State of the Union

January 27, 2011

 

I am sharing this article by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin.  What do you think?

Rabbi Orkand

 

Over the years I’ve probably watched 35 or 40 State of the Union Addresses and I must admit, the pundits are right–this one was different. Not so much because of what the President said, but because of the more subdued and civil atmosphere in the room. The simple fact that so many Republicans, Democrats and Independents chose to sit together, rather than on opposite sides of the aisle, did indeed seem to make a real difference in how they behaved.

Once word got around that the very liberal Democrat from New York, Chuck Schummer, was going to sit with conservative Republican Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, the idea caught on, and others followed suit. As the cameras scanned the audience, there were many rather “odd” couples like Democrat John Kerry sitting next to Republican John McCain. It was, frankly, refreshing.

As I’ve thought about it over the last few days, an old bumper sticker came to mind: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” The House and the Senate must constantly be thinking in global terms. Indeed, we heard many references in the speech to global and national issues: the global economy, the global war against terrorism, the need to compete in a global market. And we heard many broad stroke reminders of the need for all Americans to get along, to cooperate, to pull together. But such all-encompassing efforts need to start somewhere, and for our elected representatives in the House and Senate, it doesn’t get any more local than who you sit next to in the halls of congress. The President was right when we noted, “What comes of this moment will be determined not bu whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.” Seating arrangements won’t solve the nation’s problems, large or small, but its a good, symbolic first step.

It also strikes me that we all could choose to follow this example. How often do we choose to sit next to folks we know, folks with whom we are comfortable. I see it every week as I look out across the pews on  Friday nights. I see it at social gatherings, especially wedding receptions! I see it in classrooms and at meetings. We often sit with those we know best. But what if we made a conscious effort to literally sit next to the stranger, or the one we barely know, or even the one with whom we are often at odds? What if we were willing to really get to know one another a bit better?

The late Tip O’Neil, Speaker of the House for many years, famously said, “All politics is local.” And he was right. But its bigger than that. In the end, all life is local.

So who are you going to sit next to this week?

Bar Mitzvah Takes to the Web: A Response

November 26, 2010

On November 21 there appeared in the Style section of the New York Times an article entitled, “Bar Mitzvah Studies Take to the Web” (it can be read here). It describes students who avoid Bar/Bat Mitzvah training in a synagogue setting by be tutored via Skype by rabbis who charge large amounts of money and, for additional fees, will officiate at a ceremony in a variety of settings. Many examples are given of sites to which people can go for tutoring. To quote the article: “At OneShul.org, ‘the world’s first community-run online synagogue,’ the founders imagine Web-only bar mitzvahs, with an e-minyan, or group of 10, gathered via Skype. And they have a citation from Maimonides to prove its O.K.”  And, according to one of the rabbis offering these services, “Our generation doesn’t view Judaism as an obligation. It’s something that has to compete in the marketplace with everything else they have in their lives.”

I brought this article to the members of our Confirmation class for their reaction.  At first, the students couldn’t see a problem with Internet tutoring and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. After all, they said, technology has changed many areas of our lives.  I then asked what value they saw in coming to religious school during the years preceding their own B’nai Mitzvah.  They spoke of what they had learned about their religion and faith.  They spoke of the relationships they had formed with each other.  And, they spoke of the relationship they felt with their rabbis and cantors and their synagogue.

Perhaps most important, our students spoke of how well-prepared they had been as they approached their “big day” and the pride they felt when they stood on the bima before family and friends, and how lasting those feels were.

My students and I were also able to have a conversation about what it means to be part of a community, and how the members of that community are responsible for maintaining it.  Those students who engage solely in on-line tutoring and become Bar/Bat Mitzvah in hotels and other non-synagogue settings are, said my students, missing out on being part of a community that will be theirs the rest of their lives. And, their families do not participate in the building and maintenance of the Jewish community and one of its most important institutions, the synagogue. There are exceptions, of course, such as families who live in isolated areas of the country and are able to provide training for their young people thanks to new technologies.  And, I am not suggesting that technology is a bad thing and that it does not play an important and growing role in religious education. But, if technology replaces the benefits that come from being part of a community, or simply provides a quick way to accomplish a goal, something important and lasting is lost. Our student understood that technology, such as Facebook, can enhance communication among people already in a community, but cannot replace the benefits of interacting with others face-to-face.

In reading this article, I could not help but feel that what was being described is yet another example of the lack of loyalty many Americans, including Jews, feel when it comes to institutions.  We buy what we need and then move on to other things.  And, there are always those ready to sell whatever is needed. Who needs a synagogue when we can buy a Jewish education and Bar/Bat Mitzvah?  Who needs an actual community when we can find a virtual one online?

To a great extent, the New York Times article was sensationalist and generalized from relatively few examples of those finding tutoring and ceremonies outside a synagogue setting. At the same time, the article points to some critical issues for those of us who care about the synagogue in particular and the future of the Jewish community in general.

I am hoping that there will be occasion to discuss this article in person.  In the meantime, read the article and then let me know what you think via this blog.  I look forward to hearing from you!

P.S To those who have children in our Confirmation class, you have every reason to be most proud them.  You have taught them well!

Why I Will Never Say ‘Funny, you don’t look Jewish” Again

August 28, 2010
During the month of Elul one is supposed to study and think about a variety of issues in preparation for the High Holy Days.  My friend Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin posted the following on this blog.  Something to think about?
Rabbi Orkand
The Elul clock is ticking, propelling us ever more faithfully towards the Days of Awe. In the midst of these days, a death appeared in the news. Death is almost always inevitably sad, but this one goes beyond that. It goes straight into poignant.
It is the story of the death of Yoseph Robinson, shot during a holdup in the Brooklyn liquor store in which he worked, shot while trying to protect his girlfriend.

Sad enough.

But Yoseph Robinson had an interesting biography. He was a former petty criminal, turned singer and producer of violent gangsta rap music, who then converted to Orthodox Judaism. He had started using verses from the Torah for rap songs, and was in the process of writing his autobiography when he was killed. His funeral service will take place in an Orthodox funeral chapel in Brooklyn.
“Most of us Jews in Brooklyn are not that interesting,” said a neighbor, who asked not to be named. “Yoseph was the most interesting and charismatic person.”
What do I find important about the life of Yoseph Robinson? It’s not only that Judaism and membership in the Jewish people is open to people of all races; we have known that since biblical times. We know that well as a Jewish community. There are African-American rabbis; one of them happens to be Michelle Obama’s cousin. One of American Jewry’s most articulate voices is Julius Lester, a former black radical who converted to Judaism and who has taught at U Mass Amherst and has served as a lay cantor.
The most important thing about the life of Yoseph Robinson is that it is a testimony to the power of change and growth. To put it simply: Yoseph was searching for a way out of the morass of a life of drugs, crime and violence. He found that pathway to a new life by entering the world of Jewish study and Jewish engagement. In a world in which traditional Jews are often branded as being insular and even xenophobic, we can be proud of the fact that the Orthodox community in Brooklyn reached out to him, even as he reached back.
God’s Name, in Hebrew, is yud hey vav hey. Some grammarians believe that the Name of God is actually not a name at all, but a verb — a verb that is conjugated in the future tense.
The life of Yoseph Robinson reminds us that we not only live in the present, but with the infinite possibility of transformation.
May his memory be a blessing.
To read more about Yoseph Robinson: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/08/21/2010-08-21_untitled__liquor21m.html#ixzz0xXtVDXhU

Farewell to a Doubting Thomas

June 25, 2010

Rabbi Daniel Gordis wrote the piece below.  I certainly agree.
Rabbi Orkand

 

Ouch. Sorry for that double entendre. But nowhere near as sorry as Helen Thomas must be at this moment.

I’m referring, of course, to the sudden retirement of Helen Thomas, the elder stateswoman of White House correspondents who was most recently a columnist for Hearst newspapers. She was taped saying that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany, Poland or the United States. Her lack of understanding of Jewish history and of Israeli history is astounding. Her apology was insufficient to the task. President Obama, speaking on The Today Show this morning, agreed that her comments were “offensive.”

You certainly can find links to the video of her offensive remarks. They served as icing on a very bitter cake that the Jewish people has had to eat ever since last week’s flotilla operation. It has been a very bad week for the Jews, and Helen Thomas made matters far worse.

But, a few small insights into what happened.

First, there were (thankfully) relatively very few public comments about how we should forgive Ms. Thomas because of her advanced age (she is 89), and very few speculations about her health and/or her ability to discern the real impact of her remarks. I was ready for an onslaught of those comments, and they have not appeared. The lack of speculation over the medical or gerontological etiology of her hatred is refreshing. It shows that the American public knows the difference between criticism of Israel’s policies (which is every Jew’s and every Israeli’s favorite aerobic sport) and the destructive denial of the Jewish State.

Second, there are those who say that she had the right to express her opinion. Of course she had the right to express her opinion. But it is not incumbent upon anyone to respect the opinion that people have the right to express. Let’s not confuse rights with wisdom.

Third, you really have to smile at the origin of all this. It started with a Conservative rabbi from Long Island who was at the White House Jewish heritage celebration and poked a small video camera, which must have cost him at most $200 at Best Buy or whatever, into Ms. Thomas’s face. At which point, she opened her mouth and closed her career. And why did it take so long for this news to become public? Because the rabbi’s teenage son had to complete his finals before he could upload the video onto his father’s web site!

This was not the work of an investigative reporter, or a professional journalist, or an expert in anti-semite detection. It was just ordinary people. A rabbi with an inexpensive video camera and a techie teenage son brought down Helen Thomas.
It is sad that Ms. Thomas chose (I emphasize chose) to end her career in this way.

But it was, alas, her choice.

But as for the way it happened — never doubt the ability of ordinary people, using every day devices, to make a huge difference in the world.

Who is Eyeless in Gaza?

June 25, 2010

As you all know, Memorial Day was marked by a deeply troubling incident off the Gaza coast — an incident with tremendous implications for all of us as Jews and as Americans. Six ships, ostensibly carrying humanitarian supplies, attempted to break Israel’s naval security blockade and to enter the port of Gaza. The IDF was forced to intercept those ships, despite numerous Israeli requests that they not enter.The Israel Navy requested the ships to redirect toward Ashdod, where they would be able to unload their cargo, which would then be transferred to Gaza over land after undergoing security inspections. The activists were carrying 10,000 tons of reported aid to Gaza. Israel provides 15,000 tons of aid weekly to Gaza. Aid convoys are already on the way to Gaza from Ashdod after being offloaded from the flotilla.

Five of the six ships agreed to such terms; the sixth, tragically, did not. During the interception of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF naval personnel with live gunfire as well as light weaponry including knives, crowbars and clubs. The demonstrators had clearly prepared weapons in advance for this specific purpose. For a video of their attack — http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2010/05/31/close-up_footage_of_flotilla_passengers_attacking_israeli_soldiers.html. Israeli soldiers were in danger of being lynched; some were thrown off the ship into the sea. The IDF responded, but only after a great deal of provocation. According to initial reports, these events resulted in over 10 deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injured.

The loss of life is tragic. Worse than tragic — it was entirely unnecessary and politically-motivated. The “peace organization” on the ship, IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation (The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief, according to Henri Barkey, an analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is “an Islamist organisation as it has been deeply involved with Hamas for some time.” When you think Hamas, think Iran. In addition, Turkish authorities searched IHH headquarters in 1997, discovering “firearms, explosives, bomb-making instructions” as well as records of calls to an al-Qaida guest house in Milan.

One of world Jewry’s most articulate observers is my friend and colleague, Rabbi Daniel Gordis. Once again, he hits the proverbial nail on the head. Read his blog posting here. http://danielgordis.org/2010/05/31/facebook-meets-the-flotilla/

Why the image of “eyeless in Gaza?” Because that is how the judge Samson ends his own life — blinded, he pulls the pillars of the Philistine temple in Gaza down upon himself and on the Philistines. That is how Gaza became known for self-destruction. This is yet another chapter in Hamas’s ongoing war against Israel and against the West. As Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said in a conference call yesterday, this is a “seam line” in the fissure between radical Islam and the West. The seam runs through Kosovo and Chechnya and Kashmir — and straight through the land of Israel and into the sea.

Yes, there will be (there already have been) tremendous PR ramifications for Israel. What else is new? But know the truth, speak the truth, teach the truth. Israel needs our voices now — yes, now more than ever.

Elena Kagan’s Bat Mitzvah

May 18, 2010

As the entire country is abuzz with conversation and speculation about Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, several crucial details emerge. Yes, she would be the third woman on the Supreme Court. And yes, she would be the third Jew on the Supreme Court. And yes, there will be no Protestants on the Supreme Court, which is itself highly symbolic of the social changes that are occurring across America.

But here’s the other detail.The New York Times reported that as a young teenager, Elena Kagan openly challenged her rabbi on certain details of her bat mitzvah ceremony.

This is nothing less than a massive victory for us as Jews, and certainly for Jewish women. Unless Ruth Bader Ginsburg celebrated becoming bat mitzvah, Elena Kagan will be the first Supreme Court justice to have experienced this modern and quintessentially American rite of passage. But more than that: we can take pride in the fact that Ms. Kagan’s first learned her skills at argumentation by challenging her childhood rabbi. The media has not revealed any of the details of her battle with her rabbi; perhaps this will come out in the confirmation hearings (!). What was the “theme” of the controversy? Did she not like her assigned Torah portion? Did she demand more aliyot for her family? Did she want to do less (or more) prayers in the service? Did she and the rabbi disagree on the subject of her devar Torah?

Let this give courage and inspiration to American Jewish teenagers.

Yes, Judaism teaches kavod ha-rav — the respect that is necessary for rabbis and teachers. But kavod ha-rav can also mean challenging your rabbi, spiritually and intellectually, when it is appropriate to do so. Protest and challenge are woven into the very fabric of Jewish existence — from Abraham to Moses to the psalmist to Job to Tevye to Elie Wiesel. It’s why we are Yisrael, the God Wrestlers. The term chutzpah doesn’t only mean “gall”. It also has a theological dimension — chutzpah c’lapei shamaya, audacity in the face of God. And our tradition notes that God needs it. God even loves it, rejoicing when we “win” — “My children have defeated Me!” God sighs, lovingly.

I would like to imagine that the young Elena Kagan challenged her rabbi on a matter of deep principle. I am not even ashamed to say that I hope that she won the argument.

And I should like to think that her childhood rabbi is smiling broadly. After all, he (or she) gave young Elena her first experience in argumentation, and maybe also in listening and responding. No doubt she has carried that lesson with her — from the Upper West Side to Princeton to Harvard to Chicago — and now, let us assume, to the bench of the highest court in the land.

It’s good for the Jews. And it is very good for America

A Great Loss for our Movement

May 6, 2010

Rabbi David Forman, z”l
There are times when you can really understand the ancient Jewish mourning practice of tearing one’s clothing when hearing of a death. That’s precisely how I felt this morning when I learned of the death of my colleague Rabbi David Forman, who died at the age of not-quite-66 years old while waiting for a liver transplant.
Rabbi Forman was a Reform rabbi — one of a noteworthy and notable group of Reform rabbis who made aliyah and who threw their destiny in with that of the Jewish state. He was also the son-in-law and brother-in-law of rabbis, including one Orthodox rabbi; I used to imagine what their family seders were like. He made aliyah in 1972, and served in the IDF, and authored several books — each one skillful in its commentary and conversational in its tone. I loved his regular columns in the Jerusalem Post. David always told the truth.
But the best thing about David was his vision. He founded Rabbis for Human Rights in 1988 and served as its chairman from to 1992, and again in 2002-03. RHR is primarily concerned with the plight of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. In 1994, he was a member of the Israeli delegation to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for laureates Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. The greatest thing about David was that he never subscribed to some of the more promiscuous Israel-bashing that exists within the Jewish world. Yes, he often criticized Israeli policy — but always, always, as a Zionist and as a deep lover of the state of Israel. In that spirit, he directed the Israel office of our national Reform movement, and in that role, he was a pioneer in the effort to achieve religious pluralism in Israel.

It is ironic (as if there are ironies): David died during a time when the issue of religious pluralism is very much on the international Jewish agenda. It is even more ironic that he died several days after Herzl’s 150th birthday.

Judaism has lost a great teacher and role model. May his memory be a blessing.

Reflections on Israel at 62

April 24, 2010

I have been asked many times, “What does it mean to be a Reform Zionist?”  For me, the short answer is this:  To be a Reform Zionist is to engage in one of the grandest experiments in human history, namely can there be a modern state that bases everything it does on the principles of Judaism.  This is an experiment that involves every Jew, no matter where he or she may choose to live.  This is an experiment that is yet in progress, which means that we and our children and grandchildren must continue to be involved.

Where this grand experiment has yet to be successful is in what we would call the separation of church and state.  The role of religion in the United States surprised and intrigued a young French diplomat who travelled here in 1830 and 1832 and wrote one of the finest books ever written about us. The traveler was, of course, Alexis de Tocqueville and the book he wrote, Democracy in America, remains a classic.  In it he described one of the major differences between America and France.  In the latter, religion had power but not influence.  In America, religion had no power at all.  The First Amendment enshrined the separation of church and state, though not in those words. But its influence was immense. Tocqueville discovered to his surprise that though in France religion and liberty were opposed to one another, in America they walked hand in hand.

At first he could not understand why, and he spent considerable time talking to religious leaders to understand what it was about them that made them different.  What he discovered, again to his surprise, was that as a matter of principle they did not get involved in politics.  Politics by its nature is divisive. The religious leaders of our new nation understood that if they became involved in politics, they too would become a divisive force in American life, which is not what they wanted at all. So, they concentrated on the moral and social aspects of life. They built communities.  They created charities.  They built schools.  Above all, they strengthened the institutions of marriage and the family.  These had nothing to do with politics, but everything to do with the culture in which politics takes place.  Tocqueville understood, more than most, that if you want to sustain a democracy, you have to build a society of responsible, public-spirited individuals.  That is what religion did, and for that reason he called it “the first of America’s political institutions.”

Religion in Israel does not function in this way. The result is precisely what Tocqueville foresaw.  If religion enters politics, it becomes a divisive, not a uniting force.  If it seeks power, it will forfeit influence.  If it is priestly, it will fail to be prophetic.  If it fails to speak on behalf of the nation as a whole, it will fracture into a hundred sects instead of being the animating spirit of the nation. Judaism must be depoliticized and put back where it belongs, in civil society, far removed from all structures of power.

This is the challenge of Judaism in the state of Israel in our time. If religion is not seen by Israelis as a unifying force in society, if religious Jews are not admired for their work with the poor, the lonely and the vulnerable, if Judaism is not the voice of justice and compassion, then something is wrong in the soul of Israel.  Judaism in Israel today has lost the prophetic instinct when it needs it most.

What does it mean to be a Reform Zionist? It means using our voices, both as individuals and as Progressive institutions, in a prophetic way.  I admire our Movement for refusing to become a political party. We must allow ourselves to speak truth to power, to advocate on behalf of the lonely, the poor, the most vulnerable. We must do all we can to be the voice of justice and compassion in a nation that needs both.  Our Movement has the ability to be the prophetic voice in Israel, and we in North America have the ability to support that effort.

My friends, societies need hope.  Covenental societies need high moral aspiration.  Israel faces a long and difficult struggle to find peace.  There is a real and present danger of national despair. Peace is not something one side can achieve alone: it is always a duet, never a solo.  There is nothing Israel can do to guarantee peace, but there is something it can do to recapture the moral energy that went into the building of the land.  It can renew the social covenant.  It can create a new civic Judaism, one that embraces religious and secular, Jew and Palestinian alike.  Zionism Phase 1 gave back to Jewry what it lacked in the Diaspora: sovereignty and a state.  Zionism Phase 2 must reappropriate what Jewry had even when it lacked a state, namely a profound sense of responsibility to the weak, the poor, the socially marginalized, the neglected and unheard.  That is the challenge for the religious Zionism of which we are a part: to help build a society worthy of being a home for the divine presence by honoring the divine image in all its citizens.

What We Jews Have Always Been About

April 11, 2010

Qeiyafa is a relatively new archeological excavation (directed by the Hebrew University’s Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor) of an imposing Israelite fort on the border with Philistia dating to the late 11th–early tenth century B.C.E., the time of David and Solomon. The wall around the hilltop fort required more than 200,000 tons of bolders. Its presence is a powerful refutation of the claims of certain contemporary scholars who believe that Judah never existed as a state in the tenth century and that the “kingdom” of David and Solomon was a tribal chiefdom at most. This is hardly the case. A mere tribal chieftain would not have been able to build something like this.
But that’s nothing. As archeologists have rejoiced to discover, the “real” find in this excavation is a five-line, 6-by-6-inch ostracon, an inscription on a broken piece of pottery the equivalent of ancient notepaper. It dates to the early tenth century B.C.E. It is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.

But what does this ancient text reveal? While it has been damaged by the ravages of time, one thing is clear. There is a word that means “to exploit or abuse,” immediately preceded by the phrase lo ta’as – “do not do.” Therefore, analysts of the text are quick to point out that the oldest Hebrew inscription that we have is nothing less than an ancient prohibition against (most likely economic) abuse and exploitation.

Some might have expected that the oldest Hebrew text would have been about ritual matters. Others might have suspected that it would be about some arcane legal matter. No, the most ancient Hebrew text is simultaneously the most modern. It testifies to who we are as a people and what our message has always been – and must continue to be.

A Report on AIPAC Policy Conference

March 26, 2010

I have just returned from the annual Policy Conference of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).  In addition to my wife, Joyce, there were other Temple members: Sally and Michael Kliegman, Pam and Ken Olson, Marlene and Elliott Siff, Barbara Vinograd, and Cheryl Hammer and Ken Mufson.  They can certainly speak to their own experiences, as I am sure they will.

To understand Policy Conference one must understand and appreciate AIPAC.  The organization’s focus is making sure the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong.  The focus is primarily on fostering strong relationships with members of Congress to make sure that there is continued support for America’s one true democratic ally in the Middle East. That’s it. There are many, many other issues concerning Israel, but there are other organizations that are engaged in those.

After spending three days in Washington with the 6800 delegates to the Policy Conference I can say without question that AIPAC’s single-minded approach works.  People of the left, right and middle; Reform , Conservative, Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews; 1300 students from more than 300 colleges (some of which have very few Jewish students); Jews and non-Jews—all came together to demonstrate that the U.S.-Israel relationship is in the best interests of both countries and that that relationship remains strong, despite events of recent weeks. At the banquet held on the last evening of the Policy Conference, more than half the members of Congress, government officials from both nations, and diplomats from many nations joined with the Conference delegates to celebrate the unique and vital U.S.-Israel relationship.  It was an absolutely amazing experience. For a moment, one could almost forget the tremendous challenges facing Israel.

During the first two days of the Conference there were hundreds of different workshops dealing with all aspects of the U.S.-Israel relationship, chances for peace, Israel as economic powerhouse, etc.  In addition, I was privileged to attend several sessions for rabbis, one of which featured Tzipi Livni, the opposition leader and leader of the Kadima party, the largest in the Israeli Knesset. Without being asked, she chose to speak about the importance of religious pluralism and the fact that the ultra-Orthodox in Israel are doing everything they can to impose their values on an entire state.  The result she said was that young people are being turned off to religion entirely, which is not good for them or the Jewish nature of the state. This was a courageous talk and greatly appreciated by those of us in the room who have been concerned about these issues.

Of course, the dominant issue during the Policy Conference was what appears to be a chilling of the warm relationship of Israel and the United States.  Many of the speakers we heard tried to portray recent events as a spat within the family. Things are certainly not that simple, as demonstrated by the speeches of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  The latter repeated what we heard throughout the conference—that Jerusalem is not a “settlement” and that Israel is merely building in what will always be part of a unified Jerusalem.  That is, while the timing of the announcement about this building project was poorly timed, this is simply a zoning matter and not a change in policy.  And, we were told, arguments between friends need to be in private. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton, while reiterating the strong and unbreakable bond between our two nations, explained that the objection to this building project went beyond an insult to Vice President Biden.  Rather, at the heart of the controversy is the American belief that building projects in East Jerusalem are not helpful at a time when the United States is trying to broker a peace and that both sides need to make offer steps that will convince the other side that peace is desired. I would say personally that I think there is a difference between “can” and “should.”  That is, Israel has made it clear that the areas in Jerusalem in which new projects are being built are part of Jerusalem.  And so, yes, Israel can build in those areas.  However, the question is whether Israel should build in those areas at a time when attempts are being made to once again get the parties to the negotiating table.

The other overriding theme of the Policy Conference was the very real threat that a nuclear Iran for Israel and the world. Lost in all the talk about health care reform are the bills before Congress calling on the United States to impose tough sanctions on Iran.   We were reminded that one of the primary lessons of the Holocaust was the need to take seriously the threats of genocide and annihilation.  Why wouldn’t we take Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats seriously? Why do we suppose he is anything but serious when he threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the earth? And why would we ignore the fact that a nuclear Iran will force other Middle East countries to seek their own nuclear arms?  That is not the neighborhood in which Israel should be forced to live.

There is much to say about AIPAC’s policy conference. Witnessing 6800 activists marching on the offices of every member of Congress on Tuesday morning was a stark reminder of why we were in Washington. Israel has no other reliable ally other than the United States, and the strength of that alliance depends on the willingness of Congress to pass appropriation bills that provide the funds necessary to allow Israel to be a reliable ally in the Middle East and the willingness of Congress to pass bills that create the sanctions that will force Iran to reconsider its nuclear aims.  None of this would be possible without the work of AIPAC and its supporters.

Joyce and I have already registered for next year’s Policy Conference which will take place May 22-24, 2011.   As an incentive, AIPAC is offering a huge discount on registration fees until March 28, 2010.  It would be my pleasure to lead a huge group of Temple members to next year’s Conference. It will be an experience you will not forget.


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