“Ani L’Dodi v’Dodi Li.” These poetic words from the Song of Solomon are spoken as words of commitment under the marriage canopy. “I am My Beloved’s and My Beloved is mine” is the symbolic joining and full commitment of one to another. We aspire to this in our deepest relationships. But as a people we have sadly failed to live up to this hope. Every Jew is integral to Israel and Israel is integral to every Jew. We are bound inextricably together emotionally and spiritually, a modern homeland and the diaspora, two parts of one whole. Together greater than the individual parts could achieve.
We do however permit the separation and distance, a cleaving when we hear when some claim to be against Israel but fine with Jews; that it is possible to be anti-Zionist while not being Anti-Semitic. For Jews such parsing of words is false. It speaks to a reading of history that is biased and ultimately these two hatreds conflate.
I was struck when Iranian President Rouhani offered New Year Greetings to Jews of the world while almost within the same breath recommitted his country to the extermination of Israel. “May our shared Abrahamic roots deepen respect and bring peace and mutual understanding.” This seems to be a disingenuous goodwill offering since his worldview requires the eradication of Israel, where approximately 6million of my fellow Jews reside and would be murdered for to achieve his political goal.
Jews find themselves attempting to parse words and find something good in Rouhani’s outreach. This “olive branch” however is a straw man. It is an insidious attempt to separate Israel from its own people through the delegitimizing efforts by Israel’s enemies. Even when we disagree with policies or politics within Israel, we cannot divorce ourselves from her, or permit others to divide us. Israel is a fundamental part of us. Who we are is in some measure defined by our relationship to Israel. Commitment to Israel’s growth and evolution as well as our commitment to the State’s survival is at the heart of what it means to be in relationship with another. An attack on our spouse with the caveat that you however are all right would be deeply offensive. And we would defend the one we love. How can we not rise to the defense of our brethren as well?
I am in deep relationship. I have a vested interest in Israel’s success both as a nation and as an aspiration. When Israel falters, I have the responsibility to be constructively critical because of my relationship. Helping Israel to be better makes me better as well. We all are improved off as a result of such efforts. And when people stop calling for the destruction of a part of who I am, I will gratefully acknowledge offerings of good tidings for the coming year.
I have received pushback on my call for Israel to join the humanitarian efforts and take in refugees. I share my response below, to a comment to a post from someone who does not believe as I do. But let me state for the record that this person, with whom I disagree on this and many other subjects regarding Israel, is someone who I know loves Israel very deeply. And it is her love for Israel that compels her to take her stand and be in dialogue with me. I am honored that she thinks enough of me to want to engage in this conversation. Please look to the sidebar to see her comments.
Israel’s moral compass should continue to lead it to be a champion of human values and decency. It is compelled to act as a “light to the nations.” In other words, to be a Jewish homeland is to embrace Jewish Values.
I understand your fear for Israel’s safety. But Israel has the finest security and intelligence capabilities in the world, from the Mossad to the people at the airport. I am fully confident that the Israelis can vet refugees.
And another place where we agree, implementing is not easy. No one realistically would claim otherwise. But I find President Kennedy’s words stirring,
“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard… because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” We do it because we are Jews and that is what Jews do to live the values we cherish.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, L’Shana Tova Tikatevu
I believe this agreement is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and to promote peace. I have read the agreement. I have carefully listened to the analyses presented by those in favor of the deal, those against the deal and those without an agenda but trying to understand the deal.
The deal comes with substantial complications. Compliance requires the ongoing monitoring and vigilance of the IAEA, the UN and signers to the agreement particularly the United States. And we must be ready to enforce compliance with action in the event that Iran does not live up to all the obligations of the agreement (i.e., cheat). Iran remains an adversary to both the United States and Israel. We still have much work to do to thwart Iranian plans against the US and Israel. I welcome President Obama’s offer to further enhance Israel’s defenses. Ultimately, there is the possibility to bring Iran into the community of nations. That will take time and immense effort and is far from assured. However with all that, we have through this agreement taken away Iran’s access to a nuclear device.
I share this for two reasons. First, this is a considered decision on my part based on a deep love of country, both the United States and Israel. I believe the agreement sets out to do what it is intended to do. It is the best agreement we can achieve. The alternatives to this agreement are appreciably worse.
Second, the legitimate differences in our opinions, even deeply held beliefs we have, should not destroy our community. The rifts in our community are getting deeper and the vitriol is terribly destructive. I hope that we can disagree with each other’s considered opinions without losing respect or fomenting hatred of another person because of their opinions. So I reach out to my community with the hopes that we can respectfully disagree with each other but remain committed to each other. We are Klal Yisrael only as long as we believe in that vision and work to achieve it.
This Shabbat I urge us to commit ourselves to civility and decorum. The debate on Iran is extremely important to us, as Americans and as Jews, and discussion should be be robust. But we are standing at a crossroads. This conversation can quickly deteriorate. We cannot allow ourselves to be ripped apart by internecine hatreds. We remain Klal Yisrael only when we choose to be so. Let us argue ideas passionately, but let us not argue against each other. Even when we come from a place of strong conviction about the Iran deal, there remains room for multiple ideas without the need to vilify those who hold other views.
There is too much at stake here, Shalom for the world and Shalom Bayit, peace within the House of Israel.
This morning the President announced we reached a deal with Iran. It is complex. It is less than what we wanted, and it is more than what it could be. Pardon my cryptic ambivalence, but it is both more and less at the same time. Negotiating, particularly with an adversary, requires both sides compromise to reach a deal.
I necessarily place my trust in my President and his Secretary of State to negotiate what is in the best interests of the United States and hope that these interests align with those of the State of Israel. Congress must now take a deep dive into the details necessary to properly understand the terms of this deal and then act accordingly. And we too need to take the time to learn the details before concluding whether the deal is good or bad and then we prepare for the ramifications of this deal. But for the time being, the fact we have arrived at a negotiated settlement is in itself important. For it is extraordinarily difficult to talk to an enemy in a peaceful process and reach a conclusion.
Dealing with a country that regularly promotes demonstrations where the chant “Death to America, Death to Israel” is a mainstay, we know that we are not dealing with a friendly nation. Reigning Iran in was the goal. This is far less than complete permanent dismantling of their nuclear programs, but far more than nothing. Might we create rapprochement and Iran become a friend? That is a very long way off. But we have bought time where such entente can be cultivated.
A nuclear Iran as an avowed enemy is a terrifying prospect. The road ahead continues to be difficult and dangerous. I hope that this agreement scales back the hatred and today’s historic settlement is a step toward a world that is just a little bit safer than it was before.
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