It was a testimony to the influence and longevity of the life of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that the health updates on an ailing rabbinic leader were headline news in Israeli newspapers and broadcasts in recent weeks. Outside of haredi, or ultra-Orthodox circles, in which Rabbi Yosef played a prominent role for more than a half century, most Israelis have little interest in aging rabbis.
The results are in on American Jewish identity, and they tell us what we should have sensed by now: that particularly among the young, an increasing number are moving away from formal expressions of Judaism, marrying out, and not raising children as Jews.
Israeli and mainstream American Jewish leaders are deeply concerned, whether they say it publicly or not, that President Obama is being snookered by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive. And the stakes could not be higher.
At Kol Nidre services last week at Central Synagogue, the historic Reform congregation in Manhattan, Peter Rubinstein offered his last High Holy Day sermon as senior rabbi after 23 years in that post. He billed his talk “A Love Letter,” and in an emotional 30-minute address, he explained that it was being delivered “from me to each and all of you … and it’s about the legacy we have created together and that is now yours to carry on.”
The New York Times Sunday Review prominently featured a lengthy opinion essay this week, “Two-State Illusion,” asserting that the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead, and calling for Israel to abandon its core Zionist principles so as to free up Arabs and Jews to live together in newly realized harmony.
Officials in Jerusalem are not pleased or comfortable at being thrust into the center of an American political controversy over a possible U.S. military strike against Syria. There’s no doubt that Israel favors a strong response from Washington to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s evil use of chemical warfare against his own civilian population. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would prefer to stay out of the limelight, insisting, correctly, that this issue is not about Israel, which fortunately can defend itself against Damascus. It’s about the perception of America in the international community, and particularly in the eyes of Iran’s leaders, who are watching carefully to see if the world’s only superpower is willing to make good on its word to prevent “red lines” of non-conventional warfare from being crossed.
President Barack Obama boxed himself into a corner a year ago when he said the use of chemical warfare in the Syrian conflict would be a “red line” that would require a strong response. Now that time has come.
It’s the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech; the 100th anniversary of Menachem Begin’s birth; and the 5,774th anniversary of God’s dream and Adam’s birth. All are worthy of being “dipped in honey” this week on Rosh HaShanah.