May 31, 2009

Tonight at 5pm: Arik Ascherman at Netivot Shalom on "Hope and Justice in the Middle East"

Tonight: Sunday, May 31st at 5pm
Arik Ascherman,director of Rabbis for Human Rights 
in Israel will speak at Netivot Shalom on "Hope and Justice in the Middle East." 
This is a free event, sponsored by Netivot Shalom, Beth El, Kehilla, Brit Tzedek and Trees of Hope.

May 28, 2009

JTA Op-Ed: " Conservatives must look in the mirror"

Op-Ed: Conservatives must look in the mirror

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (JTA) – I can confidently say that I am one of the first Jewish professionals to have used e-mail.

At one of the first college student conferences I ever ran, a student approached me on the last day to suggest that on the following year's application, we also ask for e-mail addresses.

"Sure," I replied. "What's e-mail?"

That was the start of my encounter with the joys, frustrations and dangers of this medium. And since the day I first started by dialing a number, hearing a long tone, waiting several minutes to connect and waiting even longer to have e-mail pop up on the monitor, I have been receiving e-mails predicting the imminent demise of the Conservative movement.

That was about 18 years ago, and the e-mails keep coming.

Now, of course, the predictions also appear in listservs, on Web sites, in podcasts and blogs, in news releases and notably in the Jewish press. They come from sociologists, demographers, professors, clergy, synagogue presidents and people at the Kiddush table and in the parking lot. It is not unusual for many Jewish reporters to "objectively" refer to the movement as "beleaguered" or "under siege."

So first, here's the bad news. Our numbers are shrinking. Our members are getting older. We're being battered in the press. Our institutions are faltering under the weight of old governance systems and the global economic crisis. We're fighting among ourselves. [Add your own critique here.]

Now for some good news. More people are learning and studying Jewish texts, Jewish history and Jewish culture. Kids are still going to Israel with USY and Ramah. Our day schools and camps are experiencing what we hope is a temporary decline, but it is clear that they are no longer just for the rabbi's children. Women are not only in leadership positions, they're also on the bimah. Laypeople – not just the younger ones (and yes, there are younger ones) – are reading Torah. Conservative Jews are involved not only in their congregations, they comprise much of the leadership of federations and other Jewish organizations. A large number of student Hillel leaders come from Conservative backgrounds. And no matter what they call themselves, many of the independent minyanim are Conservative – they use Conservative siddurim and chumashim and approach text using methods championed by the Conservative movement. [Add your own good news here – I know you have some.]

So if things are good, why are they bad?

Our problems are real, for sure, and we must approach them seriously. The Conservative movement has contributed much to American Jewish life. I do not consider it a failure if one of our own becomes involved in another denomination or organization. It means we're doing our job –  it's the natural outgrowth of Schechter's klal Yisrael.

But it does trouble me that we have not successfully created Shabbat communities in most of our congregations. It troubles me that most students do not find the level of commitment in their home communities that they do in USY or Ramah or Koach. It does trouble me that if they do find it, it's likely not in the Conservative movement, so they may become involved in other communities not by design but by default. And it does trouble me that our clergy and laity become more concerned about institutional viability than about motivating themselves and others to live fully Jewish lives.

What can we do about it? It's easy to assign responsibility, but it's courageous to shoulder it. If I were speaking to the key leaders of the movement, professional and lay, I would start by handing each of them a mirror and asking them to take a long, hard look.

It's easy to blame the institutions – and there is plenty of blame to be assigned to them all. But how many rabbis tell their president that in order to be a more effective leader, the two must study together for an hour every other week? How many presidents tell their rabbi the same thing? How much time do we spend teaching and encouraging people to observe Shabbat or to keep kosher, compared to the amount of time we spend making the bar or bat mitzvah schedule or collecting membership dues?

The business side is important, to be sure, but your shul should be more than a business. Yes, I know your congregation is different. But really it's not.
If our institutions are out of touch with our members, know that this didn't happen yesterday. And if you've only complained about it, then stop complaining because complaining alone won't help.

I know people might suggest that because I am employed by one of these institutions, perhaps I am naive, perhaps apologetic, perhaps defensive. Certainly our life experiences color everything, including our opinions. I accept and understand that. I also have to look in that mirror because there are times when I, too, get lost in the politics. So let this serve not only as an admonishment to others but as self-indictment as well.

We all have a lot of work to do. United Synagogue, Women's League, Men's Club, Ziegler, JTS, the RA, CA, JEA, JYDA, NAASE, Masorti, Mercaz, Schechter – all of us. We can form coalitions, make demands, threaten, cajole and continue to fight it out in the press. It's all a smokescreen and doesn't confront the real issues.

Those e-mails have been coming for 18 years. I predict they will come for another 18 years and beyond – until the technology becomes ancient and something takes its place.

The bottom line is, we can all get along. I'm looking in the mirror and I invite you to join me. We have a lot of work to do.

(Richard S. Moline is the director of Koach, United Synagogue's program for college students.)

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

May 27, 2009

Jonathan D. Sarna in the Forward: "Saying Kaddish Too Soon?"

Forward: "Saying Kaddish Too Soon?"
Opinion by Jonathan D. Sarna
May 27, 2009, issue of June 05, 2009.

'With a heavy heart we will soon say Kaddish on the Reform and Conservative movements," Rabbi Norman Lamm, the distinguished chancellor of Yeshiva University, recently proclaimed in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "The future of American Jewry is in the hands of Haredim and the Modern Orthodox."

Lamm's triumphalistic prediction has, unsurprisingly, elicited strong and angry responses from Conservative and Reform leaders who consider their movements youthful and vibrant. For a historian, though, the prediction cannot help but call to mind earlier attempts to divine American Judaism's future.

When Lamm was young, those who followed trends in Jewish life expected to say Kaddish for Orthodox Judaism. A careful study in 1952 found that "only twenty-three percent of the children of the Orthodox intend to remain Orthodox; a full half plan to turn Conservative." The future of American Jewry back then seemed solidly in the hands of Conservative Jews.

Years earlier, in the late 19th century, Reform Judaism expected to say Kaddish for other kinds of Jews. The great architect of American Reform Judaism, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, titled his prayer book "Minhag Amerika" — the liturgical custom of American Jews — and given the number of synagogues that moved into the Reform camp in his day, his vision did not seem farfetched. Many in the mid-1870s believed, as he did, that the future of American Judaism lay in the hands of the Reformers.

Before then, of course, those with crystal balls expected to say Kaddish for Judaism as a whole in America. One of the nation's wisest leaders, its then attorney general, William Wirt, predicted in 1818 that within 150 years, Jews would be indistinguishable from the rest of mankind. Former president John Adams likewise looked to the future and thought that Jews would "possibly in time become liberal Unitarian Christians."

All these predictions made sense in their day. All assumed that the future would extend forward in a straight line from the present. All offered their followers the comforting reassurance that triumph lay just beyond the horizon.

And all proved utterly and wildly wrong.

Lamm's prediction is unlikely to break this depressing streak of failures. Admittedly, Conservative Judaism today faces significant financial, demographic and ideological challenges, but Reform Judaism faced greater challenges 75 years ago, when it was by far the smallest and most divided of our three religious movements. Yet it successfully reinvented itself, winning over to its ranks many Jews whose parents might never have considered Reform Judaism an option. Conservative Judaism, with its new and more youthful leadership, could stage a similar comeback. Orthodox Judaism, ironically, serves as the poster child for what a beleaguered religious movement can accomplish. Its revival over the past 50 years is one of the great stories of postwar Judaism.

At the same time, and notwithstanding the abundant evidence that Lamm might muster on Orthodoxy's behalf — its prodigious birthrate, its expansive day school movement, the success of Yeshiva University, the remarkable spread of Chabad and more — Lamm's triumphalism flies in the face of a history that has humbled so many would-be prophets, and glosses over American Orthodoxy's all-too-real challenges.

Five challenges are especially worth noting:

First, Orthodox Judaism in America has had trouble retaining its members. According to demographer Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it loses more of its members over time than any other Jewish religious movement — understandably so, since it is harder to be Orthodox than to be any other kind of Jew. Since Orthodoxy represents, even by the most generous estimate, only 13% of those who define themselves as Jewish in America, that represents a significant demographic problem.

Second, Orthodoxy in America is suffering from a severe leadership crisis. The greatest of its 20th-century leaders — Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Rabbi Moses Feinstein, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and others — have all passed from the scene. Their successors, who do not carry the mantle of the great pre-war European yeshivas, have not achieved the same breadth of acceptance. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who is Soloveitchik's son-in-law and now the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, has bemoaned "the current dearth of first-rank gedolim," or giants, in America. Historically, religious movements that cannot count on indigenous leadership to direct them have not fared well in America — at least not for long.

Third, American Orthodoxy is experiencing a significant brain drain. It sends its best and its brightest to Israel for long periods of yeshiva study, and unsurprisingly, many of them never return. One can think of multiple examples of remarkable Orthodox men and women who might have had a profound effect on Jewish religious life in America but preferred to cast their lot with the Jewish state. Can a movement that sends its most illustrious sons and daughters to Israel truly expect to triumph here in the United States?

Fourth, American Orthodoxy remains deeply divided over the issue of how to confront modernity. This is not a new problem; tensions between "accommodators" and "resisters" in Orthodox life date back to the 19th century. But now, in the absence of broadly respected leaders, the fault lines between Modern and right-wing Orthodox Jews have deepened. The question is whether Orthodoxy can survive as a very broad "big tent" movement or whether, like Conservative Judaism of an earlier era and like so many non-Jewish religious groups that have faced similar challenges, it will ultimately polarize. Big tents have a bad tendency to collapse and split apart, especially in the absence of a strong center. The fact that Orthodox Judaism does not have any strong institutional ties binding together all its factions makes the danger of schism all the greater.

Finally, American Orthodoxy is facing its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The crushing losses experienced by some of its most generous philanthropists, the billions of dollars in endowment lost in the Madoff scandal and the projected collapse of numerous day schools suggest that Orthodoxy's best days may be behind it.

In the world of religion, smugness and self-assurance are usually risky. As Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Mainline Protestant denominations have discovered, success in the present provides no guarantees for the future. If anything, saying Kaddish for other religious movements has often been the first sign of a movement's own impending decline.


Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and the author of "American Judaism: A History" (Yale University Press, 2004).

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

USCJ: Request for Submission of Resolutions by Congregations

Date: May 27, 2009
From: Faye Gingold, USCJ Director of Public Policy and Social Action <gingold@uscj.org>

From December 6-10, 2009, United Synagogue will hold its International Biennial Convention at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill, N.J. One of the most important items of business at convention is the framing of resolutions that represent the policy decisions of our organization. We invite your synagogue to submit topics to be considered at the resolutions session.

There are many issues that warrant our concern and resolutions are a way in which we share our view with the world. Resolutions in the past have addressed many topics and issues, including Israel, interfaith and religious matters, the environment, health care, energy policy, education, world Jewry/world affairs, humanitarian concerns and organizational matters of United Synagogue. Resolutions adopted between 1993 and 2007 can be found at http://www.uscj.org/Convention_Resolutio6434.html

Following convention, ratified resolutions -- which address important issues of both Jewish and secular interest – are distributed not only to affiliated congregations but to organizations throughout the Jewish world, so that the position of our member synagogues will be taken into account in crucial debates on public policy.

Since resolutions must be sent to all congregations for review prior to the convention, it is necessary that we receive the specific text of your proposed resolution no later than September 8, 2009. Resolutions may be submitted by any member of your congregation as an individual or by the synagogue as an official congregational recommendation. You are encouraged to share this information with your Israel Action committees and Social Action committees for their input. We urge you to participate in this important process and we promise that your recommendations will receive fair and thorough consideration.

Resolutions should be sent by to Faye Gingold at gingold@uscj.org by September 8, 2009.

Please contact me at gingold@uscj.org or 646-519-9258 if you have any questions. We look forward to seeing you at convention.

Thank you for your cooperation and participation.

Faye Gingold
USCJ Director of Public Policy and Social Action

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

May 26, 2009

A Shefa Challenge from HaYom: The Coalition for the Transformation of Conservative Judaism

Dear Chevreh,

The Hayom Coalition (http://www.shefanetwork.org/hayom) is moving forward with USCJ to create a dreamworthy plan.  Part of that is an assessment of the current moment.  But we're also engaging in a "thought experiment," which includes one page proposals for what you think a national synagogue organization should look like. What would be its principal goals? its primary focus? its main functions? 

We're inviting anyone interested to craft such a proposal and share them on Shefa, where HaYom representatives will be collecting the responses and preparing a collective vision. 

Please consider utilizing the latest ShefaJournal (http://www.shefanetwork.org/shefajournal5769a.pdf) as the goal was similar, though not directed in the same way.

Kol Tuv, and Hatzlacha Rabbah!

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Ayeka: A Reflection on Genesis 2:9

Ayeka: A Reflection on Genesis 2:9
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

dedicated to my dear teacher Rabbi Neil Gillman


Ayeka?! Where are you?!  I'm Lonely.... and I miss you, and this world is still empty with everything I see when I can't see you.... I Love you, and I Need you.  Do you realize what you're called to be?  Do you realize that if you hide your face from Me the universe shudders?  All the angels on the head of a pin and the totality of non-humans mean nothing to me - they just do what I say or what instinct tells them (which is pretty much the same) but you don't listen to Me and I Love that. 

Your independence wasn't something I thought about in advance, but you're just like Me - I don't listen either!  In fact, I threw Truth to the ground to make you.... What does that mean anyway?  I've never Understood.  Maybe it means that you're worth more to Me than Truth.  Maybe that means that relationship is why I Exist too. 

Ayeka - such a harsh sound to say (I'd know if I had a mouth).  It's as if I choke when I express My Own Loneliness.  (I don't think I can Understand what it must be like for you to experience My Loneliness - can you express what that feels like?  What do you create when you feel that?)  So many people spend so much time denying I exist that they don't take a step back and wonder about why they need to deny Me so emphatically.  Do you think it's because they can't handle the implication of Me?  The burden that then falls upon humanity in the face of a Needy Me? 

I didn't Create with a plan - I Created because I Need to Create.  That's Who I Am.  Who are you?

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

May 25, 2009

Save a life: Marrow Drive at Netivot Shalom on Sunday, June 14, 1:00 – 6:00 pm.

Dear Chevreh,

I'm writing you with an urgent request.  There is a member of our community, a devoted husband and father of two young girls, Jon Galinson, who is battling Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Jon's best hope for a cure is a stem cell transplant.  I'm inviting your community to cosponsor this Marrow Drive taking place at Netivot Shalom on Sunday, June 14, 1:00 – 6:00 pm.  Cosponsoring only entails spreading the word.  You can, of course, also choose to contirbute to the expense of the registry, but this is not our expectation.  Please help us find a match for Jon and for thousands like him by coming to our drive and joining the national donor registry.   (There is also going to be a "Be the Match" registry at the Israel in the Gardens Festival, Sunday, June 7 at Yerba Buena Gardens. http://www.sfjcf.org/gardens/2009And please join me in registering yourselves.

You can help save the life of a member of our Bay Area Jewish community.   Attached, please find both a useful BLURB for circulation (also pasted below in this email), as well as a PDF flyer.  If you can help us by committing to spread the word, please RSVP to Jane Sperling Wise at janesperling@yahoo.com or on her cell: 415-305-7224.  Jane is spearheading a team of hopeful friends, and will be the best help in this process.

My thanks, chevreh, for considering this urgent act of Piku'ach Nefesh, of Saving a Life.

WHEN:          Sunday, June 14, 1:00 – 6:00 pm (Children's Music with Melita at 4:30)
WHERE:        Congregation Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Avenue, Berkeley
HOW:            Fill out a medical questionnaire and do a simple cheek swab. A donation of $25 or more toward the cost of testing is greatly appreciated but not required. 
WHO:            Patients need donors who are between the ages of 18 and 60, in good general health, and are willing to donate to any patient in need.

If you are unable to attend this donor drive, you can join the Be the Match Registry at the Israel in the Gardens Festival, Sunday, June 7 at Yerba Buena Gardens. http://www.sfjcf.org/gardens/2009/

Or, become a donor online by going to http://join.marrow.org. When asked to provide a promo code, please type in JonGalinson.  **If you use the promo code, the price is reduced from $52 to $25.

For more information about the drive, please see attached flyer. For more information about becoming a donor, visit www.bethematch.com or call 1-800-MARROW.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

very relevant article: Alban Weekly - 05/25/09 Green Eyeshades and Rose-Colored Glasses


Green Eyeshades and Rose-Colored Glasses

by Dan Hotchkiss

Congregational budget-makers frequently divide into two camps that approach the task in different ways. The first camp is likely to include children of the Great Depression, experts in finance, elementary school teachers, and persons anxious about their own money situation. Their first priority is to make sure that the budget balances and that the congregation makes no plans or commitments it is less than 100 percent certain it can meet. They squint over budget sheets like bookkeepers of old with their bright lamps and shoulder garters—I call this camp the Green Eyeshades.

The second camp typically includes young clergy, upscale decorators, Baby Boomers, college professors, and commission salespeople. They firmly believe that with God (or even without God) all things are possible. They say, "We are a congregation, not a business." This camp can be identified at budget meetings mostly by their absence. When shanghaied into talking about money, they glaze over. Staring at a distant sunrise, they float over the surface of numerical reality—I call them the Rose-Colored Glasses.

The division between the Eyeshades and the Glasses is as old as Mary and Martha, Moses and Aaron, Job and Job's wife. It is as deeply rooted in our culture as the duality of secular and sacred, temporal and spiritual. There is nothing wrong with it, so long as people see themselves as members of one team and value one another's contributions. But too often, the division becomes rigid—one group always thinks of ways to spend more money; the other always says we can't afford it. It certainly forms part of the tension between clergy called to transform lives and boards elected to control purse strings—especially when they understand their roles that way.

The budget process often sets up friction between the Glasses and the Eyeshades. Typically the word goes out for each program unit to request a budget for next year. Knowing how these things work, program committees (full of rosy thinkers) ask for more than they expect and then some. A finance committee (strapping on their eyeshades) puts all of the requests onto a spreadsheet as a "dream budget." Usually even the dream budget gets trimmed quite a bit, making it resemble the Green Eyeshades' own, fiscally-sound dreams.

The fund drive naturally falls short of the "dream" goal. How could it not? Calling a goal a dream almost guarantees that you'll fall short. The finance committee sharpens its pencils and begins grinding the dream down to a practical nub.

The program people rise up, asking "How can we say we can't afford what God has called us to accomplish?" The finance people answer, "Good stewards live within their means." The Green Eyeshades with their pencils and their spreadsheets go to battle with the Rose-Colored Glasses, armed with blunt-end scissors, opera glasses, and pink feathers. It is not a pretty picture.

Sometimes the Roses win the day until they've run up deficits and the Greens come like an exasperated crew of parents to clean up after them. If the Greens win too consistently, the Roses trade their glasses in for blinders and quit dreaming. Sad.

Nothing can do away with the division between Green and Rose; it is too deeply rooted in the temperaments and histories of the players. But if we can't change human nature, we can at least stop setting up the budget process to bring out the worst in us. Here is a budget process that can help narrow the divide:

Instead of starting by inviting program units to submit budget requests to the finance committee, this process begins with the governing board. Their first task each year is to define not a budget but a statement: A Vision of Ministry. The Vision is a short list of the new and different ways this congregation plans to transform lives over the next one to three years.

Why a short list? Because if you have a long list of priorities, they are not priorities! The fact that something does not make the list does not mean that it won't happen. The Vision is a short list of things the board means to accomplish no matter what. While creating it, the board will bank a number of ideas for the future: pieces of a long-term vision to which the board is not prepared to make an iron-clad commitment this year.

The board may create the Vision by itself. Or, better, it may ask a varied group, including staff and clergy, to join them in creating a statement for the board to authorize. The Vision of Ministry confronts directly the question that most budget debates are about indirectly: What aspects of our mission will be our top priorities?

The board votes a new Vision of Ministry each year. It also adopts, and less frequently revises, written Budget Policies defining the core principles that will guide budgeting each year. The principles will likely include fair compensation, adequate building maintenance, a financial audit, adequate insurance, and a strong mandate to maintain high standards of health, safety, and accessibility.

After the board adopts the Vision of Ministry and the Budget Policies, these form the basis for the annual call for budget proposals from the program units. The request is not for a "dream" budget but for a budget that will accomplish the Vision and comply with the Policies. The board, not a finance committee of Green Eyeshades, determines the actual proposed budget.

The annual fund drive, then, communicates the Vision of Ministry over and over again. Contributors are asked for amounts which, if about half of them say "yes," will make the Vision possible. The board, clergy, and staff make it clear that the Vision is not something the congregation plans to shoot for but that it intends to accomplish. Year after year, the people learn that when this congregation asks for gifts, it means it. If they give what is asked, the results promised come to pass. Over time the fund drive becomes easier, more pleasant, and more popular.

One reason for this is that the division between Green Eyeshades and Rose-Colored Glasses, while it never goes away, is addressed in creating the Vision of Ministry. The fund drive comes, not in the middle of the argument, but after it has been resolved.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

May 20, 2009

The Power of a Jewish Voice

The Power of a Jewish Voice
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Nicholas Patruno has written that: 

"[During the Sho'ah, the Nazis' attempts at] the suppression of language served as a cruel reminder that there would be no voice left to tell. ...But in Auschwitz, Primo Levi soon concluded that his survival, in physical and moral terms, depended largely on his ability to oppose this Nazi scheme. ...Levi later wrote that 'one can and must communicate, and thereby contribute in a useful way to the peace of others and one's self.' (Memory and Mastery, p.92)"

I was blessed tonight to witness the father-and-daughter dialog between Ben and Charlene Stern at my shul and experienced the truth of Levi's statement, that Ben Stern's determination to contribute his voice has inspired a legacy of both Jewish memory and vision for the Jewish future. 

In the most basic of terms, tonight was a highly charged, unbearable experience of testimony. Embraced and guided by his daughter Charlene's questions, Ben shared parts of his personal story with an audience comprised of shul members of varied generations, many friends from neighborhood Churches and visitors from our larger community. 

As opposed to Jewish ritual-moments of memory, tonight was a conversation, an unscripted sharing of legacy between father, daughter, and community. Ben's narrative spans a simply indescribable journey which led him from a warm home in Mogielnica, Poland to the horrors of the Shoah, from a displaced person's camp to his emigration to Chicago.  He spoke of his defiance of the organized Jewish community's desire to remain quiet in the face of the American NeoNazis' attempted march in 1970 in Skokie, which he helped defeat. He spoke of his commitment to Israel and the American Jewish Community. And he spoke of his decision with his beloved wife to create a new home close to their children, grandchildren, and great-grand-children.   (
Click here for Ben's page on the US Holocaust Museum website.)

Ben spoke of the urgency of learning our People's story of survival and hardship.  While attempting to not agitate those gathered, Ben also (re)focused our attention to the many current incarnations of Anti-Semitism. And, while we refuse to be defined by these, Ben reminded us the serious costs of not learning Jewish vigilance, the perils of not remaining attuned to the challenges facing Jewish world. I believe that this is an often overlooked part of our community's commitment to universal social justice, that the dignity we demand for all people is the same dignity we demand for ourselves.  

The relative ease of living a Jewish life in America is both very recent and, as Josh Kornbluth terms it, "mercurial."  Our communities are are fluid ones, with shifting and nuanced notions of identity.  In the face of all this, Ben reminded us all of the Mitzvah of cultivating Jewish memory.  

Ben told a group of grade school students in Florida two years ago:

"I am destined to be here to teach you the difference of what hatred and racial degradation can create - what can drive a people together to create such a tragedy. Millions of people were killed in World War II, and here I am."

Hinenu - We are here too. And we have much work to do.  

For as Elie Weisel, with whom Ben and other survivors marched during the final days of the Sho'ah, has taught:

"For in my tradition, as a Jew, I believe that whatever we receive we must share. When we endure an experience, the experience cannot stay with me alone. It must be opened, it must become an offering, it must be deepened and given and shared. And of course I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways - disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet. Granted, our task is to inform. But information must be transformed into knowledge, knowledge into sensitivity and sensitivity into commitment. (A God Who Remembers, from NPR's "This I Believe", 2008)

This lesson is one that Jonathan Sarna has translated well for modern American Jewish communities:

"[History] is not just a record of events, it is the story of how people shaped events: establishing and maintaining communities, responding to challenges, working for change.  That is the greatest lesson I can offer others: the knowledge that they too can make a difference, that the future is their to create. (American Judaism, p.xx)"

The Jewish decisions we make, the destiny we build for our precious communities, the justice we foment in the world around us, the very memories we remain determined to contain as we continue to dream - all these define our success.

May we continue to grow in strength as we transform memory into commitment, and survival into peaceful, purposeful Jewish pride.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Forward: "Conservative Jews Decry Bias in IDF"

Forward: "Conservative Jews Decry Bias in IDF"

By Nathan Jeffay
Published May 20, 2009, issue of May 29, 2009.

When Gabrielle Pollack sought to say kaddish for her recently deceased grandmother, the young female soldier found that in the Israeli Army, it can be daunting to be a Conservative Jew.

And the army, for its part, found it can be daunting to accommodate one as non-Orthodox Jewish movements increasingly jockey to break the Orthodox monopoly over official religion in Israel.

Pollack, 19, is part of a 15-strong group from the Conservative youth movement Noam serving together in Nahal, a military division that combines army service, civil service, and work for their movement. But the military chaplaincy, like all of Israel's official Jewish religious

agencies, is an Orthodox institution that does not recognize a woman's right to be counted and participate equally in formal prayer.

As a result, Pollack, whose grandmother died earlier this month in upstate New York, was told she could not recite the Jewish prayer of mourning for her at her Army base's regular Orthodox minyan. According to Conservative Rabbi Debbi Grinberg, the Noam group's spiritual leader, the base chaplain initially agreed instead to let her organize an alternative, egalitarian minyan at the base's sanctuary where she could do so — but then reneged, apparently after an Orthodox soldier on the base protested.

After days of impasse, related Grinberg, who acted as Pollack's advocate during the dispute, the chaplain gave Pollack keys to a classroom to hold a gathering where she could say kaddish but formally requested that she not hold an actual prayer service there. He suggested the participants instead recite psalms and the kaddish prayer, but indicated she could do as she wished once there.

Pollack went on to hold two egalitarian services in the classroom, Grinberg said, and recited kaddish. But she was unhappy with this outcome.

"This is not a solution, because he didn't say she could pray in the synagogue," said Grinberg. "What? The synagogue is for Orthodox people, but not for her because she wants to pray in an egalitarian minyan?"

Army rules prohibit soldiers from being interviewed by the news media, making it impossible to speak with Pollack herself. But the IDF spokesperson's office confirmed the outlines of Grinberg's account in a prepared statement.

"Several solutions were offered to the bereaved soldier which, on the one hand, conformed with the rules of her particular strain of belief, and yet maintained accepted base protocol," the statement said.

"It was agreed that the soldier would hold an all female minyan in a separate room, in accordance with her beliefs. The soldier has been conducting a minyan of this nature for several days.

"It should be stated that The IDF works to the best of its ability to allow its soldiers their freedom of religion, in accordance with their different beliefs."

Military sources voiced exasperation with the fact that Conservative movement leaders in Israel had taken the event public. Earlier in May, one said, members of the military Rabbinate met with Conservative movement rabbis about accommodating the needs of soldiers in their community. Following this, they said, the Conservatives approached the military rabbinate about Pollack's specific problem, and chaplains agreed to resolve the matter.

But Conservative spokesman Shmuel Dovrat said, "We did not get to any conclusion" in the meeting with the IDF Rabbinate. "It was a nice, a good conversation, but with no bottom line, the beginning of what we hoped would be a communications channel."

The IDF Rabbinate's slow and unsatisfactory response to Pollack right afterward showed that channel was "futile," he said.

For Israel's tiny Masorti movement, as the Conservative Judaism movement is known in Israel, the episode offered an opportunity to once again make its case against Orthodox Judaism's monopoly of the Jewish state's governmental religious institutions. Under settled arrangements governing religion and state in Israel, all Jewish religious appointments and places of worship under state jurisdiction rest in the hands of the Orthodox. This includes army synagogues, which are used exclusively for Orthodox services, and the army rabbinate, which is staffed only by Orthodox chaplains.

Israel's Reform and Conservative movements have long been keen to change this status quo. The two non-Orthodox movements have long battled the government on issues like state funding for synagogues, which they began to receive for the first time last year. On May 19, The High Court ruled that the state must also fund conversion classes operated by the Reform and Conservative movements, breaking an Orthodox monopoly on this.

Last September, the Conservative movement cast its attention on the army. In a letter to the IDF chief-of-staff, Masorti officials demanded that non-Orthodox rabbis be brought into the army rabbinate — a request that was turned down.

Stymied at changing the chaplaincy's makeup, Masorti leaders sought, instead, to break the Orthodox monopoly over army synagogues, attempting to hold Conservative services in them, too. Pollack's kaddish dispute, in fact, follows a disagreement last Yom Kippur, when Pollack tried to hold an egalitarian service in the synagogue only to be stopped by the chaplain.

"We are saying that Conservative soldiers should receive the same attitude from the army that Orthodox soldiers do," Conservative movement spokesman Shmuel Dovrat told the Forward.

Orthodox rabbis give short shrift to this complaint, claiming no injustice was done. Pollack was allowed to assemble recite kaddish elsewhere, they noted. Synagogues should be reserved for "prayer according to the majority," said Benny Lau, a leading modern-Orthodox rabbi who is familiar with this dispute.

There are about 40,000 Conservative Jews in Israel. Meanwhile, even discounting Haredim, who do not serve in the army, around 700,000 Israelis — one in 10 — are traditionally observant — or in American terms, Orthodox. Roughly another 700,0000 define themselves as religiously traditional, usually meaning that on occasion they attend an Orthodox synagogue.

That is still a minority. But the Conservative movement is unlikely to experience much support from the secular Jewish majority. Secular Jews often decry incursions by Orthodoxy into the secular arena. But where there is a place for religion in government or society, such as in army synagogues, they expect it to be Orthodox.

These disputes come as the IDF Rabbinate is also under fire on a separate front. After the Gaza campaign, it came under criticism for distributing booklets to fighting soldiers with an overly zealous right-wing agenda. The criticism was not only from nongovernmental organizations, but also from the Ministry of Defense. Following the incident, the IDF Personnel Directorate released a document limiting the military rabbinate's involvement in educational activities.

As far as Grinberg is concerned, the conflict over synagogue usage is part of a broader battle to have Conservative religiosity recognized by the IDF as equally legitimate to Orthodox religiosity.

IDF rules state, for example, that soldiers must be clean-shaven, except for those who grow beards for religious reasons, When three male Conservative soldiers from Pollack's program stopped shaving, as per tradition, from Passover to Lag B'Omer, they were told by their superiors the army rabbinate did not view theirs beards as religiously motivated facial hair. They were later given license to grow beards — but only after Lag B'Omer (May 12) when they had planned to resume shaving anyway.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Rabbi Andy Sacks on JPost.com: "No Ayatollahs for Israel""

Wednesday May 20, 2009

JPost.com: "No Ayatollahs for Israel"

Rabbi Andrew Sacks

Many years ago, shortly after the first McDonald's restaurant opened in Jerusalem, I spoke with a group of Jewish youth visiting from the States. They lamented the fact that the restaurant was not Kosher. This led to a discussion where over half of the participants felt that Israeli law should require restaurants - at least in western Jerusalem - to be Kosher. No Big Macs with cheese. "This is a Jewish State and the laws should reflect Jewish values and traditions," one opined. 

"If this is how you feel," I asked, "do you feel the laws ought to prohibit women from wearing pants in public, require married women to cover their hair, outlaw couples from holding hands in public, and punish homosexuality?"
"I am not a fanatic," he responded.
"So where would you like to draw the line?" I asked. 

This is a real dilemma we face in Israel. Israel is a State for the Jewish people (of course it must also provide for the needs of all of its citizens) but what should be the color of Judaism in our State. Should it be the monochrome black of the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) or as multi-colored as the rainbow? Should it be frozen in the image of ages gone by, or reflect the dynamic development that has been central to Judaism since Wissenschaft scholars became the heirs to Jewish study and creativity? Shall Israel allow the official religious establishment, stuck as it is in its anachronistic backward thinking, to exclude Masorti, Reform, New-Age, and other movements that attract serious Jews? Will the modern-Orthodox Zionists be relegated to the dust heap of Jewish history as our Torah is hijacked by those hell-bent on creating a theocratic society? 
Iran is a theocracy with some signs - however ersatz - of democracy. Israel (L'Havdil, as we say in Hebrew) is a democracy with theocratic elements. Striking the balance in day to day life can be a challenge.
In the past few days we were witness to Supreme Court decisions that moved toward clarifying this dilemma.
Israel's Supreme Court unanimously ordered the government to stop discriminating against Reform and Conservative conversion institutes in favor of Orthodox ones with regard to funding. The government was not obligated to fund conversion classes, the court stated, but as long as they did so, Masorti and Reform conversion classes could not be denied.
Now I can already hear the vicious talkbacks that will follow this blog claiming the fallacious, and deceitful, nature of these non-Orthodox movements. But Israel is a democracy and it is the norm in democratic countries that the civil courts protect the rights of minorities. Funding must be color-blind. It must be allocated to groups who meet established criteria.  
In addition, Israelis are voting with their feet. Although they have no material advantage to gain by converting with the liberal Movements - many are choosing to do so. This is all the more so as the Orthodox establishment (which also excludes the modern Zionist Orthodox rabbis) keeps its doors all but locked to those who seriously seek to enter.
"The declared intention of these conversion institutions is to integrate the new immigrants who want it, into the ranks of the Jewish people, while learning and becoming familiar with the Jewish religion, its principles and customs, while taking an active part in the life of the Jewish community," Judge Beinisch wrote, quoting from the petition to the court. Beinisch opined, "the exclusion of the Reform and Conservative movements violated fundamental principles of the democratic system, that is, freedom of speech and pluralism."
The Supreme Court will soon decide about funding for Brit Milah (ritual circumcision) of non-Orthodox converts, the use of Mikvaot for conversion and brides (ritual immersion baths) by the non-Orthodox, and funding for non-Orthodox rabbis to serve as municipal employees.
The Masorti Movement opposes the continued financing of an official Chief Rabbinate, along with its thousands of State funded employees. But as long as the institution continues to exist we will insist on funding that is fair and equitable.
The court noted that the majority of Jews in Israel and in the world are not identified with the Orthodox Movement. It is high time our Rabbinate took note.
This decision came only days after the Supreme Court called upon the Rabbinic courts to show cause why they should be allowed to retroactively annul  the status, as Jews, of those who long ago entered the faith.
Yesterday I joined in a demonstration held opposite the home of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. The news has reported that he was planning to increase the powers of the rabbinical courts to let them rule on matters relating to money and children in divorce cases. This would be a tragic step toward the already ugly discrimination these rabbinic courts demonstrate toward women.
But, I am grateful that we indeed live in a country where the civil courts may keep the religious institutions from overstepping their authority and violating citizen rights. We may be witnessing the dawn of an era of religious pluralism where Masorti and other streams will be granted their rightful places. 
So, in the end Israel is not Iran. Women may choose to wear pants or a dress, to cover their hair, or not. 
Halacha [Jewish law] must be respected in Israel. The rights of those who live by Halacha must be protected. But the Judaism that I see emerging will be as colorful as the rainbow.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

May 19, 2009

Ray Goldstein in the Jewish Week: "For Conservative Shuls, A Moment Of Challenge"

Jewish Week Op-Ed: "For Conservative Shuls, A Moment Of Challenge"
by Ray Goldstein
Special To The Jewish Week

Recently the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has been criticized harshly, both from outside the Conservative movement and, more troublingly, from within it as well ("New Rump Group Levels Fresh Attacks On USCJ," May 15).

The critiques are not wholly without merit. This is, undeniably, a moment of challenge and change for the United Synagogue, which represents Conservative synagogues in North America.
The demographics we face are challenging. Today there are fewer people who identify themselves as Conservative Jews than there used to be. An increasing number view themselves as post-denominational, choosing independent minyanim over our synagogues. Others jump from shul to shul, or from movement to movement. Some delay going anywhere altogether until they marry and start families — a cycle that is being postponed later in life than ever. And some simply do not affiliate with synagogues.

Some Conservative synagogues are merging. Some, sadly, simply are closing. And a few are leaving United Synagogue altogether — although an equal number are joining.

Our communities are changing. They are reshaping themselves, discarding some of the mid-20th century forms they have inherited, sometimes discarding the labels that identify them as Conservative, but clearly still part of us.

But we know as well that the movement, with its insistence on the discipline of halachic living and at the same time on balancing that discipline with the evolving truths of a changing world, continues to offer an approach to Jewish life that resonates with vast numbers of Jews.

We stand at the crossroads with eyes wide open, recognizing both the significant challenges we face and the need for meaningful change these challenges demand, as well as the opportunities they present. Soon we will install a new executive vice president and a new lay president. We recently launched a process to fully reassess our mission and long-term strategic plan – a process that we undertake in concert with some of our harshest critics. In the meantime, we continue to take the concerns of our constituents with the utmost seriousness and are actively making changes to best meet their needs.

As our incoming leadership team prepares to take charge — and as we current leaders get ready to step back — we all pledge ourselves to move toward change and transparency. Our budget process must be more open. Therefore, I have instructed our finance department to put the budget in more understandable form and to post it on the web as soon as possible. We also are in the process of re-evaluating each of our programs. Those that prove ineffective or inefficient may be eliminated. We already have had to take the painful step of eliminating some staff positions.
Over the course of this year, our executive vice president, Rabbi Jerome Epstein, and I, along with other lay and professional leaders, visited all of our regions' conventions to hear first-hand about local concerns and issues. We have begun to implement organizational changes that will enable us to come to members' aid more quickly. We now quickly put together conference calls on topical issues and offer webinars that help congregational leaders deal with pressing problems.

Our critics say that we have been too slow to implement change. Simultaneously, though, they demand that the United Synagogue act more democratically. Their argument is paradoxical: We are a large movement, representing many hundreds of congregations. Swift, large-scale changes imposed from our headquarters in New York would violate the very spirit of greater transparency under which we are committed to operating. We need time to build consensus among our international membership.

Despite the clear challenges, there is much evidence that the Conservative movement is vital. Our Hekhsher Tzedek project, which is focused on creating an ethical certification process for kosher foods, has captured the attention of the Jewish community, including the Orthodox. Our seminaries are continuing to produce new rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators. Conservative congregations are sprouting in Israel and Europe. Our Ramah camps are vibrant, successful, and in demand, and our Schechter schools graduate well-educated, well-rounded, committed young Conservative Jews. Yeshiva University's Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm, is dead wrong — as well as offensive — when he says it's time to recite Kaddish for our movement.

Part of the problem we face is related to the economy. Our job has always been challenging, but the economic downturn has made things much tougher. We are well aware, however, that some of the United Synagogue's difficulties are of our own making. Much of what the United Synagogue does is not readily apparent to our members. Our synagogues do not all know enough about what our mandate is and what we do on a day-to-day basis. We have not been as effective as we could have been in making sure they know about the training we offer to synagogue leaders, the support we provide synagogue professionals, the instruction in synagogue skills we offer to congregations without rabbis, and the successful work we do each day on college campuses. We have not made our members fully aware of the assistance we provide on adult education, committee structuring, synagogue libraries, personnel, Kadimah and USY youth groups. We must do better.

There are those among our critics who want to effect change from within. To them we say, bruchim ha'ba'im, welcome. Let's continue to work together. There are others, however, who wish only to tear down. To them we say: this is not the way forward. The Conservative movement, which since its inception has balanced tradition and change, will continue to change as we face this new economy with new leadership. We are confident that we will not only endure but grow and flourish. 

Raymond B. Goldstein is international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

May 18, 2009

Commentary Magazine – Michael Oren: "Seven Existential Threats to Israel"

Commentary Magazine – Michael Oren: "Seven Existential Threats to Israel"
Michael B. Oren - May 01, 2009
Commentary Magazine

Rarely in modern history have nations faced genuine existential threats. Wars are waged to change regimes, alter borders, acquire resources, and impose ideologies, but almost never to eliminate another state and its people. This was certainly the case during World War II, in which the Allies sought to achieve the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan and to oust their odious leaders, but never to destroy the German and Japanese states or to annihilate their populations. In the infrequent cases in which modern states were threatened with their survival, the experience proved to be traumatic in the extreme. Military coups, popular uprisings, and civil strife are typical by-products of a state's encounter with even a single existential threat.

The State of Israel copes not only with one but with at least seven existential threats on a daily basis. These threats are extraordinary not only for their number but also for their diversity. In addition to external military dangers from hostile regimes and organizations, the Jewish State is endangered by domestic opposition, demographic trends, and the erosion of core values. Indeed, it is difficult if not impossible to find an example of another state in the modern epic that has faced such a multiplicity and variety of concurrent existential threats.


The Loss of Jerusalem.

The preservation of Jerusalem as the political and spiritual capital of the Jewish state is vital to Israel's existence. This fact was well understood by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, at the time of the state's creation in 1948. Though Israel was attacked simultaneously on all fronts by six Arab armies, with large sections of the Galilee and the Negev already lost, Ben-Gurion devoted the bulk of Israel's forces to breaking the siege of Jerusalem. The city, he knew, represented the raison d'être of the Jewish state, and without it Israel would be merely another miniature Mediterranean enclave not worth living in, much less defending.

Ben-Gurion's axiom proved correct: For more than 60 years, Jerusalem has formed the nucleus of Israel's national identity and cohesion. But now, for the first time since 1948, Israel is in danger of losing Jerusalem—not to Arab forces but to a combination of negligence and lack of interest.

Jerusalem no longer boasts a Zionist majority. Out of a total population of 800,000, there are 272,000 Arabs and 200,000 Haredim--ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not generally identify with the Zionist state. Recent years have seen the flight of thousands of secular Jews from the city, especially professionals and young couples. This exodus has severely eroded the city's tax base, making Jerusalem Israel's poorest city. Add this to the lack of industry and the prevalence of terrorist attacks and it is easy to see why Jerusalem is hardly a magnet for young Israelis. Indeed, virtually half of all Israelis under 18 have never even visited Jerusalem.

If this trend continues, Ben-Gurion's nightmare will materialize and Israel will be rendered soulless, a country in which a great many Jews may not want to live or for which they may not be willing to give their lives.


The Arab Demographic Threat.

Estimates of the Arab growth rate, both within Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, vary widely. A maximalist school holds that the Palestinian population on both sides of the 1949 armistice lines is expanding far more rapidly than the Jewish sector and will surpass it in less than a decade. Countering this claim, a minimalist school insists that the Arab birthrate in Israel is declining and that the population of the territories, because of emigration, is also shrinking.

Even if the minimalist interpretation is largely correct, it cannot alter a situation in which Israeli Arabs currently constitute one-fifth of the country's population—one-quarter of the population under age 19--and in which the West Bank now contains at least 2 million Arabs.

Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent. Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. If it chooses democracy, then Israel as a Jewish state will cease to exist. If it remains officially Jewish, then the state will face an unprecedented level of international isolation, including sanctions, that might prove fatal.

Ideally, the remedy for this dilemma lies in separate states for Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The basic conditions for such a solution, however, are unrealizable for the foreseeable future. The creation of Palestinian government, even within the parameters of the deal proposed by President Clinton in 2000, would require the removal of at least 100,000 Israelis from their West Bank homes. The evacuation of a mere 8,100 Israelis from Gaza in 2005 required 55,000 IDF troops—the largest Israeli military operation since the 1973 Yom Kippur War—and was profoundly traumatic. And unlike the biblical heartland of Judaea and Samaria, which is now called the West Bank, Gaza has never been universally regarded as part of the historical Land of Israel.

On the Palestinian side there is no single leadership at all, and certainly not one ready to concede the demand for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees to Israel or to forfeit control of even part of the Temple Mount (a necessary precondition for a settlement that does not involve the division of Jerusalem). No Palestinian leader, even the most moderate, has recognized Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state or even the existence of a Jewish people.

In the absence of a realistic two-state paradigm, international pressure will grow to transform Israel into a binational state. This would spell the end of the Zionist project. Confronted with the lawlessness and violence endemic to other one-state situations in the Middle East such as Lebanon and Iraq, multitudes of Israeli Jews will emigrate.



Since the mid-1970s, Israel's enemies have waged an increasingly successful campaign of delegitimizing Israel in world forums, intellectual and academic circles, and the press. The campaign has sought to depict Israel as a racist, colonialist state that proffers extraordinary rights to its Jewish citizens and denies fundamental freedoms to the Arabs. These accusations have found their way into standard textbooks on the Middle East and have become part of the daily discourse at the United Nations and other influential international organizations. Most recently, Israel has been depicted as an apartheid state, effectively comparing the Jewish State to South Africa under its former white supremacist regime. Many of Israel's counterterrorism efforts are branded as war crimes, and Israeli generals are indicted by foreign courts.

Though the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza clearly contributed to the tarnishing of Israel's image, increasingly the delegitimization campaign focuses not on Israel's policy in the territories but on its essence as the Jewish national state.

Such calumny was, in the past, dismissed as harmless rhetoric. But as the delegitimization of Israel gained prominence, the basis was laid for international measures to isolate Israel and punish it with sanctions similar to those that brought down the South African regime. The academic campaigns to boycott Israeli universities and intellectuals are adumbrations of the type of strictures that could destroy Israel economically and deny it the ability to defend itself against the existential threats posed by terrorism and Iran.



Since the moment of its birth, Israel has been the target of attacks—bombings, ambushes, rocket fire—from Arab irregulars committed to its destruction. In the decade between 1957 and 1967, widely considered the most halcyon in the state's history, hundreds of Israelis were killed in such assaults. Nevertheless, the Israeli security establishment viewed terror as a nuisance that, though at times tormenting, did not threaten the state's survival.

This assessment changed, however, in the fall of 2000, when the Palestinians responded to an Israeli-American offer of statehood in the West Bank and Gaza with an onslaught of drive-by shootings and suicide bombings. Tourists and foreign capital fled the country as a result, and Israelis were literally locked inside their homes. The state was dying.

Israel eventually rallied and, in the spring of 2002, mounted a counteroffensive against terrorist strongholds in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) developed innovative techniques for patrolling Palestinian cities, coordinating special forces and intelligence units, and targeting terrorist leaders. Israel also built a separation barrier that impeded the ability of terrorists to infiltrate the state from the east.

These measures succeeded in virtually eliminating suicide bombers and restoring economic and social stability. Yet no sooner were these historic achievements gained than terrorists alit on a new tactic no less threatening to Israel's existence.

Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah into northern Israel and Qassam rockets fired by Hamas in the south rendered life in large swaths of Israel emotionally untenable. Though Israeli ground and air operations may have succeeded in temporarily deterring such attacks, Israel has yet to devise a 21st-century remedy for these mid-20th century threats.

Moreover, Hezbollah's and Hamas's arsenals now contain rockets capable of hitting every Israeli city. If fired simultaneously, these rockets could knock out Israel's airport, destroy its economy, spur a mass exodus from the country, and perhaps trigger a chain reaction in which some Israeli Arabs and several Middle Eastern states join in the assault. Israel's attempts to defend itself, for example by invading Lebanon and Gaza, would be condemned internationally, and serve as pretext for delegitimizing the state. Israel's survival would be threatened.


A Nuclear-Armed Iran.

The principal sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran is inextricably linked to the terrorist threat. But when the Islamic Republic achieves nuclear weapons-capability—as early as this year, according to Israeli intelligence estimates—the threat will amplify manifold.

A nuclear-armed Iran creates not one but several existential threats. The most manifest emanates from Iran's routinely declared desire to "wipe Israel off the map," and from the fact that cold war calculi of nuclear deterrence through mutually assured destruction may not apply to Islamist radicals eager for martyrdom. Some Israeli experts predict that the Iranian leadership would be willing to sacrifice 50 percent of their countrymen in order to eradicate Israel.

Beyond the perils of an Iranian first-strike attack against Israel, the possibility exists that Iran will transfer its nuclear capabilities to terrorist groups, which will then unleash them on Israel via the country's porous ports and border crossings.

A nuclear Iran will also deny Israel the ability to respond to terrorist attacks: in response to an Israeli retaliation against Hezbollah, for example, Iran would go on nuclear alert, causing widespread panic in Israel and the collapse of its economy. Finally, and most menacing, many Middle Eastern states have declared their intention to develop nuclear capabilities of their own once Iran acquires the bomb.

Israel will swiftly find itself in a profoundly unstable nuclear neighborhood prone to violent revolutions and miscalculations leading to war. As former Labor Party minister Efraim Sneh says, under such circumstances, all Israelis who can leave the country will.


The Hemorrhaging of Sovereignty.

Israel does not assert its sovereignty over large sections of its territory and over major sectors of its population. In East Jerusalem, a few hundred yards from where Israeli building codes are strictly enforced in West Jerusalem, Arabs have illegally built hundreds of houses, many of them in historic areas, with impunity. The situation is even worse in the Negev and throughout much of the Galilee, where vast tracts of land have been seized by illegal construction and squatters. Taxes are erratically collected in these areas and the police maintain, at best, a symbolic presence.

Israel fails to apply its laws not only to segments of its Arab population but to significant parts of its Jewish community as well. Over 100 outposts have been established illegally in the West Bank, and Jewish settler violence perpetrated against Palestinian civilians and Israeli security forces is now regarded as a major threat by the IDF.

Israel also balks at enforcing many of its statutes in the burgeoning Haredi community. (According to a recent report, by the year 2012, Haredim will account for one-third of all the Jewish elementary school students in Israel.) Though it is difficult to generalize about Israeli Haredim, the community overwhelmingly avoids military service and eschews the symbols of the state.

A significant percentage of Knesset members, Arabs and Jews, do not recognize the validity of the state they serve. Some actively call for its dissolution. Israel is, quite simply, hemorrhaging sovereignty and so threatening its continued existence as a state.



Recent years have witnessed the indictment of major Israeli leaders on charges of embezzlement, taking bribes, money laundering, sexual harassment, and even rape. Young Israelis shun politics, which are widely perceived as cutthroat; the Knesset, according to annual surveys, commands the lowest level of respect of any state institution. Charges of corruption have spread to areas of Israeli society, such as the army, once considered inviolate.

The breakdown of public morality, in my view, poses the greatest single existential threat to Israel. It is this threat that undermines Israel's ability to cope with other threats; that saps the willingness of Israelis to fight, to govern themselves, and even to continue living within a sovereign Jewish state. It emboldens Israel's enemies and sullies Israel's international reputation. The fact that Israel is a world leader in drug and human trafficking, in money laundering, and in illicit weapons sales is not only unconscionable for a Jewish state, it also substantively reduces that state's ability to survive.

Though seemingly overwhelming, the threats to Israel's existence are not without solutions, either partial or complete.

Preserving Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state must become a policy priority for Israel. Immense resources must be invested in expanding the industrial and social infrastructure of the city and in encouraging young people to relocate there. Israeli school children must make biannual visits to Jerusalem; materials on Jerusalem's centrality to Jewish history and national identity must be introduced into school curricula.

Similarly, to maintain Israel's demographic integrity, measures must be taken to separate Israel from the densely populated areas of the West Bank. In the absence of effective Palestinian interlocutors, Israel may have to draw its eastern border unilaterally. The new borders should include the maximum number of Jews, of natural and strategic assets, and of Jewish holy places.

There is no absolute solution for terrorism, though terror attacks can be reduced to a manageable level through combined (air, ground, and intelligence) operations, physical obstacles, and advanced anti-ballistic systems. It is also essential that Israel adopt a zero-tolerance policy for terrorism, in which every rocket or mortar shell fired across its border precipitates an immediate and punishing response. There must be no immunity for terrorist leaders, military or political. Israel proved that suicide bombers can be virtually eliminated and that terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah can be deterred.

Israel cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Israel should work in close tandem with the United States, supporting the current administration's diplomatic efforts to dissuade the Iranians from going nuclear but warning American policymakers of the dangers of Iranian prevarication. Israel must also not allow its hands to be tied—it must remain free to initiate other, covert measures to impede Iran's nuclear program, while continuing to develop the plans and intelligence necessary for a military operation.

There is no other option, if the state is to survive, than for Israel to assert its sovereignty fully and equitably over all of its territory and inhabitants. This means forbidding illegal construction in East Jerusalem, the Negev, and the Galilee. Major investments will have to be made to expand the security forces necessary for applying Israeli law uniformly throughout the state. In the specific case of Israeli Arabs, Israel must adopt a two-pronged policy of assuring total equality in the provision of social services and infrastructure while simultaneously insisting that Israeli Arabs demonstrate basic loyalty to the state. A system of national service—military and non-military—must be established and made obligatory for all Israelis, ending the destructive separation of Haredi youth from the responsibilities of citizenship.

Corruption must be addressed on both the institutional and the ideological levels. The first step in reducing political corruption is the radical reform of the coalition system, in which that corruption is organic. Young people must be encouraged to enter politics and grassroots movements dedicated to probity in public affairs fostered.

Most fundamental, though, corruption must be rooted out through a revival of Zionist and Jewish values. These should be inculcated, first, in the schools, then through the media and popular culture. The most pressing need is for leadership. Indeed, all of these threats can be surmounted with courageous, clear-sighted, and morally sound leaders of the caliber of David Ben-Gurion.

Though remedies exist for all of the monumental threats facing Israel, contemplating them can nevertheless prove dispiriting. A historical context can, however, be helpful. Israel has always grappled with mortal dangers, many more daunting than those of today, and yet managed to prevail. In 1948, a population half of the size of that of Washington, D.C., with no economy and no allies, armed with little more than handguns, held off six Arab armies. It built an economy, tripled its population in ten years, and developed a vibrant democracy and Hebrew culture.

Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel was surrounded by a million Arab soldiers clamoring for its obliteration. Its economy was collapsing and its only ally, France, switched sides. There was no assistance from the United States and only hatred from the Soviet bloc countries, China, and even India.

And look at Israel today: a nation of 7 million with a robust economy, six of the world's leading universities, a pulsating youth culture, cutting-edge arts, and a military that, in its last two engagements, was able to mobilize more than 100 percent of its reserves. According to recent polls, Israelis are the second-most patriotic people in the world, after Americans, and the most willing to defend their country.

Israel in 2009 has treaties with Jordan and Egypt, excellent relations with Eastern Europe, China, and India, and a historic alliance with the United States. By virtually all criteria, Israel in 2009 is in an inestimably better position than at any other time in its 61 years of independence.

Though the severity of the threats jeopardizing Israel's existence must never be underestimated, neither should Israel's resilience and national will. That persistence reflects, at least in part, the success of the Jewish people to surmount similar dangers for well over 3,000 years. Together with Diaspora Jewry and millions of Israel supporters abroad, Israel can not only survive these perils but, as in the past, it can thrive.

Michael B. Oren, a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center and a professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, is the author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present. He wishes to thank Rafael Frankel for his assistance in preparing this article.

May 17, 2009

Haaretz: "IDF reservists to Barak: Renew Shalit talks immediately"

Ha'aretz: "IDF reservists to Barak: Renew Shalit talks immediately"
Jack Khoury, 17/05/2009

Israel Defense Forces reservists demanded on Sunday that Ehud Barak work to immediately renew negotiations to secure the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The group of reservists, comprised of officers and rank and file soldiers, made the demand during a meeting with Barak at his Tel Aviv office. They stressed in particular the need for an official specifically responsible for the case to be appointed.

They also asked Barak to press United States President Barack Obama's administration to condition financial aid for the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on the receipt of information on Shalit and permission for the Red Cross to visit him.

"We demanded that they apply pressure on the Red Cross, so that the treatment of Hamas prisoners in Israel will be symmetrical to the treatment Gilad Shalit receives in captivity," said Tzahi Lion, a reservist IDF officer who participated in the meeting.

"We have a sacred duty bring Gilad Shalit back and we will do all that we can in order to bring him home to his family," Barak told the reservists, repeating his commitment to securing Gilad's release.

Noam Shalit, the abducted soldier's father, made a similar demand on Saturday, the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the United States. Speculating that the Obama administration would demand that Israel ease its blockade on Gaza as a precondition, Noam Shalit said that he hoped that Netanyahu would not do so without obtaining further proof that Gilad is alive.

Security sources estimate that Netanyahu will appoint a new official to handle the negotiations with Hamas upon his return from Washington.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Total Pageviews