Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), www.aipac.org, held their annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., this past week with nearly 18,000 delegates in attendance. By far one of the largest conferences in its history, it welcomed supporters of the American-Israel relationship from around the world. Why do I advocate on behalf of the American-Israel relationship through AIPAC?
First, the complex issues that surround Israel on its borders and its existential threats from abroad require an organization with a clear mission and multi-faceted forces to accomplish it. AIPAC is the largest lobby in North America that educates U.S. congressional leaders on critical issues related to the American-Israel relationship, and brings dozens of congressional leaders to Israel, annually. They provide information, data, and resources to secure the safety of America and Israel, as allies in the worst neighborhood in the Middle East.
Second, AIPAC gets results. Though AIPAC is regularly misunderstood as a right-wing conservative lobby, it is also a lobby that aims to appeal to left-wing liberals, too. Witness the hundreds of progressive rabbis and their congregants who attended the conference this past week. Though they and their right-wing colleagues may differ on social justice agendas, for example, they are bound together by a clear political purpose for Israel.
At Policy Conference this past week, the highlight, without question, was the appearance of and message by U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. Her recent remarks about the U.S.’s support of Israel, and her command of our nation’s moral authority on the subject of Israel’s sovereignty, right to exist, and ally status, earned her the audience’s longest standing ovation. The Washington Post reported, "The crowd luxuriated in her heartfelt identification with the Jewish people as an Indian American and her reminder that, while she was governor, South Carolina became the first state to pass anti-BDS legislation. But it was her determination to go after the jackals at the UN, who single out Israel again and again for demonization and calumny, which won over the crowd.” She famously said, "I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement, it’s…ammunition.”
On the last day of the Policy Conference, thousands of delegates headed to Capitol Hill to attend scheduled meetings with their congressional leaders. In those meetings, delegates were ready with talking points about issues to secure the American-Israel relationship and to guarantee Israel’s well-being and future. Delegates were equally prepared to talk about making peace with its enemies and to dismantle obstacles to that peace; but, they were unwavering in their determination to reach peace without jeopardizing Israel’s right to exist and to defend its borders and citizens.
It’s been 50 years since the 1967 war. It was a time that galvanized Jewish American and other support for the tiny fledgling nation. In 2017, Israel is still tiny but now it’s a singular powerhouse of ingenuity and hope. From swamps to orchards, from Haifa oranges to hi-tech innovation second only to Silicon Valley, Israel is a miracle. With AIPAC’s role and our support, we can guarantee the miracle of Israel and the future of the Jewish people. If not now, when? Indeed.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Our response to the crisis in Jewish communities across America requires no collection of verses or teachings to express our fear and rage. The populist movement that has spread across the globe in Europe and America, but not the Netherlands (in a recent vote), is spewing bigotry and racism that is all too familiar to us. Though it was relatively dormant for decades, it’s running rampant now. What can we do?
No illusions. I urge you to acknowledge that we might not have seen the worst, yet. I have great faith, but left unchecked by law agencies and government bodies, we are going to face this increasing burden by ourselves. Well-meaning advocates in the general community will join us, like we join them, but usually only afterwards when we’re binding our wounds and renewing efforts to defend ourselves. The 24-hour news cycle loves short clips that tell a quick story full of emotions; but, they won’t serve the real purpose, which is to end the incidents, altogether.
No fences. Today’s racists and anti-Semites don’t care about physical fences, because we live in a social-media and internet world. Disposable cellphones, computer hacks, and global social media are their devices, which make fences obstacles to us, not to them. Perpetrators don’t want to be caught, so they hide behind technology to inflict damage to our psyches as they manipulate our fears. Prudence calls for us to protect our houses of worship, JCCs, and other Jewish institutions, but cutting ourselves off from the community isn’t our goal, it’s theirs.
No choice. Everyone must engage in their local synagogue, JCC, ADL, AJC, Hillel, and other groups to advocate for the protection of the Jewish community at home, on campus, etc. No improvement will come unless we speak up, speak out, and become stronger and louder than they are. The positive by-product is that we also reinforce defenses for other religious groups that are threatened by similar racists and miscreants. I urge you to call and ask how you can help. Ask how your synagogue or Jewish organization is addressing security and how you can help? Ask how your synagogue or Jewish organization is paying for the high price of added security, at the expense of valued programs, services, and a balanced budget, and send a donation to support them.
Last weekend, we celebrated Purim. We tend to focus on Haman, the evil-doer, and Mordecai and Esther, the heroes; but it’s been pointed out that King Ahasuerus is the one to watch. He’s impressionable, weak, and unknowing. He surrounds himself with advisors who lead him astray and feed his ego with praise. Until our heroes awaken him from his ego-soaked reverie, he plans to destroy the Jews. Thankfully, he learns that Haman, and not the Jews, is the one who must swing from the gallows. Oddly, God doesn’t appear in the story at all. We’re taught that when God’s presence isn’t obvious to us, then we must look to each other and find between us what God already commanded us to do and to be.
The masks we wore on Purim shouldn’t blur the truth for us. We can only play our parts well if we know what’s at risk and what the end of the story must be. The risks have been learned by us over the long arc of history and many among us carry personal accounts of it. Though we never thought we’d be in this place, again, sadly we are. In history, the end of the story is told by the victors. Let us see our present as clearly as our past, and, together, envision the future we know must be there for us and our neighbors. No illusions. No fences. No choice.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Congregation Beth Israel hosted the Mensch Foundation as we honored President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush in our sanctuary. Please click the links to watch the program from March 8, 2017.
Given by Steven Geiger, Founder and head of Mensch Foundation International, the word "mensch” has reached new levels of meaning and popularity. President and Mrs. Bush were moved by the gesture and the significance of the world’s recognition of their lifetime of service. Neil Bush, son of the President and Mrs. Bush, spoke passionately and emotionally about the role his parents have played to secure the well-being of all people through commitments to literacy, equality, and humanity.
Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson, of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston, their reverend and my friend, shared the occasion with us. As he noted, our Abrahamic faith traditions do best when we identify God’s blessings in each other, and especially in our nation’s leaders, President and Mrs. Bush, for the good they have bestowed on us all.
Before President and Mrs. Bush left for home, I had the privilege of blessing them on the bimah, asking God’s presence to guide them and protect them, to be gracious to them, and to grant to them good health and peace.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Gifts. They’re not what they seem. More than wrapped packages we need to give or to be given, the most precious gifts are the ones we already possess. Call it your DNA or God-given talents, your gifts are in you. Now, the only question is what will you do with them?
Recently, a family told me about their loved one whose gifts were in his hands. Masterfully, his hands crafted remarkable objects out of wood, glue and nails in his workshop. It was his artistic canvas where he did his best work. Though they were just objects assembled out of simple materials, they reflected selfless devotion to the ones who received them. They were his gifts to them. Likewise, but sometimes less easily seen, we all possess gifts that need to be expressed so that others might receive them, too.
This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, includes God’s command to bring "gifts” for the construction of the Tabernacle, God’s dwelling place among the people in the wilderness. Everyone whose heart was moved was urged to contribute something. The rabbis taught that even one person whose heart was moved sufficiently could accomplish the entire task of constructing the Tabernacle. Such is the power of the human heart to respond. Yet, Torah explains that artisans and craftsmen, every person according to his or her ability and spirit, contributed to the Tabernacle. To that end, so much was brought that Moses had to go out to the people and tell them to stop bringing; they were over-subscribed.
Today, we’re still commanded to bring "gifts” to reflect that God’s presence accompanies us on our life’s journey, too. And, we still build sanctuaries just as we were commanded, "Build me a sanctuary (mikdash) that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). But, unlike our ancient ancestors, we know that sanctuaries aren’t the only places where we seek and find God’s presence. For centuries, Judaism has held that a spark of God resides in everything in nature. Therefore, wherever we go, God’s presence is with us, not only in sanctuaries.
The greatest demonstration of God’s spark is the selfless devotion of the human spirit towards the good. When one’s deed changes the world for the better, it’s a gift given from a sacred source. A loved one who assembled a craft in his workshop for his family brightened their lives. In turn, they paid it forward many times. But, the opposite can also be true. The selfish possession of God’s spark, as if it were given only to enrich or empower its holder, can lead to insufferable deeds that destroy everything it touches. In recent weeks, in cities across America, perpetrators have committed terrible acts of anti-Semitism, including the destruction of grave markers in Jewish cemeteries, bomb threats to JCC’s, and buildings scrawled with swastikas. They’re not acting on behalf of any faith or its teachings. They’re not honoring any god who is worshiped. And, they’re not respecting our nation. The response by gracious neighbors, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, assures us that we’re not alone; but, it also reminds us that the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place among us, is still under construction.
We’ll protect and defend our houses of worship and we’ll reset the grave markers in the cemeteries, but the hearts of offenders who plague us in our cities are a work-in-progress. We must insist that they be brought to justice; and, if they are, perhaps we can also turn their hearts towards the good. Some of the worst offenders against us have turned; and, if there really is a spark of God within them, then maybe they can use their gifts to join us in building a better dwelling place in a world filled with God’s glory. But, if not, let’s not pretend that any of this will simply go away. Let’s use the gifts inside us to live by Torah, to honor God, and to respect our nation. Then we will have moved our hearts, and, maybe then we can complete the work that needs to be done.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
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