Saturday, December 21, 2013

Federal employee performs a great ecumenical service at the National Military Cemetery in Beaufort, SC

This column is about a man who works with bereaved families from all religious backgrounds. He does a great job and his work deserves mention.
Thanks for taking the time read it. Your thoughts are appreciated.

Spirituality and Mourning for your Pets
I have written a column in the newspaper on religious rituals for pets. Do we mourn for them like we would do for humans? Are they spiritual beings like us? Take a look and tell me what you think?
Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Final thoughts on the Biennial

Final thoughts : Blogging the URJ Convention
The biennial is important, in fact, it is the showcase for the Reform movement. This conclave is like a pilgrimage for Reform Jews getting connected to a larger community of Reform Jews in sharing new ideas and practical strategies for congregations. It also builds a amazing spirit of what Reform Jews believe in and cherish with regards to God, Torah and Israel. Communal and creative worship and particularly music is absolutely critical for sustaining Reform Judaism.
This Biennial is also about Rabbi Rick Jacobs and his leadership. This was the first Biennial that reflected his style and his agenda. 
One should understand clearly that the team planning all major events scripted it to present Rabbi Jacobs in a certain light that would reinvigorate the largely anemic URJ organization. Such new directions as more money for NFTY, the teen youth movement are examples of a new  day dawning for the URJ. New communities of Practice where congregations throughout the country collaborate on specific issues whether it is programming or practice is another example of this URJ. Financial cuts and selling off part of URJ building are part of cost cutting strategies.
I will list the aspects of the biennial I appreciated and those things I see as areas of growth.
Music is still strong. Josh Nelson and Dan Nichols are major players as well as Julie Silver. 
Communal worship is still huge.
Workshops are a hit and miss.
Networking and getting knowledge amongst colleagues and organizations  is critical. Very valuable piece of the Biennial experience.
Connecting with temple leadership outside of temple at the biennial is so important for growing our relationships.
Examine resources at bookstore and other venders  like books and music that we can use to enhance education at temple.
See old friends at Biennial that build connection and a sense of family.

Areas that need improvement.
I felt that the URJ still does not see how investing in grass roots organizing to develop new leadership for the future. URJ is basically a call center without any interest in connecting staff and regional lay leadership. The feeling I got was that URJ is more interested in proving their worth with the metric of how much service they can offer from who knows where they work from than demonstrating a real commitment to getting outside their box and see what reality in American Jewry is all about.
No commitment to college youth. They continue to talk the talk about youth initiative for teens. Where is the vision for our college kids? Same old response- Hillel. I'm sorry Hillel does not cut it for me any more. We need to do more for college age Reform Jews.
I think they need to have better options for folks who want to attend the biennial for a day or two. There is still a disconnect about having the high costs and high priced registration fees. It cuts out so many who just can't afford to stay the entire week.  Again I wonder about the disconnect here with the reality with the grass roots.
Rabbi Jacobs: a new era has arrived.
No doubt that Rabbi Needed to come off in a positive way. This was his first Biennial and the impression he left was a very effective image. He exuded an aura of informality and warmth. His pulpit presence was what any congregation would relish from their rabbi.
He made every effort to project spirituality and kavannah. 
His two hour info commercial speech where he outlined his priorities and ideology gave us something to think about. 
Rabbi Jacobs is earnestly trying remake himself. He moved from the left on Israel to the center. He is trying to show he can be the CEO who can command respect of the business community by advocating the sale of a floor of the URJ building in New York. He is trying to remake himself as the ideological oracle for Reform Judaism around the world. He says we are living in a post ethnic world of Judaism. He affirms that god did give the Torah to the Jewish people and that humans wrote the Torah. I'm curious to see what kind of narrative he will create to substitute for peoplehood and for Torah from Sinai?
It's good that Rabbi Jacobs told the story of his visit toRabbi Krinsky of Habad in acknowledging their success. He tells us that he told Rabbi Krinsky that he respects all the different ways Jews practice. In fact he goes on to say Reform Jews care about Shabbat, kashrut and,Israel. They just care differently than Chabad does. I sense he may want think through how he feels Reform Jews should or could embrace these ideas. I hope he can come up with something more definitive about meaning in relation to these ideas.
He has gotten off to a good start. People like him. He is tall and good looking.  
Audacious hospitality is an important point he raised about how all of us have to stretch to be more welcoming of new members if we have any chance of keeping membership strong and steady.
Rabbi Jacobs is probably just what The Reform movement needs at this juncture of our history. He has the program vision but he has to work at articulating a stronger and clearer ideology about what it means to be Jewish today and to be a progressive Jew. Programs and ideology go together if the spirituality he is looking to revitalize has a real chance of ushering in a period of renewal for American progressive Judaism

Monday, December 16, 2013

The last day of the convention: Bibi Netanyah speaks to our Biennial.

Our conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Sunday Morning the final program was a Satellite speech with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
There were several agendas going on behind the scenes. First, forget about the reports about his decision not to visit with us which was reported in the Press. That issue is not critical. The first purpose was to demonstrate two goals. First, Rabbi Jacobs has the authority and power to get Bibi to speak to us. Second, despite those early claims that Rabbi Jacobs was a totally left leaning Israel advocate who protested with the Palestinians, this was his chance to show he is a moderate now.  Politics- always politics.
Jacobs stood up on stage and introduced the Prime Minister heaping praise on him for his work to open up the Western Wall for access to all in communal prayer. He complimented him for being 2nd longest serving Prime Minister since Ben Gurion. Then Netanyahu started to give it back to Jacobs for all his good work for Israel. All of this was for the crowd to bolster Jacobs and calm down the right wing in the movement who think of Jacobs, with some justification, as a sympathizer to Palestinians as victims of the Israeli army's occupation of the West Bank Arab communities and as an opponent of  all Jewish settlements.
I wonder if Netanyahu also realized that he needs as much support from American Jewry as possible as stands against the world with regard to Iran and the current negotiations that the American administration is involved in. Maybe his media advisors are counseling  him that now he can’t take anyone for granted. By the way this was the first time that a sitting Israeli Prime Minister addressed our Biennial. Last time it was President Obama who showed up. The difference between the reaction to him then and the courteous and respectful reaction ( not especially enthusiastic) of our assembly to Netanyahu was noticeable. This is definitely not an AIPAC group.My sense is that many Reform Jews are against the settlements on the West Bank and want Rabbi Jacobs to stay true to his previous actions and words but now he, like all politicians, moves to the center to maintain peace. I think, on the other hand, that Netanyahu’s position has more standing in our movement than the current leadership elite both clerical and lay leadership share in common about Netanyahu on Iran and the settlements. This is definitely a touchy issue. But the point was that both men benefited from the opportunity to address the biennial, but, for different reasons.
What were his three points?
  1. He wants a negotiated settlement that takes away Iran’s capability to develop weapons and their ability to manufacture any weapons. There is a difference between the two issues.
  2. He discussed the issue of the Palestinians and negotiations. He says he is willing to make historic and difficult compromises but he needs to see that the current leadership of the PA truthfully will recognize Israel as a Jewish state as much as Israel must recognize the new state of the PA.  He says the issue is not the settlements as much as it is the deep seated inability of the PA to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that they cannot return to Jaffa. That is a non-starter.
  3. The final point is finding peace between Jews. He skipped over all the big issues that consume Israelis. Instead he focused on what he thought we wanted to hear which is that the area surrounding the Kotel must be open to everyone because it belongs to all the Jewish people. He also complimented Rabbi Jacobs for his help in working for compromise with his government to achieve a solution.
  4. Finally Netanyahu complimented the Reform movement and NFTY for all its work in Israel.
The fact is that he is a fantastic speaker and salesman. He did a great job in bolstering Jacobs, speaking to us of his viewpoints on Iran and addressed the public worship space and equal access for women at the Kotel.
His humor and swagger is a part and parcel of who he is. He was clear, positive and determined to see this current negotiation through. He warned us all of the implications for war in the Middle East from other nations who would surely obtain nuclear weapons if Iran develops a bomb.

Great talk and I will let you the reader come to your own conclusions about the issue of the Netanyahu and Obama administration positions on the Iran negotiations and talks with the PA.

Day Three and Four at the URJ Biennial. Erev Shabbat and Shabbat.

Day Three and Four
I am combining Friday and Saturday.
Like all of us we go to meetings and attend sessions on Friday. Let’s face it convention workshops are a hit and miss experience. Somehow I do not think that is what you need to know. I say this because the focus of all the momentum of the Biennial is Shabbat. So let’s begin at the end of the day.
It is now 5:15; the convention hall is packed with 5000 people. The Shabbat experience begins with a 45 minute warm up session of music and singing. Cantors, rabbis, folk singers, and an Israeli Jazz group are all performing, sharing, and inspiring the holy assembly.  They are thirsting for the great moment of transcendence. I mean 5000 people singing and swaying together are expecting something awesome to happen. They want to feel holiness and rapture in a Jewish sense. You can feel the anticipation pulsating through the crowd. The music is just getting us in the mood and spiritual temperature is rising.
This session leads into the worship service. It flows so well not only with singing (very little responsive reading) by the clergy but even better when there is a fifty or more Biennial choir on the stage. The tone is not powerful or loud or rock and roll type of liturgical music. It is more delicate and contemporary in the compositions. Most of the melodies were new.
There were two speakers during the services. The first was a woman who narrated her story of being shot by a neo-Nazi in a JCC pre-school where she was working with small children as a teenager herself in southern California in 1999. The congregation was touched by her story of bravery and her message of fighting for better legislation against gun violence. Of course her place in that service later fit into the theme of the first anniversary of the slayings of the children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut.
The second speaker was Rabbi Jonah Peshner who is one of the leadership team of Rabbi Jacobs. He spoke about Nelson Mandela and the biblical patriarch Jacob.
The service is concluded and the crowd moves into the dining halls for Shabbat dinner. Beth Yam had two full tables of our representatives. I don’t want to brag on my congregation but I have to say how proud I was to be with them. Old colleagues and friends came over to me and were so impressed to see how many people we were from Hilton Head. Then our president Mike Weingarten brought out all the Beth Yam tee shirts and we put them on and posed for a special group picture. Who could ask for a delegation with more spirit and joy than our congregation?
We light the candles; recite the Kiddush, and the motzi. The meal is either chicken or fish. The food was not bad considering what one expects from convention meals. I must say I was particularly happy to have my entire family together with our group.
Then the moment arrives we have all been waiting for at the Biennial. What is it? The dinner is over and everyone quickly files back into the hall where we had services. We commence the traditional Shirah or song session. This consists of all the best of the best of Reform Judaism’s folksingers and rock performers light up the room. They brought the music and the spirit and caught on like wild fire. The singing commenced and the people started dancing and singing. Lines of dancing grandmothers, kids, parents and whomever else marched, danced through the aisles with such smiles on their faces. Never have I seen so many happy Jews in one place. The music just lifted us all up to another spiritual rung. People are hugging each other, others are crying in Shabbat joy and exultation. All ages become one in dance and song. Beth Yam members are among the dancers. You wouldn't believe the energy of our people. We were among the most energetic and spiritual. OOPs there I go again bragging on my congregants!
The evening is over and the crowds file out with a wonderful feeling of spiritual energy even if they are tired. Private receptions follow and in some smaller halls there is more music for those who still want to go the extra mile. Surely our delegation will sleep well tonight.
Saturday morning.
The Shabbat morning service was conducted by Rabbi Jacobs and Cantor-Rabbi Angela Buchdahl who was cantor at Central Synagogue in New York and was just elected as Rabbi. She is both a cantor and Rabbi and a former assistant rabbi to Rabbi Jacobs. She is from Takoma, Washington but her mom is South Korean Buddhist even though she raised her Jewish with her Jewish husband. We are certainly a tapestry of racial and cultural diversity in Reform Judaism. Rabbi Jacobs made a big deal out of her looking Korean and still pointing out that she was Jewish and how people had to learn how to get used to that kind of diversity.
Rabbi Jacobs told the congregation that the old era of ethnicity in American Judaism which we all grew up in is over.  In fact the mantra today is that we are all living in a post ethnic time of Jewish life and that identity formation for Judaism will have to depend on much less than the old standards like, “this is what you’re supposed to do,” or “My parents practiced Judaism and so we too observe.” That kind of momentum is almost gone, according to Jacobs. Instead he is saying that we have to get much more proactive and reach out to bring these folks in to the fold.
Truthfully, I love the Shabbat morning services at Biennial not because it is a service in a conventional sense. It feels more like a program of music and inspiring narration by Rabbi Jacobs. The show piece and drama of it is rehearsed and programmed. Is it the way one has services in most places? Probably not. But we can learn a few of their tricks to make our services a bit more engaging.
At the Torah services they set up thirteen stations scattered throughout the hall with people standing and reading Torah as well as huge screens showing the yad and hands going through the Torah text. I think we could do that in our congregation especially at High Holy Days. People like those techniques which help them feel more connected to the pulse of the service. This is not a davening experience. It is a performance of musical pieces with carefully orchestrated drama. They even had group of actors narrating the story of Jacob blessing his children as though they were actually living at the time. The congregation loved it.
The groups who received special aliyot were in kids in honor of the 75th anniversary of the National Federation of Temple Youth, Past presidents of the Women of Reform Judaism who are celebrating their 10th anniversary, board of the URJ (now it is called the oversight committee of 250) and current presidents of congregations, and, finally, the leadership, faculty and alumni of the Hebrew Union College.
The sermon was delivered by Rabbi Dr David Ellenson who is the retiring President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He is a respected scholar and beloved President who now returns to the classroom. He cried and he blessed the new incoming president Rabbi Dr. Aaron Panken. The passing on of the mantle of leadership was effective and touching.

By the way the services began at 10 and ended at 12:45pm. Then everyone left and went into lunch and learn sessions. It just doesn't stop. I attended a session conducted by HUC professor Lawrence Hoffman on “The Once and Future Synagogue: Deep Down Lessons for a Jewish Future.”
Yes there was bit of time to get ready for dinner which was on our own. Our group ate together at the Marriott restaurant Marinas. It was great and we toasted Sisterhood at Beth Yam. The award the Sisterhood received was for great membership growth. How about our Sisterhood! Also you should see the quilt they contributed to the larger quilt that Sisterhood created nationally. Our Sisterhood is awesome. They are creative and dedicated. They make things happen for our Temple and for the community at large. I believe that every woman should be a member of Sisterhood and I hope all the women in our congregation will join and stay as members of this Temple’s Sisterhood.
Finally, the last part of the evening was an evening program honoring the 75th anniversary of NFTY and the Women of Reform Judaism. A special music piece was performed in honor of the occasion and the enthusiasm of the music and the singing and the memories of what Sisterhood means today and in our history was so powerful for all of us that night.
All of this was followed by a post program performance by musical artists Josh Nelson and Neshama Carlebach.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Day Two Blogging the URJ Convention

Day Two URJ Biennial 
There are times when strolling through the halls and enormous exhibition hall  can lead one to as much knowledge then the workshops. After we posed for our outreach award with Rabbi Jacobs (Marcia Frezza, Mike Weingarten and myself) we scattered like the rest of our delegation to the many activities. 
My first event was sitting down at the booth of the National Association of Temple Administrators. I spoke with two administrators from congregations. I told them about our growing congregation and how much of a challenge it is today to manage in a professional manner all the different events that go on at Bet Yam. We discussed a variety of staffing options that congregations our size are going with to meet the demands on a temples like ours.
I should say that one of the risks of this kind of strategy of learning by visiting different booths is who you run into. It could be a cherished colleague or volunteer temple leader from a prior congregation. Suddenly you are immersed in a conversation with someone whom you have not seen in years. This all happens when you are in the midst of having a serious discussion on the topic where you have stopped by to discuss with the person in the booth.  That is just called the URJ family and it happens at any  minute during this convention.
I also spent quite a bit of time talking to several music specialists in the field. Since we intend on hiring a student cantor through the Hebrew Union College interview process, I posed  questions about our music program and what are the best options to get the right kind of person for our congregation given the financial parameters. Many congregations must also learn to be creative with finding the right person as well. They too must deal with some of the same financial realities as well as programmatic challenges.  We definitely want to go through the interview process to bring a student cantor to Beth Yam. We will, on the other hand, have to be prepared to  look at other viable options to find that special person who will be a good fit for our congregation should we not succeed at finding an HUC student cantor.
I want to make mention of an incredibly important project and celebration from the Women of Reform Judaism. They are celebrating their 100th anniversary . Our past president Helen Hauer who is part of our delegation is very involved in this project. The anniversary book contains an amazing pictorial history of Sisterhood since 1913. This history teaches the critical role Sisterhood has played in the history of Reform Judaism. Kudos to Helen. Also inside the book there is a special tribute page called Unsung Heroines. It is a national program recognizing and nominating women who " made substantial volunteer contributions to a WRJ Sisterhood." We are honored again that our member Nadyne Ulicny was bestowed this great honor by WRJ. Another example of how our members distinguish themselves. Mazal Tov Nadyne.

Finally Rabbi Jacobs gave his big and long (almost 2 hours) speech regarding his  vision of Reform Judaism and the program plan of the URJ. I'll speak to this in a separate blog. Afterwards five thousand Reform Jews circulated throughout San Diego's gas light district of clubs where URJ artists performed. What a great way to end the evening. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Day One Blogging the URJ Biennial -San Diego

It is the great pilgrimage. Some would call it the holy convocation. Still others like to declare the Union of Reform Judaism Biennial as the ultimate Reform Jewish Mardi Gras that rotates from city to city every two years.
Last time the movement's leaders gathered together was in Washington D.C. Now we are enjoying the harbor scenes of downtown San Diego, CA. Tonight Congregation Beth Yam's delegation gathered together for dinner at Roy's inside the Marriott hotel for a wonderful evening of dinner. Our delegation is sixteen strong. I am particularly pleased that Linda as well as our daughter Leah and her boyfriend Michael have joined us as well. That takes us to 19 people. I gazed at the tables watching everyone enjoying themselves. Our president Mike Weingarten was so proud to have such a great and distinguished group with us as well. The sisterhood is represented by current President Janet Weingarten who informed us that today Our Sisterhood received an award for great programming. Cathy cite who will succeed Janet as president of Sisterhood and her husband Steve also are with us. Of course our representative on the North American Board of Women of Reform Judaism Elaine Lust does our congregation honor through her service on the national level.
Our forthcoming Temple president Twyla Sable and her husband Bob who also serves on our board are right in the mix gathering all kinds of information and insights in preparation for her new role. Ted and Jeri David are with us. Ted serves on the national URJBoard and on some critical finance and planning committees. Then comes our Temple religious school principal Judi Kleiman who who attends all sorts of workshops. Today Judi went to the workshop regarding the Bar Mitzvah revolution which is about reinvigorating our Temples' vision of an effective B'nai Mitzvah program. Her husband Stan who also serves on the board has a passion for Men's Club at Temple. We both could see so clearly why it is critical for all the men, for all ages at Beth Yam which we serve that affiliating  with the National Brotherhood is the right thing to do for our congregation. Finally Marcia Frezza, our outreach chairperson and board member along with her husband Tony joined us. Marcia is justifiably excited because on Thursday Beth Yam will receive our second Beilen award for an  outstanding program this past year. More to come tomorrow. Of course her husband Tony is with us. 
It really is an amazing group of dedicated leaders who care deeply about the well being of our congregation.
We are in the midst of almost 5000 attendees. There is music and entertainment, workshops and discussions, speeches social action resolutions on major issues of the day. Each of us will bring an idea or an insight back home. We will walk through the exhibition hall where all the artisans set up as well as reps from all kinds of Jewish organizations from all over the world. Of course the momentum will grow for Shabbat when all of us gather to pray, eat and sing our hearts out.  More tomorrow.
BTW - Linda and I enjoyed a late night concert by the well known singer and writer Julie Silver. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Shalom to everyone,
This recent newspaper column I wrote addresses the issue of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapping each other. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and are enjoying the week of Hanukkah as well. Thanks for taking a look at the article and as always I appreciate your comments.
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Bloom

Monday, November 11, 2013

Kristallnacht has a lesson for today.

I wrote this piece in my newspaper column this past weekend about Kristallnacht. It was the 75th anniversary of that dreaded night. I thank you for taking the time read the article.And as always your comments are always welcome.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Two articles on extending the human lifespan and confidentiality between clergy and the parishioner.

Shavua Tov - A Good week to everyone. I have include two links to my most recent newspaper columns.
The first one which appeared two weeks ago is about radical life extension technologies and the implications for religion. The second appeared today and focuses on the issue of confidentiality between clergyperson and parishioner. The history of the clergy confessional laws that protect what people say to their rabbis or ministers has a fascinating history but one should be careful when thinking that the courts will respect that confidentiality as an absolute value. The truth is to the contrary. Read on and tell me what you think.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Does it really matter what kind of a car your clergy drive?

My most recent newspaper column which is a commentary on Pope Francis' recent comments about his clergy driving luxury cars. What do you think?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rosh Hashana Day Sermon: Women of the Wall

Rosh Hashana Day Sermon

It has taken some time for American Jews to wake up to the call of The Women of the Wall. They have endured the scorn and derision of the black hat and ultra Orthodox sectors of the country, while receiving little support from the majority secular Israeli population.  At the celebration of each rosh chodesh (or the new Jewish month) these women gather together at the women’s section of the Western Wall and put on their talitot and kippot and sometimes tephillin, creating a spectacle which sometimes leads to the arrest of their leader, Anat Hoffman, who is, by the way, also the director of the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center.  These progressive Jewish Israeli women refuse to give in to rejection by their own people, and to police intimidation, and to the so-called pious men on the other side of the mechitza who sometimes spit on them or yell at them, and to the religious women beside them who deride them with every sort of insult that pious women are not supposed to utter towards their Jewish sisters.
Recently, the courts in Israel ruled that these women had a right to pray as they wished at the Western Wall and now the police protect them instead of arresting them. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu realized that the optic of Jewish women of the wall being hauled off to jail had become a public relations disaster for Israel in America and around the world. He directed Natan Sharansky to come up with a plan fix this problem.  Sharansky’s plan, it turns out, was to widen and expand the entire Kotel plaza to include the south end of the wall by Robinson’s Arch, thereby creating a separate gender- neutral area for worship, which has garnered cautious bipartisan support amongst religious and secular parties. We shall see what takes shape in the months to come.
Why should this issue concern us? What is the relevance to our purpose as Reform Jews? The point here is that we have devoted this morning’s aliyot to the women of Beth Yam as a sign of support for the Women of the Wall and for Jewish women who yearn to find their place in Israel to pray with the same prayer garb that men use and to read the Torah.  Today, on Rosh Chodesh Tishrei, or on Rosh Hashana, we at Beth Yam stand in solidarity with the Women of the Wall and all women in Israel who seek the right to pray in public places as their Jewish birthright. Reform Judaism stands for equal justice and especially for equal participation of both genders in public worship.  We have ignored this cause for far too long and it is time we did something about it.
We all understand that Israel has many issues more pressing on its plate that relate to its very survival,  security issues like the threat of Hamas rockets from Gaza, or even more powerful Hezbollah rockets from Lebanon, or the tumult in Syria and Egypt, not to mention the existential threat of nuclear weapons being developed in Iran. But Israel is a vibrant, prosperous and strong nation with a robust economy, capable of dealing with many different issues. The fact is, however, that the issue of The Women of the Wall and free access to worship at the Wall is critical to Israel’s reputation, not only in the American Jewish community and to Jewish communities around the world but also to nations in the western world, where Israel knows it must demonstrate that it shares common values with other democratic societies, and especially regarding the role of women. Resolving this issue by creating an expanded gender neutral public space at the south end of the Western Wall will fortify Israel’s standing as a beacon of light for women’s rights in the Middle East.
Going back to this morning’s Haphtarah and the story of Hannah, who enters the area of the Tabernacle at Shiloh and prays by herself to God so that she may become pregnant by her husband. The high priest Eli watches her and becomes infuriated with her, presuming, just by the movement of her lips in prayer, that she is intoxicated. He then accosts her, saying,
 “How do you propose to carry on drunk like this? Get rid of your wine!”  To which she replies, “‘I am a sober woman: I have been pouring out my heart before the Lord. Do not think your servant so debased. All this time I have been speaking out of my great sorrow and grief.”  Realizing his error, Eli replies, somewhat chastened: “Go in peace and may the God of Israel grant your request.” Ultimately God does grant her request and she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy who would one day become the great prophet Samuel.
Even then, you see, a woman could be challenged and derided while at prayer, and so this text reminds us that the women’s desire to approach God in prayer in a public place was an uphill battle, even in biblical times, and despite the fact that Eli the priest relented.
Furthermore, traditional Jewish law has created two separate tracks for men and women in public worship. In Orthodox and Hasidic Judaism, men occupy a privileged center of public worship, while women, according to halachah, are not obligated to participate in any mitzvah that is defined as a time- bound mitzvah, meaning a mitzvah that is performed at a specific time. The assumption behind this is that women must be free to take care of children and family first.  The problem is that the term “exempt” or “not obligated” came to mean, as a practical matter, “forbidden.”
 In addition, the law of our tradition states that the kol ishah ervah, the voice of the woman is a “temptation.” In other words a woman’s voice in public worship will distract men to thoughts other than communicating with God, which added further to the cultural norms throughout history for why women could not occupy a pulpit and lead a worship service.  That is how Jewish religious practice worked until the 19th century, and until the advent of Reform Judaism. It is, therefore, an anathema for ultra Orthodox Jews to watch women put on a talit and tephillin and participate in services just like men. For them, such religious practices violate every cultural norm of Jewish religious practice. It is no surprise, therefore, that secular Israelis do not get behind this issue because they have become so distant from traditional religious practice that these kinds of issues simply do not appear on their radar screens.
What is fascinating about this subject is that if we dig a little deeper we will find a few examples in the Talmud itself of women who did, in fact, pray with talit and tephillin. Such women were Michal, the daughter of King Saul and the scholarly Beruriah the wife of Rabbi Meir. Both women, the Talmud suggests, wore talit and tephillin. One sage even advised that they should have recited the traditional blessing before donning these prayer garments. Modern day scholars are recovering these ancient sources, few though there are of them, to establish a precedent that women have and can today participate equally as men do in communal prayer. Even though it has not been mainstream religious practice in Judaism to allow women to wear talit, or tephillin or to read from the Torah, these scant examples from the Talmud serve as precedents for legitimizing the movement toward gender equality in worship that progressive Judaism must and is making today.
 Sadly, on Rosh Hashana we should be talking about ways to unite the Jewish people and here we see an issue that divides us. At the same time should we simply cover our eyes when Israelis who want to practice Judaism out of our movement are not allowed because of their gender? How can we remain silent to their aspirations to open the opportunities for diverse Jewish religious practices? Is it ok to bow to the hordes of Hasidic men and women who represent an image that many non-Jews consider  “authentic” Judaism, even if the majority of us do not subscribe to, or believe in, that way of being Jewish? It has been a problem for us and it is a problem for how Israel defines the religious contours of Jewish identity in this blessed state that struggles to maintain peaceful co-existence between so many different kinds of Jewish Orthodoxies and one huge alienated secular majority.  If we ignore this issue then I am afraid we risk committing a communal transgression, as we shall read on Yom Kippur, “We sin against you when we sin against ourselves: In the category of sins of Justice and for the sin of silence and indifference.”
We spend so much time training our young girls to become Bat Mitzvah in this congregation leading them to believe that reading the Torah, Haphtarah, and delivering a drash is the norm. What are we doing to prove to them that this effort is not in vain when they go to Israel on their first trip in high school or college? Do we not have a sacred duty to our young ladies here to clear the pathway for them and the young ladies of the same age in Israel?
There is a lot we can do to support this group, from such simple things as sponsoring an Oneg Shabbat for Women of the Wall at their monthly celebrations, to going to Israel and participating in their Rosh Hodesh vigils at the Western Wall. Even buying one of their talitot at their online store goes a long way towards giving them the financial, moral and spiritual support they deserve to carry on with their arduous but honorable soul work. In fact this November fourth Women of the Wall will celebrate their 25th anniversary. Yes, for 25 years these women have been trekking over to the western wall and performing their prayers-- and that is all they want to do-- to pray as Jews in the tradition of Jews. Can we at Beth Yam be part of this historic venture or will we remain on the sidelines?
Reform Judaism was not about creating a rupture in European Jewry 160 years ago. Instead it intended to provide new opportunities for women and men to experience Judaism with one foot in the world of tradition and the other in the modern world.  And that is exactly what these women, our fellow Reform Jews in Israel, want to do beside the holiest site in the Jewish world.  The prophets called us to stand up for what is just and right  and this is not about exposing a weakness of Judaism but demonstrating our strength to fortify the middle ground of modern and progressive Judaism in Israel.  If these women succeed it might very well trigger more secular Jewish women to reclaim their Jewish spiritual heritage in Israel and worldwide. Is this not the meaning of redemption and renewal, by returning to the sources of the spiritual core that for many non-observant women was never available to them but for us could be a watershed in Jewish history?   We will not know if we remain silent.
If our beloved Israel will continue to be a cutting edge society in so many areas, like the sciences and the arts and technology, why should it not lead the way in its spiritual contribution for the 21st century? Our people bequeathed the world a faith tradition that produced the Hebrew Bible and we have saved traditional Judaism from the fires of Hitler’s furnace. Now is the time for a modern day woman like Hannah who can stand at the Western Wall in a minyan of women, with her talit, kippah and tephillin and pray for God to give her a child or any other blessing God should bestow upon her just like any other pious man would pray to God for while davening at that same Wall.
  The Talmud elaborates the story of Hannah pleading with God to give her a child by having her say: “Master of the Universe, is it so hard for you to give me just one son?” Rabbi Elazar explains her remarks with a parable. “A king made a feast for his servants and a poor man came in, stood by the door and said to them, “Please give me a piece of bread, but no one paid attention to him, so he pushed his way into the king’s chamber and said to him, “Your majesty, seeing that you made this great feast is it so hard for you to give me this one small piece of bread?” (Talmud Berachot)
The Women of the Wall are pushing their way in too, and like Hannah they are asking, is there not room for us to have room for our prayer –to read torah? All they want is just enough space to meet their needs and not to take away space or prayer time from the Haredim. They too have been ignored or denied, but now, like Hannah, they are pushing their way into the king’s chamber, into the chambers of the Israeli government, and into the chambers of world opinion. It is the chamber of God as well.

As Hannah asked God to remember her for a child, let us pray on Rosh Hashana in remembrance not only of Hannah’s prayer for a child, but also  that God remember these women of the Wall as well who yearn for the natural right to express themselves as Jews in communal prayer. It is their birthright too.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

High Holy Days Sermons: Rosh Hashana Evening

Rosh Hashana Night 2013
Many of you know a few weeks ago I attended a conference specifically for Rabbis sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C  on the current challenges Israel faces in a tumultuous Middle East especially in regards to newly revived US sponsored peace negotiations with the Palestine Authority. The first morning of the conference I left my hotel room, entered the elevator and a young lady walked in with me. I noticed immediately that she was wearing a tee shirt and it had Hebrew letters around it. I didn't have the time to figure out what the words were, but, I did say to her almost amusingly, “I see you have a lot of Hebrew letters on your tee shirt?” She looked at me and responded, “Yes, I represent an organization and we have forty kids staying in the hotel from Israel.”
I replied, “Cool, is your group touring America?” She responded, “Yes but not exactly the way you think, our kids have all lost a parent in terrorist attacks.”
The elevator opened and I had to catch a cab to the conference. With no time to talk further I said, “You’re doing real mitzvah work.” She smiled and thanked me.
Here I was attending a conference where world class analysts, Pulitzer Prize winning news commentators, former federal elected officials were lecturing us about their views on Israel’s strategic predicament and potential options.  The conference was all theory and speculation about the complexities of Israeli politics and the volatility of the current explosion of violence ripping through the Middle East. Yet, in this one chance encounter I had met someone who embodied the very opposite of theoretical speculation. I was looking into the eyes of collateral damage, in the real world, from the bone and sinew of families and especially children who understand the full repercussions of today’s peace negotiations without ever entering into a think tank.
This brief encounter reminded me just how wide the gulf is between the way the world really is with all of its brutality and suffering, versus what I would like the world to be. The group counselor’s somber eyes hit me right in the face as I sat the rest of the day, taking notes on one speaker after the next offering their strategic and tactical scenarios about Israel’s options amidst the forest fires of violence raging through its Arab neighbors.  I came back to the kids in the hotel who bear witness to the stark realities that our world is broken.  At the same time who am I to give up hope when these kids have the fortitude and faith to move forward in their lives and seek out a world that will give them and their country peace?
We enter into the High Holy Days with the hope and optimism of how we can make a difference on issues affecting our own lives, but we are also obligated to look beyond ourselves and our needs. Our own national leadership also is engaged in a debate about looking beyond our nation’s needs versus our humanitarian and moral values in regards to Syria. Some argue military intervention as a tactic is beyond America’s moral concerns and beyond her vital interests whereas others in Congress including the president see military action in Syria in the opposite view.  In either situation there is fear and trembling spreading  whether we are talking about the peace process  between Israelis and Palestinians or whether we are debating the repercussions (especially towards Israel) of attacking Syria due to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.  The peace process in Israel is fraught with every reason why experts predict it will fail. It is so easy to be cynical and dismiss these new negotiations, yet, I come back to the children at the hotel, wondering if they too feel the same way especially now as people in Israel stock up on gas masks.
Our representatives are now focused on voting for war or not but I am not losing sight on peace because this peace process between Palestinians and Israelis will have to continue no matter what happens in Syria. We cannot lose sight of the peace we all seek for Israel even though our attention at this minute in America is on an imminent decision our elected representatives are debating about attacking Syria.
What does our faith teach us regarding the value of peace? The last Mishnah of the Talmud, according to the sage Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta, tells us that the Holy One found no vessel that could hold blessing for Israel except peace, as it says, “God will give might to the Jewish people. How? One commentary said, “By blessing them with peace- For all the blessings in the world will endure only if there is shalom.”
  This is why peace is the most important thing that Jews should pray for at this time of the year. In a way we have to be of two minds regarding peace. We are cognizant of the potential hazards that might derail peace talks with the Palestinians-now add to that the prospects of America’s potential bombing of Syria.  On the other hand, everything that our tradition teaches is that we shall never give up on our prayers for peace on behalf of the state of Israel, no matter how remote the chances may appear to be in achieving peace.
I am not suggesting that we ignore the stark realities that Israel faces to its security especially the frightening thought of Syria attacking Israel in retaliation if America launches cruise missiles. Clearly one can argue persuasively that an eventual peace agreement is not likely and that, if history is a teacher, a failed peace process could easily lead to another Intifada. At the same time, if I allowed that kind of thinking to dominate my own outlook, and God forbid it overshadowed Israel’s mindset, would it not signal a moral and spiritual defeat for Israel in the long run?
I am of the belief that if God opens a book and decides which individuals will be inscribed and sealed in the book of life then why can’t we pray that a people such as ours should be worthy to be inscribed and sealed into the book of life as well? Should we completely ignore the Mahzor’s prayer for the State of Israel which is for peace? Does the Israeli national anthem HaTikvah (meaning the Hope) have no meaning anymore? I don’t think that Jews can ever afford to give up on peace, no matter what the odds are in attaining it. Tikvah and Shalom go hand in hand in our prayers.
 The leaders of the Jewish state have debated for decades what it would take to make peace in the Middle East, without achieving anything like consensus. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was a realist who never lost sight of what Israel could be or what it had to be, given the dangers that faced it on every side.   Nahum Goldman, a leading Zionist and founder of the World Jewish Congress, wrote in his memoirs of a conversation with Ben Gurion.  Ben Gurion the realist once remarked, “Why should the Arabs make peace?  If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel.  That is natural:  we have taken their country.  Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them?  Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it is true, but, two thousand years ago, and what is that to them?  There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault?  They only see one thing:  we have come here and stole their country.  What should they accept that?  They may perhaps forget in one or two generations time, but for the moment there is not a chance.  So it is simple:  we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army.  Our whole policy is there.  Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out.”
However, that same pragmatist said, in an interview with CBS news in 1956, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”  Both of these quotes represent a paradox that we as Jews should revisit when assessing chances of peace today and in the future. It is the same sentiment we read in the Shabbat Siddur that says, “Pray as if everything depended upon God and act as if everything depended upon you.”  I would like to believe that this unique paradox of pragmatism and faith began with Moses facing the odds of leaving Pharaoh’s Egypt and from that point on it became part of our spiritual DNA-suppressed for 2000 years and reawakened in this modern era.
I have faith that Israel will do its part in keeping its military strong, whether it will be resisting Hezbollah, or any Syrian action in the advent of an American attack against Syria, knowing that Ben Gurion’s prediction was correct: that only a strong military presence will motivate the Palestinians to come to the peace table. But there is a propaganda war going on in America and around the world that requires our involvement. We could be taking more positive steps in this congregation to support Israel’s position in America. Don’t think for a moment that it does not help Israel’s standing and credibility in the peace process and in world opinion. For there is enough evidence to convince me that public support is shifting slightly in favor of the Palestinians. We are seeing this in the liberal Christian denominations in particular. College campuses have also been major areas of success for pro- Palestinian propaganda.
Here at Congregation Beth Yam there are a few things we should be doing to influence public opinion and educate the community. We need to be sponsoring on a yearly basis at least one Israel cultural event for the community at large. We need to and shall begin the planning of another trip to Israel. Details will be coming out by Yom Kippur. We need to find a way to help our teens visit Israel. We should be more supportive of Progressive Jews in Israel and developing a relationship with a progressive Israeli synagogue would be a good thing for us to connect us to Israel in a more personal way than simply being tourists.  All of these are doable and would make a huge difference for our congregation. Who among us is willing to step forward and help out? Who will make the miracles happen when there are always ten reasons why something can’t be done?  This is the exact same spirit that Ben Gurion evidenced when we he said, “You have to believe in miracles in order to be a realist.”
These high Holy Days will remind us that the past still weighs heavily on our minds. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. During the Yom Kippur afternoon services when we read prayers remembering the martyrdom of our people over the centuries, our chaver Yale Roe who lived in Israel at that time will reflect on what it was like that day when Israel woke up to discover its very existence was being threatened. Please plan to join us then.
I am convinced that most of American Jewry never grasped the depth of the impact upon the spiritual life of Israel that the Yom Kippur War has had. Yes, we watched with horror and then relief as Israel, with the help of the US, recovered from near defeat against Egypt and Syria, to defeat the Arab armies. But I am not sure we watched Israeli society carefully to see the gut wrenching process of reflection and yes, atonement, that the people engaged in afterwards when they realized that the victories of 67 were now dust in the wind and may have blinded them to the need to preempt the YK War, a war which caused over 2600 casualties.
Forty years have gone by since then, and the changes to the religious fabric and political character of the country that began in ’73 are still evident today. Sadly, an unresponsive Orthodoxy still is entrenched, and the chief rabbinate in particular is by most accounts a corrupt institution. On the positive side there is hope for positive change when we see the modest beginnings of different forms of experimentation with other ways of expressing Jewish spirituality, including but not limited to, Reform and Conservative Judaism. I’ll talk about some of those changes with regard to the Women of the Wall tomorrow morning. But when it comes to making peace we have a nation that is able to shield itself for now and heal its wounds, knowing it is a different nation that tourists do not grasp on a ten day trip or by reading the New York Times. It is a country that has learned hard lessons from the lost lives and from the mistakes made by their political and military leaders and for the victims of war who could have been saved from injuries. We are seeing this same process play itself out from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the national debate on Syria as well.
I say this because it all goes into the layers of thinking which underlie the peace process. It explains how complicated these negotiations are from a historical, moral, theological and political perspective.  I am enjoining us to pull together and pray for Israel’s leaders-and now I must add to pray for our own national leaders - to find the wisdom to make the kind of decisions where Israel and America can find the security and peace it deserves and needs. I am asking that we not indulge the temptations to be cynical and instead remember what our religious teachings say about the importance of striving for peace. I am asking us to suspend that understandable suspicion and pray to the God who some say saved Israel in YK 73 from total annihilation to be a presence in these forthcoming negotiations and in the national debate we shall watch from the comfort of our homes.
Think about the Israeli kids on that trip who will enter the military in a few short years. They too have a birthright to enjoy the fruits of the land and the promise of history starting from the Torah down through the ages that our sages taught to this very day. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the miracles that Ben Gurion believed in and for all the soldiers who fought and for those who died so that one day Israel could pursue and win the peace. That is the ultimate prize we seek.
And during these High Holy Days when contemplating Israel’s efforts to make peace, despite listing all the practical reasons why this process could fail, remember the following poem for why Israel must engage every opportunity for peace regardless of the potential risks. This poem is found from the Gates of Prayer Shabbat Siddur.
“The young soldiers do not speak
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses; who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them that speaks at night and
When the clock counts.
They say; we are young. We have died. Remember us.
They say; we have done what we could but until
It is finished it is not done.
They say; we have given our lives but until it is finished no
One can know what our lives gave.
They say; our deaths are not ours; they are yours; they will
Mean what you make them.
They say; whether our lives and our deaths are for peace
And a new hope or for nothing we cannot say; it is you
Who must say this.
They say; we leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.

Please pray that peace comes to Israel this year. Pray for the well being of American soldiers who wait on battleships alongside the coast of Syria. Pray for the innocent victims in Syria who have suffered from the relentless war and chemical warfare waged by Assad and his regime and for all other endangered religious minorities such as Coptic Christians in Egypt. Do they not deserve our prayers? But right now we ask the Eternal One to help us in our prayers to bring Israel one step closer to the Peace we all yearn for in this New year..
Shana Tova.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Shalom to everyone,
This post is from my newspaper column about Yom Kippur and the Rosh Hashana greeting from the Iranian President Rouhani to Jews all all over the world. Thanks for taking the time to read it and for expressing your opinion.
Have a great Shana Tova a Happy New Year.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Greetings to everyone for a Shana Tova. I have included my most recent newspaper column on the High Holy Days. I hope you can take the time to have a read. As always I look forward to your opinions.
Shana Tova

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A long night in Mississippi

Dear Friends
This is my most recent newspaper column. It tells the story of what happened on the first night of my vacation in Mississippi on our trip headed to New Orleans. Who would have imagined in one night the lessons I learned and how, once again, the opportunities for working together between faiths are available to us. Yes, the Eternal works in strange ways..
Enjoy the read and your comments are greatly appreciate.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kindly Review The Attached Document !!!!


Please view the document i uploaded for you using Google docs. VIEW HERE for immediate access and security reasons sign on with your email to view the document its very important.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Charles Krauthammer: The Shifting Middle East: What's Next

We are at the end of a historic era. Post colonial phase
Self delusion in the West regarding the Muslim Brotherhood.
It was only a question of time before they learned how to use the mechanisms of power and democracy to control Egypt and turn it into an Islamic state.
The coup shows that clearly Islam is not the answer. It brings dictatorship and totalitarian rule and in the end it cannot succeed. Where else was there to go in Egypt?
The great thinking was that Islam would liberate the Arab from economic and cultural despair.

Two kinds of Islamic rule.
a, Iran
b. Turkey
They have different features. But CK thinks that after the coup it is not clear that the people think that Islam is the answer for the future of the Middle East and the post colonial age.
CK thinks that the brotherhood had a shine of being out of power. But if you perform like Morsi without any interest in democracy, and the people saw with disdain his performance to undermine democracy. he has no regret what the military did. They may have saved democracy.
He criticizes the US administration. The military of Egypt is in the same light as the military in Turkey as the guarantor of stability, secularism and democracy.
He does not believe that there is a necessary trajectory of leading the Arab world and Egypt into confrontation with Israel. More of a rosier view of the future.
More renewed cooperation between Egypt and Israel militaries. A good sign for the future.

Syria- likened to the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Big powers using their proxies.
the arc is Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. 
this is why the gulf states are terrified of Iran.
Assad's fall would be in our interest and would be a blow to Hezbollah and defeat for Iran. Passivity of US administration has been tragic.
If Syria falls who inherits it. No one! it will fall apart. a weak failed state which is still preferable to a Syria run by Assad or by the jihadists.
US administration should be trying to bring down Iraq.
Iran is the elephant in the room.
The reason Netanyahu agreed to the peace process is all about Iran. Everything is about Iran. The peace process is going nowhere. Netanyahu will do anything to appease the US in order to deal with Iran.
CK believes that there is ambiguity about Iran. All he has wanted to do is get out of the Middle East.
The US is not serious about stopping Iran. Will the US give Israel the green light to go after Iran?
CK speculates that maybe the Israelis can't do bomb Iran effectively. Maybe that is the real issue why they have not launched an attack yet.
Yet Ck questions why the US administration is even engaging in the peace process. The Palestinians will not recognize the final line which is to say "We accept you." Abbas will not say it. It is a waste of political capital. it tells him the administration is doing this as a diversion from all the issues they cannot and should be doing in the MIddle East.
He really believes that there will be a confrontation with Iran and that is why Israel will appease the administration to get it to act on Iran.

Honorable Joe Liberman

Retired Senator Joseph Lieberman 
Despite all the partisanship and polarization in Congress in all issues, I did not see it with regard to Israel.
There are still shared goals between Israel and America.
The first part of the talk:
a. Israel  Ben Gurion said, "If you don't believe in miracles you are not a realist."
God's hand was in the rebirth of Israel.
People, of course, made it happen, with christian political leaders too. Balfour, Truman etc. 
There is a balance of God empowering and human actions bringing it to a reality. You need both. Faith in God and in ourselves. 
For Israel it is the best of times. Economy, world class military and intelligence culture.
Worst of times-Islamic Republic of Iran that threatens Israel. Lieberman is a realist which makes him a pessimist.
2003 Iran had no stockpiles of enriched uranium. Today it has 6 tons of enriched uranium to 5% purity which could lead to making 5 bombs. Plutonium enrichment plant going. it is not a game changer but a world changer for the US, Europe and Israel.,
Syria: the Iranian regime knows they must prop up Assad. He is their only ally.  Lieberman has met with the Syrian opposition. He thought they were nationalists seeking better economic conditions. Mistake: US stood back and let Assad brutalize the citizens and didn't help the opposition.
The gap we  It's late but not too late to make a difference for US policy.
What can we do about these enormous geopolitical developments?
Lieberman thinks we can still make a difference towards influencing US policy.
a. don't take miracles of Israel's existence for granted.
b. support leaders of both parties who will support Israel and oppose Iran
c. work to create ties between Christians and Jews to support Israel.
d. the freedom of Jews in the US. unprecedented in Jewish history. This is connected to our understanding to working for Israel.
e. find ways to strengthen opposition to Assad.
f. even stronger sanctions against Iran.

Questions to Lieberman and his comments:
the worst choice is to let Assad stay in power.
He believes that most congressional reps want to make a difference and get work done. but what is missing is compromise. It is a value that has been subsumed under ideological fervor.
Trust is missing and the people have lost confidence in the government. He wishes there was third party in the political process of American life.
He is concerned for America's credibility and its ability to help in the world when America appears to turn away from involvement in the Middle East especially in Syria and Egypt.
He thinks that in Egypt the military was acting in the best interest of the country recognizing what the Morsi government was doing to the country. Democracy is about process and its about results too.
Morsi was doing everything to suppress human rights and political rights.
Truthfully Egypt is not at the top of the agenda of most congressional legislators these days.

Rabbi David Wolpe and Leon Wieseltier (Literary Editor of New Republic)

A conversation about Israel and the Role of the American Jewish Community
Rabbi Wolpe interviews Wiesseltier
LW thinks Obama has diminished the standing of the US around the world. His policy on Syria. His inaction in Syria caused the influx of jihadis and has endangered Israel.
In Egypt the US is on all sides.
If Obama writes a memoir it will be called Bearing Witness. All he does is bear witness. nothing more. He speaks as if he is powerless. He will not play in a game he might lose. And LW says failure is good.
What can Rabbis say about the American -Jewish -Israel relationship on HHDays.
Is it diminishing? and if so why?
1. marginally disaffection from Netanyahu policies.
2. identity affiliation is a problem is a greater problem not just Israel loyalty.
3. life on the internet. the greatest attack on human attention in history. We are talking on constancy of focus of mind.
Attention is the disorder. it has implications for the Jewish community and young people and their notions for commitment.
LW says it all went down with the tv clicker. Dispersal of attention reflects dispersal of identity.
Virtual becomes real and real becomes a relic.
4. The future of European Jewry- LW says- Jews are still the other their. We should give them our solidarity.
5. But the future of Judaism is about the US and Israel.
6. The influx of Islam will only bring more hatred to Jews. European culture is different and cultural diversity is radically different in Europe than in America.
7. Is there a future for Jewish peoplehood? We need to bring back a respect for Jews of all ideological strains.
8. LW condemns the Haredim. This attitude must be universal love of the Jewish people. This concept must be revived. We need to stop excluding Jews.
9. What is a Jew?  Anyone who calls him or herself a Jew. We need to improvise and be more flexible and proactive in drawing people in to the orbit of Jewish life.
10. People who refused to talk to each other because of distinct ideological and religious differences must begin to talk to each other. When people want to find solutions to issues of personal status and religious identity solutions can be found. But LW is saying that today people just don't want to find those solution and they, on all sides of the spectrum, they remain isolated with suspicion and fear.
11.  LW connects the land of Israel to the state of Israel. there is a interrelationship . The sanctity of the land does not confer complete sanctity to the state. we have to separate those feelings. What does Judaism have to do with the map of the state of Israel.
12.  LW says there is a connection for right wing fundamentalist Christians in America who struggle to bring their religion to the fullest impact in America. they too question why they have to strain themselves. Jewish believers have to struggle why they too have restrain their religious fervor to maintain a Jewish state of such diversity.
13. LW asks, " What is the value of Peace.?" What are the compromises for peace? Do we want to live in a democratic and open society or not? That question relates to the religious fervor of Jews in Israel as it would apply to the religious fervor of Christians in America.
14.   LW says, The highest form of parental love is one that continues to justifies itself. It is not one that just accepts a love without regard for any actions.
15.  The kids today have to knowledge of history. How can they love Israel when they have no history of Israel. Also when all the kids see is criticism of Israel how do young people develop a positive view of Israel.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren

The world in 2009
Mubarak empowered in Egypt
Assad empowered
Iran had a small stockpile of uranium
no sanctions
Palestinians were refusing to negotiate.
US had just entered the period of profound dislocation
the American people were exhausted with involvement in the Middle East wars.
The conversion law occupied the American Jewish community and Israel. A real crisis. It might have closed the window of reform and conservative judaism with Israel
The question of the Kotel and Women of the Wall.
Then everything changed.
The Arab spring forced Israel to rethink everything.
Egypt-Israeli border inflamed, 10 killed
Sinai filled with international terrorists
Gaza, through Iranian smuggling, becomes militarized. Hamas.
Complex and Dangerous.
Jordan began to stagger with half a million refugees
Jordanian Iraq border is the security for Israel.
Syrian border used to be a quiet border. Weapons of mass destruction hovering being transported around.
17,000 jihadis entered into Syria.
Lebanon, 70,000 rockets from Hezbollah under the watchful eye of the UN.
Now those rockets can go to Elat.
Iranians building underground,
install advanced centrifuges increasing enrichment process to weapons grade.
All the efforts of the Obama administration to negotiate only lead Iran to grow closer to the red line that Obama warned about.
Israel has to explore new realms of cooperation with the US. Israel has succeeded to do so.
On the Egyptian border. the peace treaty has held. good!
Deterrence with Hamas-ceasefire.
build fence of a billion dollar fence. no ground attacks. stopped the flow of labor seeking people from
Iron Dome. 2010 first anti ballistic system that worked in history. 86 % success rate. All possible from help of the US.
Israel built a fence on the Syrian border. will cost almost a billion dollars.
David's sling- a system to knock out cruise missles.  All with the help of the US
Jordan is critical ally and is dealing with huge challenges. Israel is playing a behind the scenes role.
With regard to Iran:
The current administration has sent the Iran economy into a nose dive with sanctions.
Israel and the US still want  a diplomatic solution. but the best chance for a diplomatic solution must have a credible military threat ready to go and they must believe it.

Palestinian issues:  expectations low.  The Israeli government is committed to the process.
Challenges to the Jewish people:
The Kotel is a thorny issue that goes to the core of the issue of the Israel Diaspora relationship.
Sharansky proposals to create a new and expanded plaza for a gender neutral for prayer.
It is a not just a Jewish-Jewish issue but it is a Jewish-Muslim issue as well. Security issues and theological ones overlap in this realm as well.
Oren feels that the story has been a good and successful one over the last four years.

Questions for Ambassador Oren and his comments:
1. Israel wants the EU to play a constructive role.  Right now that is not happening.
2. Israel and Turkey? Better relations but not as far as he would have liked. The flotilla incident and the Gaza event caused the cancelation of the joint military exercises. That was a myth. Well it was the rightward leaning and turning to the Muslim world and the Arab world of Turkey.
This issue also has to due to with oil issues and Israel with Greek Cyprus.
3. The Turks will stay out of Israel's way. Cooperation of commercial ties. Turkey is staying out of the oil issues of Israel and the Gaza blockade for now.
4. YK message since YK war. The message is Klal Yisrael. peoplehood.  preserve peoplehood even if that term appears to be politically incorrect in many circles of American Jewish life.

5. How can American Jews be critical without playing into the hands of advesaries.Israel can withstand pressures but american jews have to think about what they are saying. respect whose lives are on the line.
6. Israelis caree about one thing above all. they care about the sec of their families. taking risks for israelis requires them to be able to defend themselves. that is what it is all about for Israelis.

Journalist Yossi Klein HaLevi: How the Yom Kippur War Changed Israel

The Israel we know today was formed by the Israel after 1973.
Israel has struggled with the consequences of that war ever since.
In retrospect the YK war was maybe its most impressive victory given its ability to recover from the surprise attack.
Yet Israelis say today that Egypt won the war. How is that possible.
And in that question is the origin of the left -right schism to this very day.
Israelis see two events that define the state of mind that makes them wary, to not let their guard down
a. Holocaust
b. YK war.
c. Both the settlement and the peace movements both began after the YK war.
d. the sin is Israeli arrogance from YK war.

Two narratives to read Israeli history
a. Left politics:  Sadat was left with no alternative but to attack. His trip to Jerusalem was the beginning of Israeli atonement and that is why peace happened.
b. Right politics:  Sadat- nonsense that he wanted to make peace before 73. he needed a victory to have the credibility to make peace. His waiting for Labor to fall and Likud to prominence was a vindication of the right wing and Begin.
c. Zionism as Racism UN resolution reinforced that we live in a hostile world.
d. Intifadas-  when Israel offers the peace is when the Palestinians go violence. That is the true Palestinian view.
e. the sin is Israeli complacency from YK war

40 years later after the YK war. What has Israel learned?
a. a bit of right and the left. It is a blend of both characteristics.
b. We need to be more careful recognizing a false sense of security and being more open to risking to Havi is saying thatpeace. It is a balance.
c. Most Israelis would be happy if the current negotiations would produce something of a peace agreement. But few Israelis believe that there is a serious partner for peace.
d. Israelis have learned the lessons of YK war and whatever they think went wrong.

a. He says that Jews of the left should atone for minimizing the threats that Israel experiences daily. They should atone for minimizing the dangers and political pressures  upon Israel.
b. Right wing Jews in America should atone for the sins of the occupation and not paying attention to what has happened to Israel over the last few years.
c. This YK left and right wing Jews should atone for not being willing to listen to each other.
d. In Israel both sides have each won and lost the big arguments to some extent. Neither camp has the entire the truth.
e. The fortieth anniversary of the war could contribute to a further sense of unity and healing consistent for the high holy days and for Jewish unity.

questions of speaker and his comments:
The Likud leaders are the more dynamic in the Israeli political movement in Israel today.
He does not see that old arrogance and bravado that was Israel after 67-73. Israel has changed and learned how to live as a normal country yet still knowing that it is not living in a normal world.
 Israel is more democratic now than ever before.
He talked about the freedom of the press. There is not

the blind trust in the govt that there was.
This might have contributed to Israel being caught off guard at YK 73. A free press is critical for Israel.
We may be in a holding action right now. Maybe the current negotiations could lead to an interim agreement. That is about it.
This is the year of Iran. Will Iran be stopped or will it be allowed to go nuclear?
Israel is taking it one day at a time.
See Jabotinsky's article  the

Iron Wall which is critical to understanding the Arab and the Israel position. He says this article, written sixty years ago, prophetic for understanding our times today.

He does not believe that Israel is truly not existentially threatened  by Iran in this moment. He believes that Israel will make a preemptive strike against Iran.
Will Tu
Will Turkey be the new Iran and Iran the new Turkey

His point is that we need to remember that israel needs to put up with American Jewish opinion if they wantAmerican JHewish support on the important issues to secuity.

AIPAC Symposium- Policy Analyst Aaron David Miller

aaron david miller
vp for new initiatives , Distinguished Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
the way the world is and the way the world you want it to be.
what is the balance
 1. Middle East is a region of risk, liability and vulnerability
2.  We cannot change the region and we cannot extricate ourselves from it.
3. hard to succeed and hard to leave it.
4. How do you measure success?
5. We have less street credibility than ever before.
6.  the key to life is success! it breeds friends and power. People who succeed generate followers. us has not succeeded

point 2.
1. we are learning about the limitations of american military power
2. we have not been attacked on the homeland since 9/11
We are safer but not safe
We are weaning ourselves away from a dependence on arab hydrocarbons
Canada and Mexico is good.
a. energy security is still an issue
b. other nations still need arab oil

3. This region has more complexity and moving parts
a. Iran search for nuclear weapons, palestine issue and israel are based upon domestic issues
b. long term issues . there are 
c. it is hard to deal comprehensively with these issues.
4.  partisanship of american politics is not relevant. it is about being smart or dumb. Polarization between states and ideologies is bad.
1. Israeli -Palestinian Peace
a. kerry peace process view point. a conflict ending agreement to settle the basic issues is unimaginable. Then what is possible?
Are leaders prisoners of political constituences
boarders and 
jerusalem and refugees
recognition of Jewish state
You care only what you own. Nobody every owned a rental car 'Larry Summers
Arab Spring-depressing but inevitable.
3 limits for democratic life do not exist
leaders cannot rise above their sectarian basis.
institutions that are inclusive
 institutional mechanism to debate volitile issues without destroying the system.
Iran- who can stop Iran? Iran. the costs might prove prohibitive.  but no evidence to suggest it.  it is about the capacity to produce the weapon. 
Our best hope is to keep Iran from becoming a breakout nation as a nuclear weapon state. Iran is driven by profound insecurity and grandiosity. dangerous
idealism without illusion. never give up. eyes wide open.
the Palestinian problem is called the Noah's ark syndrome
they have two of everything. how do you make peace?
security and identity issu

AIPAC Seminar: Panel Discussion Crafting Middle East Policy

Panel Discussion: Dr. Yamara Cofman Wittes Former deputy assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affarirs-Obama Administration
John Hannah- Former national security advisor, VP Richard Cheney

moderator-Jeff Jeff Colman- AIPAC

Exploring the current trends
ethnic nationalism
Muslem Brotherhood approach
Al Qeada approach
What is different that is going on now?
absence of strong states.
There is a vacum and regional actors are doing what they do which is take advantage of the vacum.
Turkey is running up agains the limits of their power surge.
The actors in the Gulf States are responsible for stoking that fire in Lebanon and Iraq.
And what they do is lend credence to the arguments of Al Qeda and the most extreme elements.
 Both panelists agree that the war in Syria is a game changer for the region.
They both agree that the tension especially the religious tensions between the Sunni and Shia is unprecedented.
American Policy options.
Goals and Options?
John Hannah
1. Administration would like to see a negotiated ouster of Assad-unlikely
2. strengthen the  hand of the rebels.
3. Is there a viable American partner in Syria?
she agrees that the momentum is to create the process to negotiate
the other process is containment- not getting Assad out but just protecting refugees and defend against use of chemical weapons.
yes there are options but no low cost options.
How important is getting the desired outcome in Syria to American interests?
How much of an American investment in this issue given that America is exhausted with international intervention. Polls demonstrate that Americans are more isolationist since 1992.
There is no pressure from the population to do anything about this matter.

Colman to Hannah: Is America just not as big a player in the Middle East?
Response- Not to dictate but to shape them.  But the US needs to be engaged. The world is better off with US involvement and leadership.
The president does well in steering the course. The one player everyone looks to is still the US. The players still look to the US even if the regional players say they  hate the US 
Panel Response
Is it American policy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?
What would be the perception about US if Iran gets the weapon?
Hannah- It comes down to the President.
He will have to use military force to downgrade and buy time to figure out what to do in the long run.
The president has given himself little wiggle room.,
The President asks, "Do I want on my political legacy, on my watch, to have the Iranians get the bomb?" The problem is how effective will the intelligence be to know before it happens. It is a new world if they get a nuclear weapon. There is no communication between diplomats between Iran and US. No one to talk to resolve problems . Incredibly dangerous.
A nuclear standoff between Iran and Israel and Saudi Arabia will have huge economic implications -oil.
Wittes response:
1.  there is a permissive response in the American public opinion to allow for a US strike against Iran.
2.  a best case scenario would only retard Iranian process not destroy it.
3.  international coalition that has worked together on sanctions against Iran might help create a change in Iran. It is important to maintain that coalition.
4. Iranian elections: Meaning? Iran@saban blog.Iranian politicians are arguing over the sanctions and what they are doing to their economy. the new elections show that the regime is trying to do something about Iran's isolation and building ties to the  world. 
It does mean that the sanctions are having an impact politically but may not match the timetable of development of Nuclear weaponry. 
Hannah response.
Everyone was surprise. He agrees with Wittes comments.
Sanctions have been effective in generating a huge amount of debate in the society.
Keep the pedal to the medal with Iran. Pressure.
the current president was a concession to the disgust of the Iranian people to their government.