Sunday, October 16, 2011

Yom Kippur Israel Appeal

This is the Yom Kippur Israel Appeal given by Ed Berns at Temple Beth Sholom in Hamden, Connecticut. TBS regularly distributes a valuable Israel Matters newsletter to its members. Israel Matters is also available on the TBS website.

Shabbat shalom,

A year passes quickly. It seems like yesterday that I was on this bimah urging you to fight the demonization of Israel and to make Israel a daily part of your life. That you should make an investment of time to be knowledgeable about the issues that Israel confronts daily. And, ultimately, I encouraged you to leave your comfort zone and actively advocate for Israel. I could give the same speech today - it would be just as timely, but that wouldn't express what is affecting Israel this year.

A lot can happen in a year. If you were sitting here last year praying that in the year to come Israel would see peace, then today you are sitting here a very disappointed person.

We've all heard about the Arab Spring. Democracy rising from the ashes of dictatorships. Mubarak and Gaddafi overthrown. Great for the Arab street and great for the world, right? I wish I could tell you that the Arab revolution will ease rather than exacerbate tensions in the Middle East, but from the early returns it doesn't look like it will deliver as advertised.

Take Egypt, for example. With Mubarak deposed it didn't take long for the Muslim Brotherhood to emerge as the only unified political party and it is rapidly securing its hold on the country.  The recent takeover of the Israeli embassy, the nurturing of relations with Iran, and the removal of security forces in the Sinai that facilitates the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, all of these result in Israel having been better off dealing with a ruthless dictator who knew that a cold peace with it, rather than confrontation was in his, and Egypt's, best interests.

In the last twelve months, Israel's relations with Turkey have deteriorated from being one of the most mutually beneficial to one of confrontation. Using Israel's reaction to last year's Flotilla incitement as justification, Turkey has flexed its geopolitical muscles to become a power broker in the region. In the process, its political balance tilted away from the democracies in the West to fall more in line with the traditional Islamic view of Israel. By recalling its ambassador, Turkey severed relations with Israel. Most recently it threatened to send its warships with the next flotilla to Gaza, risking a military confrontation with Israel in the process. The view from those on the inside is that Israel's relationship with Turkey is not recoverable.

Needless to say, nothing good has come out of Iran. Speaking at the UN, Ahmadinejad enjoyed the opportunity to again blast both the US and Israel. This year's rant denied the Holocaust, calling it an excuse for the foundation of the State of Israel that represented "ransom to the Zionists." In the meantime, the Iranian march toward nuclear independence accelerated despite attempts to encourage it to abandon its plan.

To all of that instability, we must add the increased inflexibility of the Palestinian Authority. While refusing to sit down with the Israelis to negotiate an elusive peace, it simultaneously ignored the urging of the US and other Western nations and proceeded down the dead-end path of using the comfortable surroundings of the UN to declare unilateral statehood. In other words, the goal of the Palestinians was to achieve the land without achieving the peace.

There was one significant, bright spot to report. During the past twelve months, many felt whipsawed by the changes in President Obama's posture toward Israel. In May - for the first time publicly - the president announced that it was the official position of the US that Israel should negotiate peace with the Palestinians using the pre-1967 borders as the starting point. Remember: With those borders, parts of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest place, would revert to Arab control. Ignoring realities on the ground, Israel would have to start fresh and negotiate for them. Notably missing was a pronouncement by the President that any peace agreement must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and that Palestine must be for the Palestinians. This prompted a public rebuke - and more bad press for Israel - when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded that those borders were indefensible and would not be the starting point for renewed negotiations. Relations between Israel and the US had reached a very low point.

This month, in an incredible turnaround, President Obama spoke at the UN in response to the Palestinian bid for statehood. In a speech that has been described as missing only a portrait of Theodore Hertzl in the background, President Obama provided the strongest support for Israel of his presidency. The president stressed America's recognition of and commitment to Israel's security concerns. "Let's be honest," he said, "Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it" and "Israel's children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them." Capping his support, the president made the point he should have made in May when he very clearly articulated the land of Israel as the "historic homeland" of the Jewish people.

With all of that as background, I stand before you today to appeal to your love of Israel by asking that you affirmatively stand with and demonstrate your devotion to her. I know things are tight. But as we know, Israel is getting squeezed pretty hard, too.

As American Jews it is up to us to declare our solidarity with Israel. There are many ways to show your support, and with the variety of Israel-related charities and organizations you are sure to find one that fits your interests. Some you know well: Hadassah, tree planting through the Jewish National Fund, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, the organization dedicated to Israel advocacy and which the Rabbi and I are both members. These are wonderful organizations and well worth your support. There are many more, some of which you might not be aware. Some of those are described on the handout you found on your chairs this morning. For example, last night Rabbi Scolnic commented on the infrastructure needs of Israel, and mentioned the Carmel forest fires. If the needs of the Israeli firefighters resonates with you, you'll see on your handout an organization known as Friends of Israel Firefighters that raises funds to buy badly needed equipment.

My point is this: It really doesn't matter what you support so long as you do support. Get engaged, become invested. This is not the time to stand on the sidelines. There's a Yiddish proverb that goes, "If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another." In other words, if you're not doing something, what does it matter why?

It is traditional in an Israel Appeal to urge the purchase of Israel bonds, and today is no exception. Investment in State of Israel bonds has helped cultivate the desert, build transportation networks, create new industries, resettle immigrants, and increase export capability. It supports a nation of extraordinary innovation that pushes the boundaries of modern technology. Israel has never defaulted or missed a single payment of principal or interest. An easy way to purchase Israel bonds is to donate to the TBS Israel Bond Fund. When sufficient amounts are accumulated, the synagogue purchases another bond.

The bottom line is this: As American Jews, we must demonstrate a common front in the support of Israel. Golda Meir had it right: "To be or not to be is not a question of compromise. Either you be or you don't be."

Be someone who supports Israel. Be someone knowledgeable about the issues Israel faces. Be someone who is willing to fight against the slander Israel faces daily. Be someone who responds to the media when you read something printed that portrays Israel in a false light. Be someone who visits Israel if you can. What I'm asking you today is to be.

I would be remiss if I failed to recognize June 25th as the fifth anniversary of the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit who has been held captive and incommunicado by Hamas. We pray for his freedom.

In conclusion, the Rabbi has asked me to inform the congregation that throughout the coming year he will be holding informational sessions about advocating for Israel. The first session is set for November 6th. He and I hope you will join us.

I wish you, your families, and Israel peace in the coming year.

L'shana tovah.

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