Dear WJC Family,
Happy Yom Ha’atzmaut—Israel’s Independence Day 2022 (and since you are actually receiving this a bit early I hope you are having a meaningful Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, which is observed each year on the day before Yom Haatzmaut).
As we celebrate Israel’s 74th birthday and watch events unfold in Eastern Europe that raise terrifying memories of the past, we are reminded just how valuable Israel is as the homeland of the Jews and we say prayers of thanks for the Jewish State, which so many of us consider to be a miracle. In celebration I hope you will consider joining our cohort marching in the Israel Day Parade in New York City on May 22. (To join our WJC crew at the Parade, contact David Goldstein).
With the arrival of Yom Ha’atzmaut 2022, I think back to last year and I’m struck by the difference a year makes. From May 10-21, 2021 there were 11 days of open war between Israel and Gaza. At that unnerving time, there was much that I could have said to you about the situation in Israel. And yet, I realized that because of my newness to WJC and our concentration on managing through the pandemic, we had yet to really delve into the way our community discussed Israel. The rhetoric around Israel and the Palestinians can be so complicated and heated that if community discussions are not handled with care and a set of ground rules and guardrails we run the risk of offending or alienating, rather than bringing us together in these fraught moments.
I am writing today, in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut, in hopes that we can begin to revive and rejuvenate conversation and programming about Israel at WJC. To that end, I am pleased to update the congregation on the development of a series of events under the heading “WJC Talks Israel,” a series of programs and dialogues, some of them featuring outside experts and other guests, aimed at exploring Israel’s history, as well as the Israel of today and the Israel we might hope for in the future.
The inspiration and basic architecture for this approach came about in a spirit of partnership—a partnership in which I benefited from the wise counsel and creativity of Cantor Goldberg and Rabbi Dalton, as well as a small committee of congregants who share a deep love of Israel, as well as a broad diversity of perspectives and opinions. (Of course, if you’d like to have a conversation with me to discuss your own personal views about Israel, I am more than happy to meet virtually or in-person to discuss). At my request, this group has been meeting for several months to advise me on how we might approach Israel programming and discussion at WJC, guided by our trust in the strength of our congregation to have respectful dialogue on complicated topics. That advisory committee is continuing to meet and experiment with different guests and facilitators—and to eventually recommend them, if appropriate, to the broader community.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge that each of you surely has your own opinions about Israel – as well as about its relationships with the Palestinians; neighboring Arab nations; and the United States, among many others – and that those opinions and feelings are often quite passionate and range across a wide spectrum.
Indeed, part of what has made the Israel conversation so complicated is how often it becomes politicized. While there will, of course, continue to be strong political debates about Israel, it is not our intention for this series to be a forum for those debates. Instead, the purpose of “WJC Talks Israel” is to explore Israel as a historical, religious and cultural center of Judaism throughout the ages and today, and to understand why the existence of the Jewish State, despite its complications and challenges, is so important in the first place.
While our roster of programs is still taking shape and we are open to suggestions, we are pleased that WJC is cosponsoring the “Shoresh HaLev” launch tonight at Beth El Synagogue Center, including the participation of Cantor Goldberg, in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut and featuring Nava Tehilah, an Israeli spiritual jam band. Additionally, we are exploring bringing to WJC a roster of speakers who speak about Israel’s history, religious significance and culture and we hope that these will be a focus of our Israel programming going forward. Expect more information on this over the next few months.
My friends, over the last few years I have had two postponed congregational trips to Israel and another canceled personal trip (all due to COVID). I am grateful that I am getting another opportunity through the Westchester Jewish Council and I am scheduled to travel to Israel on May 15th for an Interfaith Mission they are sponsoring (with support from the UJA Federation of NY). I am so looking forward to walking the streets of Jerusalem again and hope you’ll consider joining our postponed Family Israel Trip in December 2022. If you’d like more information about the plans for this trip please contact me. Also, if a Family Israel Trip is not for you, we look forward to planning other types of trips in the future. Please let me know your interest.
So, whether we are imagining dancing together in Tel Aviv or wrestling with difficult and fundamental questions, I hope you will consider joining us for important conversations and events about the Jewish State, as we explore together ways we can celebrate Israel’s very existence even as we work for it to always live up to our expectations and its own highest ideals.
Happy Yom Ha’atzmaut,
Next year in Jerusalem,
Next year in peace for all,