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11/29/2012 10:56 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
November 30, 2012


                If I asked you to describe a person of faith, you might describe a person of age and wisdom, because faith is supposed to come after years of seeking and sometimes finding meaning in life’s experiences. You might be right, but you could be wrong. Judaism doesn’t equate age with wisdom. They can go together, but it isn’t a perfect formula. Rather, Judaism identifies faith in anyone who regularly seeks greater understanding of who they are intended to be in covenant with their community and God.

                In Torah, this Shabbat, we read about Jacob’s wrestling encounter with an angel. Before the encounter was over, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, because he wrestled with a man, presumably an angel of God, and prevailed. Thus, we are all Israel, “Yisrael,” because we, descendants of Jacob, are also “God-wrestlers.” That is, we are prone to ask, demand, inquire and interpret our Torah teachings for greater and deeper understanding. And, through such inquiry our faith doesn’t wither, instead it thrives. In fact, our doubting and inquiry strengthen our faith. Through the exchange of information and the process of inquiry we arrive at important reasons to remain faithful to our covenant with God. Very few have been lost in the process of inquiry. More often, many have found meaning, and through it, faith.

                If you ever wondered aloud or silently about God, mitzvah, ritual, ethics, or Torah, for example, then you could call yourself a faithful Jewish man or woman. If you were firm in your belief but questioned events that seemed contrary to a world filled with God’s creative acts, then you could also call yourself a faithful Jewish man or woman. Only one who claims to have perfect faith and never inquires of Torah or Jewish teachings for greater understanding of human inclinations or God’s ways, would fail to be a truly faithful Jew. Since Jacob, our Jewish heritage demands that we ask, doubt and inquire of it for many reasons, not the least of which is that the process enables us to make progress in our constant search for greater faith. We also owe it to the next generation to ask, so that they might benefit from our insights when they embark on their own search.

                There are no slack days when it comes to our pursuit of faith. Jewish life is a constant rhythm of study, worship, good deeds, and rest. God willing, our week has been filled with good deeds that reflect our best understanding of Jewish ethics in business and community; we’ve spent some time examining Jewish insights into current events; and we’ve chosen the end of this week to make time for Shabbat. We’re all people of faith when we admit that, whether or not we are “observant” Jews, by definition, we are all people with “inquiring” Jewish hearts and minds. Our task today is to ask and inquire; our task for all time is to keep the faith!

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


Mark your calendars for our Chanukah Family Service in the Sanctuary, December 14, 2012. Come with your whole family and go home with Chanukah lights!

11/22/2012 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk
November 23, 2012


Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you enjoyed your turkey with all your family and friends. Now, let’s move on. Israel continues to struggle with its relatively lone fight against Hamas, a terrorist group that has as its primary mission to destroy Israel and Jews. Around your holiday table there was probably a conversation about Israel and its choices. On one side there were likely those who talked about deeper negotiations and compromises. On the other side there were likely those who talked about deeper penetration of Gaza to rout the terrorists. It’s like talking turkey, right?

Recently, I read in Ha’aretz, an article that pointed out a new and often unmentioned angle that clarified for me why the surgical airstrikes from Israel are a critical means to Israel’s long-term security and safety. Read this from Ha’aretz, November 18, 2012, by Aluf Benn:

“Speaking at the annual memorial for Moshe Dayan at Tel Aviv University, and in private conversations reported by my colleague Yossi Verter, [Ehud] Barak presented as the casus for the current belli the fact that Hamas ‘broke the rules’ by firing an antitank missile at a military jeep on the Israeli side of the border last weekend, and blowing up a ‘tunnel with half a ton of antitank explosives that was partly in our territory.’ He implied that Israel could not agree to the new game rules, which in effect created a Palestinian security zone on the Israeli side of the fence that could mean death for anyone entering it. That is what the IDF did on the Palestinian side of the fence, enforcing a ‘special security zone’ there. But what's good for the goose is prohibited to the gander.”(emphasis added)

Maintaining the boundaries between enemies is a critical strategy for Israel’s security. Allowing Hamas to penetrate the security zone widens their reach into Israeli territory and threatens the lives of those whose job it is to protect it. Pushing Hamas back to its place behind the border in Gaza is Israel’s only aim. Additionally, Israel has to demonstrate that its arms are strong and that no threat will weaken its resolve to keep Hamas on the other side of the border. Israel has no other choice.

The article also cited Barak who said that since the days of Moshe Dayan “things have not fundamentally changed. “We live in a tough neighborhood, one in which there is no mercy for the weak and no second chance for those who cannot defend themselves - 'a villa in the jungle,' as I once put it," he said. As a result, Aluf Blenn writes, “Israel has to flex its military muscles every few years in order to boost its deterrence so as to gain a time-out in its violent interactions with its neighbors.”

It’s easy to push back from the Thanksgiving table and sit motionless while we digest our meals and later prepare for a day of shopping on Black Friday. But, there is no time to waste in the ordeal facing Israel. I urge us all to stay vigilant about what we know and what we must know about events in the region. I urge us to look for important insights into the conflict so that media sensationalism doesn’t become our encyclopedia on the issues. Use the Internet to read,,, and Put truth in front of lies and fact in front of fiction. Don’t shrug your shoulders. Find your message and repeat it often.

Israel isn’t fighting Gazans or Palestinians. Israel is fighting terrorists. Americans fight terrorists. Join the fight against terrorism. Join the conversation against hate. Am Yisraeil Chai. The People of Israel lives!

11/15/2012 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
November 16, 2012


Life goes on in America even after a partisan national election. Already our eyes are trained on Thanksgiving turkeys and all the trimmings. Stores are getting ready for black Friday. But on the other side of the world our brothers and sisters in Israel are not interested in our festivals that celebrate our abundance. They are once more defending their very lives.

                This past week, Israel launched a defensive operation called “Amud Anan” Operation Pillar of Defense, in respond to the ongoing Hamas assault on Israel’s civilian population. Specifically, the IDF targeted Ahmed Jabri, the head of Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip. Jabri was a senior Hamas operative who served in the upper echelon of the Hamas command and was directly responsible for executing terror attacks against Israel in years past. The purpose of this operation was to severely impair the chain of command of Hamas leadership. This was, like other similar strikes, a surgical operation.

                For the third time in the past month, Israel’s civilian population has been targeted by rockets from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The latest round began last Saturday afternoon with a deliberate attack on an Israeli military vehicle which was patrolling the Israeli side of the fence with Gaza. It was followed by 120 rockets shot into Israel’s southern communities.

                It’s critical to note that Israel ended its military and civilian presence in Gaza in 2005, when a full withdrawal took place and control was returned to the Gazans who lived there. Instead of using Israel’s unilateral withdrawal as an opportunity to build Gaza into a peaceful Palestinian land, Hamas turned Gaza into a base for an ongoing terrorist assault on Israel. Would the U.S. tolerate for a minute if citizens of Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona were indiscriminately bombed by its southern neighbors across the border?

                Here are key points to note about Operation Pillar of Defense:


  • The purpose of Israel's action in Gaza is limited and aimed at removing the strategic threat posed against Israel's citizens.
  • Israel has responded with great restraint but it cannot permit rockets to be fired on its civilian population.
  • Israel is acting in self-defense
  • Hamas rules Gaza and bears full responsibility for the attacks launched at Israel

For more information please follow this link:

                As Jewish men, women and children, we have a duty to speak the truth about events that happen close to home and far away. Though Israel is far away, it is close to our hearts. Be a good ambassador and know the facts on the ground. Tell them to those who will listen and to those who will not. Ignorance has no place in a world that seeks peace. To be a great advocate for Israel, make a commitment to learn with us at Congregation Beth Israel. Mark your calendars for November 26th, Gordon Chapel, to hear Dr. Tal Becker, foremost authority on Middle East issues; and, December 9th, Rabbi Mark Miller and Elias Saratovsky of AIPAC will speak on “Engaging in the Media War”. Check the Beth Israel website at, for details.

                As Shabbat nears, include in your prayers a plea for restraint and peace. May God bless our people; May God bless us and all God’s children everywhere with peace.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

11/07/2012 05:05 PM Posted by:

From the Desk

November 9, 2012


The prophet Amos said (7:14), “I am not a prophet, and I am not the son of a prophet. I am a sheep breeder and a tender of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me away from the following the flock and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel.” Like all Hebrew prophets, Amos was a reluctant prophet who preferred his quiet life to the challenging role he would play as God’s mouthpiece to a troubled Israelite nation. “But the Lord took me away” was Amos’s call to do God’s bidding.

Amos wasn’t the only who was “called”. He approached the Israelite people who, like himself, was made part of God’s covenant to fulfill a specific role. No matter their preference, God’s covenant with Israel came with demands they could not avoid. Amos spoke to the Israelites (3:8) these famous words:

A lion has roared,

Who can but fear?

My Lord God has spoken,

Who can but prophesy?


Amos had to speak God’s words and the Israelites had to hear and obey. It wasn’t a choice for either Amos or the Israelites. Rather, it was the purpose for which they were created. Amos acted to change the course of history, bending it towards God’s will. The Israelites conformed by shunning its pagan ways and embracing the One God. Amos united them, saying (3:3) “Can two walk together without having met?” For their part, Amos implored the Israelites (5:15) to do the following:


“Seek good and not evil,

that you may live,

and that the Lord , the God of Hosts,

may truly be with you, as you think.

Hate evil and love good,

and establish justice in the gate;

Perhaps the Lord, the God of Hosts,

will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”


In the midst of a hedonistic and pagan lifestyle, the Israelites easily rejected Amos’s plea for their return. The Israelites enjoyed the uncompromising life that Assyrian opulence and decadence afforded them. But, the Israelites were not freed from Egypt to be freed from the covenant that delivered them from bondage. Rather, God’s covenant and Torah would forever bind them in a compact filled with paths to righteousness and peace. It would be a combined blessing and burden. The blessing was obvious: “Seek good and not evil” and God’s goodness and abundance would be available. The burden was the opposite side of the same compact; namely, to “hate evil and love good.” And, for this “burden” there was no other people more fit to bear it than the Israelite people. No one else on earth then or since has acquired or inherited the physical, emotional or spiritual wherewithal to accomplish what God, Torah and our people must be and do.

Then and now, the blessing and burden bind us inextricably to God and Torah. In the midst of abundance and prosperity, we must be grateful and generous and love good. In the midst of strife and adversity, we must be faithful and hate evil. A large part of our inheritance as Jews is confidence in the purpose of our days: to honor God’s covenant with us by seeking good and not evil; and establishing justice (tzedakah) in our midst.

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

11/01/2012 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
November 2, 2012


Our agendas are filling up with things to do, people to help, and causes to serve. Hurricane Sandy is the latest cause that needs our attention. Please give to local east coast organizations where help is needed. Support social service agencies that generously give food, clothing, shelter and counseling help. Use the Internet to identify Jewish and other helping institutions in the areas affected by the super-storm and give what you can. Typically, the URJ sends word about how to donate, but all their resources in NYC are unavailable due to the storm.

                There is one agenda item that never falls off our to-do list. It is Israel. With our attention focused on Israel’s needs especially during an election year, we are never without an opinion, a question, and something to do for the Jewish state. Our congregation has stepped up to address Israel on many levels. From the pulpit, we have given sermons on the safety and security of Israel, as well as the social and religious aspects of Israel. Many opinions exist, but K’lal Yisrael, the whole community of Israel standing together equally, is our wish and our goal.

                Beth Israel’s Miriam Brown Jewish Learning Center and Israel Advocacy Committee have teamed up to present three informative and engaging programs on Israel. We have organized and led sessions on “Why Israel Matters,” “Seven Dates to Know about Israel” and “How to Advocate for Israel”.

                Beth Israel’s Adult Education Committee also participates with 92nd Street Y presentations on Israel. Magnificent popular leaders and intellects have helped us grow in our understanding of and affection for Israel. Coming November 29th, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of England, will be our next speaker and teacher. Don’t miss it at 7:00pm sharp, in Wolf-Toomim Hall at Beth Israel.

                Days earlier, our Israel Advocacy Committee welcomes you to be personally with Dr. Tal Becker, on Monday night, November 26th, at 7pm in the Gordon Chapel. Dr. Tal Becker served as senior policy advisor to Israel’s minister of foreign affairs from 2006 to2009, and was a lead negotiator during Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that took place under the auspices of the Annapolis peace process. In his capacity, he also played a central role in managing Israel’s relations with the United States, EU, UN, and various Arab states. Representing Israel in a wide variety of bilateral and multilateral negotiations, he has also served as director of the International Law Department at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, as counsel to Israel’s UN Mission in New York and as an international law expert in the Military Advocate General’s Corps of the IDF. In 2003, he was elected vice chairman of the UN General Assembly’s Legal Committee, the first Israeli to serve in a UN post of this stature in more than forty years. Dr. Becker’s recent book, Terrorism and the State: Rethinking The Rules of State Responsibility, is the recipient of the 2007 Guggenheim Prize for Best International Law book.

                We can’t take our eyes off Israel and our hearts are never without prayers for Israel’s ultimate and permanent peace. Until such a day, we must invest ourselves in learning and advocating for Israel. Join us on November 26th to hear Dr. Becker, and on November 29th, to learn with Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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