Crossing a Red Line
What is your red line? Mine has just been crossed.
I have been filled with sorrow, outrage and concern over the past two months, regarding the intentions and actions of the new coalition government in the Israeli Knesset under the leadership of Bibi Netanyahu.
Your rabbis have attempted to educate according to values of Judaism and democracy through a sermon, a webinar with Yizhar Hess (CEO of WZO) and my son Josh, and an extensive letter filled with analysis and resources for you.
I have thought time and again over these past weeks of writing to you in this blog. Each time, I wondered what I could possibly say that would be either new or useful.
This morning, I woke to the news that last night, 400 Jewish settlers poured down a hill from Jewish West Bank settlements into the small Palestinian town of Huwara and neighboring villages, where they rampaged, setting fire to 40 buildings and hundreds of cars, causing injury to one hundred people, killing one Palestinian man, and destroying extensive amounts of property.
What is the context of these riots?
Yesterday, two young Jewish brothers in their twenties, Hillel and Yagev Yaniv, were tragically murdered in a terrorist attack. Even as security forces pursued the terrorist responsible for this heinous act, hundreds of Jews rioted in Huwara with the support of senior political figures. Answering violence with more violence, taking the law into their own hands, only six of these 400 settlers have been arrested.
While both Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog have officially condemned the Jewish violence, some elected officials in Israel justified the violence and burning of villages.
As your rabbi, a Zionist, a Jew, and a fellow human, I feel compelled to take action today. What can I do but use my words which Judaism has taught are more powerful than the sword? Yet what can I possibly do through these words that will be helpful?
Is it possible to convince you who love Israel to keep your faith in the Israeli people and in humanity?
I have a file in my hard drive that is called “Israel in Crisis.” Over the years, I have saved a tragic number of articles and emails regarding terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, missile strikes against Israeli civilians in towns and cities, and all-out war. When this new government was elected in Israel, I did not create a new file. I simply started storing information in this same file called “Israel in Crisis.” This time, the crisis is from within.
In a powerful open letter to Israel’s friends in North America, published on February 2, 2023, Times of Israel article, Matti Friedman, Yossi Klein-Halevi, and Daniel Gordis warned us: “ the changes a foot will have dire consequences for the solidarity of Israel’s society, and for its economic miracle, as our leading economists are warning. It will also threaten Israeli-American relations, and it will do grave damage to our relations with you, our sisters and brothers in the Diaspora.”
It’s not just these famous columnists from across the political spectrum who are asking us to step up and let Israeli politicians know where we stand. Israeli family and friends are pleading with us to take action.
We lovers of Zion from outside of Israel have been given mixed messages through the years. Some of us internalized the message that we have no right to speak up regarding internal Israeli matters if we do not serve in the IDF or vote in the elections of the State.
This directive no longer feels tenable to me on this morning, after unspeakable violence against innocent Palestinians committed by Jewish hands in response to a terrorist act that took the lives of two innocent Jews.
I encourage you to continue studying and asking questions about the situation in Israel. To me, it seems clear that Israeli leaders need to hear where Zionists from outside of Israel stand. While Israel belongs first and foremost to the citizens of Israel, Israel matters to the entire peoplehood of Judaism. This government has gone far beyond my understanding of what a Jewish state and a democratic nation should be. I will continue writing and calling my representatives, asking them to make clear to the current government of Israel that the path they are currently on will lead to dire consequences. I invite you to consider doing the same.
May the memory of the murdered Yaniv brothers be for a blessing. May we all join together to work for peace between all of the citizens of Israel, and between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
Learning from our students
We learn from Rabbi Chanina in the Talmud (Taanit 7a), “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and most from my students.” Most of us, I imagine, would guess that the best learning is “top down,” that teacher knows best. The Talmudic quote, however, reflects the attitude of a teacher who must have had an intern.
For more than two decades, our synagogue has served as a placement site for the Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School’s Resnick Internship program for fourth year (the penultimate year of study) students. Our community has benefited from the teachings of an illustrious group of rabbis-to-be, now all rabbis (but the last two). And I am confident that the rabbinates of each of these former interns have been shaped in some way by their time with OJC’s rabbis and community.
What I did not expect when I first started participating in this internship program was how much I would take away, personally and professionally, from the experience of mentoring. As an intern, Rabbi Drill came to our community with a professional background in social work and a personal background as a lay leader in a synagogue community. Her perspectives, experiences and questions about my methods helped me refine and improve upon my own rabbinic practice.
Over the years and across the decades, my own understanding of Torah has been expanded by the experiences and attitudes of our interns. They have kept me current in cultural trends, language and the potential uses of technology. Their understanding of society has helped me—and I believe our community—move well beyond political correctness to a place of social awareness, intelligence, understanding and empathy. While my professors and instructors have given me knowledge, theory and the structures inside which I would learn to exercise my rabbinic voice, it has been our interns—and for that matter all out students of Torah—who have taught me how my voice and Torah would resonate best.
Today, Lindsay Goldman (who grew up in our OJC community and served as our intern last year) will deliver her Senior Sermon. The ritual is a rite of passage for every rabbinical school student. Just as our own Ben Varon did last year, Lindsay will teach Torah to her community, including her peers, colleagues and teachers. She will be acknowledged by the JTS community as a teacher of Torah.
But we know, as did Rabbi Chanina, that we have already learned so much more Torah from her in her capacity as “our” student. She and our other interns have taught us how to teach, how to listen, how to grow and change, how to expand our grasp of Torah and the world.
Mazal tov to Lindsay, to her family and to all of us. May she—and may we all—continue to be students of Torah whose learning brings honor and greater wisdom to our tradition and to our teachers.
With admiration and appreciation,
Rabbi Craig Scheff