Religious : : Thoughts from Our Rabbi

Last month marked 44 years since the terrible 1973 Yom Kippur war, an event that changed so much in the history of the State of Israel. For me personally this year is also 44 years since Sima & I met and left Israel together and came to the U.S. to complete my undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley. Looking back over that period of time, we
can see so much has happened in Israel, both for good and bad.

Israel has had all too many wars, too many terrorist attacks, too many false starts at peace and the assassination of a Prime Minister because of his stand regarding peace. On the good side, Israel has made peace with two neighboring states, Egypt & Jordan, has seen the fall of the Soviet Union, mass aliyah from the Former Soviet Union, and mass aliyah from Ethiopia. Yet for 40 years the basic problems and conflicts within Israeli society haven’t changed greatly. Israel is still conflicted over the question of peace versus territories. The social problems within Israel have not disappeared. Nevertheless we should not despair; we must never give up hope – Israel is too important.

The creation of the modern Jewish State was the most important event in Jewish history in 2,000 years. Israel is an unfinished work whose future has yet to be determined. Modern Israel was truly the culmination of the vision of Theodore Herzl described in his seminal work The Jewish State. In many ways that book can be seen as a modern parallel to the Torah of Moses. Both Herzl and Moses faced the situation of a people living in exile, without a land. Both had not only to perform the political work to allow our people to go free; they also had to prepare the vision of what life would be like in their new land. Moses’ ideas concerning the ideal society are embedded in our Torah.

Much the same situation was faced by Herzl in more recent times. Herzl saw the way in which enlightened nations of the world continued to hate Jews even after the emancipation. Herzl envisioned a better way for Jews to live: in a Jewish land in which Jews and Judaism would be a majority, where Judaism could flourish freely in creative ways. Herzl outlined a utopian society where the power of religious authorities was confined to the synagogue, where Jews lived together with non-Jews in peace and harmony, where there was equity, justice and honesty in government.

Obviously modern Israel has not fulfilled that vision any more than the vision of Moses was fulfilled. The gap between rich and poor is too great. The gap between Ashkenazim and Sephardim has yet to be closed. Ethiopians still face some problems of discrimination. The lack of equality between Arabs and Jews is still a problem.

And looming large the religious problem remains to be solved. The monopoly of the Orthodox rabbinate over religion, the Orthodox control of marriage and divorce and conversion is an infringement on religious freedom. Above all, the attainment of peace has yet to be achieved.

There is so much to do to create the society envisioned by Herzl; the same ideals enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Over the last 44 years the positive outweighs the negative. Today Israel remains the key place in the hearts and minds of most Jews everywhere. It is the only place where a Jew can live as a member of the majority. Now is the time for Israel in partnership with Jews outside of Israel to move forward and realize the great ideals upon which the state was founded. May peace come soon, yet in our lifetimes,

B’vrachot, blessings,
Rabbi Dennis