From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
This past week, the Jewish news has been filled with reactions to the result of the Presbyterian Church’s vote to divest from three American companies that do business in Israel. You might say that only three companies don’t amount to much, but you’d be wrong. The message was a stinging indictment against Israel backed by some of the most notorious anti-Semites including David Duke. To reach their conclusion, the convention relied on gross exaggerations of Israel’s conduct in peace efforts and in their handling of the “administered territories” otherwise known as the West Bank.
Jewish commentators blasted the decision and condemned the church for their skewed vision of Israel and their contribution to rising trends in anti-Semitism especially in Europe. Fomenting anti-Israel sentiments against the backdrop of unceasing attacks by Palestinians and terror groups from the administered territories and Gaza into Israel is incomprehensible and irresponsible. Among the many commentators whose articles I read, and there were many good ones, I was especially drawn to and moved by Benjamin Netanyahu’s response, in which he said:
It should trouble all people of conscience and morality because it's so disgraceful. You know, you look at what's happening in the Middle East, and I think most Americans understand this: They see this enormous area riveted by religious hatred, by savagery of unimaginable proportions.
Then you come to Israel and you see the one democracy that upholds basic human rights, that guards the rights of all minorities, that protects Christians. Christians are persecuted throughout the Middle East. So, most Americans understand that Israel is a beacon of civilization and moderation.
You know, I would suggest to those Presbyterian organizations to fly to the Middle East, come see Israel for the embattled democracy that it is, and then take a bus tour. Go to Libya, go to Syria, go to Iraq, and see the difference. And I would give them two pieces of advice: One is make sure it's an armor-plated bus. And, second, don't say that you're Christians.
Having just returned from Israel, I identify with Netanyahu’s comments and urge all Christians, and especially Presbyterians, to do as he said. Anti-Christian sentiments run high among rabid terrorists who see no way forward in Israel except to destroy the country and its inhabitants, Jew and Christian, alike. As another Jewish commentator urged, every Presbyterian minister should reach out to a Jewish friend or rabbi, apologize for this gross interpretation of the facts and commit to a world of peace that begins with truth.
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
We’re home. Congregation Beth Israel’s 160th Anniversary Tour to Israel, June 8-18, 2014, is now complete. Together, we explored, learned, absorbed and deepened our understanding about the Land and People of Israel. Ask any of the travelers about their experiences and they will agree with Marcia Nichols, our extraordinary trip chair, that this was not a vacation; it was an entrée to our people’s past, present and future.
We landed in Tel Aviv on the morning of June 9th and our tour began immediately. A highlight was Independence Hall, where on May 14th, 1948, after the UN vote, David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the Land of Israel, “Medinat Yisrael”. We learned how, after the announcement was made, the new country went to war against neighboring Arab countries. The 1948 War of Independence, the Six-Day war of 1967, and the Yom Kippur war of 1973, became themes that held our attention. These modern wars were laid atop the ancient history of Israel that also knew war and exile, let alone the horror of the Holocaust and its meaning for us, today.
History and politics were constant subjects as we made our way to the Golan in the north, to Jerusalem and surrounding areas, and to Masada and the Dead Sea. But, apart from the more familiar sights, there was no question that standing atop a hill in Sderot with Col. Bentzi Gruber to view Gaza, was among the most revealing moments we shared. Walking with Danny Tirza, the leader behind the development and construction of the “fence” protecting Israel from suicide murderers opened our eyes to the reality on the ground and the meaning of the boundary. Learning from Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the last Nazi hunter following our visit to Yad Vashem, deepened our appreciation for the cause for justice that has no statute of limitations. And, our evening lecture with Dr. Daniel Gold, the creator and inspiration behind the “Iron Dome”, was beyond exciting; and for Star Wars fans it was downright cool. In addition, our tour guide, Danny Apelbom, outdid himself with knowledge, humor, and friendship. The combination of learning, inspiration, and exposure to Israel in all its complexities filled our hearts and minds with hope for the Jewish people and all of humanity.
If you asked me what’s a take-away from our visit, I would be hard-pressed to pick just one. But, let me begin by telling you what Col. Bentzi Gruber said to us while we stood on a hill in Sderot overlooking Gaza. He said, “Israel is the United States’ least expensive aircraft carrier.” Think about where the U.S. would be without Israel standing between the forces of hostile Arab nations that surround her and which share the same antipathy for the U.S. that they have for Israel. Israel is the only western democracy in the region and despite its daily barrage of misguided missiles from Gaza, which Israel withdrew from in 2005, the people of Israel chooses life and pursues the future with faith and hope, everyday.
Many thanks to David Scott, Director of Lifelong Learning at Beth Israel, for joining me on the trip, and to my wife, Lisa, for adding spirit and joy to the friendships we deepened along the way. Marcia Nichols is a gem whose leadership over the past three Beth Israel trips to Israel made them what they were meant to be. As Shabbat comes, I invite you to join me in reflecting on the strength of the Jewish people here and everywhere and for the inspiration of the Land of Israel.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
We leave for Israel on June 8th. More than 45 people are joining Marcia Nichols, David Scott, Lisa Lyon and me for a trip that will inspire, awaken, and engage us. Israel is called “Eretz Yisrael” the land of Israel. It’s also called “Ha’aretz” The Land, because the definite article says everything we need to know about our historical and modern aspirations for Israel. This is The Land that our ancestors aspired to return to since the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE; and though the Israelites returned to rebuild the Temple, not everyone returned, and the second Temple was destroyed for good by the Romans in 70 CE. Books of the Bible such as Lamentations record the yearnings for The Land and the hope that one day our people would return.
The significance of these dates in history moves the proverbial pointer on our timeline to before the Common Era as the beginning of our hope for a return to The Land. The Holocaust became a reason for modern Israel, but Israel wasn’t predicated on the Holocaust. It was always predicated on an age-old and aching hope that the promise God made to our patriarchs and matriarchs would be fulfilled one day. Modern day Israel became a salvation for the victims of the Holocaust who fled a war-torn and deeply anti-Semitic Europe. Since 1948, generations of Jews have called Israel the only home they’ve known, and for many others the land they came home to. Our ancient hope has been realized in the establishment of the modern State of Israel.
On Sunday morning, when we arrive together to see, feel, hear, touch, and smell The Land, we will be forever changed by its history and modernity, its democracy and religious observances, its science and mysticism, and by its people and customs.
Highlights of our trip include an event with Dalia Rabin, Chair of the Rabin Center and daughter of the late Prime Minister. We’ll spend an evening with Israeli Brigadier General Daniel Gold, inventor of the Iron Dome project that defends Israel against enemy missiles. A program in Safed, the Jewish mystical city, will feature historic synagogues and a meeting with a Kabbalah scholar. The Dubrovin Farm for dinner and Israeli dancing will complete a day full of activities. Jerusalem is a high point for all of us and will feature time at the Western Wall and Shabbat in the Holy City. A tour of Masada and the Dead Sea will take us to new heights and to the lowest place on earth. We have special speakers, amazing lodging, food and transportation, including a chartered bus with Wi-Fi, jeeps, and camels without Wi-Fi.
The Torah portion that we’ll read while we’re in Israel includes the story of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, who report to the Israelite people what they observed in the Land they were about to enter and possess. They described people and produce, hills and valleys that exceeded their imaginations and dwarfed them by comparison. It was a report that exhilarated them about the place that God promised would be “flowing with milk and honey.” With faith in themselves and in God’s presence, they made their way forward to begin what would be the journey of a people that, not withstanding its trials and tribulations, persevered and triumphed to fulfill its mission to be “a light unto the nations.”
So, we begin. From north to south and east to west, may we replace myths with facts about The Land and its people. May our time together help us all see that Israel is our Land and our People, too.
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