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265
03/24/2016 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 25, 2016

 

Beware: Any references to Purim are only coincidental.

I was there when Donald Trump appeared at the AIPAC Policy Conference. It was another reality TV moment for a man who breathes the air of celebrity and ego. He's a man whose feet never really walk where you and I walk every day. He climbs into a tricked-out Boeing 757 or a personal helicopter to transport himself and his entourage anywhere he wishes to go. When he arrives his courtiers greet and escort him to his place at the head of the table or the “x” on the stage where he makes lightning quick decisions with the authority of one who considers himself to be his best advisor.

At the AIPAC policy conference on Monday night, Trump entered the hall to an audience of over 18,000 Jews and Christians who support a strong alliance between America and Israel, the mission of AIPAC to which it has been true from its inception. I, for one, didn't join the few colleagues who left the arena to study Torah rather than listen to Trump. Yes, Torah trumps Trump, but Torah also teaches that one must get eye-witness evidence before passing judgment (see commentary on Genesis 11). I wasn't surprised by what Trump had to say but that's only because his speech was more of the same. He began by telling us that he didn’t “come to pander” and then he went on to pander. It was entirely predictable and turned out to be a demonstration of what he learned about foreign policy in recent months. It sounded like “Middle East History 101: From WWII to the Present Because That’s All that Matters.”

He spoke from prepared words except for what must have been a few ad-libs he believed the audience would love to hear, including deep jabs at Hillary Clinton and President Obama. The crowd didn't disappoint him. Thousands rose to cheer his jabs to the political left and right. But his speech was weak. It spoke directly to the crowd's self-interested need to hear gratuitous platitudes about Israel and America including everything and anything that a Trump presidency might mean for Israel. Just as he has done before, he inspired the crowd like he was feeding hungry dogs their daily grub. A rabbinic colleague sitting next to me said Trump throws a lot of bones to the crowd. Another said there a lot of hungry dogs out there.

Trump ended his speech with a personal but gross attempt to claim “yichus”, a genealogical connection to the Jewish people, by claiming that his daughter was about to give birth to a "Jewish baby!" The crowd went wild. I'm not sure if they understood that he meant that a Jewish king and heir would soon be born.

My gravest disappointment came from a place I didn't expect. I was shocked and disappointed by the crowd that rose too many times to catch his bones and applauded too many times to feed his ego. He must have the left the arena believing that wherever he goes everybody loves him. Everybody doesn’t.

There's a scene in the movie “The American President” where Michael Douglas, who plays the president, says to his press secretary played by Michael Fox, that people lost in the desert (a metaphor for politically wandering) don't eat the sand because they're wild with thirst; they eat the sand because they no longer know the difference. If life can imitate art, then let's take a cue from the movie and prevent ourselves from nourishing our own egos with bones Trump throws at us just because we’ve become delirious from a lack of leadership on Israel and the Middle East. We know the difference. Trump is an imposter who seeks the golden throne of the presidency. The problem is that it's not golden; it’s rife with complex world challenges he knows little about. And, it's not a throne; it’s an elected seat of enormous responsibility tied to a Constitution that was written to prevent forever a king from ruling against the will of the people and forsaking the liberty of a United States of America.

On Tuesday morning, Lillian Pinkus, president of AIPAC, spoke before the convention delegates to condemn Trump’s speech and to assail him for his message of partisanship and political animosity, which contradicted AIPAC’s policy that initially earned him an invitation to the convention. Nearly in tears, Pinkus defended and upheld the very serious work of AIPAC for a strong America and Israel, while criticizing Trump’s message and the despicable display of many in the crowd.

Okay, so I'm not voting for Trump. But before you might, you must answer for yourself the question why this man should go from celebrity apprentice to leader of the free world. America needs a president, not a king. Israel needs a friend not a benevolent pharaoh. This isn’t Purim and it shouldn’t become a nightmare from which we won’t soon awake.


You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.



264
03/11/2016 12:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 11, 2016

 

When will it end? Horrifying accounts on the front pages of credible news sources tell the real story of terrorist attacks aimed at Jews in Israel. At the gates to the Old City and on the sidewalks along the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, innocent lives are taken by knife-wielding maniacs. Taylor Force, the latest victim, a West Point graduate and one of America’s finest, according to his friend and “Times of Israel” blogger, David Simpkins, didn’t deserve to die “in a war that he didn’t know he was in the middle of.”

                Simpkins wrote, “Taylor is not dead because of Israel. It’s not Israel’s fault for occupying the land. It’s not Israel’s fault for making the Palestinians do this. There are over 60 territorial disputes worldwide, and most lead to absolutely no bloodshed whatsoever. It’s the Palestinians (sic) fault for murdering Taylor.”

                Simpkins wrote facts about the atrocities committed by Palestinian terrorists, sometimes women and children, against Israeli and American Jews. And, then he used those facts to point out the non-sequitur he observes in the illogical outcome that should have led to tolerance at best and indifference at worst. But, indiscriminate acts of war against innocent passersby on a sunny day along the sidewalk in Jaffa (Yaffo) cannot make any sense to any normal, reasonable person. Like many of us, Simpkins grasps at facts that ultimately provide no support, logic, or solution.

                Two weeks ago, we walked where Taylor Force walked. Many of us have done so. To one side is the bustling city of Jaffa (Yaffo), gentrified in some places and thriving with restaurants and shops. To the other side is the Mediterranean Sea, glistening with color and beauty. We had lunch near the docks. We ate up Mediterranean food and listened to many languages spoken around us. It’s not a place where we expect the wars of the Middle East to be fought. It’s a place where we expect to breathe the sea air and gaze on the beauty of Tel Aviv. But, when we walked north again along the sea to Tel Aviv, we watched the people around us. This time we didn’t watch in interest; rather, we watched with concern. Were the women dressed in burkas sitting on the hill near the sidewalk simply enjoying the day like us? Were the people passing to our right and left on their way somewhere like we were? We took nothing for granted. We balanced the joy we felt in the sunshine and cool sea breezes against the concern we raised about everyone and everything around us.

                We sympathize deeply with Simpkins as he grieves his friend’s death and his hope. What’s left to say, if not about the tragedy unfolding in the Middle East, then to David Simpkins?

                Let’s not say, “I’m sorry.” Under the circumstances, it’s trivial and makes no difference. I recommend that we say to David that his friend, Taylor, didn’t die in vain. His life was not for naught. The lessons he learned at West Point and the way he lived his life brought honor to him and to those who knew him. Sadly, facts won’t change anything; at least not for those who are bent on terrorism. So, let’s promise David that we’ll aim to advocate for a Land of Israel that is open to new paths to peace, not defined by terrorists, but outlined by values worthy of the memory of his friend, Taylor, and worthy of the land and people of America and Israel. And, David, remember that Judaism teaches us, “A jewel that is lost remains a jewel forever – but they who lost it, well may they mourn.” Zichrono livracha, may the memory of your beloved friend be for a blessing.



You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

263
03/04/2016 11:41 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabi David Lyon
March 4, 2016

 

Recently, I returned from Israel where I was attending the convention of the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis), which is held in Israel every seven years, and which I serve as a member of the Board of Trustees. During the course of meetings, on-site visits, and in-depth study, it became patently clear to me that we have two distinct obligations to the land and people of Israel: 1) to promote its national security; and, 2) to advocate for the Reform Jewish values we promote at Beth Israel and which we seek in our personal Jewish lives.

                In the interest of Israel’s security, we elect officials and promote legislation that ensures a close America-Israel relationship. In recent years, we have deepened our commitment to this cause through AIPAC; and, on March 20-22, 2016, Beth Israel will lead 50 people, its largest delegation to date, to Washington D.C. for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference.

                In the interest of Reform Jewish values, last week on Thursday morning hundreds of Reform rabbis made their way to the Kotel’s new area designated for egalitarian prayer and observance. As a female colleague chanted Torah, we envisioned plans for the future of the Kotel. Upon completion, one entrance to the plaza north of the Kotel will provide everyone choices to enter the worship space that meets his or her needs. Though not ideal, the outcome signals much more than a space at the Wall. It demonstrates that the restrictive grip of the ultra-orthodox in Israel and Chief Rabbinate cannot contain the spirit of increasing numbers of Israeli Jews who seek not only Israeli nationalism, but also Judaism and modernity for themselves and their families.

                Today, there are 50 Reform synagogues in Israel. This spring, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, at the Jerusalem campus, will ordain its 100th Israeli-born and HUC-trained Reform rabbi. Across Israel, data supports the fact that non-orthodox Jews are increasingly enjoying encounters with Reform rabbis in communities across Israel, where religious observances including Shabbat, holidays and life-cycles are regularly conducted by Reform rabbis trained by HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.

                Last Shabbat, I wasn’t on our bimah in Houston; I was sitting in the small Reform synagogue in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. There, Rabbi Edgar Nof, spiritual leader of Congregation Natan-Ya, led a spirited Reform Shabbat service that was in many ways just like our own Shabbat service at home. The same melodies, rituals, egalitarian roles and voices, and commitment to Reform Judaism were evident in the Rabbi’s words and the congregational families who welcomed nearly 40 CCAR rabbis to their synagogue and Oneg Shabbat. More than 300 other Reform colleagues were spread out around Israel for Shabbat services in similar Reform Jewish settings. On our last day, while visiting the IDC (the first private university for interdisciplinary studies), a very bright and entrepreneurial leader told us that her son recently became a bar mitzvah in a Reform synagogue in Israel. Over and over, we encountered real evidence of Reform Judaism taking shape in Israel.

                In the news, the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews hurl scathing insults against Reform Judaism. Though it offends us, it also serves a vital purpose. It keeps the debate on the front pages of the newspapers and Internet, and reminds Israeli Jews, who feel that they’ve been held captive long enough by increasingly restrictive laws of the Chief Rabbinate, that Reform Judaism is a real choice. At Beth Israel, our Israel advocacy work will always promote a secure Israel. It will also promote Reform Judaism in Israel for the sake of a Land that is Jewish and democratic, western and Middle Eastern, modern and ancient. None of it comes easily, but the real Reform accomplishments we celebrated this past week represent a new foundation stone upon which we can build a Land of Israel that we and our children and our grandchildren can love for generations to come.

 

See these websites for more information:

http://www.reform.org.il/Eng/

http://www.hiddush.org

http://www.huc.edu

 


You may reach Rabbi David Lyon here.

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