Monthly Archives: March 2015

P5+1 and Iran-Waiting for the verdict on Negotiations

We sit with bated breath, waiting to learn what will come of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. So much is at stake, from the President’s desire to achieve a deal, to an arms race that could further inflame a region already burning almost out of control. Everyone on both sides knows the stakes and whether the interests of all parties can align for the benefit of the world is something only time will tell us.

For now, it is time to hope and pray that all the leaders can see the greater good and the threats to humanity that standing on the precipice poses. In this moment we turn to our faith, faith in our Creator and faith in ourselves and pray that something good will come forth. And as tomorrow’s sunrise so too will be the dawn of a new age for us all. Whatever the outcome, so much rides on how we creatively meet the new reality, may we be ready to engage.

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

The Real Benjamin Netanyahu

 One of the things that made Benjamin Netanyahu and others like him a powerful and persuasive Israeli voice in the US was that he was like us.

Netanyahu was schooled in the US. He spoke unaccented American English and he knew the idioms. He sounded like us. He looked like us and dressed like us. He was one of us. Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to us as a cultured sophisticated erudite person with western sensitivities. He could have come from Philadelphia as easily as from Tel Aviv.

He seemed one of us, that is until now.

 The breach of protocol in accepting the invitation to speak before Congress, the lecturing of the American people and the chastising of the American President before the Congress have created tears in the fabric of the US-Israeli relationship that at this moment seem difficult to repair. No, Bibi Netanyahu is not one of us, nor does he speak for us. In fact he has helped create a rift in the Jewish community while helping to further politicize US domestic politics.

 At this juncture, the best remedy to this situation seems to be a new Prime Minister who can rebuild what has been damaged. This goes beyond the personal issues between the two men occupy the offices of Prime Minister and President. Any future American President will not forget Mr. Netanyahu affront to the office by inserting himself into the American political system. It is hard to imagine how Mr. Netanyahu would be the best leader representing Israel in this critical alliance either now or in 2016 and beyond.

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.

Words Matter

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.  This was a lie our parents told us when we were children designed to protect us, but a lie nonetheless.

Words do matter and words can do extraordinary impact and have the capacity to wound deeply.

 Epithets can be painful. African-Americans heard the word N***** spewed from the mouths of fraternity racists this past week at the University of Ok, Jewish youth have heard vile anti-Semitic words hurled their way. Gay and Lesbians struggle with terms that are offensive and hurtful.

 It seems strange that these things are happening on college campuses. Even if the campuses were only reflecting values of the greater society that would be troubling enough, but these are college campuses, ostensibly places where our young go to learn and be exposed to the best we have to offer them to help shape them and expose them to the world of ideas that they can explore. It is a time of idealism unfettered by the harsh realities of daily life filled with obligations that shift focus away from lofty thoughts. But then we have words such as these spoken at the University of Oklahoma.

 Words matter. I have heard some young people claim otherwise. For example, nasty tweets are only venting and meaningless. But words do matter. We do not know what mental process might be underling or ameliorating the words. But we hear them and are affected by those words because of our understanding of them.

 Jewishly, we believe words carry supreme importance. The Ten Commandments are actually called the 10 Utterances. Our Bible tells us that God spoke the world into being. Words matter a lot. Because they carry so much weight, so much power, words and the meanings they carry, cannot be used cavalierly.

 Free speech comes with responsibility. When we say things, the words reflect who we are and what we think; for that is the face we show to the world. Offensive words, words laden with hatred, ridicule or judgment can profoundly affect others. Verbal bullying for example has created pain so deep that some have actually committed suicide.

 I am at a loss when someone defends offensive speech as something that is “merely words”

To carry that logic forward would indicate that we completely dismiss everything the speaker has to say as only empty meaningless words. And with that comes the complete dismissal of that person whose words and thoughts are meaningless. However, when we attempt to follow this logic, we are met with push back, because words matter. They reflect on us and they are the basis for other’s perception of us. The words we choose express the beliefs we hold. They are the basis for how we interact with others and often go to the heart of our own personal issues and insecurities. We cannot afford, any of us, to refuse the weight of our words. Free speech is welcome; just understand that we are listening.