In recent months, several incidents, seemingly centered on Israel, sparked reactions nationwide, from both academic institutions and Hillels. I would argue, though, that these incidents have much less to do with Israel than we might think.
I never met Ariel Sharon personally, but I feel like I have lost a close friend.
In August 2004, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had stated his intention to evacuate the Gaza Strip. The decision elicited strong reactions from across the Israeli and American Jewish political spectrums.
Ariel Sharon is now buried in the land he loved, next to his beloved wife Lily, on a hilltop overlooking the verdant fields of Havat Ha-shikmim, the ranch he retreated to as often as possible each week for the peace and quiet that eluded him in public life. Having served as the American ambassador to Israel during almost all of Sharon’s tenure as prime minister, I had the privilege of being named to the U.S. delegation to his funeral, headed by Vice President Biden. It was a day for remembrance and, to some degree, closure for the millions of Israelis who mourned Sharon’s passing.
First the Pew survey, then the eulogies for Conservative Judaism. Compared with ten years ago, the absolute number of Conservative Jews has declined precipitously. It has the lowest retention rate among the three major denominations. Worst of all, only 11 percent of respondents under the ages of 30 define themselves as Conservative. But hold on.
Several incidents, seemingly centered on Israel, sparked nationwide reactions from academic institutions and Hillels in recent days. I would argue, though, that they have much less to do with Israel than we might think.
“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.”
— Susan Sontag, from “Illness as Metaphor”
Those who enter the kingdom of the sick often feel isolated, uncertain and fearful. Yet help is available to those who ask and who are open to a deep conversation about hope. As a rabbi involved in palliative care and hospice, let me tell you how my end of the conversation goes.
The upcoming observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Jan. 20, juxtaposed against the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, should cause us to reflect with pride on the inspiring role that Jews played in both the civil rights movement in the United States and the struggle for the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa.
This past year was a good one for Orthodox Jewish feminists, and the years ahead hold great promise. Last June, Yeshivat Maharat, which ordains women as spiritual leaders and religious authorities, graduated its first three “maharats,” as they are called. (“Maharat” is a Hebrew acronym for “manhiga hilchatit ruchanit toranit,” a female legal, spiritual and Torah leader.) More than 500 people, from all branches of Judaism, turned out for the ceremony in New York. In December, JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) held its eighth international conference, attended by more than 1,000 people in an atmosphere of exuberance and optimism.
In German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s fable of the porcupines, a group of animals were huddling together to shelter from the cold. Finding that they were pricking each other with their sharp quills, they moved apart, only to feel the cold again. And so on, back and forth, until they found it best to be a little distance from each other – not too close, and not too far away. Yet, notes Schopenhauer, a prickly character himself, “by this arrangement the mutual need for warmth is only very moderately satisfied.” That distance, transposed to human interactions, “is the code of politeness and fine manners, and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance.” In order to avoid each other’s barbs, in other words, we compromise on the intimacy we crave.