With the kind of surprise that was his military trademark, Defense Minister Ehud Barak shook up Israeli politics on Monday with his surprise announcement that he is abandoning the Labor Party he led and creating a new faction, Atzmaut (Independence), which will remain in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A nation aghast at the horror of last week’s events in a Tucson parking lot understandably wants answers, and a nervous Jewish community has some special reasons for concern. Why did alleged shooter Jared Loughner target a Jewish congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)? What role did anti-government conspiracies play in his actions, and was anti-Semitism a motive? How was this young man, so obviously disturbed and deluded, able to buy the Glock semiautomatic handgun with high capacity magazine that was able to wreak such horrific violence in a matter of seconds?
One of Debbie Friedman’s most beautiful songs, “Lechi Lach,” reflects God’s telling Abraham and Sarah to go to “a place you do not know.” In her way, Ms. Friedman — Dina Leah bat Freydl v’Gavriel — did that for the rest of us, taking us to a spiritual place that few could have imagined, either as individuals or as a community.
She did it not only as a composer and singer but as a presence, a guide, a friend.
With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations back in the deep freeze, the past few days have seen a flurry of speculation about possible movement on the Israel-Syrian diplomatic front. Last month President Barack Obama appointed the first ambassador to Damascus since 2005. This week Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Presidents Conference, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, prompting speculation he was there at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
For all the talk about the decline of synagogue and organizational affiliation and the need to engage more people — particularly the young — in Jewish life, there are some remarkable success stories out there, and we can all learn from what they do well.
The good news about the incoming Congress is that support for Israel is stronger than ever. The pro-Israel community has good friends in the leadership of both parties; rank-and-file support for Israel’s quest for security in a hostile world is unquestioned.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges ahead.
Support for Israel’s $3 billion-plus in U.S. aid remains strong in both parties. But with pressure mounting on lawmakers to rein in a runaway deficit, the entire foreign aid budget will come under much tougher scrutiny.