The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, March 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 8

25 years ago, when the Birmingham Temple was established, the state of Israel was quite new, only 15 years old. New paragraph. It did not control the West Bank and Gaza. Its population was overwhelmingly Jewish. Its ruling Elite was overwhelmingly sector. It’s Orthodox Church few in number and politically insignificant. It’s government was liberal and open-minded. Is the Army was a Defense Force, not a police force. 

For American choose Israel was a utopian state were blond cortical cool sabra’s work the land and live the ascetic life of idealistic Pioneers. It was also the quote on Middle East who’s Brave Army has driven away Wicked Arab aggressors and whose citizens live with the memories of the Terrible Hulk cost. There was a pure moral or at Israel they had her many friends throughout the world acknowledged and admired. 

The times have changed. Israel of 1988 is not the Israel of 1963. Its population is almost half hour. Its ruling Elite pretends to be religious. Orthodox Fanatics are great number and politically powerful. It’s government is conservative and intransigent, and its Army has been turned into the police force to control civil disorder. 

American Jews are not as comfortable with the Israel 1988 with the Jewish state of the 60s. The recent riots in the West Bank and Gaza and the military regression repression of Arab descent – beatings and all I sent him medicine comfortable. Since December the news from Israel has become embarrassing. 

So how do Americans use deal with this discomfort? Do they publicly berate the government of Israel and cyst on a change of policy? Do they withdraw their financial support until the government assumes are more moral and less embarrassing pasture or, in the face of adverse public opinion, do they continue to defend and support the decisions of the rulers of Israel? 

The American Jews who counseled solidarity with Israeli government resent the following arguments. 

Number one who are we to judge Israelis on the safety of our American Haven? Israelis know best what is needed to preserve Law & Order. 

Number to Israel is not a perfect democracy. But it is far superior, in terms of personal freedom, than any Arab or Muslim state in the Middle East. Comparing Israel to America is inappropriate. Number three repression is unavoidable, since the Palestinian leadership will not recognize the right of the Tuesday to exist. You cannot negotiate with people who will not negotiate. 

Number for Israel has been at war with the Arabs in the Arab States since 1948. What is morally unacceptable in peacetime maybe come and unavoidable necessity of War. 

Number 5 Israel stands alone, with only the sport of the world Jewish people to Reliant. If America to the legions of anti-semites who seek Israel’s destruction. American Jews cannot allow the weakening of the Jewish State and the second Holocaust that would follow. 

How would we as human is to choose respond to these parking is? 

Number one the main reasons to Israeli government policy is from the Israelis himself. Thousands of years wheels of Israeli subject to the present progressive policy and have organized massive public protests. There is no single Israeli position. American Jews who support the opposition or supporting Israelis. If we judge the military repression adversely, we are only at going judgement of many citizens of Israel. 

Number to there is no doubt that is really democracy is far superior to any democracy that presently exists in the Middle East. But that democracy only applies to the Jews and Arabs of quote-unquote old is real. It does not apply to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza remain in a permit disenfranchised population. In occupied territories Palestinians are no better off than Kurds in Iraq. The government is military, not civil. New. number three it is true that the pill has not officially recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist. But, then, neither has a Jewish state recognized the right of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to have stated their own. The first will only happen if second does. The give-and-take must be neutral. 

Number for if it is true that the Israelis and the Palestinians artwork, and Palestinian terrorism is Justified as an instrument of War. One cannot be at War when it is convenient and at peace when it is not. New pier number 5 American Jews who speak out against the present policy and Military Prussian status quo means by the Shamir government are not seeking to weaken Israel. They’re seeking to strengthen it. And Israel, happy hour with will ultimately be destroyed by its own internal dissension. 

Only an Israeli government brave enough to negotiate the return West Bank and Gaza to Arab hands will rescue the Jewish State. Those who truly love is real I’m not afraid to speak unpleasant truth when they survive or there for a lot of it is at stake. 

In 1988 Israel still very close to the hearts of American Jews. But is no longer the infallible Paragon of Jewish virtue. It has problems. And it needs both financial and moral help to sell them.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, January 1998, Vol. XXXIV, Number 6

Tel Aviv is the place to be at the beginning of October 1998,  especially if you are a Humanistic Jew. The seventh annual conference of our International Federation will convene in Israel’s biggest and most secular city. 

There are many good reasons for us to hold this important meeting in Tel Aviv. This coming year all of Israel and all the Jewish world will be celebrating the fiftieth birthday anniversary of the independence of the Jewish state. In May 1948 David Ben-Gurion proclaimed that Israel was a sovereign republic. The place of that Proclamation was not Jerusalem but Tel Aviv, the city invented by Zionism. Coincidentally, Zionism is celebrating the Centennial of its creation in Basel in 1897. Two important anniversaries coincide and dramatize the centrality of Israel in contemporary Jewish life. 

In 1994 we held our conference in Jerusalem. But that city has been taken over by the ultra-Orthodox and aggressive ‘black hats’. Tel Aviv remains the center of that secular Hebrew culture which, over the years we have come to identify with the Israeli world. Today that secular culture is threatened by the ambitions of an arrogant Orthodox minority, who, in collusion with a nationalist government that values power over Integrity, is seeking to establish a new Israeli culture. This new culture would find its roots in the restrictions of traditional Judaism and in the political supervision of traditional rabbis.  

Secular and humanist Jews need to resist this betrayal of the Zionist ideal. We have to stand in solidarity with our secular brothers and sisters in the Jewish state to announce our united opposition to creeping the theocracy and to mobilize our forces to offer resistance. The Tel Aviv conference will be an opportunity for Israelis and Diaspora Jews, who value humanism in Jewish life, to make a public and dramatic stand. We want many members of our Temple and our movement to be present, so that our combined voices will be heard.  

These are traumatic times for the Jewish State. While the economy continues to perform well, fueled by privatization and foreign investment, the morale of the Israeli public is low. The peace process has collapsed. The ‘civil war’ between the secularists and the orthodox is hotting up. Public opinion all over the world is turning hostile. The government of Bibi Netanyahu is bumbling and ineffective, humiliated by scandal and despised by the leaders of its own political Coalition. Both liberals and conservatives are depressed in the absence of pragmatic direction. 

There are many dangers, which Israel now confronts. 

The American government is angry. Clinton refused to meet with Netanyahu when the Prime Minister visited the States. Albright is visibly annoyed with the Israelis (sic) refusal to abide by the Oslo peace agreement. America is losing its support in the Arab world by its obvious refusal to punish Israel. With the crisis in Iraq that support is indispensable. The alliance with America is not trivial for the Jewish State. Endangering the connection is self-destructive.  

American Jewry is also angry. The government backing of its orthodox allies in their attempt to delegitimize Reform and Conservative conversions has created tension between Israel and its most powerful Jewish supporters.  Most American Jews are not orthodox (sic). They have been insulted by this provocative ‘slap in the face’. The collective power in America is the reason why the United States supports Israel above and beyond its strategic interests. Alienating American Jews is another foolish act of self-destruction. 

Secular Jews and Israel are experiencing the intrusion of orthodox (sic) demands more and more. Neighborhoods and towns, which were historically secular, have now been taken over by orthodox (sic) ‘invaders’. Confrontation and violence are undermining the sense of belonging that secular Jews have felt since the beginning of the Zionist venture. The ‘black hats’ are taking over the state that the zionists (sic) created. Jewish Israel is being divided into two opposing and hostile camps. 

Immigration is getting matched by emigration. Many secular Jews are leaving an environment, which has become unfamiliar and uncomfortable for them. While the exodus is still small, it is a sign of a growing frustration among Israelis with the new religious militancy. The old Ashkenazic elite are discovering that they are now a minority in a population that finds no problem in mixing rabbis and government. 

Moderate Arab states are turning away from Israel. They are covering their bets by cultivating the opposition. Strident denunciations of Iraq and Libya are vanishing. Invitations by Iranian conferences are accepted. Israeli security depends on friendly Arabs on the Israeli border. Neither Egypt nor Jordan wish to be seen as the friends of the enemies of Palestinian independence. 

All of these developments are troubling to secular Zionists throughout the Jewish world. The Jewish state is the most important creation of the Jewish people in the last nineteen centuries. It has helped restore Jewish dignity. It has rescued hundreds of thousands of Jews from persecution and humiliation. It has provided a vital center for the development of Jewish culture. It has revived the Hebrew language and turned it into a major vehicle for Jewish expression Jewish identity. It has demonstrated the power and vitality of the Jewish people. 

It is important that Israel survive (sic) -and that it survive (sic) as a liberal democracy. We are going to Tel Aviv in October 1998 because we believe that Israel’s survival needs a stronger and more powerful secular and humanistic voice. 

Please join us. You will experience the beauties and wonders of the land and the people. You will study with top Israeli professors and scholars who will take you on personal tours of historic sites in Jerusalem. You will meet dozens of humanistic brothers and sisters who need to experience the strong support of the Jews of the Diaspora. You will discover both fun and inspiration. Above all, you will feel that you are doing something important to guarantee a humanistic future for the Jewish State.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, January 1989 Vol. XXVI Number 6

George Bush will be our next president. What does it all mean? 

Or, more precisely, what messages did the election give to the American people onto the president -elect himself? 

The election campaign was a “dirty” campaign. The real issues were ignored while Willie Horton and the Pledge of Allegiance dominated the headlines. And undertones of racism were apparent in the consistent attempt to identify the Democrats with Jesse Jackson and the blacks.  

Bush did not win the election because of his personal charisma or extraordinary skills. Nor did he win because of the peculiar ineptness of Michael Dukakis. His victory was due to the public belief that the Reagan years meant prosperity and that he was the chosen successor to carry on the Reagan formula for economic success. The mantle of the ever-popular Reagan was his greatest asset. It is highly doubtful that any Democrat would have been successful in persuading American voters to “change horses in midstream.” 

But Bush was assisted by other factors than Reagan. His campaign managers, especially Jim Baker, were brilliant. They recognized that the issues of crime and patriotism were more important to the American public than the real issues of deficits and trade and imbalance and programmed their candidate to play them for all that they were worth. And the never articulated identification of the Republicans is the party of the whites was no mean boost. 

Bush confronts many serious problems as he assumed the presidency. Not only does he face the fact that the growing national deficit threatens the economy with imminent ruin. He also has to deal with the domestic issues of drugs, environmental pollution, healthcare and educational subsidies – as well as the foreign policy issues of disarmament, Central America and the Middle East. During the campaign he never provided any real indication of how he would deal with these problems.  

His diverse constituency presents another headache. He has to maintain a balancing act among the diverse groups that supported him. Satisfying economic conservatives, social conservatives, anti-communist and libertarians simultaneously is no mean feat. 

So what is the message of the election? 

The election confirmed the fact that the presidency has become Republican preserve. It has become increasingly more difficult for Democrats to win the presidential race. From Roosevelt to Johnson the White House was chiefly Democratic territory. But Nixon reversed that political tradition. Now the Democrats are the underdogs who always have to try harder. The South, which was once a secure base of the Democratic party, has now become a Republican preserve. In fact the Democrats no longer have any secure presidential base except in the dispersed black (sic) population. America is now condemned to divided government-a Republican president with a Democratic Congress. 

The election revealed that the country is not ready for an ethnic president. The Republicans, true to their Anglo-Saxon tradition, pick two impeccable WASPs to represent their position. In the South and in the West these American credentials are still significant. 

The election proved that the Democrats are “liberals” even when they do not want to be. No matter how hard Dukakis tried to avoid the label, he finally had to own up to it – even though it was humiliatingly too late. The message to the Democrats, at least in the presidential race, is to own up to their liberal traditions and to make them attractive. Trying to pose as conservatives with better management skills does not work, even if it is true. 

The election manifested the changing nature of the presidency. As a media phenomenon, the president has to be designed and trained. He is less and less an autonomous leader with a mind of his own. He has become the invention of campaign advisers and media consultants who write his speeches, create his slogans and determine what opportunistic twist his ideology should take. Bush is the prisoner of his staff and will continue to be after his inauguration. Undoubtedly, Jim Baker will share the presidency. 

The election has some very special and important messages for Bush. 

It reminds him that most of his constituency-including his yuppie supporters-voted for his economic program and not for the social program of the religious right. The power of the fundamentalist crazies was not as great in this election as it was eight years ago. 

It tells him that the choice of Quayle hurt him. His victory would have been more overwhelming had he not committed the blunder of choosing the Indiana lightweight. The best service he can perform for the American public is to keep Quayle either unemployed or busy with trivial ceremony duties – and, above all, refuse to die. 

It warns him that his victory was hardly a mandate. Congress remains solidly Democratic. Both domestic and foreign policies, if they are to work and not to be trapped in stalemate, need to be bi-partisan. If his old moderate and conciliatory skills return – and his recent staff and cabinet appointments seem to indicate that – important bridges of cooperation can be built. 

Above all, the election reminds him that peace is very popular. Gorbachev rescued Reagan from the disaster of Irangate by handing him the gift of detente and disarmament. Republican popularity is now tied to an appropriate response to Gorbachev and the peace initiative. Only the hard-core anti-communists still want to hear Cold War rhetoric. 

In fact, Bush, like Reagan, enjoys the good fortune of mazzel. He has been elected to the presidency at a time when the old big power confrontations are beginning to disappear and when peace is breaking out all over. If he takes advantage of his good luck, he may end up presiding over one of the most significant presidencies of this century. He will never thank Gorbachev for his mazzel. But he ought to.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, January 1983, Vol. XX, Number 6

1983. It’s our 20th anniversary year. 

In July of 1963, the idea of the Birmingham Temple was born. In September we held our first meeting. In November we were chartered. 

Some said that we would never last. But we lasted. And we grew stronger. And we helped to create sister congregations in other communities. 

What did we learn during the past twenty years? 

We discovered that we did not have to be imprisoned by the past. If neither Orthodoxy nor Conservatism nor Reform fit our beliefs, we did not have to adjust to what was unacceptable. We did not have to succumb to cynical resignation. We could pioneer an alternative that had never been tried before and make it work. 

We learned that maintaining our integrity helped us deal with hostility. The intimidation techniques of our enemies were less effective so long as we were defending what we really believed. Compromise would have undermined our self-esteem and made us vulnerable to attack. Beyond our integrity, boldness was our greatest asset. 

We discovered that we could be truly creative. Since there was no readily available working tradition for humanistic Judaism we had to make our own. We redid the holidays. We wrote new services. We transformed the Bar and Bat Mitsvah (sic) ceremony. We invented a new form of Jewish education. Our commitments forced us to do what we never planned to do. They made us see our own talents. 

We learn that we were able to serve people who had never been adequately served before by institutional life. Most of our first members were peripheral Jews who found their Jewish involvements uncomfortable and compromising. They never imagined that it was possible for them to feel at the center of Jewish commitment. But the Temple gave them a philosophic home where they never had to feel like strangers. 

We discovered that we were saying out loud what many people already believed. The Temple made no converts. It simply became a public voice for people who never had one before. The liberation of humanistic Jews is not their awakening to secular truth. It is a willingness to go public.  

We learned that we enjoyed pioneering. Starting something new was even more fun than inheriting something old. It enabled us to focus on our own present needs and not the needs of ancestors who had died a long time ago. We felt unique and useful. The pleasure of being our own person made up for any residual guilt that gave us anxiety. 

We discovered that we were continually changing. Some of our enemies claimed that we would end up as rigid and dogmatic as the people we opposed. But, very early, we experienced the frustration of trying things that didn’t work. We learned to try, to test and to choose. Our members were too good humored to let any procedure become sacred. Some of our first songs have been justifiably forgotten. And some of our best celebrations are very new. 

We learned that we could transmit our philosophy to the next generation. Many skeptics wondered whether children in a conventional religious world could embrace the humanistic alternative. But we saw our children grow up to enjoy the humanistic answers and to become articulate spokespeople for the Temple point of view. We developed a sense of continuity. 

We discovered that it is sometimes hard to be a humanistic Jew. We were denied the ease of joining just a neighborhood congregation. Joining the Birmingham Temple meant continuous training. Our friends, neighbors and associates did not regard our affiliation with indifference. We had to defend, to explain, to justify. And, in the process, we had to work hard at understanding our philosophy. Members of other congregations could hide behind the respectability. We had to prove ourselves. 

We learned, above all, that shared values and ideas help to develop a community. We started out as strangers who came together for philosophical reasons. But our common commitments made it easier for us to become friends. Our first attachments were to ideas. But they deepened into connections with people. The history of our temple is a story of friendship and community. We have always wanted to be for (sic) more than a discussion society. We have striven to become a family of choice. 

We have discovered many things in twenty years. They are part of our unique tradition.  

The Rabbi Writes: Michigan Public Schools

The Jewish Humanist, February 1994, Vol. XXX, Number 7

The public school system in Michigan is in a crisis condition. The property tax for education has been dismissed. Public confidence is declining. The morale of teachers and students is at an all time low. Religious groups are clamoring for the replacement of state education with the voucher system. And a controversial referendum to provide alternative funding through a higher sales tax is imminent. 

The crisis stands in sharp contrast to the public schools of my childhood. In the first sixty years of this century the American state educational system was hailed as one of the finest examples of American democracy. Even free enterprise enthusiasts liked the public schools, even though it meant government control of education. While some proponents were fanatic Protestants who hated Catholics and the Catholic parochial school system most proponents were happy parents who believed that the state school system was delivering exactly what they wanted. 

The old public school system was very good at turning farmer children into urban labor and European immigrants into American citizens. It was also very good at producing a literate work force that could undertake unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. It was blessed with low paid spinster teachers, a young population eager for child education, a reverent relationship between parents and administrators, and low expectations. The social setting was one where two parent families and non-working mothers were the norm. Television was either non-existent or new and children read newspapers or wrote letters. 

The crisis in the public schools exists because the old social setting no longer exists. There are virtually no farmer children to turn into an urban work force. European children have been replaced by African, Asian and Hispanic children. Jobs for unskilled labor have vanished together with the easy affluence that little education at one time could bring you. Low-paid spinster teachers have yielded to self-esteeming professionals who want decent compensation and tenure at the same time. The population is aging, filled with old people who have no personal vested interest in funding child education. The relationship between administrators, teachers and parents is adversarial, aggravated by the emergence of aggressive teacher unions and indifferent politicians. Stable two parent families are shrinking into a minority-all of this change adding new burdens and responsibilities to an overburdened and non (sic) traumatized school system. The analytic skills that come from reading and writing have found a substitute in screen watching. And a more affluent bourgeois America has much higher expectations of its schools and its teachers. 

The consequence is a declining faith in the value of the public school system and an increasing unwillingness to find it. 

Something dramatic needs to be done. Either the public school system will be reformed and funded. Or it will yield to a chaotic system of private schools paid for by state vouchers. 

I am no friend of Governor Engler. But I applaud his willingness to confront the issue. The public school system will not be improved by defending the status quo and identifying all the enemies of public education who are members of his entourage. The complaints are legitimate. The crisis is real. 

I believe that right now, there is no alternative to public schools having the major responsibility for youth education. If we were starting from scratch, I might choose another alternative. But you do not tear down a system that basically works and replace it with an untested private system that will still rely on state money. 

So what do we need to do to reform the system effectively? We need to take bold action. Timid reforms will not work. 

We need to reform the school curriculum so that it trains students for the jobs of the future. Self-esteem does not flow from talking about it or praising one’s ethnic background. It comes from competence and employment. There is no substitute in today’s world for a basic knowledge of the language of science and technology. 

We need to find the teachers who can do this job, pay them adequately and rescue them from overcentralized (sic) and intrusive bureaucracies. Teachers should be rewarded for merit. The tenure system, which exists mainly in the public sector, ought to be discarded. 

We need to charter experimental schools, which are responsible to public authority-but which allow creative educators to test new procedures of education without having to conform to standard policies. 

We need to allow parental choice within a school district-and within the ability of a local school to accommodate demand. Schools that parents do not want should be closed or changed. 

We need to allow public schools the options of turning their operation over to private educational corporations. This experiment in Minnesota has proved quite successful. This transfer must only be made to entrepreneurs with a clear secular agenda. 

We need to establish performance standards for children in each area of learning. There is no substitute for testing. The fear that testing will produce uniformity and rote learning is out weighed (sic) by the disadvantage of chaotic expectations and school certificates that are a sham. 

We need to find funding for the system that provides equal support for the rich and the poor. The local property tax is no longer a feasible funding route. The income tax is a better route but will not be accepted by the general public. The sales tax is regressive-but there is a chance that it will be approved. Therefore, I support the referendum initiative. Hating Engler is not a sufficient reason to oppose. Helping children is more important. 

In some ironic way, Michigan has become a ‘pioneer’ for educational reform. We have to do something dramatic right away. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, February 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 7

The history of the Birmingham Temple is the history of Humanistic Judaism. The two go together. Without the Birmingham Temple Humanistic Judaism would not have come into existence. Without Humanistic Judaism the temple would have no reason to exist. 

Our congregation did not emerge as a local convenience. It did not grow because it served the conventional needs of conventional religionists. From the very beginning it was the center of a new approach to Jewish identity, the home of a new philosophy in Jewish life. The men and women who joined the Temple family did not join perfunctorily. They joined with the strong awareness that they now belonged to a unique community of “believers” with a unique message to the Jewish Community. 

Out of the Birmingham Temple came new organizations. Although they were theoretically separate and distinct, in reality, they were not. Their agenda was the same as that of the Temple, the expression and promotion of Humanistic Judaism. 

Many Jews throughout North America were inspired by the example of our congregation. They proceeded to organize, in their own cities, communities just like ours. In one case a Reform temple turned humanistic. In another, former members of the Temple wanted a congregation similar to the one that found so meaningful. In still another, enthusiastic young people, who had read about us in the local press, recruited their equally enthusiastic friends to establish a Humanistic Jewish Community. 

The society for Humanistic Judaism is a child of the Birmingham Temple. Organized in 1969, it held its first meeting in Detroit in the spring of 1970, even before the Temple building was completed. The  establishment of the Society was a major achievement. It turned a philosophy into a movement. It gave national reality to what began as a local phenomenon. 

The International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews is also a child of the Birmingham Temple. Established in 1986, its delegates met for the first time in Farmington Hills in our Temple home. Secular Jews from ten countries and five continents, including South America and Australia, came together to issue their manifesto of belief and to proclaim their solidarity. The ideas that were discussed in the intimacy of private homes in Birmingham in 1963 were now the shared commitment of an international community. 

As we celebrate the anniversary of our congregation. It is very important to remember these connections. An enthusiastic nostalgia may encourage us to remember all the wonderful experiences that we, as a Temple family, shared during the past twenty-five years – all the intimate moments of fun, friendship and challenge that made our association with each other so worthwhile. But it may also, inadvertently, make us parochial, dwelling only on personal memories and local events. We may forget the larger context which gives us meaning and significance. 

The Society and the Federation are not separate from the Temple. They are, part (sic) and parcel of everything we are. When we celebrate our survival and achievement we also celebrate theirs. Our fates are intertwined. 

The future of the Birmingham Temple depends on our connection with our “children.” (sic) 

For our future we will need leaders and rabbis. The new Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, which was established by the Federation in Jerusalem, will be the school where these leaders and rabbis will be trained. 

For our future we will need literature. Books and teaching materials which will explain the ideas and practice of Humanistic Judaism are indispensable to our survival and growth. They will be published by the Society and the Institute. 

For our future we will need allies. The congregations and communities, all over the world, who are part of our Federation, will give the support, depth and credibility we need. They will make it possible for our children to be Humanistic Jews outside the Detroit area. 

It is, therefore, appropriate that we celebrate these connections in this our anniversary year. In April we shall be host to the 18th annual conference of the Society. And this February 19 we shall welcome the distinguished president of the Federation – and the world leader of Humanistic Judaism – Yehuda Bauer. 

His presence will help us affirm the importance of our outreach.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, December 1988, Vol. XXVI, Number 5

Hanukkah time 1988 is crisis time for the state of Israel – and massive anxiety time for the Jews of the world who support it. 

As far as world opinion is concerned, the Jews have become the persecuting Greeks. And the Palestinian Arabs have become the Maccabees fighting for their freedom. The roles have been reversed. 

Israelis are confronted with overwhelming problems. The intifada rebellion of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza continues. The PLO has accepted UN resolution 242 (with its implicit recognition of the right of the state of Israel to exist) has renounced terrorism, has proclaimed a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, and has called for an international conference where issues can be resolved. The militant orthodox continue to grow in number and power and are threatening to “steal” the state from the secularists who established it. And world public opinion, which overwhelmingly supported Israel before 1967 is increasingly turning against the Jewish state and isolating it. 

The happy vision of the Zionist pioneers has turned into a nightmare. 

Now all these crises have been aggravated by the recent Knesset election. The dovish Labor party and its leftist allies have been defeated at the polls. The ultra-orthodox religious parties have substantially increased their representation and are energized by victory. The right-wing extremist parties (despite the taming of Meir Kahane’s Kach) have recruited more supporters and stand confident against concessions. 

It is quite clear that any future government will have to be a coalition government, since neither of the two major parties commands a majority. If the conservative Likud unites with the religious parties, repression of the Palestinians will become more severe and Israeli Jews will be forced to endure more and more theocratic intrusion. If the Likud unites with Labor again, Labor will lose the power to push for territorial concessions and will be compromised by association. 

At this time it is very important that both Israelis and we, as American Jews, accept the realities at this crisis. American Jews need to accept the following facts. 

1. The Israel of 1988 is very different from the Israel of 1948. The secular, liberal, Ashkenazic state of David Ben Gurion is gone. It has been replaced by a nation that is gradually becoming more religious, more conservative and more Sephardic than ever before. The forces in Jewish life that had repudiated Zionism are now the arbiters of its fate. 

2. Israel public opinion is deeply divided. On both the peace and religion issues extremist opinions are on the rise. It is often difficult for Israelis to talk to each other about politics and stay cool. Each group simply withdraws into its own corner. The old centrist consensus is collapsing. 

3. The intifada is beginning to concern Israeli society. Repression tends to elevate military virtues and to lessen concerns for civil liberties. HaHate and paranoia become respectable.And a wartime survival mentality takes over public discussion and makes compromise difficult. 

4. The youth of Israel is growing more conservative. Occupation duties, with his confrontation with rebels and rock-throwers, has turned young soldiers bitter and resentful. Dovish and  liberal sentiments are hard to retain when you are dealing with violent rejection and hostility. 

Israeli Jews need to face the following realities. 

1. American Jewry, the most powerful Diaspora support of the Jewish state, is finding it more and more difficult to identify with Israeli government policies. If a Likud regime yields to the Orthodox political parties and revises the Law of Return to turn over the determination of Jewish identity to Orthodox rabbis, then Israel will lose the effective support of American Jews, both (sic) Conservative, reform and secular. 

2. Israel cannot hang on to the West Bank and Gaza without destroying itself. A state that will ultimately have an Arab majority will not be a Jewish state. Nor will it be able to tolerate democracy. Nor will it be able to provide security for its Jewish citizens. A hostile population of violent Palestinians cannot be repressed without the terror that will cost Israel the support of the West. And without the support of the West she cannot survive. 

3. The only Palestinian Authority that Israel can negotiate with is the PLO. No other authority presently exists. And the PLO has won much of world public opinion by its dramatic concession. If the PLO is willing to recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist (even though it is only implicit) and to renounce terrorism, on what moral ground will the Israelis resist talking? Talking does not mean giving up Jerusalem or surrendering all of the West Bank and Gaza. After all (sic) final boundaries are a matter for negotiation. But it doe imply that Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to some kind of state of their own. 

The beliefs that peace can come without territorial concessions and without talking to the PLO is a dangerous illusion. An isolated theocratic Israel, feeding on fundamentalist passions, will arrange for war and national suicide. To avoid this catastrophe requires courageous statesmen. It also requires bold public pressure by the Israeli government by Diaspora Jewry and by Western governments, to respond positively to the Palestinian initiative. 

Without peace the stranglehold of the militant Orthodox will never be broken.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, August 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 1

Challenge is what makes life exciting.  Every human being, every human community, grow (sic) stronger confronting difficult challenges optimistically and discovering their own power and talent. 

In the next five years, the Temple will be passing through an important transition.   A new rabbi will become your leader.  Over the last 33 years I have worked, together with you, to create the Birmingham Temple and Humanistic Judaism.  What we achieved is not trivial.  We turned a set of shared personal connections into a living community and vital movement.  A new and important Jewish voice is heard in Detroit and in other places throughout the world. 

Over the last three decades we have faced many formidable challenges.  Creating a movement from scratch is not easy, especially when there is strong hostility from the outside world  But we were determined.  We recruited members.  We invented celebrations.  We educated children and adults, we turned our ethics into social action.  We built our Temple home.  We created brother and sister communities all over North America. 

Along the way we made profound friendships and supported each other through both pain and pleasure.  The voice of Humanistic Judaism in Detroit comes out of a body of vital and intense human connections. 

The Jewish world of 1996 is different from that of 1963.  The Jewish community is aging.  The priorities of Jewish young people in a mobile age are different from the needs of traditional families.  Intermarriage is creating a Jewish milieu with fuzzier boundaries and with less attachment to ethnic memories.  The rising power of the new Militant Orthodoxy is providing a dangerous well-organized and aggressive assault on the secular and humanistic values of a free society. 

In the new context we have to recruit new members.  We have to pay for the basic needs of our community.  We have to invest in the future of our Temple family.  We have to mobilize the talents and resources of our members to deal with the changing world.  We have to clarify our vision.  We have to choose a new rabbi  And we need to do all of this with a strong sense of community solidarity. 

The best way to guarantee our future is to take action.  Whatever action we take should be part of a long-run vision and an intense personal commitment.  We have to see ourselves leading our congregation into the twenty-first century.  We  need a “Five Year Plan” that will give us a dramatic push forward. 

Such a “Five Year Plan” will require us to take the following bold actions. 

We need to mobilize as many members as possible to make a special five-year money contribution to pay for all the initiatives we need to undertake.  Already generous people  have pledged to cover whatever deficits will occur during this transition period and to finance the search for a new rabbi and the creation of new programs. 

We  need to find new and better ways to publicize and “market” the wonderful programs we presently have.  Many people who are potential members and supporters of the Birmingham Temple do not know who we are and what we do. We need to increase our visibility by targeting special audiences.  Already an enthusiastic new marketing committee has been established.  With proper funding it should be able to make a significant difference. 

We  need to “pursue” potential new members more aggressively and more creatively.  We need to identify the different needs of different people which we are able to serve and to let them know the benefits that they will receive by joining our community.  We need to persuade the “children” of our congregation who are now adults and who identify with the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism to become dues-paying members.  We need to solicit the financial support of the hundreds of people who attend our programs and use our services but who have not expressed their appreciation in a financial way. 

We need to brainstorm new ways to freshen and improve our celebration of life so that Shabbat and the holidays will offer opportunities not only of intellectual stimulation, but also emotional intensity and aesthetic satisfaction.  The celebration needs of the next generation may be different from those of their parents and grandparents,  The service has to provide the Jewish environment that no longer exists in the outside world. 

We need to establish an effective way to identify my successor.  A search committee has already been created.  We need to remember that the International Institute is presently involved in training able men and women to become Humanistic rabbis. 

We need to involve as many people as possible in the process of creative thinking.  Every member should have the opportunity to make his or her own personal five-year commitment. 

I am optimistic about the future of the Birmingham Temple. 

We have a (sic) unique and important Jewish message.  We have a membership with enormous talents and strong commitment.  We have a vital community bound together by friendship and mutual support.  We have a movement to give our Temple philosophy a place in the Jewish universe.  We have a Jewish world that needs an imaginative secular option. We have a Temple tradition of courageous and creative responses to challenge.   

I have made my commitment to the “Five Year Plan”.  We need yours too. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, August 1993, Vol. XXX, Number 1

Bosnia. Before last year most Americans had never heard of the place. Now like Vietnam, Bosnia has been seared into the consciousness of the world. Bosnia now means genocide. 

Bosnia is a land of mountains and valleys in the Balkans. About thirteen hundred years ago it was invaded by Slavs wandering south from their northern homeland. After they conquered the land, the Slavs split into two nations. The Slavs, who converted to Catholic Christianity, became Croats. The Slavs, who converted to Orthodox Christianity became Serbs. Because of their religious differences the Croats and Serbs came to hate each other. 

In the fourteenth century an enemy arrived from the south. They were the Ottoman Turks and they were Muslim. Having conquered the Serbs and Croats, they converted many of them to Islam. The Slavic converts became the Bosnians (sic). The Serbs and the Croats continued to hate each other. But they now also hated the Turks. And they, especially, hated the Bosnians, whom they regarded as traitors, and whose privileged status, as friends of the Turks, they resented.  

In time, the Serbians won their independence. After the First World War, when the Turks and their German allies were defeated, the Serbians were rewarded with the gift of Croatia and  Bosnia. The new enlarged Serbia was called Yugoslavia (land of the south Slavs), and was dominated by the Serbian military. 

During World War II the Germans invaded and conquered Yugoslavia. They dismembered Yugoslavia and rewarded the Croatians with Bosnia. Croatian fascists, aided by Bosnian Muslims turned on the Serbs and massacred thousands of them. For the Serbians it was a “holocaust”.  Their hatred of the Croatians and the Bosnians grew even more intense. 

When the Russians gave Yugoslavia to Tito and the Communists, Tito tried to erase the differences between Serbs, Croats and Bosnians to create a new “Yugoslav” identity.But the success of his campaign depended on the success of Communism and on his own personal immortality. Neither happened. Tito died and Communism failed. And when Communism failed, Yugoslavia fell apart. 

First, the Croats seceded from Yugoslavia.  And then the Bosnians seceded.  Both actions provoked the Serbians to military action.  They wanted to “rescue” the hundreds of thousands of Serbs who lived in both Croatia and Bosnia.  They also wanted to wreak vengeance for the fascist “holocuast”.  They were very self-confident.  They were in possession of almost all of the military equipment of the former Yugoslav army.  Their leadership were (sic) former communists who traded Marxism for Chauvanism (sic).  They gave guns to violent and angry men who assumed the status of Serbian militia.  A cruel war became inevitable. 

The war has been worse than horrible.  It has given license to criminals to commit crimes in the name of patriotism. 

It has revived old hatreds which forty years of Communism had suppressed.  It has turned neighbor against neighbor.  In a land where Serbs, Croats and Bosnians lived intermingled and intermarried the war has re-erected human barriers that were falling down. 

In the Second World War the Croatian fascists were the criminals.  In this war the Serbian nationalists are the criminals.  Croats and Bosnians have committed atrocities.  But the overwhelming majority of the atrocities have been committed by the Serbian military and para-military.  Rape, pillage and destruction have followed the Serbian military with terrifying consistency.  Thousands have been killed.  Over half the people of Bosnia are refugees. 

At first the Croatian supported the Bosnians. But, when they saw that no one would intervene to save them, they turned against them, they struck a deal with the Serbians. Croatans and Serbians would divide Bosnia. The war would end. The Bosnians would be without independence and without a home. 

The Bosnians are today a people abandoned. They have no allies or active friends. They are the victims of genocide. They have been driven from half of their territory. They have no effective arms with which to defend themselves. Their Serbian and Croatian enemies are eager to dispose of them so that they can divvy up their territory. All that is left is a bombed out capital, a few disconnected towns and refugee centers teaming (sic) with the homeless. When peace comes they will have just enough land to constitute an “Indian reservation”.  They will be the prisoners of the Serbs and the Croats. 

During this terrible War many nations expressed outrage. The Germans were outraged. The Italians were outraged. British and Americans were outraged. But no one did anything. The United Nations sent humanitarian aid. The Security Council imposed sanctions on the Serbians. But nothing was done to frighten the Serbians into withdrawal. No one bombed their gun emplacements. No one sent adequate arms to the Bosnians so that they could defend themselves against slaughter. 

Clinton said he would do something. But, in the end, he did nothing. He sent his wimpish Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to mobilize our European allies into effective action. They refused to help and Christopher accepted their refusal without resistance.  The nation that led the world against Saddam Hussein in a grand coalition was “powerless” to prevent the genocide of a small vulnerable nation. 

There are multiple consequences for this neglect, for this failure to take action. 

A people that is entitled to its territory, its independence, and its survival has been destroyed.  Bosnian refugees like Jewish refugees in the last war will seek asylum in the cities of the West or linger in camps on the borders of Serbia and Croatia. 

Muslim Albanians, resident in the Serbian province of Kosovo (where they are the overwhelming majority) are next on the list of victims.  Serbian nationalists will deal with them in the same way that they dealt with the Muslim Bosnians.  They will terrorize them and drive them away.  It is clear that neither America nor the European powers are prepared to do anything to prevent another atrocity. 

Fascism in Serbia will grow stronger. The military victory will strengthen the power of strongman Milosevic and will lead to the suppression of the Serbian democratic opposition.  Serbia now represents the kind of chauvinistic authoritarian state-supported by fascists and former Communists-that America said it would not allow to rise from the ruins of the now defunct Communist empire. 

The stature of the West in Muslim eyes is now much reduced.  It is clear that Western Christians are not prepared to do anything to rescue a Muslim nation in Europe.  The Muslim powers have new reason to distrust the West and America.  Even though Muslim governments would have done more to help, they see themselves as helpless without Western intervention. 

The “world order”, which was reinforced after the Cold War with the American resistance to Iraqi aggression, has now been undermined by American ambivalence.  Every two-bit fascist dictator now knows that America and Europe will do nothing to stop genocidal war unless oil is involved.  The moral authority of America, which was high, is now low. 

Had America stood firm two months ago, she would have prevailed.  Milosevic had already capitulated before the threat of American intervention. But once he knew that America was not serious, he returned to his belligerency. 

Clinton lost an opportunity to demonstrate that he was a strong leader.  And the Bosnian people lost their life. 

We Jews, the victims of genocide, cannot be indifferent to what happened.  The Bosnian cause is our cause.  Our government needs to hear our displeasure  One more Bosnia in easstern Europe and fascism will be the heir of communism. 

The Rabbi Writes: Lebanon

The Jewish Humanist, August 1982, Vol. XX, Number 1

Lebanon. 

Ten years ago it meant wealth, fun and peaceful frontiers. 

Today it is a synonym for war, death and devastation.  

In 1975 an insane civil war broke out between the two nations in Lebanon. The Christian Lebanese fought the Arab Muslims and their Palestinian allies. The neighboring Syrian Arabs – who have always coveted Lebanon – first supported the Palestinians and then bizarrely invaded to support the Christians. When a truce is finally emerged, Beirut was divided and desolate, the Palestinians had the south, the Christians had the north, and the Syrian army was somewhere in the middle. 

On June of this year – on the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Six Day War-the Israelis invaded Lebanon. The PLO and its Palestinian army was defeated. The PLO leadership and its remaining guerillas were surrounded and besieged in West Beirut. The Syrians were humiliated. And the Israeli Army established a physical link with the friendly Christians of the north. 

Why did the invasion take place? Was it justified? What should be done to resolve the war?  

The invasion took place for reasons different from the official ones. 

The attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to Britain and the shelling of the northern settlements were only pretexts. The invasion had been planned before both events. The army had already been mobilized. The injury to the ambassador (by pro – PLO assassins) allowed Israelis to bomb Beirut. And the bombing of Beirut forced the PLO to break the truce and to retaliate by shelling Galilee. 

The main reason was simple. A serious of circumstances had arisen that made the devastation and defeat of the PLO a real possibility. 

Ever since its expulsion from Jordan, the PLO had established its headquarters and army among the 400,000 Palestinians in Beirut and southern Lebanon. Because of the weakness of the Lebanese government and the strife between Christians and Muslims, Arafat became the leader of a state within a state. And the PLO began to function as an effective Palestinian government in exile – with increasing International recognition. The Lebanese border with Israel – once the most peaceful-became the most troubled. With the PLO vowing the destruction of the state of Israel its defeat became very important to the Israeli government. 

The circumstances of June 6th seemed perfect for the achievement of the goal. 

The Syrian allies of the PLO (they had changed sides again) were isolated from the rest of the Arab world. Moderate Arabs like the Egyptians, Jordanians and Saudis despised this government. Radical Arabs like the Iraqis had a long- run feud with its leadership. And frequently Arabs, like the Libyans and the Algerians, were too far to help. 

Egypt, the largest Arab country, was at peace with Israel. Without Egypt no Arab army could defeat Israel. 

The Arab nations were diverted by a threat to their stability more dangerous than Israel. The fanatic Iranian Persians had defeated Arab Iraq in a war the moderate Arabs believed they would win. Meeting the threat of Ayatollah Khomeini who is determined to overthrow the ‘secular’ regimes of the moderate Arabs seemed more pressing than helping the PLO – especially since the PLO expressed support for the Persians.  

The Russians were diverted by expensive troubles. Afghanistan, Poland and an ailing economy made active foreign intervention an unlikely possibility. 

The American government was supportive of Israeli hawkishness. Both Reagan and Haig viewed the PLO as agents of the Soviet Union. 

The Israeli public was aching for a reaffirmation of its military power. The withdrawal from Sinai has created public anxiety and a sense of insecurity. 

For Arik Sharon, Defense Minister and architect of the invasion, the time seemed ideal to use the war to create certain ‘positive’ realities for Israel. 

At ‘first’ best, the PLO, Syrians and Israelis would withdraw from Lebanon, a ‘neutral’ Lebanese government controlled by friendly Christians would be established, a peace treaty with Israel would be signed, and the despairing Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza would accept autonomy status in a Jewish State. 

At second best, Lebanon would be divided. The south and northwest would become a Christian client state of Israel. The northeast would become a Muslim client state of Syria. The PLO leadership would fall under the total control of the jealous Syrians. And a friendly buffer zone would emerge in the North. 

For Sharon and for most Israelis the justification for the invasion lay in the posture of the PLO. The PLO has declared war on Israel and refuses to recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist. If indeed there is war, then the behavior of the Israeli Army is appropriate to war. 

The PLO cannot have it both ways. They cannot, with moral credibility, preach war and plead victimization from the consequences of war at the same time. 

But since justifications usually follow the facts, the practical question, right now, is not whether the Israeli army should have invaded Lebanon or having invaded should have pushed to the gates of Beirut. The practical issue is what should be done in the context of the events that have already taken place. Given the reality that the Israelis are in occupation of southern Lebanon, what are the pragmatic moral alternatives? 

The appropriate answer to this question requires us to recognize certain important facts. 

The PLO can be defeated.But the Palestinians remain. There are over four million of them-half within Israel and the occupied territories, half within surrounding Arab countries. They are unable to become either Israelis or unhyphenated Arabs. War and exile have given them a national identity. They want self – determination. They need a state of their own. 

The PLO is the only leadership the overwhelming majority the Palestinians recognize as legitimate. Even in defeat and dispersion they will remain the leaders. 

A Palestinian state already exists. Although its present name is Jordan, it was split off from historic Palestine and the majority of its people are Palestinians. From 1948 to 1967 the West Bank was part of Jordan. Federating Jordan with the Palestinian West Bank remains the only feasible solution to the Palestinian issue. Without Jordan the West Bank is not economically viable. With Jordan the Palestinians would have a real state to call their own. (Arik Sharon would love to rename Jordan Palestine. But he is unwilling to return the West Bank.) 

Moderate Arab nations, fearful of Khomeini and radical upheaval, are ready to recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist. The Saudis and Jordanians, like the Egyptians, fear the Persians more than the Jews. 

For the first time in Israeli history soldiers and civilians have publicly dissented from the war policy of the government during the progress of the war. However, The dissent should be viewed in the context of the polls which indicate that the overwhelming majority of the Israelis support the invasion decision of Begin and Sharon. 

The trauma of the invasion has focused the attention of the world on the Palestinian issue. International pressure may force peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians that Sharon never planned. 

Hopefully, the Israeli government will use its victory to negotiate with the representatives of the Palestinian people-including those leaders of the PLO who will now be willing to recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist.  

The danger is that Arik Sharon will not be restrained and the Palestinians will be offered no dignified alternatives to negotiate. It is also that Arafat and his colleagues will be too timid and the Israelis will receive no public acknowledgement of their legitimacy. 

The Lebanese Invasion may be a sobering turning point for both Palestinians and Israelis. With the help of American enemies may begin the conversation that ultimately has to take place.