Israel: Challenges and Hope

sermon by Rabbi David Lerner

Part 4

Dipping into Political Waters

But beyond the external threats there are internal ones as well.  I explained to the group the strange phenomenon that there is a large degree of religious freedom for all in Israel, except for non-Orthodox Jews.  The Jewish state does not recognize me as a rabbi since I am not Orthodox, which prevents me from officiating at state-recognized weddings, for example.  As for non-Orthodox Judaism, its rabbis and its synagogues are not paid for by the Israeli government which pays for Orthodox schools, shuls, rabbis, etc., etc.  This discrimination extends to conversion and, as we saw this past year, even to threats about changing the law of return. 

         As a passionate Zionist, I cannot tell you how much this saddens me, as have some of your comments, which I understand.  Some of you have told me that Israel’s religious intolerance is alienating you; I can appreciate this.  Imagine how those who converted to Judaism feel when the Jewish state turns its back on them.   And what about a woman who is forced to sit in the back of the bus on some routes that run through Hareidi/Ultra-Orthodox areas?

         But while we must fight for our right to pray at the Kotel, for women to wear a tallit there, for non-Orthodox Judaism and for the end of the religious choke-hold that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel uses to delegitimize us and that ultimately, diminishes Judaism in the eyes of secular Israelis who are so turned off to religion, we need to do so in the context of our support of Israel.

         We need to redouble our efforts.  We must still support Israel, as we fight for our rights as Jews.  The truth is that Israel now needs us more than ever on the religious front.  More and more secular Israelis are searching for a spiritual path and they need a modern, enlightened approach to their tradition.  As the divide between Ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis deepen, our Masorti – traditional, but intellectually honest, egalitarian and inclusive philosophy is so vital to the Jewish character of Israel.  We need more and more Masorti (Conservative) shuls in Israel, books like the new Israeli Masorti Siddur and our voices.

All in all, it is a complicated situation and all of us, learned so much from really seeing and hearing all sides.

So that was my trip – an amazing interfaith religious experience, a wonderful sharing with great colleagues and an in-depth exploration of the geopolitical military reality that Israel finds herself in.

So where does that leave us?

We must recommit ourselves to Israel. 

Israel faces three great threats.

The first threat is external – Iran.  Put simply: Iran’s acquiring a nuclear weapon is a game-changer.  Iran states explicitly that it is committed to Israel’s destruction.  Iran controls Hezbollah, a proxy army that controls Lebanon.  Iran supports Hamas.  We need to do more to stop Iran.  Get active in organization that works to stop Iran.

The second threat is internal.  The divides between religious and secular in Israel and the lack of religious freedom for Jews in Israel reminds us that we must redouble our efforts to speak out for our rights as non-Orthodox Jews.

But truthfully, the biggest threat is us.  We need to stand with Israel in its hour of need.  Our Israeli family and friends need us, our visits, our emotional support and our activism.  Israel needs us to become more knowledgeable – of its achievements and its problems.  If we lose our connection – and that is a real possibility as we see more and more Jews with a more and more tenuous connection to Israel, then American support for Israel becomes less of a given. And we see more and more Israelis leaving Israel as well….

         So, visit Israel – I designed a new trip for next June – we will have a blast, learn a lot, enrich our spiritual lives, deepen our connection to Israel and make a difference.  I hope to share new insights and perspectives that I enjoyed on this interfaith trip as well.  [click here for flyer]

Or find another group to get active in: our shul’s Israel Action Committee, AIPAC, the New Israel Fund, the David Project, the JNF, the Abraham Fund, the JCRC, the Boston-Haifa Connection of CJP – find your niche with Israel and pursue it!  Help the Masorti/Conservative Movement promote pluralism and religious freedom for Jews in Israel.  [http://www.masorti.org/documents/MasortiPromo2010-FINAL.PDF]

Buy some Israeli Bonds!  For goodness sake, there better than any other investment for the last decade!

Watch some Israeli films!  Listen to some Israeli music!  Here’s an idea that my family will do: we are adding an Israeli product to our Friday night dinner table each week – wine, dessert, flowers or something – there are many options and it serves as a concrete reminder!