, as much for what was said as for what was not said.

 The WZO agenda tried to create a narrative for us. But the story they tried to tell was different from the one I took away from the trip. There was no shortage of Hasbara. The and WZO tried to portray a society that is accepting and growing, wanting peace with those who want likewise (the Druze we met along the Lebanon border in the town of Hurfeish), and ready to take on the civil issues (the Ethiopians we met in Rishon LeZion). More troubling issues remained off-limits however, and the conversation regarding the Palestinians issues came down to better advocacy (a presentation by Stand with Us) and Ambassador Alan Baker’s legal explanation about why Israel is in the right and the Palestinians are acting without legal justification.

 We also were witness to the nascent rise of spirituality in the secular society through the establishment of an Israeli Seminary and an organic lay-led movement creating a “Minhag Israeli” distinct and apart from American transplants. Along with this was a conversation about redefining Zionism in the modern context to appeal to the current generation and acknowledge current realities.

 For me, these dots and created a picture of a society that is in many ways engaged in an internal existential struggle for its soul. As Israel has achieved the vision to become a Nation like other Nations, Israelis are finding this place insufficient. Realizing the dream has created a reality that leaves the heart and soul of the aspirational mythic idea of Israel unfulfilled. There is a struggle to find more. The Palestinian issue seems to be eating away at the hearts and minds of many Israelis as are many other issues creating a deep profound yearning. I saw and felt this when I visited last year during the war as well.

 That struggle is present here in the US; we struggle to understand Israel and our connection. We are challenged to do a better job of facilitating the conversations and fostering relationships that are deep and enduring. I believe that the WZO approach appeals to a segment of the American Jewish Community already sitting in the pews of that denomination. But that leaves many of us standing outside and unsatisfied with the offering and that number is growing.

 I was encouraged by the visits to the projects we support through Federation including our sister city, Netivot. At a youth center one of our more gregarious rabbis got down on the mats and wrestled a couple of the kids. Although Seth had the boy by several pounds, the short-lived match was great. We also saw the planned mural for the water tower of Netivot being created by our very own Philadelphia treasure, the Mural Arts Program. I have been a fan of Mural Arts for a while, watching its artists transform an often blighted urban landscape into a place of culture and hope one wall at a time. We can take pride in the many good things we do but I wonder how those things might be expanded further.

 One important highlight, was the camaraderie and collegiality this trip fostered. Our rabbis represented a spectrum of beliefs and cut across denominations. Although our religious views and practices are substantially different, we found common ground to learn together, to create friendships together and to talk together. Of particular note was the insistence of our Orthodox colleagues to stop our trip for a Mincha service so that one of us, a reform woman rabbi, could say Kaddish for her father. So there we were on a playground davening Mincha together, a truly profound moment and an important lesson for us all.

Conversations about Israel- it’s based in Love

In the sturm und drang that marks the conversations about Israel, those who are to the political Right accuse those who are to the political Left of center of undermining the Israeli government while they, the Right, support the government.

 This is a charge to which the Left of center must plead guilty. But realistically is it wrong?   The Left of center groups such as JStreet believe in a safe, secure, Jewish and Democratic Israel. In a part of the world that is decidedly none of those things, we believe that all four of these attributes can live here. But we have much to do in order to fully realize these ideals. Both internal and external issues pose real threats to these ideals. We point out the deficiencies because we do love Israel and we believe the State aspires to the best we can be only when we realize these four goals. So we are critical because of our commitment to an Israel whose soul and body are sound.

 Often people hear the criticism and do not hear the rest. The rest of it, the basis for all of it, is that love and commitment. Only when you truly care about something can you become invested and strive to help make it better. That message sometimes gets lost. But it is fundamental to everything we do. Israel is imperfect. we love it none-the-less and work to make her better. Leonard Cohen’s refrain from his song Anthem sums it up well:

 Ring the Bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

An Open Letter to Eric Fingerhut, President of Hillel International

Dear Mr. Fingerhut,

 I urgently write you to reconsider your decision to refuse to speak at the upcoming JStreet conference.  You are squandering an extraordinary opportunity to reach a substantial portion of our young people and sending a message of exclusion, that the young people attending the JStreet conference are not worthy nor are they welcome to be part of Hillel. 

 Personal views regarding Mr. Erekat notwithstanding, he has been a representative of the Palestinian people and authority representing them.  He speaks with leaders around the world as such.  But more importantly, it is not his legitimacy as a speaker nor his attendance at the JStreet event that is noteworthy, it is your absence.  JStreet is not endorsing his viewpoint, only asking that he share it in a peaceful thoughtful way.  His acceptance of the opportunity to speak is a chance for us to hear his point of view and possibly learn from it. 

 I dare say you do not agree with JStreet’s politics as well.  This is also okay.  Your appearance was intended as an opportunity to share your views and offer a message of support to our young people who are in a committed relationship with Israel.  You were to be welcomed with respect and we looked to learn from you.  Sadly with your withdrawal you have sent the message that those who disagree with you are not welcome in your tent, marginalizing a substantial portion of the Jewish student population.  This reflects poorly on Hillel, the organization that is supposed to be the home of all Jewish students on campus, not only those who comport to a particular political viewpoint.

 Democracy encourages diversity and through diversity comes strength.  This is a fundamental tenet of all democracies. Although we have many different political views, we all are committed to Israel.  Hopefully on that we can agree and then build.  However, we must be able to respect the viewpoints of others even when those views diverge from our own.  Welcoming you and listening to you, I might learn from what you hold as true, and likewise you from me.  Your leadership, demonstrating a strong commitment to what you believe while willing to embrace and reach out to those who disagree, is critical at this juncture.  Our young people need to hear your voice and they need to feel welcome as a fully authentic part of Clal Yisrael. 

 You need to be at the JStreet conference.  I hope you will reconsider and join us. 

Rabbi David M. Levin

God’s Miracle is not in the Thunder and Lightning but in people sheltering others from the storm

Hillel’s Eric Fingerhut Withdraws From J Street Conference

Hillel’s Eric Fingerhut Withdraws From J Street Conference.

The announcement was the Mr. Fingerhut withdrew from speaking entirely. 


I believe this is a very unfortunate decision and a missed opportunity to engage a substantial number of our young people who are engaged in a serious relationship with Israel. Mr
. Erekat’s appearance is neither an endorsement of his personal point of view nor that of the Palestinian Authority. But his appearance before JStreet is an act of courage on the parts of JStreet and Mr. Erekat. Hillel International is an important voice in the conversation. Mr. Fingerhut would have espoused an important viewpoint that the attendees should have heard. It is a shame they will not.

Responding to the Rejection of JStreet

Like so many others I am deeply troubled and saddened that the Council of Presidents rejected the application for membership by JStreet.  Let me reiterate the premise for inclusion:  the voices of all legitimate groups deserve a seat at the table so they may be heard in the collective that is supposed to be this council.  This is not an endorsement of any particular view but rather a respect for the right to express ideas and hopefully add to meaningful discussion within Klal Yisrael. The Council’s rejection of JStreet runs contrary to this foundational principle and I support the URJ’s position that the Council’s vote reflects that the Council “no longer serves its vital purpose of providing a collective voice for the entire American Pro-Jewish community.”

 At this juncture, we can either walk away or fight to amend the corrupt system now in place.  As tempting as the former may be, we should seriously try to change the system before throwing in the proverbial towel.  Because we believe in the need for a collective voice, we are obligated to do our best to maintain it.  So it would seem that the first course of action would be to change the already existing community to return it to the basic premise that drove creation of the Council.

 I urge all those who are disappointed by this sad turn of events to join together in an attempt to salvage the Council.  To walk away without first doing this is an admission that there is no chance for everyone to sit at the table together.  I would rather we tried and have those who won’t abide such an enlightened viewpoint opt to leave instead.  First we fight for that in which we believe.  Only if we find the fight is futile can we in good conscience walk away from the table.