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May 6, 2016  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Learn to be a Lover of Israel

By RABBI DANIEL TREISER Temple B’nai Israel, Clearwater

As a child growing up in the ’70s, I learned about Israel’s early history, both real and folkloric, in Hebrew school.

I knew the story of Israel’s brave chalutzim, the pioneers who settled the land. I learned about the War of Independence, the fight to give birth to a Jewish state. Some of my teachers could share their own memories of the miraculous victory in the Six Day War, or the narrow escape from defeat in the Yom Kippur War. But none of this really meant anything to me until 22 years ago, the year I spent living in Israel on the Federation-sponsored Otzma program. Living all over the country, interacting with many different segments of Israeli society, I began to appreciate Israel in a whole new light. I began a relationship that has grown and strengthened over the years: I became an Ohev Yisrael, a Lover of Israel.

What does it mean to be a Lover of Israel? The term is first used in the Talmud, to describe Moses, Joshua, even God, as those who love the people of Israel. Over the centuries, and especially in the 68 years since the establishment of the Jewish homeland, it has also come to mean someone who loves the Land of Israel and the State of Israel as well.

To be a Lover of Israel is to share a special relationship with her, knowing, almost innately, that Israel is more than a Jewish homeland, but MY homeland as well, even if I may not physically be there. A Lover of Israel feels a spiritual connection to her, appreciating that so much of what we do as Jews comes from our faith born in her hills and her deserts.

Like anyone in a relationship, a Lover of Israel thinks constantly about his or her partner, is concerned for the other’s well-being, interested in ensuring Israel’s health, vibrancy and vitality, and you would do all you can to support the partner.

And as is also true when you are in a relationship, to be a Lover of Israel means that, even if you love her, you may not always like what she does. When Israel takes a course of action that you think is dangerous, immoral, or just wrong, a Lover of Israel voices displeasure. It might sound strange to say that a Lover of Israel should criticize her.

For so many years, many have adopted an “Israel, right or wrong” approach. After all, Israel has more than enough enemies who think it can do no right. But if we truly want Israel to be the best it can be as a democratic and Jewish nation in the Middle East, then we must maintain an active voice of both support and concern.

There are so many reasons for us to be proud of the tiny Jewish state. She is a global leader in nearly every development sector. Israel is a beacon of democracy in a dangerous neighborhood, affording greater civil rights to women, the LGBT community and minority populations than any other nation. A vibrant art and cultural scene contribute to the world’s understanding of creativity. And there’s much more.

But there is also much for which we should be concerned. Israel’s political landscape makes it harder and harder to see a path towards peace and stability. The haredi ultra-Orthodox continue to maintain their hegemony over all religious matters in the Jewish state, effectively delaying, if not altogether killing, the recently won victory to create an alternative, egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel.

Though survey after survey of Israelis show an overwhelming majority favor moderate political views on nearly every issue, the government is forced to placate extreme right-wing factions to maintain a ruling majority in the Knesset. There is widespread income inequality, a growing immigrant crisis, and more. All of that is on top of the very real ongoing existential threats from Iran and neighboring countries, fading support in Europe, and attempts like the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement to erode financial, academic and developmental support here in the US.

Even with these challenges, as we celebrate Israel’s independence, it is essential that we maintain our strong bond with Israel. As Americans, Israel remains our strongest ally in a very dangerous neighborhood. And as Jews, Israel could not be more important to us.

It is the hope of returning to the land of our ancestors, of creating a home built upon our ancient customs that has kept our people alive throughout the centuries. It is the place to which we have turned our bodies and our hearts in prayer for countless years. It is the one place in the world where we can be sure Jews are welcome, are safe.

Like people in a loving relationship with whom we don’t always agree, Lovers of Israel must stand by her, even in tough times. And we need to let our partner know how we feel. Israel needs to hear from the American Jewish community that she must reclaim her role as a religious democracy, a country based not on strictures of one interpretation of the Torah, but upon the morals and the values of Judaism that we cherish, of respect for one another, of Klal Yisrael, an inclusive approach to all Jews, of protecting each person’s rights to individual freedom.

How can we do this?

First, we must stay informed by finding and reading news sources from Israel, and not filtered through American news agencies.

Second, speak out for Israel, through AIPAC, JStreet, or other Israel advocacy organizations.

Third, we can provide financial support of organizations that do work in Israel, be it through donations to Federation, the Jewish National Fund, Friends of the IDF, or denominational programs like ARZA (the Association of Reform Zionists in America) or the Masorti movement.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we must visit Israel. Travel to our ancient homeland. Explore the sites that make this tiny sliver of land one of the most beautiful, most interesting, most important places in our entire world. A trip to Israel is not a vacation for a Jew. It is a pilgrimage, an experience that will literally change your perspective on your relationship with the Jewish homeland, change your understanding of our faith and our culture, change your entire life.

We concluded our Passover Seders with the words, “Bashanah Haba’ah Bi’Yrushalyim – Next Year in Jerusalem.” On this 68th anniversary of modern Israel’s birth, may our hearts always be turned to Jerusalem, our thoughts and our prayers always for the wellbeing of Israel, a land where the Jewish ideals we cherish come to life every day.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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