The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored
by Danielle and Lael Shapiro in honor of their son,
Jonah, becoming a Bar Mitzvah.
In This Moment
Mazal tov to Jonah Shapiro, who becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat. Click here for the dvar Torah and video of our prior Bat Mitzvah, Sarah Gilbert.
I hope you had a nice holiday. We now plow ahead into the month of December, but before leaving November behind, we should note one important anniversary that passed this week. November 29 marked the 75th anniversary of the U.N. partition vote that paved the way for the birth of the State of Israel the following May. You can see Yediot's headline from Tuesday marking the anniversary (see full-size pdf here). In the blue and white it says, "Celebrating the historic date - 75 years for November 29." The date is so famous it needs no further explanation and in fact you'll find a street named for "Kaf-Tet (29) November" in Jerusalem. See on the left side of the front page Yediot's front page from Nov. 30, 1947, with the bold headline, "Hebrew (Jewish) State1 - 33 voted in favor, 13 opposed, 10 abstained." Below is that tally sheet in English, signed by Jewish leaders present. Click on it to see a packet detailing what led up to that dramatic vote and see part of how that drama unfolded just below the tally.
You can follow the six-month path from partition to statehood in this documentary. We need to learn more about November 29 and to recall these headlines because unfortunately the headlines out of Israel have been far more foreboding recently. With an increase in violence and the new government looking more xenophobic by the day, we're seeing headlines like:
- Meir Kahane's "love and hate of his fellow Jews" Yossi Klein Halevi on what the election of a Kahanist might mean (podcast and transcript) - I used to make a distinction between what I would call the good Kahane and the bad Kahane. The good Kahane was the American Kahane, the Jewish Defense League, and it was all for the sake of protecting Jewish lives. And then there was the bad Kahane, who moved to Israel and became an apocalyptic racist, created his own insane version of Judaism. He was a kind of theologian who placed vengeance and hatred at the center of his theology. And Kahane moved from being a political ideologist to being a radical theologian. And so that was a bad Kahane. But the truth is that I see a direct link between the two Kahanes, and that was a man for whom any means was justified if you felt that your end was justified, whether it was using random violence, risking the lives of civilians, or whether it meant abandoning your own followers. And so, there was in Kahane and at the heart of what we call today Kahanism, a deeply immoral contempt for restraint for the norms that really are essential to a decent society. And I came to fear Meir Kahane and what he unleashed and what he was empowering in all of us, in me, validating rage and hatred, violence, and turning that into the litmus test for being a good Jew.
- Who Is a Jew? If Israel’s Next Government Has Its Way, Not These People - (I share this article in its entirety at the bottom of this email because it impacts many in our congregation). Tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Israelis have established roots in the country thanks to the “grandchild clause” in the Law of Return. Millions more stand to lose that right if the religious parties have their way. But they would not be the only victims of the proposed revisions to the Law of Return. Jews of choice would also lose out if they were converted by rabbis from the “wrong” (non-Orthodox) movements.
This is scary stuff, which must be taken seriously. This is a "Ford to N.Y., Drop Dead" moment, only Bibi is playing the role of Ford and American Jews are New York.
So it is good for us to look back at November 29, 1947, 75 years ago this week, and to learn this important lesson from it: The partition vote was headed for failure, but for some concerted last minute diplomacy. It was hard, real-world horse trading that got the job done, and an unshakable belief in the worthiness of their project. We need that now as well. Now is not the time to give up on Israel, but neither is it the time to be silent if we are concerned about the direction Israel is taking, or more accurately, the cliff it is veering toward. No less than Avigdor Liberman, hardly a friend of American Jewry, is pleading with us to make our voices heard.
That means activism... What we say matters.
Next week, I'll be attending (remotely) J-Street's National Conference. I've been a member of their rabbinic and cantorial cabinet (along with over 1,000 others, including four - count 'em four - Hammermans) for many years. If you look at the principles I've signed onto, they are hardly controversial. While I don't agree with some of J-Street's tactics and positions, I'm proud that we hosted Jeremy Ben Ami, J-Street' s leader, at a time when few synagogues were opening their doors to him (granted, the panel also included Alan Dershowitz - such pleasant memories of a dramatic night. You can watch the video and see for yourself).
There was a time, not long ago, when politicians and clergy were expected by some Jewish establishment leaders to avoid all mention of J-Street. In 2014 the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations decided to exclude them from the group. J-Street did not do itself any favors by opening itself up at times to voices representing extreme views, even if for the sake of honest dialogue. Although J-Street opposes BDS, I think their nuanced position lends itself to dangerous loopholes. Still, while my vision of a final status agreement might be somewhat to the right of theirs, in this case nuance is helpful, as it lends to fluidity and creative initiatives. There are new facts on the ground that need to be accounted for, principally the Abraham Accords. Let’s see how they account for them.
Often in the past, J-Street conferences have veered sharply to the left, just as AIPAC has veered to the right, but this year, with plenary topics like "Defending Our Democratic Values," the speakers list could not be more mainstream: Ruth Messinger, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Sen. Chris Von Hollen, writer Yossi Klein Halevi, singer Ahinoam Nini, and a host of respected rabbis and journalists will be appearing next week. Oh, and Secretary of State Blinken will appear.
The point is not that suddenly I feel compelled to tap into a J-Street conference. The point is that American Jewry is turning a corner right now, guided by those who love Israel so much that they will no longer be cowed into silence. And Israel's existential purpose as a safe harbor for the Jewish people has never felt so relevant, particularly in Russia and Ukraine - and right here in America. A former U.S. president just had dinner with two of the most vile, radical antisemites in this country. We are seeing emboldened neo-Nazis everywhere we turn, a dramatic rise in antisemitic acts primarily from that extreme right fringe, and with all this going on, Israel is signaling that it is about to metaphorically tell the vast majority of American, Ukrainian and Russian Jews to “drop dead.”
Two men were arrested in NYC last week with the intent of attacking a synagogue. One was wearing a Nazi armband, which makes me suspect that he wasn't coming from a BDS meeting to explore the fine points of intersectionality.
J Street won't stop Nazis, but anytime I can find a gathering of people who are moderate, who care about Jewish values like the love of neighbor, and who happen to love Israel to boot, sign me up.
Seventy five years ago this week, some brazen diplomats took matters into their own hands. The question for us now: What else can we do?
Three Favorite Parsha Packet Picks for Va-Yetze
- How COVID-19 Restrictions Affected Religious Groups Around the World in 2020 (Pew) Further evidence that religion tends to be more often the problem than the solution. And who does everyone gang up on to blame for a pandemic? Three guesses. The sources reported 39 countries (20% of the total number studied) in which private individuals or organizations linked the spread of the coronavirus to religious groups in 2020. This includes individuals or organizations that used hostile or inflammatory speech about particular religious groups. In more than half of these countries (23 out of the 39), such comments were made against Jews. In France, social media users shared antisemitic tropes with caricatures of a former Jewish health minister that depicted her poisoning a well – an insinuation that Jews were responsible for the pandemic. (This trope dates back to the 14th century, when Jews were accused of spreading the Black Plague by poisoning food and wells, and they were the victims of mass killings.) In the United Kingdom in 2020, antisemitic conspiracy theories spread online, claiming that Jews were in control of the global lockdowns and were using the pandemic to “steal everything.” In Morocco, a man was arrested for social media posts in which he accused a Jewish citizen and a foreign national of infecting many people with COVID-19.
- In ‘Armageddon Time’ and ‘The Fabelmans,’ tales of two Jewish childhoods. But are the movies Jewish? (Forward) Taken together, the films, one set over a few months in Queens in the fall of 1980, the other spanning from 1951 to around 1965 in New Jersey, Arizona and California, explore the fluid form of Jewishness in America — its drawbacks, its assets and its comparative privilege. Yet both directors, in their ambition to faithfully reproduce their lives, have made films that, while about Jewish people, don’t feel all that Jewish. See also: Steven Spielberg Has COVID, Skips Gotham Awards (Variety) And see: Michelle Williams, who plays Steven Spielberg’s mother in ‘The Fabelmans,’ says she plans to raise her children Jewish (JTA) (Must have been the gribenes served at that family dinner). And ‘The Fabelmans’: What’s Real and What’s Fictional (NYT) - “I felt like I was the only Jew in high school,” Spielberg said in an interview with the publisher Behrman House. “I just simply wanted to deny being Jewish. I was ashamed because I was living on a street where at Christmas, we were the only house with nothing but a porch light on. I so much wanted to be assimilated.”
So Spielberg wanted out and Michelle Williams wants in. Go figure!
- Interfaith Marriage and Conservative Judaism (Rabbi Barry Leff) - A few years ago a Conservative rabbi was expelled for officiating at an intermarriage and writing about it in a Jewish newspaper. Several rabbis, including Rabbi Lewittes, have resigned from the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, over this issue. Despite the harsh penalty, I’m sure there are Conservative rabbis who officiate at interfaith weddings, they just don’t go advertising it to the world. It is, of course, possible for rabbis to change the rule. We have changed many other rules that were in place for thousands of years, for example counting women in a minyan, or allowing women to serve as rabbis and as witnesses on Jewish legal documents, or conducting same sex weddings. The question is “should we?” I think there are two sides to that question. 1) Is it good for the Jews?; 2) Is it compelling enough to overturn two millennia of custom?
- To Err is Human; to Disagree, Jewish (Sapir Journal) - We live in a time when words are called violence and differences of opinion are seen by one side as evidence of the moral degeneracy of the other. The wheel of inclusion has turned to exclusion, reminding us of the double meaning of “revolution.” The revolution of exclusion is here. The Jewish tradition powerfully addresses this dynamic. It teaches us how we can grow past and heal the cleavages rending our culture.
- What the U.S. can learn from Germany about grappling with dark parts of its history (NPR) - See also MONUMENTS TO THE UNTHINKABLE: America still can’t figure out how to memorialize the sins of our history. What can we learn from Germany? (Atlantic) - Those are "stolpersteine," or "stumbling stones," which were first created by artist Gunter Demnig — whose father was a German soldier in World War II — in the 1990s and now number roughly 90,000 across 30 European countries. They are placed in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims and bear their names, birthdays, deportation date and the date and location of their death."It kind of catches you off guard ... The gleam of the sun sort of shines off of it, and you go look, and you look at it and then you look up at the house that it's sitting in front of, and it's this profound sense of intimacy," Smith says. "There is a constant set of reminders throughout Germany of what was done there." Importantly, Smith says, monuments and museums are not a panacea. The fact that Germany has them does not make it immune to those who would attempt to deny the past, he adds: The country is dealing with its own segment of right-wing extremist and neo-Nazi groups. "And so it's not fully protected from that simply because it puts memorials down," he explains. "But I think there is still something to be said for how ubiquitous and and omnipresent they are in that space, and how, for so many millions of people, they wake up and are encountering, on large scales and on tiny, intimate, singular scales, reminders of what was done — and what was done not that long ago."
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