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

#Israel at 65

This sermon was given Friday April 12, 2013 at Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood CA.

Israel at 65

Next Week we celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday!  Far from retirement-Israel is just getting started.  It is a nation in progress.  Who would have dreamt 65 years ago-from the grief of the Shoah and the grips of a World War, a glowing shining nation-state would arise in the lands of our ancestors.   Who would have thought that after 2000 years the age-old dream of L’shanah HaBaha B’yerushalyim would have manifested itself after centuries of longing, hard work and yes, war into the modern state of Israel? Medinat Yisrael.  So tonight we celebrate this miracle in our lives.

I am not ashamed to say I am a Zionist.  I grew up a Zionist.  Belong to Zionist youth groups like Young Judea, B’nai Brith Youth, NFTY and worked closely in college with  consortium of Zionist groups working on aliyah to Israel. But it is not fashionable to be a Zionist or pro-Israel today.

But as you know Israel is under attack.  Yes we know about Hamas and Hezbollah.  But Israel is facing even more difficult attacks in the BDS movement.  Perhaps you have heard about it.

The BDS movement sweeping across universities and in mainline churches such as the Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians is an anti-Israel movement that would urges divestment in Israeli corporations .  The BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT And SANCTIONS group is a Palestinian based organization that has been very successful in attacking Israel world wide.  Most recently the US Mennonite Church pledged to divest from any Israeli companies that are in its portfolio.

And only this week the Student Assembly at the UCSB,  University of California Santa Barbara voted down a proposal for divestment after the incredibly hard work of the Jewish students and Rabbi Evan Goodman who is the Hillel Rabbi there.

The BDS movement is strong across this country.

Fueled by lots of money from Arab countries including Iran the BDS movement has activated thousands of Palestinian and Arab students in University settings across the US. Academic communities including faculty in many of America’s and Britain’s prestigious universities have called for boycott of Israeli scholars, ended cooperation with Hebrew University and the Technion and Tel Aviv University, and some have stopped their year in Israel or semester in Israel programs. While others have urged divestment of University funds in Israel in protest of Israel’s lack of progress in peace negotiations.  The latest ploy is to bring Israel and its leaders up on charges in the International Court in The Hague  turning the imagery of the Nazis the greatest perpetrators of Anti-Semitism upon Israel itself.

As we gather to celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, we do so against this world background of increasing Anti-Semitism in Europe in Greece and Hungary especially as right wingers demonstrate in the streets and this surge of Anti-Zionist and Anti-Israeli fervor.  That is why Israel needs us more than ever.

As Jewish Americans our support of Israel should be paramount.  But let’s be honest for many of us there is a disconnect as well. We think that Israel ought to have settled its differences with the Palestinians. Perhaps it shouldn’t be building settlements on disputed lands.  Perhaps we have issues with the rabbinate there-that puts our style of Judaism, liberal Judaism on unequal footing.

Even this week as Women of the Wall led Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel as it has for the last 25 years on the morning of the new month. Five  leaders were arrested for wearing a tallit during prayer. But this time it was different. For the first time they were released by court order written of course of by a woman judge.  And after prominent American women rabbis were arrested over the last several months Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered Natan Sharansky head of the Jewish Agency to find a solution to the dilemma of prayer at the Western Wall which has been given over to the Orthodox as a synagogue.

In high level meetings with American Jewish leaders including Rabbi Rick Block president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Rabbi Rick Jacobs president of the Union for Reform Judaism, as wellas Conservative and Orthodox movement leaders, Sharansky unveiled a plan to create better egalitarian worship space at the Kotel.  This would include major renovations to the Robinson’s Arch area and the ramp that goes up to the Temple Mount controlled by the Islamic Waqf-religious police that control the Temple Mount.  But it would be a vast improvement over the present situation.  What is remarkable is that the Rabbi of the Wall Rabinowitz has agreed in principle to this compromise when President Peres called him this week to remind him that all Jews have a place at the Kotel and in Judaism.  The President of Israel stood up for pluralism and for you and I who live outside of Israel!

My friend at teacher Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit Halachmi who is on the staff of the Shalom Hartman Institute and will soon be a faculty member of Hebrew Union College-our seminary recalled in a recent article that:

in an address in 1956 on Yom Ha’atzmaut – (Israel Independence Day, in an essay later called “Kol Dodi Dofek – “The Voice of My Beloved is Knocking”) Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik – the Rav -taught about two kinds of covenant: a Covenant of Fate Brit Goral, and a Covenant of Destiny, Brit Yeud. For the Rav, the sense of a Covenant of Fate is based on the experience of our shared suffering, and this shared memory generates shared responses and the behaviors of mutual responsibility. A Covenant of Destiny, Brit Yeud, on the other hand, wrote the Rav, is one which emerges anew because of the rebirth of the State of Israel. Israel is an opportunity for the Jewish people to become actively engaged in shaping our future, rather than only responding to our past.

Because of the State of Israel we can now respond to the call of the future collectively and actively with a new consensus about our shared sacred purpose.

As Dr. Sabath Beit -Halachmi states:

But, if we are honest, we must admit that today Soloveitchik’s notion of a dual covenant -while inspiring – is at best [only] an aspiration. In fact, one might argue that while Israel unifies the Jewish community in times of crisis, on an ongoing basis its complex realities often confuse, distance and divide world Jewry. No single aspect of the Jewish reality today challenges Jewish peoplehood and the possibility of a Covenant of Destiny more than the realities of the State of Israel.

We learn from this and from efforts to stop the BDS movement. Israel needs us as much as we need Israel. Israel the land of our ancestors, Israel the glorious miracle is not without her warts and problems. But the Israel of today needs Jewish Americans to remind Israelis we are still One People even with our disagreements over religious practice. Israel needs us to help her continue to thwart efforts to delegitimize it.  Israel needs us to remind it of equality between men and women. Israel needs us to help it remain Jewish and Democratic and not succumb to fundamentalist trends. And  We need Israel because it shapes our Jewish identity.

As Rabbi David Hartman said in his book “A Heart of many Rooms” Israel is too important to leave to Israeli’s”

In most places in the world-even with full citizen ship rights- Jews are a very separate group.  In America-we have moved beyond for the most part the quotas and CCR’s that kept us from schools and certain neighborhoods.  We have integrated fully in this culture so much so that many through intermarriage, or emphasis on secularism have been lost to the Jewish people.  But Israel provides for many American Jews their thread of connection.

As we celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday this Tuesday, let us pray for peace for Israel and her neighbors.  Let us pray for Israel’s internal strength to thrive and remain a Jewish Democratic state so that the destiny of covenant will be the inheritance of us all.

After death…there is Life again

Parshat Achrei Mot/ Yom Haaztmaut

Leviticus 16:1-18:30

This week we celebrate Yom Hazikron and Yom Haaztmaut –Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers of the IDF and the next day Israel’s 64th birthday, Israel Independence Day.  Tuesday night and Wednesday day is Israel’s Memorial Day and Wednesday night and Thursday is Yom Haaztmaut-the celebration of Israel’s founding. These seemingly secular days are anything but secular.  The framework for understanding these days is a Jewish religious framework, a Zionist framework.  Israel’s founding moments is one of the most spiritual in the life of Am Yisrael.  Even for the secular Zionist who repudiated the rituals and Jewish law and observances of their fathers and mothers, Yom Haatzmaut is a fulfillment of the Jewish ideals of our people and a new life for our historical imperatives.

Israel is not just another country in the parade of nations.  But for the Jewish People, the modern miracle of the state of Israel is one of the great religious moments of our history.  The restoration of a national homeland for the Jewish People after the darkest moment of our people’s history, the Shoa, is more than just an event in a historical timeline.  The restoration of our National ancient homeland is a moment of pride and joy and spiritual renewal.  Even for American Jews and Jews throughout world, Israel’s 64th year of existence should be a moment of religious awe.

According to Rav Soloveitchik, the great Modern Orthodox thinker in his book Kol Dodi Dofek, the rise of the modern State of Israel is a reminder that God is knocking on our door.  God is trying to rouse us from our sleepiness.  Just as the lover in Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim) knocks on his lover’s door to trying to get her attention to greet him.
In a world where many assert the death of God especially in light of the Shoa, Soloveitchik reminds us the God is calling out to us.  It is our choice whether or not to answer the door.


Yom HaZikaron where we honor the deaths of the fallen IDF soldiers who gave their lives in defense of the modern state of Israel and the next day when we celebrate the miracle of the “Start Up Nation” we must see if we can answer the call to support the ideals of Israel whether or not we agree with any of its governments.  The very beautiful audacity of a Jewish Democratic state is a statement of God’s miraculous call to us to work for and support that reality.


This week’s Torah portion called Achrei Mot, after the deaths refers specifically to the death of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron who died when they brazenly tried to offer sacrifices that were not proscribed.   They violated the precincts of the Mishkan, the Holy Meeting Place and tampered with the new sacrificial system. This week our Torah portion reviews the sacrifices for Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, Day of Forgiveness. Aaron the High Priest and father of the two who died, must send a goat to Azazel with all of our sins placed upon its head.  For the ancient Israelites this was the way to restore their closeness with God and to be ready to answer God’s call again.

May we be ready to answer God’s knock on our door and may we celebrate and support Israel as the way we listen to God’s call to us!

The Sanctity of the land

Parshat Behar/Yom Haatzmaut

Leviticus 25:1-26:2

Parshat Behar teaches us about the cycles of the land. Specifically it teaches about the sabbatical year and the Jubilee year.  These are cycles of land rest every seventh year and every fiftieth year.  Just like Shabbat each week, the seventh day, when human beings and work animals are to rest, every seventh year the land is to have its own Sabbath.   It cannot be worked to produce grain or vegetables or fruit and must lie fallow.

Every fiftieth year, or Jubilee year the ultimate land redistribution plan is put in place and holdings revert back to original owners, according to the Biblical text.  “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me “(Lev. 25:23). We are not to get caught up in what we own because ultimately it will revert back to original owners of the land and every seventh year we won’t be able to even till the land gaining wealth from what it produces.

The Torah is trying to teach us that the land ultimately belongs not to human beings even the original owners but to God.  The Torah is dismissive of the idea of private ownership!  This even extends to the notion of slavery in the Bible.  For every Jubilee year all slaves were released! We are lent our property according to the Bible.  We cannot measure ourselves, or define our identity through our holdings of property.

The land of Eretz Yisrael is sacred in its own right.  The holiness of the land of Israel and our connection to it has always remained an important part of Judaism.  Our focus on the land of Zion as the fulfillment of God’s promise to our ancestors is actualized in Israel reborn.  This connection of our identity to God’s holy land was never lost. It was part of our prayers, our theology and our focus as a people to return to the land.

This week we observe the modern State of Israel’s 63rd birthday.  Israel and its people are at an important crossroads in its own young life.  Israel is still threatened by hostile neighbors, like Iran and Syria.  Yet, despite these threats Israel and Israelis thrive. It is a vibrant democratic Jewish state unlike any other place in the world.

The forces within Israel on the left and the right of the political spectrum exert great pressure. Israel is trying to define itself in the face of both outer threats and inner ones. There are policies of the government that seem so difficult to understand when we live in the relative safety of America. And in a country like the United States where there is a separation of synagogue and state.  It is hard to understand that Reform and Conservative Judaism don’t have full equality in Israel.  Even as many Israelis are completely secular.

But the identity of Israel is more than just an idea. It is tied to this sacred holy land.  And our Jewish identities are tied to this holy land. That makes all of us Zionists.  And while we might disagree with a particular policy of a standing government in Israel (Just as we might here in the U.S. disagree with the Congress or the President) our connection to the Land of Israel must remain strong.

So Happy Birthday Israel.

Number 63

It’s Israel’s Birthday.  Number 63!  Well the Modern State of Israel is 63 years old today.  It is Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day.  Of course Israel is 1000’s of years old.  It is an ancient land, the Promised Land of the Torah.  And it is 63 years since the revival of the political entity of a Jewish homeland!   That is what makes Israel unique. It is a Jewish Democratic State.  A Jewish majority.  A Jewish rhythm to the year, to the week.  Hebrew is the language not just of the Torah but of the People of Israel.

It is a beautiful country-beaches, desert, mountains, hills, green valleys and urban centers.  And it is a cultural center and Israel has a tremendous economic engine that drives not just Israel but the surrounding area!  It competes on the world economic stage.

Like every country, Israel has its challenges.  Both external and internal challenges.  And like every country its political realities.  But the recent movements and calls to divest from Israel as a way to force the state to settle with the Palestinians is to miss understanding the realities on the ground.  When you go to Israel and you go to Palestinian territories you understand the divide between developed nations and developing nations.  Between east and west. Between democratic institutions and no institutions at all.

Israel isn’t perfect.  Not by far.  But it is still the fulfillment of an ancient dream of our people.  May we salute her and help Israel fulfill its highest ideals.

Come celebrate Israel Independence Day on Friday, May 13 at 8 pm as we welcome Israel’s Consul General, Hon. Yaakov Dayan at Shabbat Services at Kol Ami (1200 N. La Brea Av, West Hollywood at Lexington Av)