Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Effect of Standing With Israel on the Falling of Judaism - Part 4

The Effect of Standing With Israel on the Falling of Judaism
© 2007 Ronald W. Fox

Isaiah 1:17,27 “Learn to do well – seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow .. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness.”


The writer of this message I read recently on first quotes from this story "Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, was installed as vice president of the Central conference of American Rabbis, the national organization of Reform rabbis,.....“How are we going to reach out as a movement to young people who have no interest in movements? That’s another challenge.”One answer, she says, may lie in the chavurah (informal fellowship group) movement her eldest son, among many others, identifies with. His cohorts are less interested in institutional synagogues as they are in studying, celebrating, creating community. we don’t want to lose the best and the brightest because we have become irrelevant,” she says.

And then the writer of the post adds “Rabbi Dreyfus’s message is one that I (and other Reform movement expats) have been waiting for years to hear from the official institutions of the Reform movement: a recognition that we have created meaningful Jewish lives outside the Reform institutions without abandoning our progressive Jewish values (i.e. the reason we’re not there isn’t because we’re not interested in Judaism), and an acknowledgement that we are missed and that our absence highlights an area where the movement falls short. Acknowledging the problem is the first step towards solving it, so the message we’re hearing from the new leadership portends good things for the future."

This writer represents those alienated from Jewish institutions (but not Judaism) who may not be critical of the government of Israel policies but are interested in traditional progressive (poverty, civil rights, human rights, education, inner city crime, environmental) issues generally ignored by local institutions. He stands on the outside hoping that the Reform movement will reach out and welcome him back


Jonathan Tasini ran against Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic Party nomination for US Senator from New York. Here are excerpts from an article he wrote on the supportive positions on the government of Israel taken by most politicians in the US and the need for those concerned about social justice and Judaism to speak out and to criticize.

By Jonathan Tasini / July 27, 2006 /
"When I announced that I was entering the race for the US Senate, I began with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.' .. I have the freedom to speak my mind and I will not be silent. The truth is that while people view talking about Israel-Palestine as the 'third rail' of politics in New York, the more I think about it, the more I realize that there are a growing number of people in the Jewish community who are willing to speak up, out of love for Israel, about the dreadful occupation and the never-ending violence that is spinning out of control, in large part because the United States-and politicians like Hillary Clinton-continue to blindly pursue a one-sided policy in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a policy that is causing more death and sorrow for civilians on all sides of the conflict.

"My father was born in then-Palestine. He fought in the Haganah (the Israeli underground) in the war of independence; my father's cousin, whose name I carry as a middle name, was killed in that war. I lived in Israel for seven years, during which I went through the 1973 war: a cousin of mine was killed in that war, leaving a young widow and two children, and his brother was wounded. My step-grandfather, an old man who was no threat to anyone, was killed by a Palestinian who took an axe to his head while he was sitting quietly on a park bench. Half my family still lives in Israel. I have seen enough bloodshed, tears, and parents burying their children to last many lifetimes. For that reason, I believe passionately in a two-state solution, which includes a strong, independent, economically viable Palestinian state existing alongside a strong, independent, economically vibrant Israel.

"Israel has committed acts that violate international standards and the Geneva conventions. In Israel, my statement that the military has committed acts that violate the Geneva convention and international standards and has also engaged in torture (or, as it is called, 'moderate pressure') would be a subject of debate but hardly considered novel or particularly radical. Here is what B'Tselem says about the current escalation: “Over the past week, Israel has killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians in its attacks against targets in Lebanon. There is a concern that at least some of them were disproportionate attacks, which constitute war crimes.”

"The problem is not the debate in Israel. The problem is the debate-or lack thereof-in the United States. We should not allow the power brokers in Washington, DC to silence the voices of people who love Israel but are willing to stand up and be critical of its policies. At a time when the violence against people on both sides of the border has killed hundreds of innocent people (mostly Lebanese), Hillary Clinton has fanned the flames of the conflict by recognizing and condemning the violence only against Israelis and effectively encouraging military action. I, too, have stated clearly, from the outset, that Hezbollah's actions violate international law. But, to ignore Israel's actions is abhorrent, weak, and cowardly. A friend of Israel …. would understand that employing collective punishment against people in Lebanon only embitters a population, possibly for generations, and that even a short-term military victory will be empty if it leaves behind a shattered country. A friend of Israel … would never have stood before the 'security wall' in the West Bank, … and praised it-even though it has been found to be illegal under international law and by the Israeli Supreme Court (which said that, if a wall needed to be built, it should not stray outside the 'green line' into the occupied territories). .A friend of Israel …. would deplore the collective punishment employed by the Israeli army in Gaza. As Rabbi Michael Lerner has suggested, …. “In the height of the oppressive summer heat, Israel bombed the electricity grid, effectively cutting off Gaza's water and the electricity needed to keep refrigeration working, thereby guaranteeing a dramatic decrease in food for the area's already destitute, million-plus population. This act was yet another violation of international law that include[d] the arrests of thousands by Israelis and the shooting of Qassams at population centers by Hamas.”

I would end with this thought: As a Jew, I have always been proud of the Jewish concept of 'Tikkun Olam' or 'repairing the world.' I like to think that that is what brought so many Jews into the civil rights and labor movements in the 1960s and 1970s, and into the current anti-war movement-and, personally, guided me into the world of social justice work. I feel great sorrow that Israel is an occupier of another people and I believe that Israel can never be whole and can never be at peace until that occupation is ended in a just way. And I also believe that the concept of Tikkun Olam means that we must never be silent."


The real danger in promoting and supporting the actions of the present government of Israeli is that many of its actions are illegal according to international law and immoral according to the teachings of Judaism, they oppress Palestinians, they could destroy the moral soul of Israel, they could lead to the destruction of the State of Israel, they could cause more and more Jewish people to disengage from Judaism, and, finally, they could lead to the disintegration of Judaism.

Judaism is worth continuing but it is in danger of disappearing if we continue to pursue the mission and the current approach of the local federation and other traditional Jewish institutions.


As Alice Rothchild says in Broken Promises, Broken Dreams “I treasure my legacy of endless questioning, soul-searching, and respect for human rights and dignity combined with a responsibility for healing the world."

To counter the likely disintegration of the Jewish community in the United States we need to speak out and criticize the government of Israel and demand that they end the occupation and dismantle the settlements. Not only is that the just part to peace, it is also consistent with the core values of Judaism. Should the Jewish community adopt that perspective, young and not-so-young people might begin to see Judaism as a religion that pursues justice and consider that a reason to remain Jewish.

In Healing Israel/Palestine, Rabbi Michael Lerner describes what a Judaism that contrasts sharply with Settler Judaism “We support those who favor a genuinely Jewish society built on principles of love, justice, peace and caring for others, including non-Jewish others.”

Rabbi Akiva - “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18) - this is the major principle of the Torah.”

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