Just as when Israel took a share of the Vietnamese boat people in 1977, it has the chance in the current crisis to be a light unto nations.
It is time for the Reform Jewish Community to answer the call to the college campuses across the country. It is time that we commit to placing a Reform Rabbi on each campus with a significant Jewish student population. The goal should be to establish an endowed position so that the Reform voice will be heard. This Reform Rabbi will work with Hillel, but not for Hillel, freeing the rabbi to speak and act according to the best ideas of Reform including inclusivity, embracing modernity and Israel. Funding will come from donors who have a vested interest in their school of choice and the students who live and learn there. These groups include: Parents of Students, alumni and the students themselves.
There is an active battle underway for the hearts and minds of the college students. College is a critical juncture in their development as thinking, feeling people. We have a profound investment in the outcome. These young people represent the future of the Jewish people in America and therefore an important future voice of world Judaism. If they do not develop connections with their Jewishness or with the state of Israel, then this generation will not embrace either their Judaism or Israel when they take the reins of leadership from us. If we do not demonstrate in meaningful and tangible ways that we care passionately about our young people, it is left to others to influence the conversations on campus during this critical period of identity formation of our students.
We know that we can act boldly and when we do, we offer a vision that others will see and support. Whether or not you agree with him, Mr. Sheldon Adelson has clearly demonstrated both a passion for what he believes, and the ability to galvanize others into action, raising vast sums of money for his limited college vision. We are equally invested in our children and the future, which rests on their shoulders. It is time we rise to the occasion and stake a claim on our kids and our future.
Rabbi David M. Levin
this letter was sent to the leadership of the Reform Movement including CCAR, HUC and URJ
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.
I have the privilege of traveling to Israel with other community rabbis on a mission sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. I am excited to see the many landscapes: political, civic, social and to witness the wonderful work that Federation supports and makes possible through our contributions.
I am looking forward to meeting with MKs and other representatives of the Government and NGOs to learn about the very real challenges that exist in Israel today. I am also expecting to measure what I see against what I saw in the midst of the war almost one year ago during my last mission of support.
I will keep you posted.
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.