Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Thoughts About Israel on Tu B'Shvat

Dear Friends,

As the war between Israel and Hamas continues to rage, it is becoming increasingly difficult to watch the news unfold around us. While the IDF continues to fight against the terrorist infrastructure – every day uncovering more details about the labyrinth of tunnels, ammunition, and the lengths to which Hamas has plundered the resources of Gaza to implement its plans to attack the State of Israel and the international Jewish community, here in Denver – and, indeed, around the world, the noise of protest continues to grow louder and more strident. Many of these protests cross the line between criticism of the Israeli government and military and are focused on attacking the legitimacy of the Jewish State in and of itself. We are also experiencing a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism thinly disguised as Anti-Zionism.

In addition, the plight of the hostages in Gaza grows more dire every day as hopes for negotiated cease-fire that would guarantee their release seem far away. The number of casualties in Gaza – as reported by the Hamas-controlled health ministry – continue to grow and it becomes increasingly difficult to watch the cost in innocent lives – many of them women and children. The fact that Hamas has the ability to end this conflict (as, indeed they started it) by releasing the hostages and disarming seems to be irrelevant to the protestors around the world who can only paint Israel in negative tones.

Israel is now defending itself in a biased trial in the Hague where the horrific brutality displayed by Hamas is overlooked and Israeli military operations are portrayed as terroristic – in a Kafka-esque reversal of facts and narratives.

Meanwhile, the far-Right-wing Netanyahu government seems hell-bent on imposing its will upon a nation that overwhelmingly rejects its racist and self-serving attempts to reshape Israeli society in the image of a fundamentalist dictatorship. Many pundits in Israel see the current government doing all that it can to raid the coffers of the Knesset before they are ejected in new elections. But the current wartime footing of the nation makes it difficult to make any real electoral change.

The question of “what next?” after Gaza looms large in the minds of all who care about the future of the State of Israel. The hopes for a two-state solution grow smaller every day as the willingness of both the current government to hold it up as a goal and the lack of a true partner for peace within the Palestinian people continues to plague its supporters.

So how do we, as lovers of Israel and committed Jews, cope with the multitude of seemingly gordian knots that we face daily? Our own feelings of security are threatened by the increase in the numbers of hate-filled rhetoric and attacks that more and more are becoming the norm.

I don’t have answers to many of these questions – except to remind us that Jewish history is filled with periods of tension and insecurity. Those who are students of history understand why most of our Jewish ancestors fled the countries of their birth to come to America – the Land of Promise. Truth be told, despite the rise in anti-Semitism we are facing and the subsequent insecurity it has birthed within us, we still are incredibly fortunate to live in a time when we are not forced to be the only ones speaking up on our own behalf. We have many more allies than enemies. Our voices count and our friends have not all deserted us.

Today is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat – also known as Tu B’Shvat – the “birthday of the trees.” This holiday reminds us of the importance of the leafy canopy that surrounds us. Trees provide us with shade, oxygen, wood, food, and beauty. We can measure their growth against the sky, but it is what we do NOT see that truly should inspire us:  the miraculous anchors that sustain them – the roots that are planted firmly in soil – that keep them strong as they battle against the stormy winds of change and the seasonal upheaval that threatens their survival.

Our task, during these trying times, is to continue to focus on the roots of our faith and history. We cannot stop raising our voices and speaking truth to ignorance, hatred and racism. Like the trees that sustain and inspire us, may we, too find ways to dig deep and harvest the bounty of our faith, courage, conviction and history. It takes a long time for a tree to mature – some take decades until their full potential is revealed.  May we learn a lesson from their patience and progress.  I have confidence that we will prevail and that peace will come – maybe not tomorrow, or the day after, but soon.


Rabbi Joseph R. Black

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