Religious Life

Israel: A Dream Still Unfolding – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – March 1, 2019

Shalom Chaverim

The very last stop on the last day of our recent Beth El Family Israel tour was the Herzl Museum in Jerusalem. This experiential museum tells the story of Herzl’s life, explains the history of Zionism and celebrates the reality of the State of Israel. In the final room of the museum, it asks if Herzl was successful in achieving his dream.

Just before we entered the museum, we were given instructions and an overview by a young Ethiopian woman. Listening to her introduce Theodore Herzl to our group and imagining her family story, I thought to myself, “How incredible! Her presence is clearly evidence that Herzl’s dream has become a reality.”

Of course, in some ways, the dream remains incomplete. Two examples come to mind. Recently, I met with Harlan Jacobs. A past president of the JCRC, Jacobs has been active in the campaign to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel for decades. And the work is not done. Jacobs brought to my attention that 8000 Falash Mura remain in Ethiopia. These Jews and relatives of Jews already in Israel have been living in horrible conditions as they await permission to make aliyah. Unfortunately, the government of Israel has dragged its heels and been unwilling to accept them. No less than David Breakstone, the deputy chairman of the Jewish Agency calls the government’s “draconian ruling” a “profound embarrassment.” He implores world Jewry to do something before it is too late. We will have the chance to learn more about this crisis when Jacobs speaks at Beth El during Pesach.

This past week saw another example of Israel failing to live up to our dreams. To secure enough seats in the upcoming elections, PM Netanyahu gave credibility the Otzma Yehudit party by suggesting they combine with another right-wing party to increase his ability to build a coalition.  The Prime Ministers’ action was roundly condemned from across the religious spectrum and by organization such as AIPAC. Here is the statement of the Conservative movement:

Racism and hatred are antithetical to our Jewish values and the ideals on which the Jewish State of Israel was founded.

The Conservative/Masorti Movement condemns the decision to include Otzma Yehudit, a racist Israeli political party with roots in the extremist ideology of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Kach party, in a list that might be a legitimate coalition member after the elections. For decades, this movement has been widely recognized in Israel and throughout the United States as dangerously radical, including the Kach party being designated by the U.S. Department of State as a terrorist organization since 1997. Otzma Yehudit should not be further legitimized in any sense and we hope and pray that the party returns to a place of irrelevance.

These shortcomings are real. Despite them, we should not fail to appreciate the miracle that is Israel. We saw that last Friday when Israel launched a spacecraft that will land on the moon. When it succeeds, Israel will be only the fourth country to have accomplished this goal- a remarkable achievement for this small, young country.

In addition to its scientific equipment, the spacecraft is carrying a copy of the Hebrew Bible (inscribed with nanotechnology on a small disk), a time capsule with Israel’s Declaration of Independence and national anthem, the memories of a Holocaust survivor, children’s drawings of space and the moon, the Traveler’s Prayer and a note from the late president Shimon Peres.

Like its name, Beresheet, Israel is still only just beginning. In the words of the general manager of the Space Division of Israel Aerospace Industries, “Around here, we say the sky is the lower limit.”

Rabbi Alexander Davis