Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai

I just met this morning with Mayor Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv.  He isn’t showy.  He shuns the limelight.  But he is a man with a vision. He has been responsible over the last 16 years for Tel Aviv’s rebirth from a bankrupt municipality to a shining example of a welcoming city and the best that Israel has to offer. it is a seaside paradise of commerce, art, culture and tolerance.  Tel Aviv like every large municipality in the world has its underbelly.  And Tel Aviv is no different. But in a one on one meeting this morning he mapped out a vision to help the foreign immigrants mainly from Africa, working families, the booming children’s population in Tel Aviv, the income gap, the housing crisis and even as far as trying to fund dentures for Holocaust survivors.

He isn’t slick but he is dedicated, smart and brilliant. He retired from the Israeli Air Force as a Brigadier General! He understands that building infrastructure is critical to a successful city and a successful Israel.  He has been focusing on building adequate schools and day care especially in low income areas of South Tel Aviv.  He has spear-headed special needs education in the Tel Aviv schools. And now he is making sure that Tel Aviv schools have adequate shelters.  This summer’s war with Gaza left many young school children without a safe place. And he is committed to care for the oldest and youngest of Tel Aviv’s citizens!  Often politicians don’t really do anything about those who don’t yet vote or are often too frail and old.  But Huldai understands that society must care for the least powerful and he told me that is why he is willing to come to the U.S. to seek funds for the Tel Aviv Foundation.

The Foundation is working hard to create many programs in Tel Aviv alongside the municipality to strengthen the commitment to the poor, young families who have no where to live because rents are sky-high and to the seniors.  The foundation is working on large projects such as building a sports stadium to small projects like equipment for handicapped toddlers.

There are projects that cost $75.00  and $750,000.   I hope you will visit the website and consider a donation for a project.  to make it part of your regular tzedakah donations.  Or if you have an upcoming b’nai mitzvah in your future then suggest one of these projects for their mitzvah project.

Mayor Huldai inspired me today by his dedication and his no nonsense approach to governance and to caring.  He reminded me of what great public servants are supposed to aspire to. May he continue to go from strength to strength.


Let the Land enter us!

This week’s Torah portion Ki Tavo gives the Israelites explicit instructions having to do with entering and living in the land of Israel.  There are specific rituals outlined to ensure that this group that has been a nomadic tribe for almost 40 years be tied to the holy land of Eretz Yisrael.  The Israelites are told to honor the land and the produce by setting aside tithes to God and dedicating those at the Tabernacle.  The Israelites must also write out the Torah on large plaster stones, near the river Jordan for all to see. These steles enumerated the laws of the land.  And there is a unique ritual that divides up the 12 Tribes into two groups of six to be stationed one group on Mt. Gezerim and other on Mt. Ebal. An elaborate ritual follows of blessings and curses that will befall the Israelites unless they adhere to the covenant in the land.

While these ancient rituals may not have much practical application today we can learn something important from them in our own day and time.  The values the jump out here and that should speak to us in contemporary times, is our Jewish connection to the sacred land of Israel.  All Jews no matter how observant or not, has a place in Israel.  This is our homeland; our ancient homeland. We are descendants of those very Israelites who came and settled the land per the covenant with our God.  The modern State of Israel is the rebirth of that ancient promise and we have a duty and responsibility that ties us to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel and its peoples.

The modern State of Israel is a complex place. Our love for Israel should recognize the complexities in contemporary life.  Like America has its issues and problems, so does Israel. But like America, Israel has many successes and things to be proud of, not the least of which is a vibrant and diverse culture and democratic values.

The Torah portion begins Ki Tavo el haaretz, When you come into the land.  Our job as Jews in the 21st century is to enter into a relationship with Israel. By going there regularly. Buying Israeli products and helping to sustain the land and its people.  Subscribe to Israeli papers, read from its great canon of writers and poets, build a connection with the people of Israel. It will lift your Jewishness to a new height.  And as much as we shall enter the land, let the land enter into our hearts and spirits.

I invite you to hear the Consul General of Israel at Kol Ami, Thursday night Sept. 18 as we host the launch of the Israel-West Hollywood AIDS Task Force.  6:30-8 pm . The West Hollywood City Council and the Consul General will forge a new bond of cooperation and exchange on issues of AIDS/HIV through this new and important task force.

Let the land enter us!

Puff of Cloud.

July 10, 2014

Dear Kol Ami Family and Friends,

I just concluded the second full day with the Rabbinic Mission of AIPAC. AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and their mission is to be an effective lobby and bridge for Israel in the United States. Today I will always remember from this mission a puff of cloud.

While AIPAC is best known for making sure our American Elected Officials, Academics, and business leaders understand Israel, visit Israel and build relationships with their Israeli counterparts, this is the first time they have had a rabbinic mission to Israel. You can follow us on Twitter at #rabbinicmission2israel.

There are 20 rabbis mostly Reform and Conservative rabbis and one Modern Orthodox Rabbi in our group. Today we were supposed to have travelled to Ramallah to meet with a member of the Palestinian Authority and an important Palestinian political academic. But due to the changing situation here in Israel we were unable to go to Ramallah and the high ranking member of the Palestinian Authority was unable to leave Ramallah. But we did meet at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem with an important Palestinian political academic.

He shared with us the most recent polls of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and their attitudes toward peace. They also surveyed Israelis and asked them prospects for peace. Among Palestinians there is clearly a generational divide. Those 35 and older according to his polling are willing to accept a two state solution and are willing to accept Israel side by side as a matter of pragmatic consideration. But those 34 years and younger are more militant and will only accept a one state solution. This means Palestine only to the sea. He told us most Palestinians are secular and that only 25 percent want an Islamic state run by Sharia law. Seventy five percent of Palestinians was a democratic state. However the PA is a basically a two party entity, much like the United States. Hamas and Fataq. There are smaller parties but the two major groups gather 80 percent of the vote.

Our afternoon included a visit to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo which is on the far southern end of Jerusalem and was built beginning in 1967. It is annexed into Jerusalem and overlooks Bethlehem which is in the Palestinian Authority on the other side of the security fence.

We then spent a couple of hours at the Foreign Ministry learning about the challenges of Israel at the United Nations and a marvelous hour learning about MASHAV which is a department of the Foreign Ministry it is Israel’s International Agency for Development and Cooperation. Founded by David Ben-Gurion in 1958 this Agency works with countries around the world on issues of food sustainability, agriculture, health education, emergency response, and early childhood education and gender empowerment. They help developing nations around the globe and help by providing expertise and hands on experience to lift their nations up. Mashav works in countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Eastern Europe, Micronesia, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Rawanda.

But just as we were learning more about Mashav. A blaring announcement came through the building, “Red Alert, Red Alert” with piercing sirens. Other employees joined us in the conference room we were in as it was a reinforced safe room. Four rockets had been launched at Jerusalem and we heard several booms. As the all clear sign was given and we exited the building, we could still see the cloud puffs where the Iron Dome had taken out the rockets.

We ended the day over dinner in a private home in Yemin Moshe (the Windmill neighborhood). Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of Knesset with the Labor Party ( I met her last summer) gave a brilliant talk about the future of peace and the challenges and hurdles and opportunities between Israel and the Arabs.

There is no let up in the rockets landing all over Israel. Hamas has launched 400 rockets. There are only 6 Iron Dome batteries and Israel needs 14 to protect its cities.

Hamas who after 2008 was not supposed to have any more rockets has not only resupplied but has more sophisticated weaponry thanks to Iran. They used to only be able to reach Southern Israel. But now they can reach the entire nation.

The Israeli army has been firing and trying to take out rocket launchers and Hamas leadership. While civilian deaths are regrettable and deeply painful, Hamas uses them as human shields. Israel’s army not only leaflets before they shoot but they call the families to leave the buildings. What other army in the world calls the civilians and tells them to get out? Can you imagine Putin doing that in the Ukraine? Or the Taliban in Afghanistan? Or al-Sissi in Egypt?

The situation is complex here in Israel. And it has many nuances. And there isn’t time to recover from one trauma before there is another. But we in our comfort of the United States have no idea what it is like to try and run to shelter. And if you live in Sderot you only have 15 seconds. And in Tel Aviv 30 seconds to find shelter.

Yes we pray that there will be peace. And let us never lose that hope. And let us continue to urge Israel and her neighbors sit down and talk. And we should support organizations that help Israelis and Palestinians encounter one another. But this Shabbat will not be that time.

Tomorrow Shabbat will descend upon this holy city of Jerusalem. As the sun sets here the sky turns a beautiful shade of pink as the sun reflects off of the Jerusalem stone and the streets will get so quiet. I know as I attend services at Kol HaNeshama (One of Jerusalem’s Reform Synagogues) I will be praying for the peace of Israel and Jerusalem. I will be praying for the soldiers of the IDF who defend this country, her residents and its borders. I will be praying for the innocent Palestinians who are held captive by terrorists and corrupt leaders. And I will be praying for you and me.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger


As Rockets Fall

Written July 9, 2014

It has been a difficult time in Israel. I have been here in Eretz Yisrael for more than a week now. Arriving just before they found the bodies of Eyal,Gilad and Naftali. When the news of the discovery of their bodies came over the news I was with several colleagues and it was a palpable moment that took our breath away. Israel went into mourning. Jews from the right or left cried with their families. I was surprised how few cars were out in the streets . I was glued to watching the funeral and crying too. And then in the midst of mourning, a young Arab teen burned alive. Retribution by a gang of Jewish thugs. But it was cold-blooded murder.

A country, a Jewish people that prides itself on the value “choose life” has within it such depravity. It shocks the nation. The burnt body of Muhammed Abu Khadeir gave Israel another blow and made many realize that the rhetoric that they have espoused has consequences. Words matter and the words of revenge, the cycle of violence represented by this has given Israel pause. This was a reason for more tears for Muhammed, his family and for my Israel who is so conflicted and so battered from every side. Even as the Army went door to door on the West Bank searching for the 2 murderers of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad.

But these deeply saddening events have taken place against a background of a barrage of rocket and missile fire from Hamas. Since the agreement of Fatah and Hamas to create their “unity” government, the rockets have fallen through the south with increasing volume. And then yesterday, as Israel called up reservists and gathered at the border of Gaza the rockets reigned down on an ever increasing circle of Israel. Sderot, Beersheva, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Last night it took me a minute. I heard the sirens. But it didn’t compute. The TV was on. I was watching it and hearing it as if numb and realized this wasn’t just far away but overhead. Hurriedly I found the safety of the shelter with others in the hotel. Shaken and realizing that Israel has entered a new and frightening phase it was a night of little sleep. All of Israel is vulnerable to the missiles.

Even though I have had many tears this week. I am strengthened in my commitment to Israel by being here. By sharing in the Israel experience. Not just in times of quiet and celebration. But in these extraordinarily difficult times. And I know our rabbinic presence in Israel bring strength to Medinat Yisrael.

May Israel be kept in our prayers. For peace outside and within.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA and is President Elect of the CCAR. You can follow her travels this week in Israel @deniseeger #rabbinicmission2Israel. Or @AIPAC

Complex Miracle, Israel

Israel’s Independence Day is a day for rejoicing. Next Tuesday Israel will mark 66 years since its rebirth on the international stage.  Yom Ha-atzmaut, Israel Independence Day is not just a secular holiday but for all Jews around the world, Israel’s rebirth day is the fulfillment of an age – old dream.  It is a miracle.

It was only 2 weeks ago as our Passover Sedarim ended that we all exclaimed, “Next Year in Jerusalem”. Dreaming of Israel and Zion has been a deep part of our rituals and prayers throughout millennium.  And today, when we as the Jewish people are blessed with seeing a vibrant Israel before our very eyes, we should give thanks for this miracle in our midst.  We will observe Yom Ha-atzmaut at services this Friday night at 6:45 pm.

Today more than ever Israel needs our support.  And supporting Israel doesn’t mean that we agree with everything that happens politically in Israel.  But it does mean that we Jews have responsibility to correct the naysayers, who want to deny Israel’s existence, or are a part of the BDS movement which urges boycotts and divestment of companies that do business in Israel.  This movement’s real aim is to destroy Israel.  Israel is a thriving democracy, different than ours, but it is a democracy.  Israel is trying to define itself. What is a Jewish Democratic State to be like? What is the role of others? How do we balance these things?

Sadly, the peace process once again has been paused.  But as Israel celebrates its 66 years of modern independence we cannot let those who would destroy Israel succeed.  Israel like the United States has policies to praise and policies we wish to change.  Society is complex. But there is much to celebrate on Yom Ha-atzmaut. Not the least of which is the miracle of Israel’s rebirth!

I want to share a poem with you written by a young man, Eitan Press who made Aliyah to Israel in 2009. It captures the complexities of the modern State of Israel and of life there. Happy Birthday Israel.

In Israel

by Eitan Press


In Israel, people with guns

are shooting at people with bombs


In Israel, everywhere is dangerous

“don’t get blown up” they say


In Israel, Moses saw the Promised Land

Jesus returned pardon for injury,

& Mohammed tramped with Gabriel


In Israel, a lot of people talk to God

In Israel, God whispers back “One”


In Israel, Arsim & Chassidim & Haredim

Walk in the park with Datim & Chilunim


“Ma Ha Matzav?”

It’s everywhere, it hasn’t ended,

& the eyes of man offer no resolution


In Israel, there is more gas

generated by falafel

than many other countries


In Israel, there is a little coffee shop

That sells used books and people come & write

While young beautiful Israeli’s sweat for Shekalim

And still smile even though they are tired.


In Israel, most people don’t fight

Just like everywhere else.


In Israel, the army is a part of puberty.


In Israel, Jews want to know “Why?”

Just as much as everyone else.


In Israel, a lot of people are waiting.


In Israel, soul eaters are dressed like soul savers

& the water in the mikvah is dirty.


In Israel, apathetic hipsters don’t care about the fact that they are in Israel


In Israel, hash is more available than weed


In Israel, the land is still a maiden who loves you

Even though she has a thousand scars

Her eye is still bright & she holds out her hand.


In Israel, my heart has found a place to put down roots.


In Israel, wrestling with angels is a national past time.


In Israel, what is forgotten is remembered.


In Israel, brothers play paddle ball

every week on the beach in Tel Aviv


In Israel, a dream greets the dawn

And is a babe, a man, and an elder all at once.


In Israel, the City of Gold’s light,

Is not made of pavement.


In Israel, Shabbos is coming

And it’s time to rest.


This poem appeared in the Huffington Post April 15, 2013

My trip to AIPAC 2014

I have just returned from 2 1/2 days in Washington D.C.  I was attending the annual AIPAC Policy conference along with 15,000 others who love Israel. AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. This important organization builds bridges and support for the State of Israel with the United States. AIPAC educates Congress and our elected leaders and works to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the U.S.  AIPAC works effectively on college campuses with campus student leaders to combat the Anti-Israel fervor and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel. They educate and reach African American leaders, Hispanic leaders and Christian leaders and educate them about the strategic importance of Israel and a side of the story that they may not have heard before. As we heard from the President of the Washington local SEIU 87, a dynamic Latina, named Olga Miranda said, “I never knew Israel’s story until AIPAC introduced me to it. I merely repeated what I heard on the news. Today I know there are two sides to every story. I am pro-Israel and I am the face of AIPAC.”

While I have attended local AIPAC events I had never been to the annual policy conference. We heard from an array of speakers including Hon Isaac Herzog, the head of Israel’s Labor Party, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Charles Schumer, and Sen. Robert Menendez, head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry and Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.  It was amazing to me in a town so divided by partisanship to see the House Majority whip Rep Eric Cantor (R) stand side by side with the House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) and together talk about their common and strong support of the Israel -U.S. relationship. Hoyer couldn’t resist chiding the Jewish Cantor that he had been to Israel more times!

One of the most powerful presentations came from Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen  of Florida and Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid) the first Ethiopian Member Knesset.  Side by side they each recounted a similar story of being refugees: one from Cuba and one from Ethiopia and their journeys to become legislators and all they had in common. The common values of freedom and democracy and opportunity of Israel and the United States were never more evident.

All of this and many workshops on everything from the peace process, the war in Syria, Israel’s technology revolution, Iran, fighting Boycotts of Israel, the rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe, climate change and water issues in the US and Israel and so much more; workshops for Christians, students, Latinos, LGBT receptions and how to lobby Congress. Tuesday of the conference is devoted to lobbying your Congress person and Senators for Israel.

I also learned despite some critics that AIPAC is real bi-partisan.  There has been a lot of critique on the left that AIPAC became a Republican stronghold.  I didn’t get that.  It was clear they were committed to bi-partisanship both in representing Israel’s political spectrum and the here in the U.S.  Yes there are partisan Jews on both sides of the aisle.  But as someone who is center left on Israel, meaning I believe strongly in states for two people, a Jewish democratic Israel side by side with a Democratic Palestine both who can live in peace and security, I did not feel out of place at all. Other progressives were there and I believe it is important to gather there so that the entire spectrum on Israel is represented and is part of the solution for a healthy Israel -U.S. relationship!

I learned a lot in a short period of time. I hope next year some of you will join me for AIPAC Policy Conference 2015. It is March 1-3, 2015. Registration is already open. If you love Israel and you want the US and Israel to remain strong partners for peace, freedom, trade, innovation, democracy, and security then you want to be a part of AIPAC. Join me there. I have already registered. How about you? If you want to register or view the videos from the conference here is the link: