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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
If ever there was a perfect symbol of the failure of the United Nations to live up to the promise of its creators and to serve as a force for peace in the troubled Middle East, it was the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which degenerated into an ugly festival of Israel bashing and outright anti-Semitism.
It seems like a no-brainer; Palestinians can attain the state they crave only through a negotiated agreement that provides Israel the security it deserves. But that isn't stopping Palestinian leaders from roaming the world, seeking meaningless recognition from feckless governments interested more in currying favor and lashing out against Israel than in contributing to an equitable solution.
When the incoming Congress and the Obama administration start zeroing in on complex, politically charged issues of taxation and government spending, there is a very real danger they will look for political easy ways out — which, if history is a guide, means heaping most of the burden on the nation's most vulnerable citizens.
Perhaps the only positive aspect of the religious ruling made last week by 39 prominent rabbis in Israel — some of whom are state employees — banning the sale or rental of homes to non-Jews, aimed primarily at Arabs, was the major backlash against it. A number of Israeli colleagues and more than 750 diaspora rabbis, mostly from the U.S., spoke out against the ban as discrimination and, in the words of the diaspora petition, “a painful distortion of our tradition.”
We’ve become almost numb to revelations about President Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitism and the climate of bigotry he created at the White House, but last week’s release of still more White House tapes was something different: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a Jew whose family fled Nazi Germany in 1938, was heard offering the most callous imaginable assessment of U.S. policy toward those Soviet Jews who were also seeking freedom from tyranny.