In November, Temple Tmunah’s Israel Action Committee will present an Israel Synaplex Shabbat where special guests include Dr. Tamar Elram,  Israeli Obstetrician and current Wexner Fellow, and two of JCRC’s  2010 Interfaith clergy tour participants– Reverend Bryan Wilkerson,  Senior Pastor of Grace Chapel, Reverend Paul Shupe Sr. Minister of  Hancock Church. This sermon by Rabbi Lerner was inspired, in part,  by that JCRC trip experience.


Israel: Challenges and Hope

sermon by Rabbi David Lerner

Part 1

It was an early Friday morning in August in the middle of the interfaith clergy trip to Israel that I was helping to lead; there were 3 Conservative rabbis and 14 Christian clergy from Boston area, including 5 participants from Lexington. Our presenter, Col. Benzi Gruber, a deputy commander during the 2008/2009 Gaza War, was giving us some insight into the ethics of war.

Gruber was guiding us through the moral and life-and-death challenges that Israeli soldiers face on the new battle-field of the 21st century.  His PowerPoint presentation included a video of a jeep smashing through a checkpoint fence and the 15 second dilemma the 20-year-old Israeli commander faced: what should he do?  Is this an act of terrorism or a drunk driver?  Is it some desperate Palestinian parents trying to bring their child to an Israeli hospital or someone aiming to kill?

Do you shoot at the jeep or not?

It reminded me of the clip in our member Gloria Greenfield’s award-winning documentary, The Case for Israel, where a terrorist sets up a rocket launcher in front of a Gaza pre-school, and lights the fuse before running away.  The Israeli commander, watching this live feed from an Israeli drone, has to decide whether to take out the launcher, potentially risking the lives of the Palestinian children or to hold his fire, potentially placing Israeli children in Sderot at risk.

As our group was pondering the moral dilemma of who shall live or who shall die,  suddenly one of the commander’s cell phones rings.  He looks at the pelephone, as these ubiquitous devices are called in Hebrew.  He steps out of the room, which is in the basement of the Prima Royale, our quaint hotel in Jerusalem.  It’s actually the bomb shelter, but since space is at a premium, it does double duty as a meeting space.  

Less than a minute later, he returns with a different expression, explaining that a powerful missile just hit Ashkelon, but thankfully, it seems that, although it hit a residential block, no one was hurt.  He shrugs it off and continues with his talk.  

A few minutes later, my Israeli cell phone goes off.  It’s my cousin Elan; I step out and say hello: “Dave, you heard what happened?”

“Yeah, I just heard; is Gealia’s family OK?” 

My cousin’s wife, Gealia, a Yemenite Israeli whom Elan met at Camp Ramah in New England, comes from Ashkelon.

“It landed not far from her mother’s house, but everyone’s OK.” 

“Thank God”

“Where are you?”

“In a bomb shelter in Jerusalem.”

“What?  Jerusalem’s under attack??”

* * *

No, Jerusalem was not under attack, but it’s easy to understand, given the stress of Israel and the bad connection in the bomb shelter, how such a miscommunication could occur.  

Such is life in modern Israel: totally successful – filled with cell phones, computers, economic opportunities, family closeness, ethical dilemmas and grave challenges.  In fact, I would argue that Israel faces some of the gravest threats to her existence in her 62-year history.  These threats exist on three levels: external, internal, and from us – if we allow our apathy to divert us from Israel.

This morning, I want to share several vignettes that illustrate these challenges, but also present us with the opportunities, the promise of an Israel living at peace with her neighbors, serving as an or goyim, a light unto all the nations and unto us.  This is Hatikvah, the hope of Israel.

tomorrow:  part 2  Understanding the Christian Perspective


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