Letter to the THE TASK FORCE

(I haven’t written yet about the fiasco at the NGLTF’s Creating Change ’16 Conference in Chicago last week). I am frankly still processing the outrageous Antisemitism displayed there and the lack of The Task Force’s ability to create safe space.  There is much to be said about what happened. But here is a letter sent today to the Executive Director, Rea Carey from many leaders of the Jewish and many from the LGBTQA community.)

January 27, 2016

TO: Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force

We send this letter as members and leaders of the LGBTQ community. Some of us are Jewish; some of us are not. Some of us have spent time visiting or living in the State of Israel; some have not. Indeed, like the population of Israel itself, we have diverse, and often sharply conflicting, views about the difficult issues raised by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the best way to resolve them.
What we all do share is our history and experience in connection with the struggle for LGBTQ equality in the United States and elsewhere. Many of us have not only contributed significantly to the enormous strides that have been made towards LGBTQ equality in recent years, but have devoted our lives and careers to that cause. The purpose of this letter is to unequivocally express our collective and deep concern about what transpired at the Task Force’s 2016 Creating Change Conference in Chicago, Illinois (CC16) on Friday, January 22, 2016 with respect to A Wider Bridge, an organization that fosters relationships between Israel and the LGBT community (AWB), and the Jerusalem Open House of Pride and Tolerance (JOH).
While some of us were at the conference to witness the events of January 22, there were also a number of published reports. More than one hundred protesters succeeded in physically intimidating and ultimately shutting down a reception organized by AWB featuring Israeli speakers from JOH. It has been reported — and videos taken contemporaneously confirm — that the protesters chanted slogans like “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” which necessarily suggests that the State of Israel should no longer exist. Another protester shouted, “We are going to challenge these Zionist racist motherfuckers.” There were also reports of altercations between the protesters and the reception guests. Witnesses saw a man get into a scuffle with the protesters and have his yarmulke knocked off his head. In a separate incident, there is a report of an individual who was called “kike.”
We applaud the fact that the initial decision by Task Force staff to stop AWB and JOH from hosting a reception in the CC16 was reversed by the Task Force. We are aware that the 100–200 protesters were among a conference of 4,000 participants and have no reason to believe that what transpired outside the reception on January 22 reflects the views or experiences of the majority of the 4000 conference goers. We also know that there is a Jewish Movement Building Working Group as part of the Task Force’s Creating Change conference, which has, for many years, done important work ensuring Jewish voices are an integral part of the conference and conversation.
Nevertheless, the events of January 22 in Chicago were unacceptable and not in accord with the Task Force’s values of pluralism, inclusivity and thoughtful debate. The targeted organizations’ reception was disrupted and shut down by protesters (including people not attending the conference) with such hostility and aggression that speakers and attendees at the event were justifiably terrified and felt physically threatened. We are united in our belief that what transpired at CC16 was dangerous, deeply disturbing, and given the use of epithets like “kike,” clearly anti-Semitic.
The larger question posed by all of this is where do we as a progressive social movement go from here? What is the Task Force’s responsibility in this situation? What values does the Task Force wish to embody? We understand that the Task Force has undertaken to conduct a review of its policies in this regard and we congratulate that decision. We believe that the review should be conducted by an outside, independent party charged with determining what happened, how it happened, and what will be done to ensure that it will not happen again.
We also believe that the Task Force as well as all other LGBTQ organizations need to consider and adopt some form of an “active pluralism” policy with respect to these issues. Such a policy, while respecting the free speech rights of individuals and groups, would not allow protesters to effectively censor the speech of other groups, much less threaten the physical well-being and safety of those with whom they do not agree, including Jewish and Israeli LGBTQ groups. Given the concentrated and organized hostility that is so often displayed against Jewish and Israeli LGBTQ groups, and the stark rise in global anti-Semitism, it is even more important that we as a community promote civil and respectful debate. It is intellectually, politically and morally dishonest to claim that in the name of freedom, liberation, or some other progressive ideal, there is a right to target and exclude Jewish/Israeli groups, to foment physical intimidation and harassment, and to encourage anti-Semitism.
There is a long and ugly history of this kind of censorship where individuals with controversial ideas and viewpoints have been silenced in the name of the “greater good.” We should know by now that such censorship results in fewer (not more) good ideas and greater (not lesser) oppression of us all. Indeed, given that we come from a movement where LGBTQ people were effectively shut out from participation in the public discourse for so many years, what happened at CC16 was extremely dangerous. If we as a movement really believe in the values we profess to hold dear, then it is time to put an end to this.
Aaron Belkin, Founding Director, Palm Center & Professor, San Francisco State University
Dana Beyer, Executive Director, Gender Rights Maryland
The Reverend Dr. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas, Senior Pastor, Cathedral of Hope
Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Ph.D., Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim
Rabbi Denise Eger, Congregation Kol Ami & President, Central Conference of American Rabbis of the Union of Reform Judaism
Lillian Faderman, Author and Professor, California State University— Fresno
The Honorable Barney Frank, Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives
Frank Giaou, President, World Congress of GLBT Jews
The Honorable Deborah Glick, Member, New York State Assembly
Emily Hecht-McGowan, Interim Executive Director, Equality Council
The Honorable Brad Hoylman, Member, New York State Senate
The Honorable Corey Johnson, Member, New York City Council
Alex Halpern Levy, Former LGBT adviser to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer
The Reverend Susan Hrostowski, Ph.D., LMSW, Vicar, St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church & Associate Professor, and Chair, Institutional Diversity Committee, University of Southern Mississippi
Vincent Jones, LGBT Activist and Philanthropist
Miryam Kabakov, Executive Director, Eshel
Roberta A. Kaplan, Partner, Paul Weiss LLP & Lead Counsel, U.S. vs. Windsor
Idit Klein, Executive Director, Keshet
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah
Rabbi Michael A. Latz, Congregation Shir Tikvah
Arthur Leonard, Professor, New York Law School & Editor, LGBT Law Notes
The Honorable Mark Leno, Member, California State Senate
Rabbi Joshua Lesser, Congregation Bet Haverim
Amichai Lau-Levie, Spiritual Leader, Lab/Shul NYC
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives: Building a Progressive Jewish Community in Brooklyn
Seth Madnick Marin, Associate Director, ADL Legal Affairs & Civil Rights Regional Counsel
Melanie Nathan, Executive Director, Africa Human Rights Coalition
Reverend Elder Troy D. Perry, Founder, Metropolitan Community Church
The Honorable Christine Quinn, Former Speaker, New York City Council & CEO, Women in Need
Nicole Murray-Ramirez, Chair/ Executive Director, International Imperial Court Council of USA, Canada and Mexico
Lee Rubin, Former Board Chair, NGLTF
Steven Rudner, Chair, Board of Directors, Equality Texas
Robert Saferstein, Founder, Eighteen:22, A Global Network for Change. The Next Chapter of LGBTQ Jewish Life
Andrea Shorter, Co-Founder, Bayard Rustin LGBTQ Coalition
Melissa Sklarz, Former Co-Chair, National Stonewall Democrats
Andrew Tobias, Treasurer, Democratic National Committee
Rabbi Rachel Timoner, Congregation Beth Elohim
Robin Tyler, Executive Director, The Equality Campaign
Alan Van Capelle, Former Executive Director, Empire State Pride Agenda
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D, President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
The Honorable Scott Weiner, Member, San Francisco Board of Supervisors
Edie Windsor, Plaintiff, United States v. Windsor
Evan Wolfson, Former Executive Director, Freedom to Marry
Organizational Affiliations Listed for Identification Purposes Only
List in Formation

This to Prime Minister Netanyahu

Reform Movement Leaders to PM Netanyahu: Help End Incitement
Contact: Max Rosenblum or Jacob Kraus
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

Today, leaders of the Reform Jewish Movement addressed the following letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

In these troubling and difficult times, we have witnessed a worrying escalation of incitement targeting both the Israeli President and human rights NGOs in Israel. We write both to express our concern about the violent and personal nature of these verbal attacks and to call on you to publically and privately use your power to change the tone of the conversation.

At its best, the presidency itself serves as a unifier for the state of Israel and all of its citizens, as well as for the Jewish people worldwide. The president’s personal commitment to the values of democracy and Judaism are a source of strength for Israel. Similarly, the work of human rights NGOs are an essential component of Israeli democracy, contributing to improving the morality of all Israeli institutions.

Israel faces unquestionable dangers and challenges regionally and in the broader international community. Yet meeting those challenges can only be rooted in strengthening the national commitment to democracy. Those who seek to curtail essential human rights will only serve to weaken the state, not strengthen it.

A particular concern is that the violent rhetoric doesn’t come only from the extremes, but is echoed by public figures, members of your government, and the media. That is why it is essential that you exercise your leadership to set the tone of civil discourse – preventing incitement and violence – regardless of any disagreements you may have with the views of the human rights NGOs. We have seen the horrors that occur when words of incitement turn to acts of violence; such incitement cannot go unchecked.

We look forward to your strong defense of the role of NGOs and Israeli presidency generally and a condemnation of incitement against President Rivlin specifically. Your leadership can change the direction of Israeli discourse and history.


Rabbi Denise L. Eger, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Steve A. Fox, CEO, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Anat Hoffman, Executive Director, Israel Religious Action Center
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, Union for Reform Judaism
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism
Daryl Messinger, Chairman, Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director, Religious Action Center
Rabbi Noa Sattath, Director, Israel Religious Action Center

– See more at: http://www.rac.org/reform-movement-leaders-pm-netanyahu-help-end-incitement#sthash.LxfxOo5d.dpuf

A Tasty Lunch with Jess at Ta-Eem

SO a newish friend and Temple member is a blogger extraordinaire. Writer. Producer. And all -around talented guy.  He invited me to be his first guest for a series on food and conversation!  Here is the link to that yummy lunch at Ta-Eem – a terrific Kosher Israeli style restaurant. Hummus as good as any in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ashdod, or Afulah!   I hope you enjoy the food review–and our conversation recounted.

Yesterday I met a Hero

Yesterday I met a hero.  I had coffee with my friend Alden Solovy who is a poet and liturgest from Jerusalem.  You can read his work on his website www.tobendlight.com.  We had this meeting set up to discuss a workshop he will lead for my temple group in Israel this summer.  But who knew that I would be meeting with a person the Haredim (the fantical religious Orthodox) in Israel called “a man of wickedness”?  Alden is not wicked at all but my hero.  IMG_2454

On Rosh Chodesh Iyar on Monday Alden helped defend the Torah at the Kotel. The Western Wall in Jerusalem. As usual on the first day of the new month Alden and many others go early in the morning with Nashot HaKotel Women of the Wall to celebrate the new month.  Nashot HaKotel, Women of the Wall led by the amazing Anat Hoffman has been working for more than 2 decades to create women’s equal prayer space at the Kotel.  The Kotel through the years has become an Orthodox synagogue. There is a mechitza, a dividing wall separating men and women worshippers and over the years the women’s side has gotten smaller and smaller.  Egalitarian prayer and women’s prayer leadership-hallmarks of Reform and Conservative Judaism isn’t allowed but Nashot HaKotel has been trying to institute that. Women led prayer including reading from a Torah scroll has been forbidden even by the Supreme Court.  But a few years ago-a Jerusalem judge ruled that women must by allowed equal access.  The Women of the Wall have been sneaking in a small mini-Torah at times.

But on Rosh Chodesh earlier in the week, a group of supportive men passed a full size Torah (one of the 100 state owned Torah scrolls at the Kotel) to the women’s side. There Nashot HaKotel danced and prayed with the Scroll.  But as the gate pass through opened several of the state-paid ushers and few Haredi men rushed the men’s group.  My friend Alden and another man Charlie Kalech who was also part of the supporters were beaten by thugs.  Both sustained injuries and rather than arresting the thugs at the Wall, Charlie was arrested.

These men and the men who supported the Women of the Wall are heros! They believe in the equality of men and women in spiritual Jewish life and became warriors for Torah.  Sometimes in civil disobedience there is violence, even when we try to live by the code of non-violence. It certainly wasn’t the Women of the Wall or their supporters that engaged in violence. They just wanted to read from and pray from and dance with the Torah.  But rather the so-called Orthodox who threw punches, and stomped on others. This kind of Jew against Jew brought our Temple down according to the Talmud.  As another great Jewish thinker, Bob Dylan said: “When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”

But I got to have coffee with a hero yesterday. Thank you for taking a punch for Torah, justice, equality and women’s prayer.  May you heal quickly from the bruises to your body and your soul and may you never know violence again.alden on the ground

Happy Birthday Israel

Tonight we begin the celebration of Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s 67th Independence Day.   Happy Birthday Israel! It was 67 years ago that the modern State of Israel was born. But it was really a rebirth of our ancient nation state, reborn after 2000 years!

The Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel reads: THE DECLARATION:

ERETZ-ISRAEL (the Land of Israel) was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.


After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.


Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma’pilim (immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation) and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.


In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.


This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.


The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people — the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe — was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.


Survivors of the Nazi holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continued to migrate to Eretz-Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.


In the Second World War, the Jewish community of this country contributed its full share to the struggle of the freedom- and peace-loving nations against the forces of Nazi wickedness and, by the blood of its soldiers and its war effort, gained the right to be reckoned among the peoples who founded the United Nations.


On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.


This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.




WE DECLARE that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People’s Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People’s Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called “Israel”.


THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.


THE STATE OF ISRAEL is prepared to cooperate with the agencies and representatives of the United Nations in implementing the resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.


WE APPEAL to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations.


WE APPEAL — in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months — to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.


WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.


WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream — the redemption of Israel.



THE 5TH DAY OF IYAR, 5708 – 14TH MAY,1948.

 The Declaration was signed by 26 people including David Ben Gurion, Rachel Cohen, Golda Meir, Rabbi  Kalman Kahana, Abraham Katznelson, Moshe Shertok, Moshe Shapira among others.

Noticeable is that from the very beginning of the modern State of Israel they were willing to accept the partition plan of the United Nations from 29th Nov, 1947 which called for a division of the land into two nations, Jordan and Israel.  Further the new nation state already under attack by its Arab neighbors, extended a hand in peace to the Arabs who lived there and to all the neighboring peoples. Unfortunately, the partition plan was rejected by Arab leaders and the Arab nations  and neighbor states immediately declared war on Israel.
For 67 years Israel has defended its borders from her enemies and still tries to live up to its ideals.  As Israel celebrates another birthday, we pray for peace and prosperity of all its citizens.  We pray for the safety of Israel and her neighbors and that soon peace will break out everywhere.

In 8 days the voting for the WZO elections closes.  Please vote here for ARZA. This is the way we Jews outside of Israel can shape the state of Israel with our values of equality, liberty and to push Israel toward peace rather than isolation and theocratic control that some would prefer.  This is our chance on Israel’s birthday to help bring about a more democratic and an Israel that is welcoming to all the Jewish people.   Happy Birthday Israel.  Long may the blue and white wave!


Israel flag

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.

www.telavivfoundation.org.il  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.


Israel, the Media and You: A new Commitment in the New Year

A CNN Reporter, BBC Reporter, and an Israeli commando were captured by terrorists in Iraq. The leader of the terrorists told them that he would grant them each one last request before they were beheaded.

The CNN Reporter said, ‘Well, I’m an American, so I’d like one last hamburger with French fries.” The leader nodded to an underling who left and returned with the burger & fries. The reporter ate it and said “Now, I can die.”

The BBC Reporter said, ‘I’m a reporter to the end. I want to take out my tape recorder and describe the scene here and what’s about to happen. Maybe someday someone will hear it and know that I was on the job till the end.” The terror leader directed an aide to hand over the tape recorder and dictated some comments. The reporter then said, ‘Now I can die knowing I stayed true until the end.”

The leader turned and said, “And now, Mr. Israeli tough guy, what is your final wish?”

“Kick me in the ass,” said the soldier.

“What?’ asked the leader, “Will you mock us in your last hour?”

“No, I’m not kidding. I want you to kick me in the ass,” insisted the Israeli. So the leader shoved him into the open and kicked him in the ass.

The soldier went sprawling, but rolled to his knees, pulled a 9 mm pistol from under his flak jacket, and shot the leader dead. In the resulting confusion, he jumped to his knapsack, pulled out his carbine and sprayed the terrorists with gunfire. In a flash, all terrorists were either dead or fleeing for their lives.

As the soldier was untying the reporters, they asked him, “Why didn’t you just shoot them in the beginning? Why did you ask them to kick you in the ass first?”

“What?” replied the Israeli, “and have you report that I was the aggressor?

For me that joke is no joke.  This was my experience this summer in Israel during Operation Protective Edge. No matter what channel I turned to Israel was the enemy rather than legitimately defending itself.

Increasingly, Israel has been painted into a horrible corner. On the one hand it must find a solution to make peace with its neighbors and end the military control over Palestinians. But Israel cannot let the extremists like Hamas committed to its destruction have the kind of weaponry that it has.  Israel is portrayed in the world press as the aggressor. Israel is portrayed as the one who stalls the peace talks, as the murderer of Gazan children.  Israel is portrayed as Nazis.  Nazis mind you—the very group that murdered our people as if we have a final solution to gas Palestinians with Zyklon B.

Israel is not a perfect country. It is as complex as the United States.  There are policies of our government that are good and there are policies I abhor.  So too in Israel. Israel has policies that I disagree with as well but it seems in the media and often in our own discussions that Israel is portrayed as a problem country.

The view of Israel from here and from there creates a very different perspective of Israel.  I want to share with you a few of my observations from the time I spent there this summer. And on this holiest of nights, ask you to stand with Israel, the Jewish state in her hour of need.  I want you on this holy night to become someone who even if you don’t agree with every policy of Israel’s government to pledge to work on behalf of our people’s homeland. And to work to create the kind of Israel that continues as a strong, vibrant nation.  And I am asking each of you tonight to become an advocate for Israel here in our own country.

Let me share with you some of my thoughts from my experience this summer and how you might engage yourself in supporting Israel and Israelis.

As many of you know I spent a chunk of my Sabbatical in Israel as I do each summer.  Again I had the privilege of studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.  It’s hard to describe the experience of studying with more than 150 rabbis of all denominations.  But the mornings are like one big Yeshiva.  For those of you who may have grown up in that world or studied yourself in a Yeshiva at some point in your lives there is a certain cacophony in a yeshiva. It is the sound of voices reading and discussing a Biblical or Talmudic text.  At the Shalom Hartman Institute this summer we studied Jewish ideas and texts on War and Peace. The topic was chosen last January.  Perhaps it was a portent of things to come.

As we gathered at the beginning of our studies, Israel was already on edge for 18 days as the three teenager, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach   had been kidnapped and missing.  Everyone in the country was talking about the hope of their return, much like everyone held out hope for Gilad Shalit’s return a couple of years ago.  But that first night I was there the news interrupted the World Cup playoffs that the three boys’ bodies had been found.  People filed out of the restaurants, cars disappeared off the streets and a hush fell over Yerushalyim as if it was Shabbat.  The whole country was instantly in mourning. And the next day, our first day of studies, the tension in Israel could be felt everywhere at every turn.

The Hartman Institute that morning was muted. Our sense of communal loss colored by understanding the political implications of the murder of the three teenagers, Eyal, Naftali and Gilad made for a sad beginning to our studies. And framed the background of war and peace.  There were already daily disturbances in Shuaafat-a primarily Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem not far from the American Colony Hotel and in other cities in PA.  Rocks and bottles were being thrown by young men, their faces wrapped in kaffiyahs.  During the 18 days of the missing teenagers, more than 350 Hamas loyalists were arrested in Ramallah and Hebron, and seven people died in the roundups who were resisting arrest or attacking the IDF. Everyone was on edge.

The world press from Sky News, to France 24, of course Al-Jazeerah condemned Israel for these actions.  They said this was an excuse by Israel to recapture those it had just freed from jail.  They reported that this was a stunt by Israel who simply wanted to oppress the Palestinians.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Israel prepared for the funerals of the three boys, the press played the Moked 100 audiotapes, this is the equivalent of 911.  You can hear Gilad whispering that he was kidnapped. You can hear the operator’s disbelief. And then you can hear the shouting in Arabic and distinctly hear the gunfire that surely killed them.

Against this background, a retaliatory kidnapping of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed abu Khadier, was murdered in cold blood. Burned alive in the Jerusalem Forest.  Jewish thugs, Jewish murderers were arrested and have already been prosecuted.  But now both Jews and Arabs were sitting shiva.  The Frenkel, Shaer and Yifrach families and the abu Khadier family in their mourning tent in Shuafat.  Israelis were outraged that this could happen. The Israeli press decried the cold-blooded murder of Muhammed.  How could Israelis, Jews, murder in cold blood?  These were the headlines in the Israeli press.  This picture of themselves to Israelis was deeply disturbing. “What was happening in Israeli society?” Israel’s free press decried the senseless murders of Muhammed and of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.

And there were so many unanswered questions. Why didn’t Bibi and the Israeli police already surmise that the three teenagers were dead if they had the audiotapes? Why did the IDF go door-to-door rounding up Hamas leaders? Was the kidnapping merely a pretext for harassing these Hamas members on the West Bank?

It was a perfect powder keg following the failure of the nine months of Kerry talks trying to work out a solution between the PA and Israel.  And the final straw for Israel was when Abu Mazen entered into a so-called Unity Government with Hamas. This made it near impossible for Israel to finalize any progress made because there was no discussion in the agreements about Gaza and demilitarization. Once Hamas was party to the PA government-the negotiations would change. And it made it impossible for Netanyahu to contain his right wing flank that is part of the government.  Remember Netanyahu, is a politically weak Prime Minister. He put a government together barely and his party doesn’t hold a majority in his own coalition.

And then the rockets started to fly- not just in the south of Israel near the border with Gaza but aimed toward the major population centers near the middle of the country. Tel Aviv, Modi’in, Jerusalem, all the way north to Nahariya outside of Haifa.  Almost nowhere in Israel felt safe from the long-range missiles of Hamas.  It was Hamas’ bid to shift the attention from their failures. Hamas had been isolated. Was out of money. With the coup in Egypt and the trouncing of the Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas no longer had Egyptian benefactors. Al-Sissi the general who took over in Egypt closed the smuggling tunnels from Egypt to Gaza and closed the Border with Gaza at the Rafah Crossing. Hamas couldn’t pay its soldiers because the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt was one of its protectors and financers and so had to turn to its rivals, Fatah, and Mahmoud Abbas for help. That is why it agreed to enter into the Unity Government.  And Abbas wanted back into Gaza.

But Hamas took advantage of the tensions in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority and murders in Israel to gain sympathy for its cause by launching its offensive. And because Abu Mazen only gave them small portfolios, it launched its war without regard for Abbas, shifting attention away from finding a solution and peace agreement for Palestinians.

By July 8. I had joined an AIPAC, mission of Progressive Rabbis.  The first of its kind. And after an amazing first dinner together with reporter and author Yossi Klein HaLevi overlooking the Old City, upon return to our hotel the sirens in Jerusalem went off. At first I didn’t know what it was.  I was already in my room.  I had the Television on. There was a siren on the TV and outside my room. I thought oh it’s a police siren, then no, it’s a fire truck, and then I really tuned in to what the TV was saying…. It was a red alert.  I jumped into shoes and headed out of my room.

Jerusalem has 90 seconds from launch to hit. Unlike the southern towns in Israel that have 15 seconds.  I can tell you 45 seconds went by in my just trying to decode and figure out what was going on.  I went into the


reinforced stairwell and waited at least another 10 minutes for the all-clear signal.  And then with my heart palpitating I went down stairs to find my fellow rabbis coming out of the miklat-the shelter on the first floor with other hotel guests. Crying children, shaken adults, including me.  One family from Columbia with two little girls asked us to pray with them because they were so upset. I don’t know for whom it was more calming for, them or me?

Throughout the next week of my trip all over Israel and meeting with Ministers from the government, from the Foreign Ministry, Deputy director of the UN Mission, Director of MASHAV, – Israeli AID around the world- My group had several close encounters. Running to bomb shelters, hearing the booms of the Iron Dome missiles system shooting rockets out of the sky.  Comforting Israeli family and friends whose children and husbands and boyfriends and daughters were called up as Operation Protective Edge went into effect.  Everyone serves in the military reserve and so the country in effect shuts down. Commerce is interrupted because people are called up into the military and not at their desks. University classes and finals had to be rescheduled because the students were called to their tank divisions and computer brigades.  For the first time ever –American and European airlines shut down operations for two days succumbing to the successful portrayal of Hamas in the press.

I tell you this because in the media you experienced a lot of rhetoric about Israel. The pictures coming to you from Gaza didn’t tell the whole story.  Oh yes, there was damage and sadly people died in a war.  Innocent civilians along with Hamas soldiers.

But there is more to this story than the world press would have you believe.  Why was there a round up of Hamas loyalists? That seemed to trigger the missiles from Hamas?  Was it the kidnapping? Perhaps it was in part.  But something bigger was going on—and it only came to light later in the summer, in August after it was declassified.  Hamas tried to oust Abbas. Hamas tried a coup d’etat in the West Bank. Israel’s roundup of Hamas loyalists was about protecting Abu Mazen.

But that story isn’t the story that gets told.  The story on CNN and the BBC was only how Israel the aggressors caused this war. And Abbas at the UN reinforced that message to the leaders of the world.

Yes there was damage inflicted in Gaza and it will have to be rebuilt. People were wounded.  Children died. It is a war. It is heartbreaking. One that for now is quiet. And sadly everyone on both sides expects it to happen again. Israel tried to be careful.  But Hamas’ military rules of engagement explain how to use civilians and how to launch missiles and rockets from schools and residential areas.

Israel regularly tried to warn the citizens of Gaza to flee.  Israel would first drop leaflets telling them when exactly it would bomb. Then it called all of their cellphones. Then it would shoot what they call “a knock on the door” a kind of shell that explodes above the building as a warming and then finally take aim at the building.  Of course the press here and around the world didn’t report those steps. The headlines in the International Herald Tribune simply read Israel targets residential buildings or schools.  Nothing about the tunnels built under the buildings. Or the stockpile of missiles on floor 10.  They wrote nothing about the UNRWA –UN Schools serving as missile launching sites. Or the staged photos that only after the war was over was uncovered by an Indian reporter from New Dehli.  None of that matters.  It is always Israel that does the damage and is the one to blame.

War is hell.  It is a terrible thing.  Those of you that served in the military and saw battle action know that how awful war is.

But I can assure you the US in its airstrikes over Iraq and Afghanistan did nothing like this to mitigate civilian deaths.  And as reported by CNN on Thursday just yesterday, “New rules meant to temper the civilian death toll from unmanned U.S. drones won’t apply in the fight against terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the White House says.” (http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/01/politics/wh-isis-civilians/index.html)

As we go after ISIS we will not pay attention to civilian deaths?  Where is the outcry now from the Arabs and the Palestinians? This is a double standard applied to Israel but not to others.

My friends, Israel needs your support. Supporting Israel doesn’t mean that you agree with everything Israel does. I too still believe that Palestinians should have their own land and that there has to be a freeze on building in the Palestinian territories.

But at what cost to Israel? Hope is fading quickly for a two state solution in Israel.  And this latest battle between Israel and Hamas will erupt again unless the world takes seriously the call to demilitarize Gaza.  Hamas wants there to be no Israel.  And it has already issued a call to arm again. It is building tunnels again. Even though Israel destroyed more than 32 tunnels that were dug under the Israeli border in order to attack and kidnap Jews. Which Hamas did during this latest exchange.  Israel foiled an attempt for a mass invasion.

The view from here in Los Angeles is very different than being on the ground in Israel.  The war between Israel and Hamas is no different that the war being conducted now against ISIS.  Hamas and Isis share much in common including core values one of which is a commitment to the destruction of Israel and Jews.  The country of Qatar has funded both Hamas and Isis as has Turkey both supposedly US Allies.  Turkey has refused to allow the US to use our Airbases there to stage attacks on ISIS. And both Turkey and Qatar have housed Hamas leadership and continued until today.  Who are our allies we must ask?

And let’s not forget Iran in this picture.  Iran and North Korea both have supplied Hamas with major military arms in particular the Fajir missiles, which are warhead capable. As well as other long range missiles. Imagine now if Iran gives Hamas nuclear material? What will happen to Israel? We cannot let Washington take its eye off of Iran. They still supply money to Hezbollah and Hamas. And when they attain nuclear weapons which is only a matter of spinning a few more centrifuges-they have the capability already-the world will have even greater problems as will Israel and the whole region. Because Saudi Arabia will not let Iran be the only power in the region with out nuclear arms—and they will acquire them as well.  This makes the whole area a greater powder keg.  What if ISIS then topples the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and obtains nuclear weapons.  It won’t just continue to behead Americans and Britains or the French or shoot Jews in Brussels. But now Israel’s story is not in the focus of the media.

Israel needs and will continue to need America’s support.  Syria as a country is gone. More than 2/3 of Syrians are refugees in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan or Iraq and another 4.25 million Syrians are displaced in what is left of Syria. My heart aches for the people of Syria. Isis controls a significant swath of both Iraq and Syria and even a part of Lebanon. Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria. Lebanon is weak.  Jordan is shaky and has Syrian and Iraqi refugees and Isis pounding on its eastern border.  Saudi Arabia is nervous because of Iran and Isis because it shares a huge border with Iraq. Turkey is worried about the Kurds and the truth is there is no more Iraq-Isis controls large sections and the Kurds another section.  The nations that surround Israel are either non-existent or on very shaky ground.  Already Israel said if ISIS makes more incursions into Jordan they will protect Jordan.  Israel is already treating Syrian refugees who come over the border with shrapnel injuries, missing limbs, and infections due to malnutrition and war injuries. More than 1200.

But this is a story you will never hear of at CNN. Israel’s humanitarian aid to Syrians and in Palestine and Gaza.  Even during the war this summer during the height of fighting between Hamas and Israel-Israel was shipping into Gaza for its citizens, water, food, electricity, gasoline, medicine and other basic necessities.  But no BBC reporter talked about that.

And yes, Israel has to stop building settlements. But at the moment, Israel cannot just simply walk away from the West Bank as it did Gaza in 2005 because if it does, Abbas will be toppled.  He is already 79 years old, smokes a pack a day.  Hamas will rule the West Bank and then the rockets and missiles won’t just be coming from Gaza but from Ramallah too. It is 12 miles from downtown Ramallah to Downtown Jerusalem.

The situation is complex.  Even more complex than time will allow me.  But there is something you can do about all of this.  GET INVOVLED.

Israel needs advocates.  Over the last number of decades as the Jewish birthrate has fallen off dramatically, we have become a smaller and smaller percentage of the American population.  We are less than 1 percent today.  And though you may live here in Los Angeles the second largest Jewish population in the United States-I want to assure that most Congressional districts in America have no identified Jews at all. Think for yourself-what Congressional district has a majority of Jews?  One in NYC?  One in Brooklyn? Maybe on the Westside of Los Angeles—the one Henry Waxman held all these years?  The answer is not even one! If we want America and Israel’s relationship to remain strong in the face of all these threats to our Jewish and Western values then we have to be strong for Israel in our political system—no matter which side of the aisle you are on.

Disagree with a policy of Israel, and make your voice known.   But at this time we cannot and must not as a Jewish community and lovers of Israel advocate to Congress to withdraw much needed funds that go to Israel’s protection from these everyday threats. Without the funds Israel gets from the US-there would have been no Iron Dome missile system that protected much of Israel. I saw it in action-and was saved by this miracle technology.  Israel still does not have enough Iron Dome batteries to protect the whole country.  It needs the US and its aid.

In truth the number of Jewish Senators and Congresspeople of either party is diminishing.  Israel needs each of us to become advocates for Israel there. If we want a strong Israel and we want to influence Israel to do the right things we need to make sure America and Israel’s bond remain strong. And we can do that by reaching out to not only California Senators and Congress People but those in other states. And by understanding and explaining Israel’s strategic importance to the United States, our long history of friendship, and the common values of true democracy, a free press, representative government, and value of human life that we in this room share together.

Even with all these problems. Israel has much to celebrate.  World class universities, and Arts and Culture. Israel has solved its water crisis through advanced desalinization technologies, which are being exported to California to help us deal with the drought.  Israel has more companies listed on NASDAQ than any other foreign country.  Israel has developed technology that will make paraplegics walk, cancer detection available to all easily, and is building the largest cyber center in the world in Beer Sheva that puts Israel on a par with the worlds biggest nations, China, Russian and the US! Israel is becoming energy independent with the largest Natural Gas field in the world—larger than the Saudi’s oil fields and will be able to supply many nations.

And yes, Israel has issues and problems. Just like here. Income inequality, treatment of foreign workers, the control of the rabbanut-that continues to exclude Conservative and Reform rabbis although with each passing month-more in roads are being made.  And Israelis are getting impatient as well.

So how to get involved? First I want to invite you to join me-at AIPAC’s National Policy Conference March 1-3 in Washington, DC.  Together we will lobby Congress on Israel’s behalf. It is the largest gathering of Israel supporters in N. America.  More than 15,000 people come there to learn more about Israel and its successes and challenges. The top people in government in the US address the plenum and the top people in Israel address it as well.  The latest technology and advancements are featured and then you are trained to advocate with your legislators on behalf of Israel.  It is energizing and amazing and the most bi-partisan experience I have ever had.  Information on the Conference is in your bulletin.  I want you to join me in this experience.
You can come to Israel with me. I am looking for a minimum15 people to head to Israel with me in mid June.  We will be meeting in October for an exploratory meeting.  If you are ready to go send me an email with the subject line I’m in. It’s been a few years since Kol Ami has traveled to Israel together.  But Israel needs our presence. We need to help Israel bounce back economically. And nothing will do that like our going to Israel.  We will sight see, meet experts, and yes, shop and we might even squeeze in a bit of relaxation on the beach!

There are lots of organizations that support Israel, Jewish  National Fund, Israel Bonds, and of course ARZA –the Association of Reform Zionist of America. If you aren’t already a member—it is only $36 dollars a year to support Reform Judaism in Israel. It is the largest support of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. It is also the largest support of the Israel Religious Action Center headed by the feisty and fabulous Anat Hoffman who has through their legal work-leads the way for liberal Judaism gaining equality in Israel, and battles for women’s rights at the Kotel, and help Bedouin women and girls get equal due in the Israeli education system.  Through ARZA membership we help create the kind of Israel we know can lift up the whole nation!

And then later after the first of the year will be the elections for the World Zionist Congress.  You will hear more from me then. But we will need each of you to vote in these elections because a large portion of money is allocated to the organizations and denominations in Israel that get the most votes. This is our chance with our votes at the WZO Congress to help shape a progressive and inclusive Israel in a direct way.

On this holy night of Kol Nidre, we have the opportunity to shape our future by atoning for the sins of the past. This year we ask for forgiveness for not being a stronger advocate for Israel and repenting by committing to do one of these things in the New Year to strengthen our Zionist resolve and strengthen the state of Israel to be everything that we have always dreamed it could be. Reflecting not only the golden sun on the hills but the golden ideals of peace, and friendship for all its citizens and residents. A shining example of Or’L’goyim –as our Torah teaches A light to the nations.  May this be our goal and may each of us help Israel to get there. Ken Yehi Ratzon.