Thursday, December 7, 2017

Reflections on President Trump’s Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital and the Proposed move of the US Embassy in Israel

My Dear Friends,

I write this reflection while attending the Biennial convention of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)-a gathering of almost 6,000 committed Reform Jews from across North America and around the world. 

Yesterday, our president recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As you can imagine, this statement has reverberated throughout the hallways, workshops and plenary sessions at the Biennial. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, URJ President, in a statement released immediately following President Trump’s speech, wrote:

“President Trump’s ill-timed, but expected, announcement affirms what the Reform Jewish Movement has long held: that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Yet while we share the President’s belief that the U.S. Embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process. Additionally, any relocation of the American Embassy to West Jerusalem should be conceived and executed in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.”

While I share Rabbi Jacob’s concerns about the timing, messaging and potentially dangerous impact of President Trump’s decision, I also cannot help but feel a sense of excitement. The moral, political and spiritual truths that are encompassed by this announcement resonate within the context of both my love of Israel and the fundamental beliefs that define me - as a rabbi, as a Jew and a committed Zionist. I have always viewed the deliberate dance that previous administrations have had to perform vis-a-vis the status of Jerusalem to be more than a bit hypocritical. To obfuscate around the reality that The City of Peace is, has been and always will be the Eternal Capital of the Jewish people is to set aside thousands of years of history. Jerusalem is embossed upon the hearts minds of the Jewish people. We pray facing Jerusalem. At the conclusion of our Passover seders we affirm: “L’shanah ha-baah B’Yerushalayim -Next year in Jerusalem.”  To walk upon the streets of Jerusalem is to immerse oneself in the fabric of our faith and the axis of Jewish experience.

And yet, despite all of the emotional tugs on my heartstrings when I hear the Leader of the Free World proclaim the truths that should be obvious to all, I cannot help but worry about the ramifications of our President’s statement.  While I have no illusions that the enemies of Israel are constantly on the lookout for reasons to condemn her, I also understand that the complexities of peace are not easily addressed by grandiose proclamations that pander to constituencies that hunger for something positive from the White House upon which they can hang their hats. If I truly believed that this change was the beginning of a cohesive and coherent policy that has a chance of paving a way towards peace between Israel and her neighbors, I would be shouting for joy. Unfortunately, the past months of this presidency have shown us that many policy decisions are not the result of careful analysis. The tendency of our leader to shoot from the hip in order to appease his base have cost our country a great deal of prestige and our diplomatic power is greatly diminished.  I fear that this gesture of dramatic change might very well serve to weaken, not only the United States, but Israel as well.

I hope that my concerns are unfounded and that this move might be positive.  I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong about this. I also understand that many, if not most of us, are confused and concerned about the immediate aftermath of this pronouncement.  If history is to be a judge, and if the shouts of hatred and calls for violence by Israel’s enemies are to be heeded, we could be in for a very difficult time over the next few weeks and days.  Time will tell.  

Now our sacred task is to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  I plan to write and speak more about this upon my return from the Biennial.

Shalom from Boston,

Rabbi Joseph R. Black