Israel Independence Day. It Came and Went.

TJH May 1977, vol. 14, no. 9.

Israel Independence Day. It came and went. 

Twenty-nine years of Jewish independence. 

How many more? 

David’s kingdom lasted for 400 years. The Maccabees’ dominion survived for 100. What about the Third State? 

I don’t know. All I know is that it is important for Israel to survive. The destruction of the Jewish state would undermine the existence of the Jewish nation as a world people. With the center dead, the periphery would be hard put to endure. 

Zionism has been the most successful Jewish response to the age of science and secularism. In an era when theological belief and ritual practice were no longer appropriate to individual survival, Zionism shifted the basis of Jewish identity from religious activity to Hebrew secular culture.  

The state of Israel is more than a refugee center for desperate Jews. It is a place where it is possible to be Jewish without being religious. The sign of Jewishness is not a set of outmoded theological statements and absurd ceremonial rites. It is the use of the Hebrew language, the celebration of national holidays, the creation of secular poetry, music and dance. Israeli culture is a viable alternative to Talmudic culture. It can be indulged full-time within Israel or part-time in the Diaspora. 

Unlike Yiddish secular culture (the national expression of Ashkenazi Jews), it has a territorial center where the national language can be used in everyday life. And unlike classical Reform Judaism it provides specific and concrete behavior-patterns instead of vague religious cliches. 

Israeli culture is not superior to other national cultures (After all, in a technological world personal lifestyles become International). But it is linguistically and aesthetically different. 

Hebrew culture is a twentieth century expression of the Jewish collective will to live. From the humanistic point of view, it adds one more ethnic style to the universal potpourri.  

But Hebrew culture will not live unless Israel lives. Israel will not live unless she makes peace with the Arabs.  

Israel has to make peace soon. The Jewishness of the Jewish state is at stake. If the present rate of Jewish emigration from Israel continues to increase because of inflation and war anxiety, and if the overwhelming numbers of Arabs in the occupied territories continue to remain within the unofficial boundaries of Israel, the Jewish state, by default, will turn into an Arab state. Like Detroit its ethnic character will be radically transformed.  

The time for making peace is now.  

Now the Arab world is deeply divided between the Arab Left and the Arab Right. The Arab Left is led by Gaddafi’s Libya, with its oil billions. The Arab Right is led by Khalid’s Saudi Arabia with its even greater wealth. Both sides despise and fear each other more than they despise and fear Israel.  

Now the Arab Left has suffered an enormous defeat. Syria has defected to the Right. the Palestine Liberation Organization was decisively defeated in Lebanon. Algeria and Iraq have suffered loss of face because of their failure to adequately support their Palestinian allies. 

Now all the Arab states on the borders of Israel belong to the Arab Right. For the first time in Israeli history, the governments of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are politically compatible and are able to act in unison.  

Now the Arab Right is willing to accept the reality of Israel and to recognize its political existence. This recognition is no Act of charity. The leaders of the Arab Right know that if they do not make peace with Israel, the continuing militancy will feed the terrorism which will enable the Left to underline the government of the Right.  

Now the Arab Right has tamed the Palestine Liberation Organization. Arafat and his allies are willing, because they have no other choice, to accept a truncated Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza federated with their old arch enemy, Hussein’s Jordan. This Jordan-Palestine state is the best ultimate deal the Israelis can achieve on their eastern frontier.  

Now Israel does not have to negotiate with the Soviet Union. The Russians hold no power base on the Israeli frontier. Syria still uses Soviet arms, but it has passed over to the American camp of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  

Now American public opinion is still strongly pro-Israel. Continued energy crises may make the American public more impatient with the Middle Eastern controversy.  

The public price of the Arab Right for peace is the return of the Israelis to the 1967 frontiers. The private price may be lower.  

The risk of peace without defensible frontiers is great. But, as Sadat appropriately point outs, the concept of defensible frontiers is Irrelevant in the age of missiles.  

The risk of continued war is even greater. If the failure of the peace initiative fails, new impetus will be given to the Arab Left. And the Arab Left is unequivocally committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.  

Israel needs courageous leadership now. The courage to make peace is sometimes more important than the courage to fight.  

One Side of Purim Is Fun and Laughter. The Other Side Is Haman

TJH march 1990, vol. XXVI, no. 8.

One side of Purim is fun and laughter. The other side is Haman.  

Haman is the arch-figure of Jew hatred, called anti-Semitism in modern times. He is the symbol of a social disease so dreadful and so powerful that it killed 6 million innocent people in this century.  

What is the future of anti-semitism?  

After World War II we hoped that it would disappear. We hoped that the trauma of the Holocaust would make it impossible for respectable people to be openly anti-Semitic in respectable society.  

Certainly, in the Western world this hope seemed to be fulfilled. Overt anti-Semitism became unpopular. Bigoted demagogues, like Coughlin & Smith, were silenced. Numberless schools, corporations and clubs open their doors to Jews who have been excluded. Jewish culture and Jewish themes made their way into the movies and television. Jewish identity took on a positive public Image. But in other parts of the world, hostility to Jews was either revived or invented. In the Soviet empire Stalinists decided to reinforce their tyrannical rule by catering to the historic bigotry of their nations. Jews were purged from government. Jewish culture was suppressed. And leaders of the Jewish community were executed. Although most Jews were allowed to retain their homes and their jobs their safety was precarious. Communist propaganda reminded them that they were aliens.  

In the Arab world, where most of the people were Semites like Jews, anti-jewish feeling emerged where it had never really existed before. The conflict in Palestine in the establishment of the state of Israel prompted a vicious anti-semitism reminiscent of Nazi assaults. Thousands of Jews fled their homes and came as refugees to the Jewish state. hostility to Jews was disguised as opposition to Zionism. But the anti-zionism of the Arab world contains the same vicious stereotypes that filled the propaganda of European fascists.  

When the recent revolutionary changes began in Eastern Europe, many observers imagined that at least one of these two centers of anti-Semitism would vanish. Official Soviet and Communist hostility would disappear with the disappearance of Communism. The emergence of popular democracy would free the Jews and end the threats to their safety. 

This expectation proved naive. The collapse of Communist power has not undermined it. It has revived it in a more virulent form than Communism ever allowed. The new freedom means freedom not only for liberal democracy but also for authoritarian fascists. End European fascism has long used anti-Semitism as an ideological strategy to mobilize the masses.  

Jew hatred and Eastern Europe has deep roots. Both Catholic and Orthodox christianity cultivated the image of the Jew as Satan incarnate. (In fact Jews were excluded from Russia until the Russian conquest of Poland.) The pre-capitalist structures of countries like Poland and Romania stimulated Envy in suspicion of urban life in urban entrepreneurs. And the Jews were overwhelmingly town and city people.  

The dismantling of the Communist power structure has terminated Communist anti-Semitism. But, in the new chaotic political environment, it has made it possible for the old bigotry to rear its ugly head. In Hungary, Romania, Latvia and Russia political parties with anti-Semitic agendas have been organized. Their program runs from the elimination of Jewish influence in public life to the expulsion of Jews. Although these parties are not large, they are growing.  

What does their presence tell us about the nature of anti-Semitism?  

Anti-semitism is a chronic disease. The historic role of the Jew to serve as a scapegoat for social ills is so deeply embedded in the European psyche that it cannot be eliminated either by education or by democracy. Since we cannot destroy it we must learn how to restrain it.  

Anti-Semitism flourishes where there is economic distress. The growing inflation, unemployment and shortages of the former socialist countries sponsor mass insecurity. The mass insecurities and helplessness motivate the people to embrace traditional and simplistic explanations for the economic crisis. The longest survival issues dominate the political scene, hostility to the Jews will continue to grow. 

 Anti-Semitism originated, to a large degree, in religious prejudice. But its present complaint about the Jews is not religious. Jews are detested for their economic role. They are seen as economic and cultural conspirators who have invented both market capitalism and Marxist socialism to exploit the masses. Jewish religious beliefs are unrelated to the fantasy. 

 Anti-Semitism is unrelated to Jewish power. In most of these countries, with the exception of the Soviet Union, there are now very few Jews. The Holocaust remove the bulk of the Jewish population. Despite that reality, the fear and hatred of Jews continue. Unlike the Jews of Western Europe in the United States who have real power, the Jews of Eastern Europe are envied for what they do not have. 

 Anti-Semitism is a strategy of both the Left and the Right. Both the Communists and the fascists have used it. Both the working class and the bourgeoisie can share its view of the world. Both sides are capable of initiating violence against the Jews. What both sides share is chauvinistic nationalism which views the Jew as an alien intruder. This reality makes the motivation for Zionism very clear. Sometimes the only effective response to Gentile nationalism is Jewish nationalism.  

 The belief that the Jew is both smart and evil is an old one. It will not be easily dislodged. We need to be less naive than the people who believe it.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, September 1997, Vol. XXXIV, Number 2

Colloquium ‘97.  It will be an extraordinary event. Eleven Jewish historians of international fame are coming to the Birmingham Temple to spend the Simhat (sic) Torah weekend with us. They will speak, dialogue with each other and open our eyes to the realities of the Jewish experience. 

We Jews are an extraordinary people, with a saga that continues to fascinate even our enemies. But the story of our past has been in the hands of a religious establishment that chooses to hide or distort the truth to serve a messianic ideology. Unlike the story of most nations and civilizations Jewish history is presented as sacred history. Sacred history is no longer a tale of human striving and human ambition. It is the story of gods, supernatural miracles, divine interventions and holy missions. It is the revelation of divine reward and punishment and the rescue of chosen peoples. The normal standards of scientific inquiry are never applied. Faith and tradition are the final judges. And they are supported by centuries of propaganda. 

In such an intellectual environment the stories in the Torah , the Tanakh and the Talmud are assumed to be true even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

The legitimacy of traditional Judaism rests on the presentation of Jewish history.  If this presentation is not true – and if ‘believers’ come to believe that it is not true, the foundations of traditional Judaism will crumble.   

A credible Humanistic Judaism in the end rests on the real experience of the Jewish people.  But its perception of that experience is quite different from that of tradition.  Fortunately, modern science, archaeology, textual criticism and naturalistic approach to the human experience have produced a radically different version of the Jewish saga.  Unfortunately, most of this information is locked up in scholarly journals where it never reaches the general public.  Because of this ‘seclusion’, even the most liberal congregations continue to present the ‘old’ version of the story. 

Colloquium ‘97 will be one of the first opportunities for the general public to come face to face with the new evidence and the new story.  For those who are not familiar with the ‘discoveries’ of the last century, encountering them can be mind-boggling.  The Jewish experience takes on a radically new human dimension.  Familiar tales are no longer credible.  Familiar interpretations are no longer viable.  We are liberated to embrace a new vision of Jewish evolution. 

Our eleven historians will explore at least nine areas of Jewish development where ‘mythology’ prevails. 

  1. The origins of the Jewish people: It may be the case that the stories of the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt and the presentation of the Torah at Sinai are invented tales.  The Israelites may have been a hill-country Canaanite people who did not emerge onto the Near Eastern stage until shortly before the time of King David. 
  1. The origins of the Bible:  If God did not write the Torah who did?  Was the author Moses? Or were the Torah and Bible put together some seven or eight hundred years after the death of Moses by writers and editors who projected their contemporary issues back into ‘ancient’ times? 
  1. The Greeks and the Jews: The common vision that the Maccabees stood against Greek culture and rescued Judaism from the insidious influence of Greek paganism may be a distortion of the truth.  The Greeks profoundly altered Jewish culture, provoking an internal debate that set the defenders of reason against the devotees of faith.  The Jewish world was divided into many religions and political parties.  The roots of a humanistic Judaism can be found here. 
  1. The origins of Orthodox Judaism:  The rabbinic establishment maintained and still maintains that Orthodoxy is a reflection of a continuous tradition that can be traced back to Moses.  All other versions of Judaism are newer and, therefore, less authentic.  But it may be the case that ‘traditional’ Judaism is less traditional than it pretends to be.  The historical vision of the Talmud may not accurately reflect what really happened. 
  1. The experience of the medieval Jew:  The connection of the Jews to money, commerce and the beginnings of capitalism is often an ‘embarrassing’ subject for many contemporary Jews.  They are more comfortable viewing the Middle Ages as a time when Jews were the primary victims of religious persecution.  A large slice of the Jewish experience and of Jewish creativity may be ignored in the process. 
  1. The legacy of Hasidism:  In modern times the culture and spirituality of the Hasidic movements have been romanticized.  They are often equated with the new spiritual search of the contemporary Western world.  What is often neglected is the assaultive politics and the cruel superstitions of Hasidic daily life, which have nothing to do with either human dignity or spiritual serenity. 
  1. The significance of the Enlightenment:  In the contemporary world it has become fashionable to blame the revolutions of science and reason for the decline of Jewish identity and for destructive assimilation. Modern secular culture becomes the enemy of Jewish fulfillment. But this critique misses the positive transformation of the life of the Jew through personal freedom, female liberation, secular education and the openness of a democratic society.  
  1. The origins of modern anti-Semitism:  The terrible Holocaust has riveted Jewish attention on the phenomenon of Jew hatred.  Most commentators find its beginning in the hostility of the Christian world.  Others see the beginnings in the unique economic role which Jews assumed in the Western world.  But the truth may be different from either speculation. 
  1. The significance of Zionism:  There is no doubt that the establishment of the state of Israel is the most important Jewish achievement of the twentieth century.  The founders of the state imagined that Zionism would provide for a liberal and secular future for Jewish nationalism.  But recent developments can easily lead us to a different assessment. 

Jewish history is no fixed story which ‘tradition’ presents to us for study.  It is in the process of being re-created (sic) and re-conceived.  If you want to experience the ‘cutting edge’ of this debate do not miss Colloquium ‘97. 

October 23-26.  A unique and wonderful opportunity. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, September 1988, Vol. XXVI, Number 2

At the end of September, during the festival of Sukkot, a special conference will be held in Brussels-which, in a very important way, is part of the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Birmingham Temple. 

The second biennial meeting of the new International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews is the special event.  It was founded in Detroit two years ago.  And, to a large extent, it grew out of the pioneer efforts of our own Temple to develop a humanistic alternative in Jewish life.  Today seven national organizations from America, Canada, France, Belgium, Uruguay, Argentina and Israel are joined together in a common effort to promote a secular approach to Jewish identity.  Hopefully, this international connection will provide a worldwide voice for our philosophy and for our decisions on important issues. 

One of these issues is the question of who is a Jew.  Although, on the surface, it appears to be a perfunctory issue, the answer to the question has aroused intense controversy in the Jewish world.  The persistent attempts of orthodox Jews in Israel to force the Israeli government to exclude from Jewish identity and Jewish privileges all citizens who do not conform to the orthodox vision of what a Jew is has dramatized the question. 

The orthodox criteria for Jewish identity are an odd mixture of racial and religious requirements.  All people born of Jewish mothers, regardless of their religious beliefs, loyalties or cultural attachments, are Jews.  But men and women who want to join the Jewish people must be converted by orthodox rabbis and pledge their commitment to orhodox practice.  This apparent inconsistency is defended with great passion by traditional Jews. 

The consequences of this traditional position, if it is applied uniformly throughout Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora, is the exclusion of large numbers of people who want to be Jews.  In an age of inreasing intermarriage there are thousand of Jewish children who have Jewish fathers but no Jewish mothers.  In a time of religious diversity there are thousands of potential “converts” who like Judaism but who cannot stomach orthodoxy.  In a world where millions of Jews are secular and find their Jewish identity in cultural loyalties, an identification of Jewish legitimacy with orthodox law and orthodox practice makes a majority of the Jewish people feel like second-class citizens. 

Neither conservative nor reform authorities have responded adequately to this controversy.  Conservative Jews follow the orthodox timidly, only demanding that conservative rabbis have the same privileges as the orthodox.  Reform Jews have been bolder acknowledging that Jewish fathers confer Jewish identity just as well as Jewish mothers.  But they still insist on some form of theistic conversion process for newcomers. 

What is needed is a bold repudiation of the orthodox position.  We need a definition of Jewish identity which will embrace all the people who think they are Jews, are acknowledged as Jews and who want to be Jews. 

We need a definition that will give the same rights to Jewish fathers as the orthodox give to Jewish mothers. 

We need a definition that will proclaim Judaism to be more than a religion, and Jewish identity to be far more than religious identity.  Cultural Jews are as much Jews as religious Jews. 

We need a definition that offers admission to secular people.  Secular newcomers who want to identify with Jewish history and Jewish destiny should be as welcome as the smaller minority who seek to be sincere orthodox Jews. 

We need a definition that tells the truth about the Jewish people and enables Jews to be honest about who they are and what they are. 

And once we have arrived at this definition through public discussion on an international level we need to speak loud and clear with one voice to the Jewish world.  It may be the case  that our proclamation will be welcomed by thousands of Jews who have been uncomfortable with the traditional monopoly of official definitions. 

What follows is the resolution approved by the International Executive of the Federation to be presented for discussion, amendment, and approval by the Brussels conference. 

Who is a Jew?  After more than thirty centuries Jews continue to debate this question. 

This debate is no academic exercise.  At stake is the integrity of millions of Jews who do not find their Jewish identity in religious belief or religious practice, but who discover their Jewishness in the national experience of the Jewish people.  At stake, also, is the Jewish identity of thousands of men and women, in Israel and in the Diaspora, who want to be Jewish, but who are rejected by the narrow legalism of traditional authorities. 

We, the members of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, believe that the survival of the Jewish people depends on a more generous view of Jewish identity than traditional religion allows.  We welcome into the Jewish people all men and women who sincerely desire to share the Jewish fate, regardless of their maternal ancestry and regardless of their religious beliefs.  We challenge the assumption that the Jews are primarily a religious community and that certain religious convictions and behavior are essential to full membership in the Jewish people. 

On the contrary, the Jewish people began as a nation, a nation with many diverse and opposing beliefs and personal convictions  It evolved into an international people, with a culture and civilization all its own.  Judaism, as the national culture of the Jews, is more than theological commitment.  It is language, a vast body of literature, historical memories and ethical values.  It is a treasure house of many options. 

We Jews have a moral responsibility to embrace all people who seek to identify with our culture and destiny. Will the children and spouses of intermarriage, who desire to be part of the Jewish people be cast aisde because they do not have Jewish mothers and do not wish to under conversion? 

Therefore-in response to the cruel and self-destructive definition of the Jews now proclaimed by the orthodox authorities-and in the name of the historic experience of the Jewish people-we affirm that a Jew is a person of Jewish descent, or any person who declares himself to be a Jew and who identifies with the history, civilization, community and fate of the Jewish people. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1989, Vol. XXVI, Number 10

Israel will be 41 years old this month. As the Jewishs state it has served the Jewish people well. The Diaspora has acquired both pride, culture and identity from its achievements. 

But all is not well.  Enormous problems confront Israel that often seem insoluble (sic).  The intifada, the Palestinian rebellions int eh West Bank and Gaza, is still strong after seventeen months.  Although its fury has somewhat abated, the Israeli reserves are still mobilized to suppress the uprising.  The cost of coping is high.  Military deficits, the wear and tear of unpopular police duty and the frustration with adverse world public opinion have taken their toll. 

The confrontation between the religious and the secular continues.  While the Who is a Jew? Issue has been temporarily defused, the fanaticism of the fundamentalists fuels new incidents.  Secularists are beginning to despair that they will ever be able to regain their primacy.  The new immigrants are mainly orthodox and their birth rate is high. 

Economic difficulties are everywhere.  Tourism has slumped because of the intifada.  Unemployment is on the rise.  There are insufficient funds to support the health and education programs that Israel needs.  In fact, the underfinanced school system is a disgrace to a Jewish state. 

The surge of Zionist idealism that gave Israel its special moral character at its inception has waned.  Old people have become cynical.  Young people have joined the ranks of the consumer culture.  Zionism has “normalized” the Jewish people to its disadvantaged (sic). 

One of the mor4e serious problems is the disintegration of the special relationship with American Jewry., the most powerful of Diaspora communities.  In the past American Jewish leaders were content to defer to the will of the Israeli government as an expression of Jewish solidarity.  The prestige of Israel was so high in Jewish eyes that this deference seemed natural.  Today rebellion is in the wings.  The connection is more abrasive. 

There are many signs of this new abrasiveness. 

American Jewish leaders have publicly expressed their reservations about Israeli government policies in the occupied territories.  Newspapers and the other media regularly report these disagreements.  In the past any conflict would have been kept secret.  The facade of unity would have been maintained. 

Advertisements by Jewish dissidents denouncing Israeli policy appear in major newspapers.  The signers are often leading intellectual and philanthropists who would formerly have never given their names or their money to such as assaultive exposure. 

Conferences of dissidents now attract thousands of participants.  Just recently, Michael Lerner, the found and the editor of the liberal magazine Tikkun (who will be speaking for us on May 22) held a major meeting of protest in New York.  He challenged the American Jewish leadership to listen to the dissenting voice in their constituency.  This challenge received wide publicity. 

Delegations of American Jewish leaders now travel to Israel to “lobby” the Knesset and the government.  During the Who is a Jew? controversy dozens of organizational heads took the time to go to Israel to express their indignation over proposed legislative changes.  Their protest was effective in undermining the conservative coalition with the orthodox. 

Many local welfare federations hage threatened to withhold their financial support from Israel unless the fundamentalists are restrained. Such threats would have been inconceivable in the past and would have been regarded as “betrayal”. 

American Jewish philanthropy has decided, independent of Israeli counsel and in direct opposition to Israeli policy, to raise millions of dollars for the absorption of thousands of ew Soviet Jewish immigrants by the United State.  The world Zionist Organization ad the Jewish Agency are fit to be tied.  They simply assumed that Israel would have prior claim to special funds raised for immigrant absorption. 

The recent unity conference called by Prime Minister Shamir in Jerusalem was less an expression of solidarity with the policies of the present administration than a show attempt to cover up the differences that everybody knows exist.  The drama of unity lacks the substance of agreement that would make it effective. 

Many factors have contributed to this new abrasiveness. 

Ever since the Lebanon War American Jews no longer see Israel through the reverential glasses of earlier years.  The “moral intimidation” power of Israel has seriously declined.  Israelis no longer appear, in American Jewish eyes to (sic) be as noble as they once were. 

 A modicum of disillusionment has set in. 

The growing power of the orthodox and their strident bid for political control have frightened many American Jews, most of whom are not orthodox.  It was easier for liberal and secular Jews to identify with the “old” Israel than with the present one. 

Adverse publicity concerning the Israeli handling of the intifada fills the American media and embarrasses American Jews.  Accustomed to seeing themselves as victims of oppression the Jews of the United States are very uncomfortable in the role of military repressor.  They are ambivalent.  While they are concerned about the future security of Israel, they want the bad publicity to stop. 

The Israelis have often behaved arrogantly, counting on American Jewish support without ever consulting with American Jews or eliciting their opinions.  While claiming to be the “voice” of the Jewish people, Israel reflects only its own electorate with no real input from Jewish constituencies in the Diaspora.  The insensitivity to American feeling in the Who is a Jew? issue is “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” 

The responses in the American community to this new dissent have varied. 

Many American Jews view it negatively.  They believe that public arguments give ammunition to our enemies, to all the antisemites who seek our destruction.  Families should not wash their “dirty laundry” in public they say (sic).  Freedom of speech yields to the need for survival. 

Many are enthusiastic.  They feel liberated from the fetters of an irrational control.  They maintain that open discussion will energize the Jewish people and lead to the new and creative solutions to problems.  They also maintain that the old leadership, attached to outmoded responses to problems, will never yield power unless publicly challenged. 

Others are simply ambivalent.  They agree with the protest.  But they are uncomfortable with Jews arguing with Jews in public.  They would prefer a quieter assault, although they are not quite sure how to engineer it. 

Which of these responses is the most valid? 

While many positive thighs can be said for solidarity it is no logger possible-either pragmatically or morally.  But dissent has to be responsible too-not simply a vehicle for a power-hungry new elite to replace a power-hungry old elite.[Text Wrapping Break] 

Four criteria ought to guide the relationship between Israel and American Jewry.                

  1. American Jews are the equals of Israeli Jews.  No special status of nobility attaches to living in the Jewish homeland. 
  1. The voice of the Jewish people is more than the voice of Israel.  When what Israel chooses to do affects the welfare of all Jews the leaders of the Diaspora must be consulted.  A regular forum or “congress” for the formulation of joint policies ought to be established. 
  1. The agenda of American Jews and Israelis are not necessarily identical.  Not every issue in Jewish life, including the disposition of Soviet immigrants, needs central control. 
  1. Publicity is no substitute for dialogue. 

Our relationship to Israel is entering a new phase.  We need guidelines. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 10

The state of Israel is 40 years old. 

Normally an anniversary like this would be a time of great rejoicing. But the Palestinian uprising has cast a shadow over the celebration. It is difficult to be euphoric during a Civil War.  

The Palestinian Rebellion is no trivial matter. The future of the state of Israel is at stake. 

At stake are the democratic institutions of Israel. On 40% of your population do not want to be part of your state and are under military occupation, democracy is endangered. 

At stake is the moral image of the Jewish state. Using guns against civilians armed with rocks is not calculated to win word opinion or to reinforce the sense of ethical superiority which has been so much a part of Israeli self-awareness. Suppressing a movement of self-determination seems sadly ironic for an old historic people that demanded its own. 

At stake is the survival of Israel. If no boundary adjustments are made, within a few decades Arabs will constitute a majority of the Israeli population and the Jewishness of the Jewish state will begin to vanish. Time and status quo politics will make Israel another Arab state. 

Israeli Jewish opinion is deeply divided on how to respond to the uprising. Despite the smallness of the Jewish population there is no national consensus. Confrontation politics are as intense as those between the orthodox and secular. 

One segment of the population (maybe a majority) is opposed to any Palestinian State and to giving up any territory. They include both orthodox Jews and secular nationalists. The orthodox maintain that the West Bank and Gaza have been given by God to the Jewish people and that it would be both immoral and sinful to surrender them. The secular nationalists assert that the pre-1967 borders of Israel provide no adequate security for the Jewish state and that the Jordan River boundary is the minimal safety requirement for Israeli survival. 

The other segment of the population is either ambivalently or enthusiastically in favor of giving up land for peace. But they are gravely divided over the issue of how much to give up. Some will return the West Bank to Jordan, but they will not accept a Palestinian state. Some will accept a Palestinian state, provided that is not fully independent and is federated to Jordan. Others will accept an independent demilitarized Palestine so long as there are appropriate boundary adjustments. Still others would be willing to give all the occupied territories to a legitimate Palestinian government for the sake of a guaranteed peace.  

But the arguments of the “peaceniks” do not end there. In the process of negotiating the surrender of territory do you not talk to the PLO? Do you or do you not consent to an International conference to initiate the talks and to guarantee the outcome, especially if that conference includes the Soviet Union?  

The “land of peace” people have not been overwhelmingly successful in recruiting domestic support for their policy.  

Their disagreements hardly inspire confidence. They do not know how to deal with the post-Holocaust mentality that insists that Jews are always victims, never oppressors. They generally avoid the issue of what to do about Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Gaza. 

Above all they receive little help from Palestinian and Arab leaders. The PLO covenant, never repudiated, still calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. No PLO spokesperson has ever publicly recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist. No PLO acceptance of UN Resolution 242 which guarantees safe and secure boundaries to Israel as a basis for negotiations, has been given. No Arab movement, of any kind, has emerged in any of the 22 Arab states, to offer encouragement to the Israeli moderates. Terrorism, directed at unarmed civilians, still continues. Extremist propaganda calling for the expulsion of the Jews still flourishes and receives no denunciation from Palestinian moderates. No conciliatory statement recognizing the almost unanimous Israeli desire to retain a united Jerusalem has been made. 

However, the Jews calling for no territorial concessions are having their troubles too, even though defending the status quo is the easiest position to maintain emotionally.  

The uprising continues and will not go away. Only severe military repression will keep the Palestinians in line, but that repression creates severe emotional strains and economic disruptions. The spirit of rebellion has spread to Israel proper and to the Israeli Arabs who support the Palestinian brothers. So intense is the hatred that is developing between Jews and Arabs that in a few years, any form of negotiations will be impossible 

Moreover, the disturbances are frightening away badly needed tourists and immigrants. They are also souring the relationship between Israel and its chief benefactor America. The American government is losing patience with Israeli intransigence. And the public is losing respect for the morality and wisdom of Israeli leaders. Short of expulsion, which is morally and pragmatically impossible, how does one suppress a native population with military force over an indefinite period of time and in the full view of the world public opinion and still retain some shred of approval from the allies you need? 

As you can see both alternatives prevent their risks. But there is no doubt that the status quo no concessions approach presents the greater risk. 

An enlightened Israeli policy should include the following steps. 

1. An early election should be held. Israeli public needs to replace the present coalition government, with all its paralyzing infighting between Shamir and Perez, with a government that has a consistent policy. Land for peace cannot proceed if it does not receive the support of the  Israeli electorate. If the no concessions people win, then the Israeli public will have voted for its own self-destruction. But if the “compromisers” win, then the road to conciliation and survival may be possible. 

2. The new Israeli government should openly declare its willingness to give land for peace. Even if neither the PLO nor other Arab states respond to that offer the mere declaration of this policy will place the moral onus of rejection on the Palestinian leadership. 

3. The Israelis should postpone the resolution of the recognition issue. The Israelis would be foolish to offer acceptance to a Palestinian state at the outset, without knowing what form this state would take. And the PLO will never offer recognition of the Jewish state until the Israelis, in the spirit of mutuality, extend this recognition to the Palestinians. Mutual acceptance will have to emerge from the negotiations. It cannot precede them. Otherwise they will never start. 

4. It is to the Israelis (sic) advantage to use a moderate state like Jordan as much as possible. Since Israeli public will not endorse direct talks with the PLO without prior recognition (and the PLO is the only credible Palestinian leadership around), the PLO needs to be attached to a Jordanian negotiating team. If enough pressure is applied from moderate Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, Arafat might consent to such an arrangement, despite what he presently says. 

5. The Israeli government should work in cooperation with the United States, its chief ally  to formulate a context for negotiations. It should consent to an International conference if this conference is the only way to bring Jordan (and ultimately the PLO) to the conference table. One of the advantages of such a conference is that it may provide an opportunity to secure Soviet guarantees for the outcome of the negotiations. And Russia is the key to securing restraint from Syria.  

6. The fanatic ultra-orthodox need to be restrained. Armed West Bank Jewish settlers seeking provocations to force the expulsion of their Arab neighbors, are responsible for the Beita incident, where an Israeli girl was killed. 

Jewish children have no business wandering through rebellious Palestinian areas on nature hikes, with gun-happy armed escorts.If hiking is the true agenda, countless opportunities exist in safe areas. Ultra – orthodox fanatics who are civilians should not be armed. They will only create the incidents which will make negotiations impossible. They are as dangerous as Arab extremists. 

Of course, the burden of responsibility for peace is shared by both Israelis and Arabs. Even moderate Israelis can do nothing if they receive no encouragement from the Palestinian side. Without the courage of Palestinian moderates who are willing to defy their own extremists and the courage of Hussein of Jordan who is willing to risk his own life, nothing is possible.  

Time is of the essence. If the intransigents (sic) maintain the status quo, the prospects for Israel at the time of the 50th anniversary will be worse than now. A continuing Palestinian rebellion will radicalize resistance forces in modern states in Egypt and Jordan and will lead to the overthrow of modern Arab governments. Without them no peace will be possible. 

The future of Israel is up to the Israeli public. The government they will elect in the next election will determine their future.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, March 1997, Vol. XXXIII, Number 8 

A wonderful thing happened on the way to Colloquium ‘97. The Jewish Federation gave us twenty thousand dollars. 

Colloquium ‘97 is a continuation of the ‘tradition’ begun by Colloquium ‘95. That conference was a stunning intellectual and artistic event. Sponsored by The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, it brought together seventeen distinguished scholars, writers and artists from all over the Jewish World, to discuss the pressing issue of the ‘unaffiliatedJew’. Among them were demographer Egon Maywr, sociologist Bernard Reisman, philosopher Joel Feinberg, historians Norman Cantor and Yehuda Bauer, writers Anne Roiphe and Andre Aciman and Israel’s greatest living post (sic) Yehuda Amichai. Ushered in by Shoshana Cardin, a major leader in the American Jewish community, the colloquium featured three days of spirited and memorable dialogue. 

The colloquium was evidence that our movement was ‘real’ – and that it had the power to engage important Jewish thinkers in the discussion of important Jewish issues. The publicity and attention that surrounded the event raised the visibility of Secular Humanistic Judaism and reinforced our resolve to produce another significant colloquium around another significant question.  

The theme of Colloquium ‘97 is reclaiming Jewish History:  Separating fact from fiction. Eleven important Jewish historians have accepted our invitation to participate in the discussion. Each of them will present a paper on one of ten ‘problem’ areas of Jewish history – from the origins of the Jewish people and the Bible to the significance of the Enlightenment and Zionism. They include Steven Zipperstein and Aaron Rodrigue of Stanford University, Carol Meyers and Eric Meyers of Duke University, Norman Cantor of New York University, Derek Penzler of Indiana University, William Propp of the University of California / San Diego, Ada Rapaport – Albert of University College London, Yehuda Bauer of Hebrew University and Yaakov Malkin of Tel Aviv University. From October 23 to October 26 they will collectively present a new perspective on the Jewish experience. This colloquium is not only a great event for our movement. Like the last colloquium, it is also an outstanding intellectual happening for the Detroit Jewish community. That is one of the reasons why the Federation has chosen to support it.  

The decision of the Federation to help fund this meeting of scholars is significant for many reasons. 

It is the first major gift of the Federation to the work of Humanistic Judaism in this community. It is recognition of the fact that what we do benefits not only our congregation but also the Jewish community as a whole. 

It is an affirmation of the importance of pluralism in the Jewish community. In modern America diversity is the name of the Jewish reality. As Jews choosing Judaism, we are all committed to the value of Jewish identity, to the preservation and development of Jewish culture and to the survival of the Jewish people. But we share this commitment in the context of lively disagreement. There are many Jewish philosophies of life. There are many different Jewish life styles. There are many ways to interpret the Jewish experience and to celebrate Jewish identity. Pluralism means that the community accepts this diversity and grants respect and legitimacy to every Jewish choice.  Cooperation arises out of both shared commitments and a sympathetic understanding of difference.  

This gift is a resolution of whatever discomfort some of our members had with previous responses of the Federation to requests from the Birmingham Temple. It is clear from the generosity of the grant, that the Federation acknowledges our congregation and our movement as a significant part of the Jewish Community. 

I urge all of our members to respond to this decision with their full financial support for the work of the Federation. I think a milestone has been passed in our history. 

I also urge you to reserve October 23-26 on your busy calendars for the excitement of Colloquium ‘97.  

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 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.