I was leafing through the pages of several Jewish newspapers on my desk, and was struck that nearly every issue worth debating somehow revolved around Israel. Sure, there were other articles of interest, such as the Jewish-Korean family raising their children on “Kugel and Kimchi,” but none so interesting or heart-wrenching as whether J Street should be allowed into the local Jewish community relations council or whether the Israeli government should accept the parameters of President Obama’s recent State Department speech.
I recently had the privilege of participating in a two-day retreat organized by The Jewish Week and sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York, on the subject of being Jewish in New York. It was an extraordinary experience, on many levels. The organizers brought together a very diverse group of very smart, knowledgeable people and, in 48 hours, shaped them into a “community” deeply appreciative of that diversity.
How do some issues achieve “hurricane force winds” while others are barely noticed?
Take the current tectonic shift in demographics: In the past, population charts resembled pyramids with larger numbers of young people at the base and fewer elderly at a narrower peak. There were enough young people to support the aged.
Now there’s a radical shift: the pyramid’s sides are becoming even. It looks like a square with large populations in their 50s and 60s on top and surprising numbers above them.
It’s easy to dismiss the supporters of a November initiative in San Francisco to make it illegal to circumcise children. Like all true believers, these “intactivists” engage in junk science and exaggerated rhetoric about “male genital mutilation.” Further discrediting their cause, the movement’s leadership peddles virtually anti-Semitic propaganda, such as the comic book “Foreskin Man,” which reads like a sophomoric plagiary of a superhero cartoon, a racy Penthouse fantasy and Der Sturmer.
Two events in the past few weeks have reinforced my view of Israel as the unifying aspect of Jewish life in New York, while making me question its current status.
Scene One: This year’s Salute to Israel Parade. As I took my place along 5th Avenue, it was clearly evident that more synagogues and community groups than ever before took part in this year’s parade.
How do we make sense out of chaos? How do we reestablish order in our lives after everything has gone wrong? Perhaps more importantly, after everything has gone wrong, how do we muster the strength and purpose to commit ourselves to rebuild, to rededicate, and to look forward to a new day—a new life?
The Torah teaches us in Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—by loving the Lord your God...”
A recent article in Israel's Makor Rishon newspaper (identified with the conservative and national-religious element of the Israeli public) quoted a well-known New Jersey rabbi criticizing the foreign ministry for allegedly not being able to explain the Jewish right to Israel.
"They have a hard time explaining the right to Tel Aviv" he is quoted as saying. "They have no answers. They can't explain why we are here."
Today’s federation is not your grandfather’s federation.
It seems that every Jewish periodical I read expresses concern about the next generation’s commitment to Israel and our Jewish heritage. This was the focus of a Jewish Week op-ed (“Mentoring the Next Generation While We Still Have Them,” April 29). In this article, Rabbi Lawrence Zierler discusses what many perceive to be a struggle for the federation to “articulate a message to its future generations of potential leaders.”
Children sometimes ask, as mine did when they were younger, why, if there is a Father’s Day and a Mother’s Day, is there no Children’s Day. Although it’s not the response that I used, the classic one is that every day is Children’s Day.
Words matter. I’m thinking specifically about the brouhaha concerning President Barack Obama’s words to Benjamin Netanyahu and the prime minister’s response a few weeks ago. In his State Department speech, the president said that the borders of Israel and a Palestinian state “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” and went on to speak of “secure and recognized borders.”