Friday, July 31, 2015

Eichah (How?). A poem for the bloody aftermath of two Jewish terror attacks.

In the past few hours, news of two horrific terror attacks in Israel have emerged. In the first, a crazed haredi (ultra-orthodox) man armed with a knife charged the same Gay-pride parade that he had attacked ten years ago- a crime for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Just a few days after his release, he repeated his crime. Six people were gravely wounded.

The second act of terror was perpetrated in the Palestinian village of Douma.  Firebombs were thrown into the home of a Palestinian family. An 18 month old baby was murdered in cold blood while words of "revenge" were painted on the side of the home.

Eichah (How?)

How can a city just sit?
Weeping copious tears while white-clad sanitation workers diligently sweep up the rainbow blood of her children?
Four thousand years ago, another man with a knife walked these streets with his wood-bearing son.
He, too raised his fist in passion, but an angel descended to soften the blow and disable the devouring knife.
And just a stone's throw away in another village, screams and horror echo off charred walls.
There are no angels anymore.
Only passion
And hate
And solitary weeping.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Two Videos of Israeli Religious Life - One Beautiful, One Upsetting

Dear Friends,
Several people have asked that I post the video I took on Rosh Chodesh Av, 5775 at the Kotel where I was attacked by Ultra Orthodox, Haredi thugs simply because I and seveeral of my colleagues dared to pray with and and protect Nashot Ha Kotel - Women of the Wall.  If you listed carefully, you will hear one of the older men calling me a "Nazi" and "Your name should be blotted out!"
It should be noted that these disgusting people do not represent all of Judaism in Israel - far from it!  I've also posted a short video from Kabbalat Shabbat at the Jerusalem Train Station where hundred of men, women and children danced with the Israeli singing grop, Navah Tehillah.  There was a lot more holiness at the train station than at the wall......

Being Attacked by Ultra Orthodox thugs at the Western Wall
Welcoming Shabbat With Navah Tehillah at the Jerusalem Train Station

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Israel and the Iran Agreement - Separating the Personal from the Political

Dear Friends,

I write this post from a sidewalk cafe Tel Aviv - the day after our AIPAC Rabbinic Mission has ended.  Most of our group has returned to the States and I am staying a few extra days to rest,  gather my thoughts, and visit with friends and family.  I have travelled to Israel at least 20 times - it's hard to count.  I have come as a student, a tourist, a pilgrim and a group leader.  I have been in Israel for happy occasions - to celebrate weddings and births, to officiate at B'nai Mitzvah ceremonies, to teach and to perform my music.  I have lived here as a student and visited during times of war and times of peace.  Each trip has had its own unique characteristics, but  this one was different.  I was honored to be part of a select group of "progressive" rabbis from across the country - 19 in total - invited by AIPAC for high level briefings at the Knesset and with political, religious and cultural thought leaders.  During our week together, my colleagues and I were exposed to parts of Israel that I had never seen before.  We experienced great beauty and creativity as well as some very disturbing and ugly realities.  Contrary to what one might think about a trip sponsored by AIPAC, we saw multiple aspects of society - from  members of the Palestinian authority in Ramallah to the most right-wing members of Knesset.  We visited with the leaders of the Settlements, with peace activists and members of the LGBT community.  We were given high-level security briefings by the IDF and stood on the Northern borders of Lebanon and Syria as the civil wars that have ravaged both of these countries literally played out in front of us.   We travelled to a hospital in Tzfat that treats wounded men, women and children who fled from the carnage of the Syrian civil war and visited too many other places to be able to list them all in this post.

Of course, a main theme and overriding concern of our trip was the Iranian Nuclear agreement that was signed as we were en-route to Israel.  From the moment we landed at Ben Gurion Airport, the historic and potentially pivotal nature of this agreement was foremost in everyone's thoughts.  Israel, as you know, is a very diverse society.  There are multiple political perspectives that every Israeli is happy to share with anyone who will listen.  The last election took a powerful toll on the social fabric of Israeli society.   And yet, as poll after poll indicates, the majority of Israelis  - on the left and the right - feel that this agreement poses an existential threat. The specter of a Nuclear Iran is frightening.  In addition, once the sanctions are lifted and the frozen assets (conservatively estimated to be at least $100 Billion) are released few doubt that Iran will use this infusion of assets to continue to exert its influence on the region and support Hezbollah, Hamas and other enemies of Israel and other moderate Sunni States.

This having been said, we were traveling, not as Israelis, but as American Zionists.  The question of how we, as an American Jewish community, should respond to the agreement is both complex and emotional. It is clear from what I have read in the press and what many of you have individually  conveyed to me that our community is divided.  Passions are inflamed on all sides and the calls for both condemnation and support of the agreement are forceful and compelling.

We are caught in a maelstrom of conflicting perspectives that has the potential to drive a wedge - not only between Israel and American Jewry but to cause serious damage within our community itself.  Whatever our own opinions might be about the agreement, it is vitally important that we not allow our legitimate concerns to become personal.  This is about policy - not personality.  There are some  who will attempt to use fears about Israel's safety to demonize those in our government who worked hard to bring us to this point in time.  Others may accuse those who oppose the agreement of using fear tactics to manipulate us into taking an extreme position that will drive a wedge between the current administration and the Jewish people. When we attack one another, we run the risk of hurting the fabric of our community and, in doing so, damaging the vitally important relationship that we hold with Israel. Debate is essential - but so is dialogue.  We must not only share our individual views, but we also must listen to one another with respect and love.

I will conclude this post with a picture of the cafe in which I began to write this post.  As you can hopefully see, in spite of the intensity of the situation, life goes on and thrives here in Tel Aviv and throughout the country.  Israeli society has learned how to separate between political debate and personal feelings.  We can do no less.

I look forward to speaking with you this Friday night after shabbat services.  In the meantime, I intend to enjoy every last second I have in this country that I love.

Shalom from Israel!

Rabbi Joe Black

Friday, July 17, 2015

Two Videos From Israel

Friends - I'm hoping to write a new blog post about all that I am experiencing on my trip to Israel with AIPAC's  Educational Foundation.  In the meantime, here are two videos that I have recorded.

Shabbat Shalom From Jerusalem!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Shalom From Jerusalem!

Wednesday, July 15 - 5:23 PM

I write this post during a brief "hafsaka" (break) from an intensive 1st day of travel.  I am participating in a mission of American Progressive Rabbis sponsored by AIPAC's educational foundation.  There are 18 colleagues from around the United States traveling with me.  The goal of the trip is to provide us with opportunities to dialogue with political and thought leaders within Israel.
If the past 24 hours are any indication of the pace of our journey, I will be both overwhelmed and exhausted upon my return next week.  Last night, after a long flight from Newark, we arrived in Israel, checked into our hotel and began our conversations with Denver native and Jerusalem Post political corespondent, Herb Keinon speaking on the topic "What's on the Mind of Israelis?"   Of course, everyone is thinking about the Nuclear Accord reached with Iran.  The general view from all sides of the political spectrum is a sense of nervousness in regards to this issue.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has made several bold statements during the course of the last 24 hours regarding Israel's concerns and condemnation of the accord but most people view this as political positioning.  It will take some time to see how the Israeli government will react.  The hard truth is that the United States is Israel's strongest and most faithful ally.  Disappointments aside, the ties that bind us are strong and they will remain so in the future.  One of the key points that we need to focus on is that the differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are political - not personal.  Bibi has made it clear that he views his legacy as preventing Iran from getting the Bomb.  He feels that this accord is in direct opposition to his core values.  As such, he will fight it whenever and wherever he can.  I hope that we will not see a repeat of what happened last March when he spoke to the US congress and, in the process of doing so, endangered the vital bi-partisan nature of congressional support for Israel.

This morning, during breakfast, Dr. Sam Lehman Wilzig, a political science professor from Bar Ilan University spoke to us about the current political situation in Israel.  Netanyahu's 61-seat coalition majority is, by all accounts fragile and ready to fall at any minute.  It is for this reason that outrageous comments about Reform Jews such as the one uttered by Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay that "Reform Jews are not Jews..." will not result in any punishment or censure.  Azoulay is a member of the Utra-Orthodox Shas party and Netanyahu cannot afford to lose even one seat.  His coalition is so fragile that even when it was disclosed that another member of the coalition is under inditement for providing prostitutes to clients at a Bulgarian casino, there was little, if any punishment of consequence.

After breakfast we travelled to the Knesset where we met with MK's from the United List (Arab),  Kulanu (Centrist) and Likud (Right) parties.  In the afternoon we travelled to the Israel Democracy Institute where we learned about new initiatives for badly needed electoral reform and current polling trends in Israeli society.  We ended our day's discussions with a fascinating and sobering dialogue with Mohamed Darawshe - an Israeli Arab who has been on the forefront of dialogue and bridge-building between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel for a long time.  Mohamed talked to us about the sense of abandonment that most Israeli Arabs feel - not only from the current, far-right government, but also from previous administrations who have never lived up to the promise of freedom and opportunity for all of Israel's citizens that was written into the 1948 Declaration of Independence.  

Each of these intense discussions reflected the unique perspectives of the individuals and political parties with whom we were engaged.  This is a difficult time in Israel.  And yet, despite the tension, it is a joy to be able to walk the streets of Jerusalem and participate in the vibrant democracy of the Jewish State.
I look forward to sharing more details with you in the days to come.  I also will be discussing my trip after Erev Shabbat Services on July 24th at Temple.

Shalom From Jerusalem!

Rabbi Joe Black