Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We've Arrived In Jerusalem!!! 3-28-12

March 28, 2012- Jerusalem
Dear Friends,

After a week of traveling together as a group, we have finally arrived in Jerusalem. Over the past 7 days we have covered a lot of geographic, philosophical, spiritual and intellectual territory. Our travels have taken us from the modern metropolis of Tel Aviv, to the pioneering spirit of the Negev, to the mystic streets of Tzfat and the beauty of the Galilee, to the majestic vistas of the Golsn Heights. We are physically exhausted, but spiritually exhilarated as we prepare to explore the holy city of Jerusalem.

It would take more time than I have to write this blog to share every detail of every day of our trip. To give you a small taste of our travels, I will share what we did today with you.

We woke up early at our kibbutz guest house - Kibbutz Lavi - in the Galilee and drove to the Golan Heights. We travelled up to Gamla - the site of an ancient Jewish comminunity from the Roman period and gazed down at the beautiful site of the oldest synagogue ever discovered in Israel. We learned about its significance to the Revolt against Rome. We then travelled thousands of years in time to Tel Saki - where we met with one of the true heroes of the Yom Kippur War - Nir Atir - who, in 1983, commanded a small group of Israeli Tanks - the 188th brigade - and was given the impossible task of holding off the Syrian Army until Reservists could come to fill the gap in the IDF's vastly outnumbered forces. Nir's story of bravery, valor, courage and loss was very moving. From there, we left the North and travelled up to Maaleh Adumim - a neighborhood outside of Jerusalem. There we met with a family of Ethiopian Jews who told us the incredible story of their painstaking journey from Ethiopia to the Sudan and Israel in order to fulfill their ancient dream of returning to their homeland - Eretz Yisrael.

From there, we travelled to Har Ha-Tzofim- Mt. Scopus - to get our first glimpse of Jerusalem and then we went to the Kotel (the Western Wall) as a group to experience it for the first time as a group - this won't be the last time we journey to the Kotel - but it might be the most profound. After leaving the Kotel, we checked into our hotel and had dinner on our own.

Some of you have expressed concerns about the upcoming "March on Jerusalem" scheduled for this Friday. For those who aren't familiar with this , it basically is an event organized by a consortium of sworn enemies of Israel - as well as a few mis-guided leftist extremists. Their goal is to organize a march on Jerusalem in order to call attention to the plight of the Palestinians.

I find it ironic that some of the organizers of this march - representing Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, to name a few, are THEMSELVES responsible for more misery for the Arab populace than Israel could ever dream. At the same time that thousands of innocent men, women and children are being slaughtered in Syria - just across the border from Israel, these activists are organizing a march for the rights of the Palestinians. Why is the Arab world so silent when it comes to Syria and so vocal when it comes to the Jewish State?

I have no idea what, if any impact this day may have on our plans this Friday - we will see. One important thing that we, as American Jews, can do in response is to participate in "Buy Israeli Goods" day this Friday.

Right now, I need to get some sleep, so I will end this rambling post here.

Shalom M'Yirushalayim - Shalom from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Joe Black

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Shalom From Israel: Reflections on the Toulouse Massacre.

March 20, 2012 - Kibbutz Tzubah - Near Ein Kerem, Jerusalem.

Dear Friends,

I write this post from Israel. I arrived last night - joining Sue at Kibbutz Tzubah - where she has been staying for the past week. As many of you know, our son, Ethan is participating in the Eisendrath International Exchange - a semester-long High School in Israel program sponsored by the Reform Movement. This past week has been "parents week." While I was not able to participate the entire week, Sue came to Israel ahead of me and I arrived for the last two days in order that we might see Ethan together.

On Thursday afternoon, our group of 45 Temple members will meet in Israel and we will begin our 10 day journey. I will try to post a few blog posts during the course of our trip for those who are interested in following our adventure.

I'm sure that by now you have heard about the tragedy that occurred in Toulouse, France. It appears that a racist gunman - as yet - unidentified - has murdered four Jews in cold blood at a religious school: 3 children and 1 adult. It also seems likely that the same gunman (or weapon) was used in the slaying of three "ethnic looking" French soldiers earlier this month.

Reaction here in Israel to this tragedy has been very public and very powerful. Two of the slain - children - have Israeli citizenship. But even if this were not the case, the cold blooded murder of innocent souls - merely because they were Jewish - would still be a cause of mourning and outrage. We have been there before.

Yesterday, Prime Minster Netanyahu blasted the United Nations because at the very moment that the world was digesting the horrible details of this tragedy, a representative of Hamas was addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

Speaking of the Hamas representative, Netanyahu said: “He represents an organization that indiscriminately targets children and grown-ups, and women and men. Innocents are their special favorite target....”

Israel is a very politically divided nation. It is rare that everyone here is in agreement about any issue - except this: Those who legitimize terror in any form are deceiving themselves. The only difference between that gunman in Toulouse and the agents of Hamas who fire rockets into Southern Israel is the fact that, in Israel, it is difficult, if not impossible to find easy targets due to the security measures that she has been forced to employ to keep her citizens safe.

Too many people around the world refuse to acknowledge this truth. Adding insult to the Hamas speech at the UN was the fact that the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton appears to have compared the actions of this murderous racist in France to Israel's defensive operations in Gaza. At a conference Monday in Brussels on Palestinian refugees, Ashton reportedly said, "When we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances -- the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy,and when we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway last year, we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and other places -- we remember young people and children who lose their lives."

This kind of obscene comparison cannot and will not be tolerated. The Israeli army is one of the most moral defense forces in the world. The fact that Israel is forced to defend herself against armed aggressors who will stop at nothing to kill her citizens means that occasionally unintended casualties occur during the course of operations. Hamas and it's compatriots deliberately place women and children in harms way in order to maximize the potential for innocent life to be lost. Time after time, when such casualties do occur, the IDF takes pains to investigate whether proper procedures were followed. If they were not, then those soldiers responsible are punished. What other Middle East nation takes such pains to ensure that justice is served? What other country is so concerned with due process? Israel is the ONLY stable, democratic state in this region. To compare the State of Israel to those who kill because of their hatred for Jews and Zionism is an obscenity.

It is for this, and so many other reasons, that we, as American Jews - as lovers of Democracy - must stand firm and show our support for the State of Israel. While I do not always agree with the policies of every Israeli government, I respect and defend the rights of Israel to live as a free, Democratic and Jewish state. Those members of our congregation who will soon be joining me and Sue will have a wonderful, life-changing experience. But we will also be showing our support and solidarity by our presence. I look forward to sharing our experiences with you - on this page and when we return.

Shalom M'Yisrael - Shalom from Israel.

Rabbi Joseph R. Black