Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Chief Israeli negotiator in the Israel-Palestinian talks, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, posted the following extraordinary statement about the settler movement and their representatives (Naftali Bennet’s Bayit Hayehudi party and the right wing of Likud) for trying to determine for the minority of the Israeli population what the majority of Israelis want, a two-states for two-peoples solution.
More and more former Israeli right-wing politicians (e.g. Tzipi Livni, Tzachi Hanegbi whose mother Geula Cohen founded the “Greater Israel Movement”, former Likud leader Meir Shitreet, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as well as all six living former heads of Israel’s security service, Shin Bet, as documented in the film “The Gatekeepers”) have come to the position that there is NO alternative to a two-state solution – NONE! A one-state solution is unsustainable and would end Israel’s democracy and Jewish character.
Minister Tzipi Livni wrote:
“Those who decide for the majority are in fact a radical minority which has taken control of our lives. …They call us 'brother' and 'sister', but the truth of the matter is that they don't care about their 'family', they are motivated by narrow interest at the expense of our children's future – with more and more announcements of settlement construction they attempt to prevent us from reaching an agreement which will secure the existence of a strong, Jewish and democratic Zionist state….Let's stop for a moment and ask the people right now whether they are willing to pay the price for construction that might or might not happen, for building in places like Eli, we should ask whether we are ready to pay the price of serious damage to our strategic relations with the US, Israel's isolation in the world, severe damage to our economy, a worsening boycott against us, ongoing damage to the legitimacy of the IDF to act, and the freedom of our soldiers to travel the world without fear of being arrested, and most importantly – the cost of losing our identity as a Jewish and democratic state….This is a direct, genuine question which is not related to whether we have a partner or not. What the impact is on security is a question that is related only to us: In what kind of country do we want to live, and what country do we want to leave our children." I also want to make another thing clear: Violence will not bring political achievement. And we will fight against terrorism and extremists firmly and without compromise."
-Chief Negotiator, Tzipi Livni on Settlement Building and Naftali Bennett’s Party Bayit Hayehudi, Ynet News, November 13, 2013 from Livni’s Facebook Page.
The leader of Meretz, Zahava Gal-on, said at the national conference of J Street in Washington D.C. at the end of September, “Bibi tells the world one thing and his policies are entirely different.”
I wrote about East Jerusalem settlements in former blogs, and the following article published by Al-Monitor, confirms those blogs and Geveret Gal-on’s observation of the discrepancy of rhetoric and actions of the Prime Minister and the government of Israel.
Netanyahu government 'Israelizes' east Jerusalem Al-Monitor - http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/11/jerusalem-two-state-solution-building-plans-netanyahu.html
12.7.13 at 5:18 pm | Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few. . .
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November 18, 2013 | 1:25 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I took the time to listen to all 90 minutes of Former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert’s speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Arab Spring, and American-Israel relations, and it was well worth my time – every minute of it! I recommend that you do the same (see link below).
Olmert met with Palestinian President Machmud Abbas 36 times to negotiate a peace deal, but had to resign before they could finalize an agreement. Olmert is clear thinking and direct, at times blunt in this talk! He admits, despite the complexity of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to being “an optimist” and says that nothing ever improves unless “optimists” are behind it and who refuse to take “No” for an answer.
He believes “without a doubt in my mind” that the possibility for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible, but that it will take “leadership” to make it happen. To date, he says, Israel has demonstrated a lack of leadership.
The following introductory comment to Olmert’s talk was posted by Bernard Avishai on his blog, where I first learned of this speech.
Bernie Avishai is Adjunct Professor of Business at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Visiting Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, where Olmert spoke on November 12, 2013.
“It's hard to remember a blunter defense of John Kerry's peace process, or statement of impatience with the Netanyahu government, than Olmert's talk, …. [He] reiterated to me that he is determined to challenge Netanyahu the next time around; he is waiting for the Israeli courts to clear him of charges in outstanding cases against him. … Olmert listed, in private, an impressive array of people who'd be with him if things do fall into place. So if you've been skeptical of him in the past--and who hasn't?--this lecture will be of particular interest.”
November 17, 2013 | 7:20 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
A new kind of Judaism is developing in Israel. Thousands of secular Israelis are turning to the classic sources of Judaism (e.g. Torah, Midrash, Mishnah, Talmud, Codes, Jewish philosophy, ethics, and mysticism) to gain deeper insight, wisdom and knowledge about our people’s essence and roots, and they are learning these texts not from Orthodox rabbis but from secular teachers.
What is emerging is a way of being a modern Israeli Jew that is more than the secular Zionism that emphasized the centrality of the land, the Hebrew language and political sovereignty, and which has nothing to do with the religious Orthodoxy that has alienated the vast majority of Israelis. It is a return, in part, to the Cultural Zionism of Ahad Ha-am that sought to inspire the flourishing of the soul of Judaism and Jewish peoplehood, but with a modern contemporary emphasis.
My synagogue group visited one of the centers of secular Jewish learning called BINA, also known as “The Secular Yeshiva,” located in the Neve Sha’anan district of Tel Aviv. As we entered we saw bookshelves filled with rows of beautifully bound religious books. That, however, is where the similarity with an orthodox yeshiva ends.
Most BINA students don’t believe in God, don’t wear kippot, tallitot, tzitzit, nor keep kosher. Women and men learn together, dress in shorts, jeans, tee-shirts, halter-tops, and sandals, and come from every segment of Israeli society and world Jewish communities.
BINA was founded by scholars from the kibbutz movement in the wake of PM Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. They pondered how a “religious” yeshiva student could murder the Prime Minister of Israel, and they determined to provide an alternative Jewish environment to attract young Israelis to learn about Judaism, counteract the extremism of the religious right, and close the gap between Israeli Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews.
BINA volunteers spend many hours weekly helping the poor, children, the elderly, infirm, disabled, foreign workers, and migrants. The center is deliberately located in a depressed area of Tel Aviv so its students can work towards tikun olam (“restoration of the world”) as an integrated component of their learning.
A week before coming to Israel, I attended the annual conference of J Street in Washington, D.C., (J Street is a pro-Israel pro-peace American political movement supporting a two-states for two-peoples end-of-conflict agreement between Israel and the Palestinians) and was fortunate to join a small group of J Street leaders for dinner with Ruth Calderon, a new Yesh Atid MK, who had addressed our conference.
Ruth is an Israeli academic turned politician with a Hebrew University PhD in Talmud. In 1989, she established the first Israeli secular, pluralistic and egalitarian Beit Midrash for women and men. In 1996, she founded ALMA which brings secular Israelis to study Hebrew culture. She became famous when she hosted a television program on Channel 2 that discussed classic Jewish texts.
Ruth’s first appearance in the Knesset (January, 2013), where she introduced herself to her colleagues, took Israel by storm. It is considered the most unusual speech ever delivered by a new MK. Her 14 minute address went viral on Youtube with hundreds of thousands of views (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8nNpTf7tNo).
In that talk Ruth told her story, how she fell in love with Talmud, and that it is impossible to know one’s future without knowing one’s roots. She spoke about the importance in Jewish tradition of open and honest debate, of nurturing the values of inclusivity, diversity and tolerance in Israeli life, and that the state of Israel ought to provide equally of its resources to all religious streams and educational endeavors; not just the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities.
Ruth’s party, Yesh Atid, is committed to the principle of shivyon ba-netel (“sharing the burden”), that all citizens of the State have an obligation to serve in the military, work for a living, pay taxes, and that the here-to-for privileged status of the ultra-Orthodox has to end in order for both Judaism and democracy to flourish in the State of Israel.
In addition to BINA and ALMA, the Israeli Reform movement (i.e. “Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism - IMPJ”) has grown in recent years attracting thousands of Israelis from secular backgrounds to practice liberal religious Judaism.
The IMPJ includes nearly 50 synagogue centers throughout the country, with adult learning led by Israeli Reform rabbis and scholars, a system of schools and a youth movement, summer camps, pre-army mechinot, kibbutzim, and social justice projects addressing poverty, hunger, immigration, foreign workers, women’s rights, homosexual rights, racism, the environment, and religious pluralism.
According to recent polls 34% of Israelis now identify with the Reform movement, whereas only 23% identify as Orthodox.
BINA, Ruth Calderon and ALMA, the Israeli Reform Movement (IMPJ and IRAC), and other grass-roots efforts are transforming Israeli Jewish identity thus bringing hope for a more enriched, open, pluralistic, and democratic Jewish State.
November 14, 2013 | 4:38 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In the black night
the river runs cold
slowly passing me by
over formerly sharp-edged stones
worn smooth by centuries of churning,
as if through earthy veins -
and I Jacob, alone,
shiver and wait
to meet my brother
Will there be war?
And will the angels carry my soul
up the rungs of the ladder
leaving my blood
to soak the earthy crust?
And I struggle yet again
as if in my mother’s womb
and in my dreams.
We played together as children once,
my brother Esau and me
and I confess tonight
how I wronged him
and wrenched from him his birthright
as this Being has done to me
between my thighs.
I was so young
driven by ego and need,
blinded by ambition,
my mother’s dreams
and my father’s silence.
I so craved to be first born
adored by my father,
to assume his place when he died
that my name be remembered
and define a people.
How Esau suffered and wailed
and I didn’t care.
Whatever his dreams
they were nothing to me –
my heart was hard –
his life be damned!
But, after all these years
I’ve learned that Esau and I
each alone is
a palga gufa – a half-soul
without the other -
as two souls separated at creation
in a sea of souls –
the yin missing the yang –
the dark and light never to touch –
the mind divorced from body –
the soul in exile –
without a beating bleating heart
to witness –
and no access to the thirty-two paths
to carry us together
up the ladder
and through the spheres.
It’s come to this!
To struggle again –
To live or die.
I’m ready for death
protect Esau and your servant -
my brother and me
as one –
and return us to each other.
El na r’fa na lanu!
Grant us peace and rest!
I’m very tired!
Originally published in the CCAR Journal: Reform Jewish Quarterly, Spring, 2010, pages 113-115
November 13, 2013 | 5:35 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
My synagogue group stood on a hill near the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University looking east towards the Dead Sea. To the far right, about 7 km away, stood the Jewish settlement-city of Ma’ale Adumim (population, 40,000 Jews). To the north and adjacent to it was the last open area in the circular ring around Jerusalem called E-1 (about 12 square km - 4.6 square miles) that falls between Jerusalem and Jericho.
Beneath us down the hill and towards the two East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods of Isawiyya and A-Tur is another open area that Jewish settler organizations are working to declare “Mount Scopus Slopes National Park.”
Whenever the Israeli government has designated an area as a "National Park," there is usually some archeological, historical or nature significance to it. This area, however, has no significance in any of these ways.
Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann explained that the primary goal in designating this area a national park is
“…to link between the inner encirclement of the Old City and its visual basin, as designated by the governmental Old City Basin Project, and the outer encirclement in Greater Jerusalem, as disclosed by the E-1 plan between Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem. The new national park will be a bridge, creating [and] forging a geographical link between the Old City basin and E-1.”
Daniel Seidemann is the founder of “Terrestrial Jerusalem,” an Israeli non-governmental organization that works to identify and track the developments in Jerusalem that could impact either the political process or permanent status options, destabilize the city or spark violence, or create humanitarian crises. His organization says that
“Israel has already expropriated more than 35% of the privately owned land of East Jerusalem for the purpose of building settlement neighborhoods (in excess of 50,000 residential units for Israelis). Now, additional lands owned by the residents of Issawiya and A Tur will be, to all intents, expropriated by Israel. While declaring the site a national park does not nullify the owners’ property rights, it inevitably deprives them of the ability to exercise these rights in any meaningful way by denying them the ability to develop or sell their land. The declaration of the park will, in effect empty ownership of virtually all practical significance.”
The larger goal of the settlement groups and the Israeli right-wing is to effectively surround the city of Jerusalem with Jewish settlements and national parks and cut off direct access to the east that would allow contiguity for a future state of Palestine, thus making the achievement of two-states for two-peoples impossible.
The following short video (7 minutes) features Israeli experts in Jerusalem who show exactly how this will occur http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tuGALhavoc.
Polls indicate that the majority of Israelis accept that the city of Jerusalem will have to be shared as the capital for both Israel and Palestine. The Palestinians have stated consistently that there can be no agreement without their capital in Jerusalem. The challenge, of course, will be security, which is what negotiations are for.
Given that the sharing of Jerusalem is among the most important and central issues on the negotiating table, anything that deliberately changes Jerusalem’s status-quo until an agreement can be achieved is ill-advised. Those Israelis, aided and abetted by the settler movement and Israel’s right wing, that insist that Jerusalem cannot and should not be shared, are doing everything possible to create facts on the ground that will condemn negotiations to failure and assure continuing violence and war.
See a map of the area: http://www.t-j.org.il/Portals/26/featured_maps_2011/TJ_ScopusPark_B.jpg
November 11, 2013 | 10:00 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In 1968, then Attorney General Meir Shamgar (who would become President of Israel’s High Court from 1983-1995), determined that the “Absentee Property Law” may not be used in East Jerusalem. All Israeli governments complied, until now.
The “Absentee Property Law,” passed during the fledgling years of Israel (1950), allows the state to seize and assume ownership of lands abandoned by Palestinians after November 29, 1947 who left to live in Arab states, the West Bank or Gaza. In their absence their forfeited property could be taken over by the Absentee Property Custodian and title could be transferred to the State of Israel.
To accommodate East Jerusalem Palestinians after the 1967 War, the Knesset passed a law (1970) excluding them from exposure to the Absentee Property Law. [Note: East Jerusalem Arabs are not “citizens” of the state of Israel, though they are entitled to vote in municipal elections.]
Ir Amim (lit. “City of Peoples/Nations”) is an Israeli non-profit and non-partisan organization that has monitored East Jerusalem neighborhoods since 2004. Its mission is “to … engage in those issues impacting on Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem and on the political future of the city.” Among its chief concerns is the status of East Jerusalem Palestinian land.
My synagogue group toured one of East Jerusalem’s neighborhoods, Sheikh Jarrah, which is wedged between formerly Jordanian held-East Jerusalem and Israeli-held West Jerusalem (1948 to 1967) on the slopes of Mount Scopus very near to the American Colony Hotel and Old City.
After the 1948 war, Jews fled the neighborhood while many Arabs remained. In 1957, the Jordanian government moved 28 Palestinian families to houses in Sheikh Jarrah who had fled their homes in West Jerusalem during the 1948 War.
Founded in 1865, Sheikh Jarrah was once home to Jerusalem’s Muslim elite. At the turn of the 20th century, 30 large homes housed 167 Muslim families (about 1250 people), 97 Jewish families, and six Christian families.
In 1972, the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesset Yisrael Committee went to court to justify Jewish claims of property ownership in Sheikh Jarrah using documents from the days of the Ottoman Empire. Based on a supportive Israeli court ruling, Palestinian Arab residents could remain as tenants as long as they paid rent to the Jewish community.
The Palestinians, however, also produced Ottoman Empire documents showing their ownership. Though the Absentee Property Law superseded Palestinian claims, there were no efforts to evict them from their homes based on Shamgar’s 1968 decision.
Beginning in 2008, Palestinians began receiving eviction notices initiated by Jewish settler groups. In August 2009, an Israeli court evicted two Palestinian families from two homes in Sheikh Jarrah, followed almost immediately by Jewish settler families moving in.
In applying the Absentee Property Law, Palestinians have no rights, no redress, no appeals, and receive no compensation. In contrast, relative to the same contested land, Jews have certain legal rights based on their Israeli citizenship.
In Sheikh Jarrah we met with Sara Beninga, a 30 year-old Israeli Jewish activist, and Salach Diab, a Palestinian resident, who told us the story of this small neighborhood. Sara has been the inspiration of the “Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement” (now called simply "Solidarity") formed in 2010. She is a bright, principled and passionate Israeli who believes that gross injustice is being done to the Palestinian Arabs living in this neighborhood.
From 2010-2012 every Friday afternoon, hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians gathered on the main street of Sheikh Jarrah to protest the government’s unfair policies and the Jewish settler land grab.
As we arrived, Sara pointed out settlers returning to the house they occupy yards from Salah’s house, and Salah showed us photographs of settler violence against him and his neighbors.
Daniel Seidemann, a founder of Ir Amim and an attorney who has advocated on behalf of the Arab residents of East Jerusalem neighborhoods for the past nine years, explains the nature and importance of this property conflict:
“After 45 years, you now have 2300 Jewish settlers [living] in existing Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, [and while] that’s negligible numerically, symbolically it’s nuclear fusion, because you take the two radioactive subjects of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, which are Jerusalem and refugees, and you fuse them…By insisting on a Jewish right of return to Sheikh Jarrah, Israel is opening the 1948 file and strengthening the Palestinian claim of a right of return to Israel.” (Reported by Sarah Wildman, visiting scholar at the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University).
Jewish settlers are clear about their larger goal; to prevent, through the establishment of facts on the ground in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement resulting in two states for two peoples with Jerusalem as the shared capital of each state.
I will continue this discussion of East Jerusalem neighborhoods and Israeli land policy in my next blog.
November 10, 2013 | 6:54 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
This past High Holiday season (2013-5774) I asked myself and my congregation one central question in three different ways: Ayeka? (Lit. - “Where are you?”).
The question, of course, is not about one’s location. Rather, it asks about our identity, how we think and what believe, who we are and what values are central in our lives.
Ayeka is the first question to appear in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 3:9). It was asked by God of the first humans in the Garden of Eden immediately after they ate from the forbidden tree.
Ayeka – Where are You? Part I - American Jews
Ayeka – Where are You? Part II - The Jewish People and State of Israel
Ayeka – Where are You? Part III - God
I include here as well my Yizkor sermon "A Midrash on the Death of Moses" based on a compilation of midrashim (rabbinic legends and commentaries).
In the context of my synagogue mission’s to Israel and the West Bank in October (2013) about which I am still writing in a series of Reports from Israel, the second sermon, in particular, informs my thinking. All three sermons, however, ought to be considered together.
The sermons are posted on the Temple Israel of Hollywood (Los Angeles) web-site at http://www.tioh.org/worship/clergy/clergystudy
November 8, 2013 | 1:43 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10-22) was his first encounter with the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac, and is part of a narrative that culminates next week in a second meeting at the River Jabbok (Genesis 32). There, in the darkness of night, Jacob wrestled with a Divine/human being and became Yisrael, the one who struggles with God.
In these Genesis chapters, we watch Jacob grow into the Jewish leader he was destined to become. As a boy he was graced with great spiritual potential, but he was ethically challenged and needed a full range of life experience, including hardship and suffering, before he could assume leadership of the tribe.
At the core of his life was his relationship with his twin brother Esau, a relationship that was troubled from the start. Even before birth in Rebekah's womb they struggled. Jacob emerged second holding Esau’s heel signaling both his resolve and his destiny to become the leader.
Rashi reasoned that Jacob’s apparent manipulation and deceit in attaining the birthright in last week's portion Toldot gained for him what should have been his from the beginning. After all, Rashi explained, if you drop a pebble into a flask followed by a second pebble, and then invert the flask, what happens? The second pebble falls out first. Thus, though Esau was born first, he was conceived second.
As the boys grew, Rebekah understood as only a parent can that Esau lacked the necessary spiritual gifts to effectively lead the tribe, whereas Jacob possessed deep understanding of the spiritual world. She therefore compounded Jacob’s unethical behavior with her own, and orchestrated with him a plan whereby Isaac would bless Jacob as the first-born in Esau’s place.
Our commentators struggled with the deception. Some explained that Isaac’s old age, blindness and feeble-mindedness kept him from knowing which son was which, and so he was easily tricked in blessing the wrong son. However, all evidence suggests otherwise, that Isaac was not at all feeble-minded, nor was he confused. He had maintained and built upon his father’s wealth, and his blessings of his two sons in last week's portion (Genesis 27:28-29, 39-40) were each eloquent poetry describing Jacob’s and Esau’s respective natures and destinies.
It seems to me that Isaac was a silent and willing partner with Rebecca in the ruse, that though loving Esau dearly, Isaac agreed that Jacob was the more fitting heir and leader. This was not the first instance in which the younger exceeded the older (e.g. Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac).
Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder to heaven at Bethel signals the spiritual destiny of the Jewish people. Commentators note that the stairway (sulam - samech, lamed, mem) totals 130 according the the science of gematria that assigns number equivalents to Hebrew letters, just as Sinai (samech, nun, yod) also totals 130, thus linking Jacob’s dream-revelation and Moses communion with God at Mt. Sinai.
When Jacob awoke from his dream, he was astonished and said, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it!”
For the first time in his life Jacob experienced awe, wonder and humility, the quality of which he sorely lacked and needed in order to lead effectively his tribe.
Jacob’s faith was not yet fully evolved despite his powerful encounter with God at Bethel. Though moved, he vows his obeisance to God conditionally:
“If God remains with me, if God protects me …, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house – then the Eternal shall be my God.”
Nachmanides explained that Jacob was not as deficient in faith as the narrative suggests. He doubted not God, but himself because he knew that he was a man prone to committing sin. The Ramban says that Jacob’s conditional vow was a sign of his righteousness.
Among the great themes in the patriarchal and matriarchal narratives is that our Biblical heroes all suffer fear and a sense of inadequacy, as do each of us. Only the hardship that comes with life experience facilitates their spiritual and moral growth.
This week Jacob dreams, falls in love and is tricked by Rather's father, Laban, to serve him for many years that he may marry Rachel. Laban made Jacob’s life miserable, and so at last the younger man fled with his family.
In next week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob’s spiritual and familial journey reaches a peek moment as he encounters for the second time a divine/human being on the night before he is scheduled to meet the brother that he so wronged twenty years earlier. That night encounter and the next day's meeting are among the most dramatic moments in all of Biblical narrative.
The story is not only about the meeting between estranged brothers, however. It is about each one of us. Stay tuned!