5 Good Books on Israel and Zionism

Last night I had an hour and a half to cover “Zionism and the Modern State of Israel” with the Introduction to the Jewish Experience class. As I told them at the beginning, there’s no way that that is enough time to even scratch the surface of such a complex and important topic. What I hoped they would take away was a single sentence, “It’s complicated.”  I promised them a list for further reading, with my hope that they would avail themselves of at least one book on that list:

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Ari Shavit. When I heard voices both on the right and on the left complaining that Shavit’s book was too far to the left and too far to the right, I suspected it might be a really good book. What makes it so good is that it is personal, teasing out individual stories that illuminate the complexities of the land and its people. It does not claim to be a scholarly work.  Rather, it is a way to get to the emotions and human beings that too often get lost in talk about sides. Shavit is a journalist with HaAretz, the Israeli equivalent of the New York Times.

Israel is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and its History. By Rich Cohen. This is an informal history of Israel written by another journalist, this time, an American Jew who loves Israel. He makes a strong effort to be even-handed and mostly succeeds.

Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert. This is a more scholarly work on Israeli history, written from a secular Jewish point of view.

A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard M. Sachar. This is one of the histories of Israel you might read if you were taking a college class on the subject. Not for light reading, but very thorough. 

The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, 7th Edition by Walter Laqueur. As one reviewer wrote, this book will either seem like the most wonderful resource you’ve ever seen on the subject, or it will cure your insomnia. The editor has made an effort to collect all the documents you might ever need to see about the Israeli-Arab conflict. These are the raw documents.

Is there a book you particularly recommend on the subject of the history of Zionism, the Jewish State, Palestine, etc? Please add to this list in the comments!

A Matter of Great Urgency

(photo credit Associated Press)
(photo credit Associated Press)

There are many different things I want to write about tonight, but there’s an urgent matter I want to discuss with you.

Yesterday I re-posted Rabbi John Rosove’s article about voting in the World Zionist Congress Elections. He does an excellent job of explaining what it is about. I want to explain to you why this is important to me, and why I hope you will vote.

Jews everywhere in the world have a stake in Israel, not least because it is where Jews go when they can’t stay where they are. That was true in 1492, when Jews moved to the land of Israel after we were expelled from Spain. That was true when violent anti-Semitism wracked Russia and Eastern Europe, and the first modern settlers went to Israel. In the 20th century, when the Holy Land was ruled under the British Mandate, the British closed the area to Jewish immigration because “too many” Jews wanted to move there, fleeing Hitler.  The feeling grew among Jews that we needed a state of our own, under our own control, where we would not be persecuted or exterminated. That’s what the idea for an independent State of Israel is about.

(If you are thinking we could have gone to the UK, or to the USA, or to Canada, or to X, Y, or Z, know that all of those places had tiny quotas in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Check out the film Shanghai Ghetto to learn about the one place in the world where there were no quotas, and why it was a fluke.)

The State of Israel, as it exists today, is not a perfect place. (If any of you live in a perfect nation, please tell me about it in the comments!) Diaspora Jews do not get a vote in Knesset elections (nor should we!) However, we can influence how things go in Israel through the World Zionist Congress election, because this election influences how the funds controlled by the WZO are spent. When you register to vote, first you have to pay a small fee. That’s because these elections are self-funded – we pay the fee to make the election happen, so that WZO funds go only to WZO projects, not to the election itself. Then you are taken to the site for the election and you will be shown a slate of parties. Each of those parties has a platform – you can read them if you like. (And yes, Israelis get to vote for their own seats in the Congress.)

I voted for the ARZAUS slate because they stand for, and will fund, projects that I want Israel to have. They are “for” a democratic, pluralistic Israel. That means an Israel that respects all its citizens: Jewish, Arab, Druze, Bedouin and Christian. That means an Israel that recognizes and funds all expressions of Judaism: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, and secular. It means an Israel with equal rights for women. It means an Israel that respects the rights of its LGBT citizens. These things are important to me.

Keep in mind that not voting is also a vote. Not voting gives more weight to the other slates, which means that if you are eligible and you don’t vote, you are one less vote for the Israel you would like to see, whatever that might be. In my case, that means if I didn’t vote, it would be more funding for the programs and policies that think I should ride in the back of the bus, and many other things I don’t want.

Voting is open now through April 30. To learn more, read Rabbi Rosove’s excellent piece, or go to the ReformJews4Israel site to read about it. (Note: Going to the website is not voting. You can go to the website just to learn. Nothing will happen if you just go and read. From there, you will follow a link to vote, and even then, you will vote for whomever you choose.)

If you care about Israel – even if there are things you don’t approve of right now – this is the appropriate way to voice your opinion, if you are a Jew. This is your right, as a Jew.

Kol Yisrael aravim zeh l’zeh – All Israel is responsible one for another. Be responsible. Vote.

Register to Vote in the World Zionist Congress Elections and Vote ARZA Slate

rabbiadar:

Rabbi John Rosove has said this all so well that I’m just going to repost. Please read!

Originally posted on Rabbi John Rosove's Blog:

One of the most important steps that Diaspora Jews can take to support Israel’s democracy, pluralism and bond with world Jewry and the state of Israel is to vote in this year’s World Zionist Congress election that is now open for registration and voting through April 15, 2015.

The only requirements for voting are that you must be Jewish and at least 18 years of age.

I ask you to click now onto the link below, register and vote for the ARZA Slate (i.e. the Association of Reform Zionists of America). Please do not delay.

I ask for your vote as a delegate on the ARZA Slate (I am #25) that includes many distinguished America rabbis and leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism representing 1.3 million American Jews.

All the information you need to know about ARZA’s platform can be found on this website. You can also register to…

View original 446 more words

Reform Jews Outside the USA?

World Union for Progressive Judaism logo

  • Maybe you’re planning a trip to Europe or Latin America.
  • Maybe your company is moving you to Australia for a year.
  • Maybe you’re a student looking at a year of study abroad.
  • Maybe you live outside North America and want to find a progressive Jewish congregation.
  • Or maybe you’re interested in supporting the growth of progressive Judaism worldwide.

Any of these are good reasons to get acquainted with a wonderful resource, the World Union for Progressive Judaism. The WUPJ has member congregations in more than 45 countries, congregations from Progressive, Liberal, Reform and Reconstructionist traditions. It also has a congregational directory on its website with contact information and website addresses for many progressive synagogues around the world. In other words, you can use the WUPJ website to find a congregational “home away from home” if you are a Reform or Reconstructionist Jew from North America.

Why get in touch with a congregation when you are overseas? It is a wonderful way to transcend the boundaries of being a foreigner or a tourist. Years ago, I visited London for about a week. Knowing I would be there over Shabbat, I looked on the WUPJ website and read up on the congregations in London. I called the Liberal Jewish Synagogue to inquire about Shabbat services. Long story short, Shabbat morning I joined them for a wonderful service and kiddush. I met some lovely people and the Jewish world expanded for me that day. For the morning, I was less of a foreigner, because I was with fellow Jews.

It’s important to contact congregations ahead of time, because they may have security requirements for visitors. Unfortunately anti-Semitism is on the rise in many parts of the world, so congregations may need advance warning, to be sure that prospective visitors are friendly.

If you are going to visit Israel, you should know about the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. The IMPJ has over 30 member congregations around Israel as well as a growing network of schools, educational and community centers. Israeli Reform congregations welcome visitors – again, it helps to give some advance notice. As with the WUPJ, there is a directory of congregations on the website.

For North Americans, visiting progressive congregations away from home can offer both a sense of familiarity and some surprises. For instance, we are accustomed to at least some of the service being in the vernacular. In the US and much of Canada that means English. However, in the Netherlands, the vernacular is Dutch. In Russia, it’s Russian. And in Israel, the entire service is in Hebrew, because the language of everyday life is Hebrew!

Lastly, perhaps you are not planning to travel, but you are looking for a way to support liberal egalitarian Judaism in the world as part of your tzedakah budget. The WUPJ and IMPJ websites are a great place to begin your research for a good match.

Israel & Texts: Online Learning!

LehrhausLogoHave you ever wished you could take a class to sort out what words like Torah, Tanakh, Gemara, Mishnah, and Talmud really mean? Wondered how “Jewish law” is related to the Torah text? Ever wished you could learn more about the history of Israel and the Jews?

Registration is open for the Winter session of Intro to the Jewish Experience, “Israel and Texts” and it includes an online option! Class meetings will take place at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 – 9pm (PST) beginning January 14. For those who cannot attend in Berkeley, we offer the option of attending via Adobe Connect, a cloud-based classroom. All meetings are recorded, so that students also have the option of watching the class recordings.

All classes are taught by me except for Jan 21 and 28. I’m honored to welcome Dr. Jehon Grist as our guest lecturer on Israel.

Class schedule:

Jan 14 – Welcome & Introductions:  Jews, Texts, and Shabbat
Jan 21 –Ancient Israel – Guest: Dr. Jehon Grist
Jan 28 –Modern Israel & Zionism  – Guest: Dr. Jehon Grist
Feb 4 – Torah, Tanakh & Midrash
Feb 11 – Beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism
Feb 18 – What is the Talmud?
Feb 25 – Codes, Responsa and Jewish Law
March 11 – Jewish Values, Jewish Ethics

For registration, go to the class page in the Lehrhaus Catalog. Class tuition is $105.

Check out Lehrhaus’ other online course offerings this winter and spring.

Lehrhaus Judaica is a unique non-denominational Jewish studies adult school. Every course is open to the general public, and all interested adults are welcome, regardless of age, religion, or ethnicity.

 

 

True Leaders Speak Vision

Rabbi Blank
Rabbi Stacey Blank blesses a bar mitzvah boy.

Rabbi Stacey Blank, the rabbi serving Kehillat Tzur Hadassah, a Reform synagogue near Jerusalem, posted words yesterday that were the wisest I’d seen about the current matsav [situation] in Israel:

Today a great tragedy occurred — a terrorist attack. An attack that killed four innocent people in the middle of their prayers. Terror because now everyone is locking their doors and glancing suspiciously at everyone else who they are passing on the street, and perhaps even those they work with side by side. We all lose in this game – the victims and also those who encourage terror. True leaders act to end the cycle of killing. True leaders speak vision and not intimidating slogans.

I am going to remember her words as I navigate the aftermath of this crime: the grief, the anger, the politics, and the rhetoric. There are people on both sides who will use this tragedy to manufacture more misery. I can use Rabbi Blank’s wisdom to discern the difference between a “leader” who is using the tension for profit, and a true leader, who points the way out of this terrible wilderness.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Be very careful about buying anyone’s rhetoric. And should someone offer a clear path to justice and peace, may we recognize him or her and put our support behind them.

I am proud to have been a classmate of Rabbi Blank’s at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and in Los Angeles. I am overjoyed to see a colleague shine so bright as a teacher of Torah and a leader of our people.

Full of Grief and Dread

Har Nof
The Har Nof neighborhood, seen from nearby Yad Vashem, by JuanDev

I worked late last night, and I was typing away at my table when the news came: during morning prayers at a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem, two young Palestinian men (allegedly, men who worked in the neighborhood) entered and wounded several people, murdering four. The police arrived and had a gun battle with the attackers in the synagogue. The attackers died, and at least one policeman was severely wounded.

Photos from the synagogue show pools of blood on the floor, slowly soaking into prayer books, tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin.

As the news went out, celebrations began in Palestinian neighborhoods. Hamas put a cartoon on its website, celebrating the murders. Prime Minister Abbas condemned the killings but wrapped his condemnation in generalities that suggested Israelis were to blame for incitements at the Temple Mount and elsewhere.

Things readers who have not lived in Israel may want to know, to understand the news reports:

  • Har Nof is a neighborhood in West Jerusalem. It is well to the west of the so-called Green Line, the 1947 boundary established by the United Nations. In other words, in no way, shape or form is it a “settlement,” or in an area occupied by Israel since 1967. It is one of the last places I would have expected such a terror attack.
  • The synagogue on Agasi St. is like many other such places around the city. About thirty people gathered there at 7am for the morning prayers. Most were men who are devoted enough that they make it there every morning to pray, who shared the kinship of that particular minyan. Perhaps someone slightly less religious was there to fulfill the mitzvah of saying kaddish for a close relative.
  • Prayer was underway. The participants were deep into the service, eyes lowered over the prayer books, swaying gently, murmuring the words, concentrating on saying the prayers. Their left arms were wrapped in tefillin, their shawls were wrapped around their shoulders or over their heads. Those deepest in prayer were likely completely unaware of their surroundings, wrapped tightly in their prayer garb, all senses occupied with the service.
  • Two men entered the synagogue with meat cleavers and a gun. They hacked at the group of people who were deep in prayer. The attack was so savage that five people are dead now, not counting the attackers themselves, and many others are in the hospital. The synagogue floor runs with blood.
  • PM Netanyahu and his cabinet are looking into ways to defend against more such attacks. This attack will not accomplish anything other than to make matters worse.  Life in Israel is about to get more difficult for everyone.
I am full of grief and dread. The grief is for the deaths of Torah scholars, and for one more step away from anything that might be peace. The dread is that it doesn’t matter what Israel is willing to offer, nothing but the annihilation of Israel will satisfy those on the other side. I want to shriek at the people celebrating, “Don’t you realize this is just as bad for you as it is for us?”
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.