Shana tova – Welcome to 5771!
As is my practice, I refrain from delivering a so-called sermon on Erev Rosh Hashanah. Instead, I prefer to share a story that has touched my heart or inspired me in some way, as I hope it will do for you.
A successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor. Instead of choosing one of his children, he decided to do something different. First, he called all the young executives in his company together.
Then, he said to them, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you.” The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued.
“I am going to give each one of you a SEED today – one very special SEED. I want you to plant the seed, nurture it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.”
One man, named Jim, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil, compost and he planted the seed.
Everyday, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their plants that were beginning to grow. Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing.
By now, all the others were talking about were their growing plants, but Jim didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure. Six months went by — still nothing in Jim’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn’t say anything to his colleagues; He just kept watering and fertilizing the soil and hoping. He so wanted the seed to grow. A year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for judging.
Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be just honest about what happened. Jim felt sick to his stomach, it was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right.
He took his empty pot to the board room. When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed, a few felt sorry for him! When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives.
Jim just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants you have grown,” said the CEO. “Today one of you will be appointed to take my place!”
All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the Financial Director to bring him to the front. Jim was terrified. He thought, “The CEO knows I’m a failure; he’s going to fire me!”
When Jim got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed – Jim told him the story. The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, “Behold your next Chief Executive Officer! His name is Jim!” Jim couldn’t believe it. Jim couldn’t even grow his seed; how could he be the new CEO?
Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead – it was not possible for them to grow. All of you, except Jim, have brought me vibrant plants. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jim, Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my dead seed still in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new CEO!”
So —- here are some seeds for all of us to plant:
* If you plant honesty, you will reap trust
* If you plant goodness, you will reap friends
* If you plant humility, you will reap greatness
* If you plant perseverance, you will reap contentment
* If you plant consideration, you will reap perspective
* If you plant hard work, you will reap success
* If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation
* If you plant faith in God, you will reap a harvest
So, be careful what you plant now; it will determine what you will reap later.
And so I urge all of us, to learn from the example of Jim, how to be true to yourself and to others. And may God help us in this task, and may we each be granted a good year, a healthy year, a sweet year, a Shana tova oo-metucha.
Again, L`Shana tova!
On the 2nd day of Rosh HaShanah, I usually chose to speak about Israel. I do so based on my belief that Israel is the anchor and a great source of strength for the American Jewish community. This year, on the topic of Israel, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.
First, the good news: On July 20th, addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York City, Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N, made the following statement:
The United States and Israel share a bond that is unbreakable. rooted in common interests and common values…While we may be living in times of uncertainty and great change, it’s worth again affirming an essential truth that will never change: the United States remains fully and firmly committed to the peace and security of Israel…That commitment spans generations and political parties. It is not negotiable, and never will be…
Let me repeat the key phrase from her remarks: “the United States remains fully and firmly committed to the peace and security of Israel… It is not negotiable, and never will be.”
Wow! You have to agreed, pretty powerful and positive words from a highly positioned individual in the Obama government.
But it gets better, President Obama, himself, also in July, after his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Oval Office, in his post-meeting remarks, stated: “the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. It encompasses our national security interests, our strategic interests, but most importantly, the bond of two democracies who share a common set of values.”
Yes, I’m aware that there are many in the American Jewish community that are leery of Obama’s commitment to the support of Israel, and yes, he is highly distrusted by the on-the-street Israeli, but there is no denying the power and support emanating from these two public statements that I have quoted from President Obama and Ambassador Rice.
OK, so much for the good news; now the bad news – oy, where to start?
New York Times, March 9, 2010: “Hours after Vice President Biden (during his visit to Israel) vowed unyielding American support for Israel’s security … Israel’s Interior Ministry announced 1,600 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem. Mr. Biden condemned the move as ‘precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.’ Prime Minister Netanyahu was clearly embarrassed at the move by his interior minister, Eli Yishai, leader of the right-wing, ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which has made Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem one of its central causes.”
The embarrassment of our VP makes one want to go like this [smack forehead] – what was Eli Yishai thinking? And, can’t Netanyahu control his coalition partners? Obviously not! It is clear that the path to peace will not be paved by a bull-dozer, but rather by face-face negotiations between the potential peace partners, which began last Thursday. But, for these talks to continue, it is clear that the freeze by Israel on new construction in the West Bank must continue past the current deadline of September 30th. It certainly does not help the process when Hamas declares these talks are illegitimate and the result of American coercion. And, in a deliberate attempt to undermine these talks, Hamas was responsible for the murder of 4 Israelis in the West Bank just last Tuesday. Nor will it help when this pastor from Florida, Terry Jones, throws oil on the fundamentalist pyre of Islamic terrorists by burning on the anniversary of 9/11 copies of the Koran! Nor does it help when Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, the former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of the SHAS party, states in a sermon on Shabbat Ki Tavo, just 2 weeks ago, the following incendiary remark: “May our enemies and haters come to an end. May Abu Mazen and all those wicked men be lost from the earth. May God smite them with the plague of pestilence, including all those Palestinians.”
“Abu Mazen is Mahmoud Abbas, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, the man who sat down across the table from Netanyahu to attempt to negotiate peace with Israel. Then there is this – [hold up Time Mag cover] – the Star of David, with daisies braided around in it, and in the center it reads: “Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” The article goes on to describe that Israelis care more about their upstart, hi-tech industry and their condos on the beach of Askekon, than peace. Ridiculous, yellow journalism – for 62 years Israel has pursued peace with its neighbors only to be denied time and time again by the recalcitrant Arab powers that be. Keeping the potential peace partners face – face is the true path to peace and security in the Middle East.
Then last May, in another deliberate effort to further demonize Israel in the international arena, came the Gaza alleged Humanitarian Aid Flotilla. In the aftermath, it is no longer important what was or was not on those ships, but as Charles Krauthammer wrote: “but even more important, why did Israel even have to resort to blockade?” He answers, “Because, blockade is Israel’s fallback as the world systematically de-legitimizes its traditional ways of defending itself – forward and active defense.”
Those of you who were here in shul the Shabbat morning while the flotilla was approaching the Israeli Naval blockade and before the boarding of the ships took place, heard me express my worry that no matter what happens, Israel would lose, would lose the PR battle. Oh, how I hate to be right! And, the cost, the cost of losing that PR battle keeps escalating.
In the June issue of the New York Review of Books appeared a controversial article by Peter Beinart, titled: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. Beinart’s article culled from studies by Frank Luntz in 2003 and Steven Cohen in 2007, and from recent events that show a dramatic down-shift in support of Israel from a significant demographic group, young, Jewish, non-orthodox adults.
Steven Cohen writes: “American Jews have long maintained a remarkable relationship with Israel…yet these feelings of attachment may well be changing, as warmth gives way to indifference, and indifference may even give way to downright alienation… and the distancing seems to be most pronounced among younger Jews.”
Frank Luntz surveyed American Jewish college students on their relationship to Zionism and found that “the only kind of Zionism they found attractive, was a Zionism that recognized Palestinians as deserving of dignity and capable of peace, and they were quite willing to condemn an Israeli government that did not share those beliefs.”
What in the world is going on here, and what does it mean for the future of Israel and American Jewery?
I, like many of you, consider myself an American Zionist and an ardent supporter of Israel. However, we “are largely the product of a particular era. (Most of us) were shaped by the terrifying days leading up to the Six-Day War, when it appeared that Israel might be overrun, and wiped off the face of the earth, and by the bitter aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, when much of the world seemed to turn against Israel. In that crucible, Israel became our Jewish identity. (We) embraced Zionism … before the 1982 Lebanon war, and before the first intifada. (We) fell in love with an Israel that was more secular, less divided, and less shaped by the culture, politics, and theology of occupation.…
But, (we) aren’t reproducing (our)selves. (Our) children have no memory of Arab armies massed on Israel’s border, and of Israel surviving in part thanks to urgent military assistance from the United States. Instead, (our children) have grown up viewing Israel as a regional occupying power. As a result, they are more conscious than (us) of the degree to which Israeli behavior violates liberal ideals, and less willing to grant Israel an exemption because its survival seems in peril. Because (our children) have inherited (our) liberalism, they cannot embrace (our) uncritical Zionism. Because their perceived liberalism is real, they see that the liberalism of the American Jewish establishment as fake.”
The reality of today, is demonstrating that Israel can’t rationalize her actions to our young adults based on the angst of victimhood. Indeed, as Beinart states: “this obsession with victimhood lies at the heart of why Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young. It simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or what they have seen of Israel’s. Yes, Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas. Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran. But the dilemmas you face when you possess hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto. The year 2010 is not, as Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed, 1938. The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce.”
Is Peter Beinart right? So hard to say, what is clear that the bull-dozing of Arab homes in East Jerusalem to build housing for the Orthodox right, the PR disaster of the Flotilla, and the recent attempt by Netanyahu’s coalition partners, the nationalistic Beitanu Party and Shas, the Ultra-Orthodox party, to change the Law of Return by allowing Israeli citizenship to only converts who strictly adhere to the orthodox interpretation of Jewish Law, continues to erode and undermine the support of young Jewish, non-orthodox adults. The only effective counterbalance has been BirthRight, but we cannot send enough of our young Jewish adults on BirthRight trips to make a difference, or at least not yet.
Besides the great success of BirthRight, there needs to be a Zionism that calls out with a greater relevance. And, it has to be a Zionism that has its roots in Israel’s Independence Proclamation, which promised that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as taught by our Hebrew prophets.”
Beinart gives a powerful suggestion on how to present a relevant Zionism to our young adults; you may or may not agree, but at least listen. He writes: “For several months now, a group of Israeli students has been traveling every Friday to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where a Palestinian family lives on the street outside their home of fifty-three years, from which they were evicted to make room for Jewish settlers. Although repeatedly arrested for protesting without a permit, and called traitors and self-haters by the Israeli right, the students keep coming, their numbers now swelling into the thousands. What if American Jewish organizations brought these young people to speak at Hillel? What if this was the face of Zionism shown to America’s Jewish young? What if the students in Luntz’s focus group had been told that their generation faces a challenge as momentous as any in Jewish history: to save – to save liberal democracy in the only Jewish state on earth?”
My dear friends, we face enormous challenges and unless they are met, there will be dire consequences. It is my fervent belief that the State of Israel, its very existence, its underpinnings as our national homeland, is essential to our very identity. We have much work to do to, not to just maintain the bonds but to build them stronger. I hope and pray that we have the courage, strength and ability to do so. We also must have hope – we must have Tikvah. Please rise for Hatikvah.