The day before Yom Kippur, a fascinating inquiry came our way as to B’nai Israel’s attitude and or position on Israel. What follows is the inquiry to our president, Jan Leventhal with copy to me, and my response. Of significance is how the interchange resulted in a special and memorable program to which we were treated on Yom Kippur by a Bay Area expert on Israel.
Dear Ms. Leventhal:
I am poised to join the congregation. I have been coming to Shabbat services and other events off-and-on for about 2 years. There are many things that I like about your congregation, Rabbi White foremost.
But there is one issue that gives me pause: Support for Israel. I have noticed that aside from Hadassah, Israel-related issues seem invisible in the congregation. For example, there are no lectures, invited speakers or events about Israel. No AIPAC, Stand with Us or Friends of the IDF representatives have appeared at the synagogue. This is of great concern to me.
My prior experience with these issues is that some congregations are Israel-indifferent. They find time for all kinds of programming and events except for those about Israel. I have chosen to avoid such congregations.
I am not advocating a particular view of Israeli politics, nor am I suggesting the congregation adopt one. And while I have my preferences where Israel’s government is concerned, support for Israel’s safety and security should have nothing whatever to do with the particular government that may be in power at any particular time.
As a Zionist, I believe that American Jews should respect the choices Israelis make about the government they wish to lead them, regardless of whether we like or do not like those choices. As Jews, I believe we have a continuing responsibility to the Jewish people, to their safety and welfare.
I would be most grateful if you could give me some idea of where your congregation stands on these issues: Are you Israel-averse or -indifferent, preferring to ignore anything that might be controversial, or are you unabashedly pro-Israel? Or are you somewhere in between? Would you support bringing representatives from pro-Israel organizations to B’nai Israel?
Sharing your views on this and related issues would be most appreciated.
My abridged response:
While as a synagogue we have not to my knowledge taken an official position, as spiritual leader, I am committed to our supporting Israel and the understanding that without the reemergence and ongoing existence of Israel, I question whether we would have survived as a people after the Shoah.
FYI: a best friend of mine is Dr. Mike Harris, Founder of Stand with Us (who comes from Marin to CBI with his wife for the Days of Awe; [did you see him at the 2nd day Rosh Hashanah service?}), and we have had Mike talk with us a couple of times and encouraging folks to purchase his book, Winning a Debate with an Israel-Hater.
What would be wonderful about having you as a member would be the opportunity to have your input and motivation for increasing CBI programming and exposure to activities in support of Israel.
While I admit it has become increasingly complicated encouraging folks’ unbridled support for Israel, I am unflagging in my commitment that if we are to err in any way it is in making sure we continue to show steadfast support even if troubled by various policies under the present government.
Thanks again for checking in regarding the importance of CBI being committed to Israel’s health, well-being and future as light and home to Jewish continuity!
The timing of Jacob’s inquiry on the eve of Yom Kippur was significant in that it inspired me to contact Mike, since he was already joining us for the Days of Awe, about the possibility of his sharing some insights about Israel during Yom Kippur day. And, he was kind enough to do so! One thing led to the next and what resulted in addition was the opportunity for folks to sit with him during the break in the day for further discussion on ways for us to stay connected with Israel. As I pointed out in my Yom Kippur drash, were it not for the existence of Israel and my opportunity to study in Jerusalem for a year while in college and another two distinct years while at the seminary, I am certain I would not have become a rabbi.
It turns out Mike enjoyed his opportunity to share with CBI members and friends and indicated at the Break the Fast that it was the easiest fast for him in years! So, we can count on other opportunities to learn with Mike during the year and to look forward to further updates next Yom Kippur!
He also indicated that he is coming out with a revised edition of his seminal work enabling folks to understand how and why to keep closely connected with Israel however turbulent the times continue to be. Look for it in time for Chanukah, and look to be part of increasing programming in support of Israel here at CBI, thanks both to Mike Harris, and now to Jacob, who looks forward to joining our synagogue now that he is clear that Israel is an important aspect of our connections with Judaism, as we explore life’s issues together.
I am left with the awe of the timing of Jacob’s inquiry; had he not shared it with us the day before Yom Kippur, it would not have occurred to me, at this time, to take advantage of the attendance at CBI of one of the best spokespeople on behalf of Israel that you will find in our area.
How fortunate I am to count Mike Harris and his family as among our closest friends. He is also a role model for “lay people” becoming passionate about a particular subject resulting in them becoming experts in an important area of Jewish life.