Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Friday, May 21, 2021
In This Moment, May 21 - What Now for Israel? The Nazirite and Other Crazy Jews, Starfish Connection, 7th Grade Wedding Photos
In This Moment
The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored by Natalie and Jeffrey Alexander in honor of their son, Jordan, becoming a Bar Mitzvah
Please note that Kabbalat Shabbat services this evening will be OUTDOORS, at 6 PM. There is still plenty of room. Mazal tov to Jordan Alexander and his family as he becomes Bar Mitzvah this weekend. And hey, Shtisel fans, join Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper and me for a spirited discussion of the show that has become a mega-hit here in America - this Tuesday at 7 PM. Click here for the flyer and Zoom information.
Pure Joy and the In-Your-Face God
I went looking for pure joy the other day…. Where do you find pure joy?
I Googled pure joy – and clicked on images. The first several photos were of dogs – rolling in the dirt, catching a Frisbee… there was a horse being fed an apple. Children – on swings; or in a sunny field with arms extended in the air.
Dogs AND children – eating an ice cream together.
The ingredients of pure joy would seem to be animals, children, sunny days in the fields and, ice cream.
What’s not there? Human adults. Meals. Commuting. Work.
When in our lives have we experienced pure joy?
This week’s portion of Naso defines, in a Jewish sense, what pure joy is all about. To find out what I mean, you'll just have to come to services this evening, in person or online.
Last Shabbat, I spoke of the human side of the current conflict, which although tragic can also be heartwarming and a source of hope. I read - and commend to you - the narrative, "Pastrami" by Etgar Keret, written during a prior outbreak but no less relevant now. I'll share a heartwarming story from this conflict tonight.
So now there is a ceasefire, thankfully. Let's hope it holds and that something constructive can come of it. This has been an extremely destructive few weeks, on a whole number of levels: including the human toll in deaths and injuries, the toll on Israel's fragile Arab-Jewish social fabric and already frayed relations among Jews everywhere, including here, and the psychological toll on all of us. "Our Man in Tel Aviv," Pinchas Gross, who happened to be visiting when the rockets started to fall, sends these photos from Tel Aviv this morning, as the ceasefire took hold, along with these comments:
Ceasefire in Israel! After 11 days of being under a continuous missile attack and internal terror! People flocked to the beaches, coffee shops and the outside- just to be away from the bomb shelters and "safe rooms"! For someone who does not live in Israel on a permanent basis, I was deeply impressed by the resilience of the people and the unbelievable sense of patriotism and conviction of every single person, that we fight for the very existence of the Jewish State! I must say, that during these 11 days of being under fire, my political views have shifted quite a bit, and I better understand the majority in Israel, who some people label as being "Extremists/ Nationalist". I think that they are just led by their very basic human instinct to live as free people in their Jewish homeland." Shabbat Shalom!
I've often shared the reflections of old friend Marc Schulman, who writes from Israel and often appears on media there and here. I find Marc's post cease-fire comments balanced, level-headed and sobering and worth sharing excerpts below. See his full report online.
The eleven-day war with Gaza is over. Foreign airlines will shortly resume their flights to Ben Gurion. Last night, despite the fear Hamas, would launch a last-minute rocket attack against Tel Aviv, the bars and restaurants were packed. People knew it was over. Both sides had accomplished what they wanted in the first days. After that, it was just needless suffering on both sides. Hamas had shown itself the “Defender to Jerusalem,” and Netanyahu saved himself the cost of moving vans to exit out of Balfour. Once again, Netanyahu and Hamas continue their symbiotic relationship, which began during the period around the Oslo Accord signing; both opposing the agreement but for very different reasons.
Hamas spent 11 days firing an enormous number of rockets at Israel (over 4,300). It managed to limit operations at Ben Gurion airport and put a dent in Tel Aviv’s nightlife. For residents of the region around Gaza, these 11 days have been a living hell. But thanks to Iron Dome, and the fact residents closely followed instructions, the cost of human lives was very low. The clear winner of the last 11 days is — Iron Dome. Its intercepts saved countless lives and stopped massive property damage.
The Air Force, over-promised, as usual. That is a problem, not only of Israel’s Air Force, but a difficulty shared by Air Forces worldwide — since the 1930s. Whether it was the Strategic Air Command of World War II, the US Air Force in Vietnam, or even the Israeli Air Force in Lebanon II, it is impossible to defeat an enemy from the air — especially when combatting an unconventional army, fighting asymmetric warfare.
We could flatten every house in Gaza, and that would probably not defeat Hamas. That is not to say there were no achievements in this “round”. The destruction of much of Hamas’ underground infrastructure is a significant achievement, and they will have to think twice about rebuilding it. One thing we failed to do this time, is eliminate any of the top-level Hamas leadership, despite attempts to do so. We did successfully keep collateral damage to non-combatant low. Every death is a tragedy, but the numbers were only a fraction of those killed in 2014.
The US Role
Events in the US these past two weeks have been more than a bit troubling. On the one hand, the Biden Administration has been extremely supportive. It gave Israel almost all the time it wanted to finish its air operations. By the time President Biden began exerting pressure to bring the operation to a close, the general sense from the Israeli military was that most of the significant targets had been hit. Very little more could be accomplished without the enemy making a major mistake. Of course, from our side, there was a realization “Murphy’s law” is always in the background, and that every day the operation continued, increased the chance of a major error — i.e. either an incoming missile breaking through and causing significant loss of life, or, one of our attacks being off-target and killing a large number of civilians. Thus, Biden’s “pressure” served as a perfect excuse to bring this recent operation to a close.
However, that being said, reactions and statements from the Democratic Party’s left-wing, including some considered more moderate, raise great concern. The introduction of resolutions by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jamal Bowman (a freshman Congressman, with no foreign policy knowledge) to block the sale of armaments to Israel; a sale already approved by the Biden Administration, is a dangerous turn — even if their effort holds little chance of success.
The dynamics have switched. Over time, it had been the US Administration that might pressure Israel, and Israel with its allies, would approach Congress as a counterweight. This time, it was members of Congress who pressured the Administration to step away. Unfortunately, over the course of the past two weeks the growing group of Congresspersons known as “The squad,” has proven that it's fully anti-Israel — even if, in my opinion, only Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (born to Palestinian immigrants to the US) knows any of the history, albeit from a very partisan perspective. The others follow her lead and the view that because the Palestinians are weaker, they should be supported.
Of greatest concern were two monologues— one by Trevor Noah and John Oliver, both of whom asserted the same thing — i.e. Since Hamas and Gaza do not have the power to destroy Israel, we should not “overreact” and bomb them. Sadly, these two TV personalities have an outsized influence, especially on younger people, and this view is absurd.
Perhaps someday, if Iron Dome is 100% effective, and no Israeli can get killed, and no one has to run to a bomb shelter, their view might be correct. But in this here and now, Hamas rockets can kill, and no country can allow its one major airport shut, and millions of people running to shelters, while saying, “We do not have to do anything … After all, they can't destroy us now”. Let’s not even think about doomsday scenarios, that Hamas somehow obtains a nuclear weapon.
A closing comment about all our critics (keep in mind that I am on the left side of Israeli politics). I am yet to hear one of our critics make a practical suggestion regarding how to reach a peace agreement. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s tweet: “End the Occupation” is a great slogan but has no practical value.
One final note: The number of antisemitic incidents in the US this past week is truly troubling. While some of the attacks have been orchestrated by pro-Palestinian groups, others, like the vandalization of Gabbie Giffords synagogue, are more likely the work of white, right-wing groups.
Now that our mini-war with Hamas is over, for the meanwhile, Israel will return to the questions of how to resolve our ongoing political crisis. In the hours before the war started, the “Bloc for Change” was on the verge of announcing the formation of their new government. The war and the rioting between Arab and Jews in some of Israel’s cities disrupted those plans. Naftali Bennett announced he was no longer willing to serve as Prime Minister of an “alternative” government, because of the situation. Bennett had been on the receiving end of immense pressure from members of his party, especially Ayelet Shaked, who was very reluctant to go along with a government without Bibi, and seems to have undermined the plan.
So, what now? The mandate to form a coalition is currently still in the hands of Yair Lapid. He can try a ‘hail Mary,’ announce the impending establishment of a government, and hope that even without an agreement, the Arab parties will vote in favor — just to remove Bibi from office. It's a long shot, but possible.
There is also a real possibility Bennett could change his mind. As of Friday afternoon, Yamina politicians have told a journalist that a “government of change” is still a genuine possibility. If neither of these two things happens, when Lapid’s time runs out, the mandate is returned to the Knesset.
It is possible, though unlikely, that Netanyahu finds a traitor or two in one of the parties, and is then able to form a government. If not, Netanyahu might try to pass his law calling for the direct election of the Prime Minister. However, the chances of that law passing are not good.
If all else fails, our 5th election in two years will be held in October.
TBE's Donna Wolff, Executive Director of Starfish Connection, shares this exciting news......
Seeking TBE Empty Nesters to Become Starfish Connection Mentors
Congratulations to TBE members, Rosalea Fisher, Janet Schneider, and Jim Benjamin who celebrated the acceptance of their Starfish Connection mentees to 4-year competitive colleges of their choice with first-generation scholarships this week!
Starfish Connection, Inc., 501c, is an all-volunteer organization started in 2008, by Judy Martin z’l and Mayor David Martin. Our mission is to help academically gifted, first-generation students from low- income families living in Stamford, reach their goals of attending a 4-year college of their choice with scholarships and help break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.
I am currently recruiting empty nesters (women, men, or couples) who are interested in becoming a Starfish Connection mentor. Please email Donna Wolff, Executive Director, and Mentor, Starfish Connection: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info, visit our website: https://starfishconnection.org/
This week's portion of Naso touches on an issue that has always deeply concerned me: religious fanaticism. The topic is never not relevant but right now we seem to be discussing it ceaselessly. Last week I spoke of the choice that all of us must make, between extremism and coexistence. Here's a packet I put together of sources, including those involving the Nazirite, a curious case of fanaticism described in our portion. Take a look at it by clicking here.