There is a story that charms me from the annals of Zionist history at the turn of the 20th century. Arthur Balfour, a Member of the House of Lords asked Chaim Weizmann, who later would become President of Israel, “Why do you Jews insist on Palestine when there are so many undeveloped countries you could settle in more conveniently?” According to the story, Weizmann answered, “That’s like my asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street. Mr. Balfour, if you were offered Paris instead of London, would you take it?” Lord Balfour was shocked and surprised by the question, “But London is our own!” Weizmann answered, “Jerusalem was our own when London was a marsh.” This same Member of the House of Lords famously crafted the Balfour Declaration in 1917 that made public British support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
At the Orangetown Jewish Center, we talk about Israel, our Jewish homeland, proudly, passionately and with the assurance of safety. There is room for debate and discussion, but we all agree that our home had to be established in 1948 on that tiny strip of desert and marsh. Then Palestine, today Israel, is “our own.”
We also agree that while we advocate and educate about the need for secure borders and freedom from terrorism in Israel, we must also pay close attention to Israel’s soul. As Conservative Jews, we have a specific vision of Israel that is anchored in religious freedom. We yearn to be a part of an Israel that is a pluralistic Jewish and democratic state with which every Jew can proudly identify.
Rabbi Scheff and I often suggest ways to lift our voices in support of the official recognition in Israel of all the major streams of Judaism. We believe that the authority of rabbis from non-Orthodox movements should be respected regarding all issues of personal status and ritual. Rabbis of the Conservative and Reform movements should be able to officiate at weddings, conversions, divorces and funerals in Israel as they do here in America.
Today, there is one specific action you can take to be a part of the potential Israel you envision. It is time now to vote in the World Zionist Congress that will meet this year in Jerusalem. The World Zionist Congress has met since 1897 when it first laid out the principles of Zionism, the belief that the Jewish people of the world must have a homeland of their own, the land of Israel. Today the WZC elects the officers and decides on the policies of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency.
It is time now to vote. It is time to vote for Mercaz, the political arm of the Conservative–Masorti Movement of Judaism. According to the Mercaz mission statement, a vote for Mercaz is a vote for an Israel that is pluralistic and inclusive, egalitarian and unified, sustainable and diverse.
Go to http://votemercaz.org/ to get started, to get educated, and to cast your ballot. It costs just $10 for your opportunity to change the future of Israel. And while you are at the website, you can see a great photograph and statement by our own Josh Drill. He writes about what Mercaz means to him as a young man making aliya this August.
Mercaz has also made a series of short, informative videos that you can share to educate friends and family about the important vision we share about the soul of Israel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnfPe8s6VCU
With friendship, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
A past-president of our synagogue, Nohra Leff, once said to me, “I don’t just believe in miracles, I EXPECT THEM!” What a great way to go through life. Expecting miracles means that we engage in behaviors that ultimately create an environment where what some perceive as the “miraculous” becomes that much more possible.
In the fall of 1995, I took a job as part-time cantor at the OJC. Still a full-time student and father of two young boys, I treated the job like it was the fulfillment of a dream. A year later, I was negotiating my first contract to be Student-Rabbi and to stay on as Rabbi after my ordination. I was advised by people “in the know” to avoid such a commitment. After all, the synagogue had gone through so many rabbis in its relatively short history, and I “could do better,” according to the more experienced. Three years later, another past-president, Michael Scolnick, would ask me how long I thought the honeymoon could last. I am glad to say that, even in my 20th year, I still feel like we met just yesterday. Okay, maybe just the day before yesterday.
When I speak to rabbinical students in their final years at JTS, I try to emphasize that every synagogue community has the potential to be a place that can be transformed and re-dedicated to Torah, service and deeds of loving kindness. That can only happen, however, if the rabbi is willing to see him or herself as spending the rest of their professional life serving that one community. If we invest ourselves in a plan believing that we have only two years to work toward achieving our goals, then we doom ourselves to failure; but if we invest ourselves planning for the long term, we can create an environment where the seemingly impossible is indeed achievable.
In the midst of Chanukah, we consider the nature of miracles, and the role that “dedication” (the literal meaning of the word Chanukah) plays in making one day’s worth of oil last for eight, or in leading one small band of soldiers to victory against overwhelming odds. I am so proud of what we have achieved and how we have continued to grow as a Conservative egalitarian community. Beyond our impressive numbers, we have attained a level of learning, service to the broader community, participation and spirit of which we can all be proud. The dedication that has brought us to this place in our history, however, has also given us the wisdom to understand that we must continue striving to build and to deepen relationships; to reach in to our membership and to reach out to those still searching; to develop more pathways into our OJC community, into a life of purpose and meaning, and into relationship with God; and to lookto the future with faith, optimism and vision. Some people might call our success a miracle. Perhaps we have witnessed something miraculous as a community; if so, the miracle only happened because of the wise people–presidents, boards, volunteers, congregants, professionals and clergy–who were looking for one, who expected one, and who acted to create the environment where such a miracle could take root.
Chag Urim Sameach,
Happy Festival of Lights,
Rabbi Craig Scheff