Israel’s Fight

Rabbi's Message - May 22, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Today we descend from our high point, still full with delicious rugelach and filled with pride for our newest confirmation class.  Yet, even in our celebration, our spirits are heavy.  Over the past week our hearts have ached over the escalation of violence in Israel.  We mourn the loss of life and are particularly saddened by the recent breakdown of previously amicable Arab/Israeli relations within the country.  While we process our sadness and fear, we find ourselves in the spotlight of a highly complicated and widely misunderstood conflict.  It seems the world around us would rather point fingers and assign blame to Israelis and Jews than learn that none of us bears the full weight of this escalation. 

As one who loves Israel, I struggle with the news reports that portray Israel as the Goliath against the Palestinian’s David.  Though Israel is hardly perfect, it is not the monster it is being made out to be.  I would argue that at times Israel cares more about the welfare of Palestinians than Hamas does.  But so much of what is being shared by the news or online influencers is incomplete or short-sighted.  Too often they fail to recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization choosing to fire rockets indiscriminately on innocent civilians, including Palestinians. Or are deaf to understanding that when protesters call out “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” they are calling to eliminate 6.5 million Jews who currently live in their ancestral homeland.  Or it downplays Israel’s moral right as a sovereign nation to protect innocent civilians, such as the elderly woman and caregiver who died last week in Ashkelon trying to get to a bomb shelter. 

By and large, Israel has had little opportunity to provide an even-handed narrative.  While Israel allows for freedom of the press, all pictures and stories that come from Gaza must be approved by Hamas.  Their intent is to paint Israel as the aggressor, and they are winning the optics war.  It is painful to see images of people suffering.  But what we see is not always reality.  Nobody understands that the three Gazan children killed by a rocket last week were murdered by errant Hamas rockets, not Israeli.  Nobody sees how much Israel values life, strategically firing at stockpiles of missiles and rockets, not civilians, and giving advance warning to inhabitants before destroying military strongholds embedded in civilian areas.  Nobody knows the extent to which Hamas has misused valuable community resources in Gaza to invest in building tunnels and accumulating weapons.   

This being said, I understand that none are without blame.  We all have blood on our hands.  Yet, despite her imperfections, at the end of the day Israel still has the absolute right to defend herself and to halt the violence.  I am grateful to those who are willing to recognize this need, especially the United States, who supported the creation of Israel’s Iron Dome, air defense system.  This has played the biggest role in protecting civilian lives, both Israelis (of all faiths) and Gazans.  Without the Iron Dome, Israel likely would have had to enter the Gaza strip to forcibly stop the rocket fire upon Israelis.    

There are other ways that we, overseas, can show support for Israel.  One of the most powerful ways at this time is to stay educated and to help others recognize the complexity of the conflict and that not everything they see is as it appears.    

One great example of this was a powerful written response to Trevor Noah’s monologue composed by David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).  I urge you to take a few minutes to read his open letter, not only for a clearer picture of the conflict, but to help educate those who are also seeking more clarity.  

As always, prayers are appropriate at this time.  Perhaps you will find comfort in the poetic words of Alden Solovy 

~For the Return of Peace~ 

O Peace, you fleeting dream, 

O Justice, you fickle hope, 

Today we do not pray in your name. 

Today we pray in the name of the children 

Who have never met you, 

Who have not been blessed 

With your love or your truth. 

Surely, their cries must someday 

Drive you out of hiding, 

Summoning you to cast your healing 

Upon all the earth. 

One G-d, 

Ancient and merciful, 

Justice and Peace are Yours. 

Halt their retreat from the world 

And send them to us for good. 

Do it for the sake of Your name, 

Do it for the sake of Your right hand, 

Do it for the sake of holiness, 

Do it for the sake of Your children, 

So that all may live in the fullness of Your gifts, 

As one family on earth, 

Under Your canopy of love. 

© 2021 Alden Solovy 

However long this violence continues, take comfort in knowing that we are a strong people.  Jews have overcome oppressive forces time and again throughout history, and it has not diminished our faith, but made it stronger.  May peace descend upon all Israel and all inhabitants of the Earth. 

Increase in Joy

Celebrating Religious Freedom

Rabbi’s Message – March 2, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Mi shenichnas l’Adar marbim b’simcha.”  

When a person enters into Adar (the current Hebrew month), he or she increases in joy.  

Today, progressive Jews are exuberant, celebrating religious freedom with Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel.  Yesterday, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate would no longer hold a monopoly over legitimate conversion for the Law of Return.  This was the culmination of more than 15 years of legal appeals that sought to provide Israeli citizenship to those who converted to non-Orthodox Judaism.  Previously, a ruling had forced the state to recognize non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad as eligible, but not those performed in their own country.  This major breakthrough opens the door to a more pluralistic vision of Jewish identity.  My colleague Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Cohen said it beautifully when proclaiming that this monumental win “constitutes a moral victory for all Jews who battle religious coercion.”   

The High Court rightly anticipated a strong negative response by the Orthodox community, who have long opposed and delegitimized Reform and Conservative Judaism.   Some of the highest Orthodox rabbinic authorities in Israel refer to these new Jews as “non-Jews” and call our conversion process a “forgery of Judaism.”  The court tried to point out that this ruling was only about the secular issue of citizenship, and not religious identity, but all involved understand the true significance of this vote.  Israeli politicians have begun to turn this into an election issue, promising to reverse the decision.  We cannot allow them to dampen our spirits.  Let’s take a moment to celebrate.  Tonight, join me in offering a toast to the non-Orthodox clergy in Israel.  May we continue to see successes like these in our fight for religious equality in the Land of Israel.  

Virtual Israel Trip

Travel to Israel with Us!

On March 8-11, from 5:00 – 6:00 pm. each day, we will travel to Israel with our Tour Guide, Muki Jankelowitz, exploring four different regions of the country, all without leaving the couch.  Where will we be going? We’ll visit the Desert, Galilee, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. Even if you’ve visited Israel before, there will be something new to see and learn.
The Desert plays a disproportionate role in the Biblical stories. It is a backdrop for many of the events in the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs. The desert is also the geographically largest part of the State of Israel. We will explore the desert looking at its history and the challenges and opportunities it presents in modern Israel.
Galilee, lush and green by Israeli standards, was the site of a number of major revolutions in Jewish history. It was the site of the writing of the Mishna, Jewish mysticism, and Zionist pioneering. We will visit the sites and tell the stories of these revolutions.
Tel Aviv is the 24/7 modern city of Israel. What makes this city so cutting edge in it’s business, culinary and cultural aspects? Why is Tel Aviv the fulfillment of the founding fathers’ and mothers’ dreams?
We conclude our visit in Jerusalem, the focal point of Jewish life. We will look at the history and centrality for the Jewish people (and for Christianity and Islam) of Jerusalem. We will also grapple with the issues that the modern city confronts.
Register now.  Suggested donation is $36 per person, which will go to Temple’s camp scholarship fund which provides assistance to children

Virtual Israel Trip

Explore Israel with Us!

Mark your calendars for an amazing exploration from Israel, all from the comfort of your couch!  Join Muki Jankelowitz, our Israel tour guide, on March 8-11 from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. as he takes us on a journey through Israel.  A suggested donation of $36 per person will go to our camp scholarship fund and help offset the cost of this program.  More details will be available soon!