I said in my brief D’var Torah on Friday night that I really dislike being in the position of deciding whether to call off or go ahead with services, classes, and programs, because whatever decision you make is likely to be criticized. Before the pandemic these decisions were mostly related to weather, particularly snow and ice, but now, of course, decisions have to be made regarding the risks of COVID spread.
When the Omicron variant appeared in Israel, the government quickly shut down its borders to all non-Israelis. But in December it decided to let Birthright trips for young Diaspora Jews resume with strict conditions, including proof of vaccination, a three-day quarantine, and a PCR test on the third day.
While Israel opened its borders to Birthright trip participants, contestants in the Miss Universe competition which was held in Eilat, and parents of expectant mothers to be present for the births of their grandchildren, the borders were still closed to the thousands of Christian pilgrims who usually come to the Holy Land for Christmas. Besides being a deep disappointment to the would-be pilgrims, this decision had devastating economic effects for Bethlehem (in the West Bank), Nazareth (a mostly-Arab city in Israel whose residents are Israeli citizens), and the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
This may be hard to believe but I really have no opinion as to whether or not the Israeli government made the right decision here or not. Anyone who has to make these kinds of decisions is in a very difficult position and there is no obvious right or wrong. But the decision to allow Birthright groups but not Christian pilgrims highlights one of the recurring questions about the nature and identity of the State of Israel. Israel is a democracy and thus has a responsibility for the welfare of all of its citizens. But it also considers itself the state of the Jewish people as a whole and thus one of its responsibilities as it sees it is fostering the Jewish identity of Diaspora Jews and deepening the ties between Israel and the Diaspora. It is this latter responsibility which led to Israel favoring Birthright groups over Christian pilgrims, a decision that was controversial within Israel itself.
On Thursday night my topic for “Contemporary Jewish Controversies” is Israel: A Jewish State or a State of All Its Citizens? This is one of the things we will look at in our discussion.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian