Rabbi's Update 4/26/2023
Today is Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the 75th Independence Day of the State of Israel.
The last few months have been an interesting and turbulent time in Israel as well as in the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community. The General Assembly (GA) of the Jewish Federations of North America is the most important gathering of Jewish professionals and lay leaders and once every five years it is held in Israel. This year it was held in Tel Aviv to mark Israel’s 75th anniversary, and of course at the time it was planned no one anticipated that Israel would be in the midst of a massive debate over the future of the country and its continued commitment to liberal democracy and a system of checks and balances. A number of sessions were marked both inside and outside the conference hall by protesters -- Israeli and American -- opposing the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial overhaul. Prime Minister Netanyahu canceled his scheduled appearance at the last minute. He cited a scheduling conflict but it’s generally believed that he did not want to face the prospect of being shouted down or met with protests.
A number of Conservative rabbis and congregations have expressed their concerns about the judicial overhaul and other policies of the Netanyahu government by eliminating or radically rewriting the prayer for the State of Israel that we say every Shabbat morning. As I said in my Shabbat morning Drasha a few weeks ago, I believe that this is a mistake. While the prayer for Israel that we say is not exactly ancient, it has been said in its current form for close to the entire existence of the State. The phrase רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ, the “first flowering of our redemption” has raised concerns because of its seeming certainty that the State of Israel is part of the process of Messianic redemption. More recently the prayer that God “strengthen the hands of those who defend our Holy Land and crown their efforts with triumph” has come under scrutiny because many of us, myself included, don’t wish to see the efforts of the current government to change the relationship between the Knesset and the Judiciary succeed. But the beauty of traditional prayers is that they are open to many different interpretations. I don’t assert that the founding of the State of Israel has redemptive significance but I hope that it does. Similarly from my perspective, those who “defend our Holy Land” are the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have filled the streets of Israel for 17 Saturday nights in a row to defend the democratic character of Israel.
The late Israeli writer Amos Oz used to say that Zionism is a last name and within the family of Zionism there are many different first names: Religious Zionism, Labor Zionism, Cultural Zionism, and so on. There is much about Israel that we can debate but there is also much to celebrate. As Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue wrote this week in the Forward: “It is nice to imagine a world, as John Lennon did, “where there’s no countries” and “nothing to kill or die for.” But we live in the actual world, not an imagined one. . . Israel is a deeply imperfect state. But given the choice of a sovereign and imperfect Israel or the moral purity of exiled victimhood, I would choose the former over the latter any day, and so should you.”
There is much to be concerned about but much to celebrate as well. Chag Sameach!
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian