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.
Thursday, June 3, 2021
In This Moment, June 3: Israel's Shehechiyanu Moment
In This Moment
The Shabbat-O-Gram is sponsored
by Jane Levine and Adam Tronick in honor of their son, Harrison,
Grandpa used to call on us between the verses of “Dayenu,” the song that recounts the steps God took to free the Jews from slavery and bring them to Israel. Each step alone would have been enough, the song notes, but God did more. At our family’s seder, the person Grandpa named would shout “dayenu!” and then we’d all continue singing.
This year, my aunt does the calling from her dining room table in Chicago. We have Zoom boxes in four states and two countries. That we can all be here together — it would have been enough. That Grandma and Grandpa escaped Europe, eluded the virus — enough.
But there’s more: Grandpa’s singing. He’s clasped his hands together, his face deep in concentration. He knows that word, dayenu. There’s something within him that remembers, something more fundamental than faces or time or even his own name. His voice is soft but fills the room; we’re all listening for it.
At the end he looks around. “Nice job, folks,” he says.
With or without COVID, we still would’ve gotten here, and we know, ultimately, where it’s going. But for now, these smiles, his singing — it’s enough. He’s come back to us, a turn of events astounding as a vaccine.
Take a look at this startup calledEmpathy App, which helps people deal with all the logistical issues surrounding the death of a loved one and subsequent mourning period, from deciding on a casket to ordering bagels for the shiva. Empathy's owners say, "We believe that loss should be less of a burden for every family. It should be less confusing, inefficient, expensive, and emotionally draining. That’s why we built Empathy – to meet families where they are, put the control back in their hands, and give them practical tools to navigate the hardest time in their lives."
Civil Marriage Unlikely, Kotel Deal for Sure: What New Israeli Gov’t Means for Religious Status Quo (Ha'aretz). If the new rotation government headed by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett ultimately gets sworn in (still a big if), it would be the first time since 2015 that the ultra-Orthodox parties were not part of the ruling coalition. It would be the first time Israel has a prime minister who wears a yarmulke (though in the tradition of a certain type of Orthodox Jew, Bennet’s is very small). It would be the first time a Reform rabbi – Labor MK Gilad Kariv – is a member of the governing coalition (not to mention the Knesset). And it would be the first time an Islamist party (or any Arab party, for that matter) was part of the governing coalition.
'King Bibi' wasn't the only big myth shattered in Israel this week - Ha'aretz - AIPAC, of course, can never be seen as being out of step with the prime minister of Israel, but they’re already finding it difficult to hide their relief at what they hope is Netanyahu’s imminent departure. (No one else has so hastily - and prematurely - congratulated the prospective new government. Anshel Pfeffer explains why).
Israel's Shehechianu Moment
This has been a dramatic week for Israeli politics. While the new government has yet to become official, what we see in this photo is a true revolution in Israeli politics - a right winger, Naftali Bennet, and a moderate, Yair Lapid, welcoming, for the first time, the leader of an Arab party, Mansour Abbas, into the new government. Think what you may about these men and what their parties represent, but there's a lot of courage on display in that photo. There are going to be lots of bumps in the road, but Yair Lapid has steered this process wisely, willingly ceding the limelight and deferring his lifelong dream to be Prime Minister in order to get this thing done. And Naftali Bennet is risking everything by joining this government of change, a true rainbow coalition of secular, religious, right and left, Arab and Jew, Orthodox (Bennet will the first Orthodox Prime Minister) and secular.
As Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote this week:
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses sends scouts to explore the land of Israel. Ten of these scouts return with a terrifying report that frightens the people from moving forward. But two, Caleb and Joshua, choose hope over fear. The path will be difficult, they tell the people, but not impossible. We, too, choose hope over despair.'
And so did the three in that photo, taking a leap - a hope-filled leap - into the unknown. if an Islamic-Arab party in the Israeli government is possible (albeit one that espouses problematic views with regards to LGBTQ rights), then anything is possible. It is a hopeful moment, after weeks of despair. I'm a hopeless optimist, but I see this as an opportunity to restore the frayed ties between many American Jews, particularly younger ones, and Israel.
The election of Isaac "Buji" Herzog to the presidency, which also happened yesterday, is especially gratifying to those who have followed him over the years - whether in his role as Jewish Agency head (which prompted his visit to Stamford a year and a half ago) Labor party leader, or a teen at the Ramaz School in New York. Herzog is true Israeli royalty - his father, Chaim Herzog, was president of Israel and his grandfather was the first chief rabbi - and his uncle, Abba Eban was perhaps Israel's most recognized diplomat (and former Hoffman lecturer at TBE).
Eban was one of the most eloquent of Israel's advocates on the international stage, especially during the Six Day War. But it was Chaim Herzog, who as UN ambassador, delivered one of the most memorable addresses, in 1975 after the infamous "Zionism is racism" vote. You can watch the speech hereandread the text.
Isaac Herzog said, "The world is yearning for strong leadership and moral clarity; someone who knows the difference between good and bad." He has been providing that kind of leadership for years, often in contrast to those around him, who often have chided him for his supposed lack of killer instinct. He also understands the mind of the American Jew, and has recently spoken about the "existential threat" to Israel-Diaspora ties. While his father was UN Ambassador, Buji spent some summers attending Camp Ramah in New York and in Massachusetts. His sister Ronit was in my division one summer when I was a counselor at Ramah in Palmer. I can remember how exciting it was when the limo rolled up and his parents came on visitor's day! Herzog worked that summer on the kitchen staff, waiting tables - and now, looking back, I realize there were times when my table was waited on by a future President of Israel! (I should have tipped better). Herzog later wrote about the impact his Ramah experience had on him:
President-elect Herzog is a true mensch, and it's nice to think that his knowledge of American Jewry will help him to bridge the growing gaps between Jews in Israel and around the world, The fact that he received 87 votes in the Knesset in a closed ballot - out of 120 - just shows what kind of bridge builder he can be. That degree of consensus is unheard of in that body. It also shows just how much the Israeli leadership understands that the prime spokesperson for the country - its very symbol - needs to be someone who can project civility and compassion. Buji is the best that Israel has to offer, and he came along just at the right time. He'll be a great president.