Monday, August 21, 2017

Symbols of the past

There has been a lot of talk about the rise of neo-Nazis in the US, particularly around the horrific "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville on August 11, which culminated in a despicable act of terrorism as a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of counter-demonstrators.

With all the comments about whether Trump did or did not condemn the white supremacists enough (and he definitely should have spoken more strongly against them and their hate-filled ideology), I think that this rally proved how much of an insignificant non-entity these extremists are.

The rally was made of a variety of racist, hate-filled groups, and between them they only managed to get a few thousand people, hardly a threat to the mainstream American community, and even most the extremists were afraid to display recognizable symbols of hate like Nazi flags or KKK hoods.

Although there were a handful of Nazi flags on display, I think that there are more Swastika Flags at Yad Vashem than there were at this Rally, even the American Nazi Party no longer calls itself Nazi or uses a Swastika in its flag. Instead these hate groups have invented or adopted a series of new symbols that are not recognized by the mainstream. This by itself shows that they are afraid to show their true colours as they are aware that the American Public has zero sympathy for their cause.

Given that the trigger for that Rally was over the removal of symbols,  in this case a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, prompting much debate about how America should relate to memorials from the Civil war, I think that the answer must be not to hide from history, rather to learn from it. Just as Yad Vashem and other Holocaust memorials display Nazi imagery so it can be recognized and learned from, the United States should use icons from the Civil War not only to commemorate those who died (on both sides), but to teach about the causes of the Civil war and the evil of slavery.

Videos of protesters gleefully knocking down historic monuments brings up images of countries who have broken free of an oppressive regime, or worse, of Muslim extremists destroying religious icons that they disagree with. Destroying and hiding from one's past is a lost opportunity to learn from it.

Similarly, we in Israel have a noble and respectable past that we Zionists should be proud of, however there are tragic events that we should not forget, both in what happened to us (massacres or expulsions from Hebron, Gush Etzion, or the Old City to name but a few), and tragedies that befell others in this area  (destruction of Arab Villages during the War of Independence or after the 6 Day War). We owe it to ourselves to not erase or forget history, but to learn from it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Kotel For Everyone

After listening and reading to non stop comments on the cancellation of the Kotel Agreement, and the impact it may have on the unity of the Jewish people, I thought that I should add my own 10 Agurot to the discussion.

The Reform Leadership was insulted by the Israeli Government. This was a deliberate and calculated insult from the Charedi parties that have been politically fighting the Reform movement since it was created in Germany over a hundred years ago.

However the insult was only aimed at the Reform Leadership. It does not impact Egalitarian prayer at the Kotel which as been happening since 2000 (actually much earlier) at the southern part of the Kotel, the area near Robinson's Arch in the foreground in the picture above (picture from 1865).

Over the past 15 years, the prayer area by Robinson's Arch has been expanded considerably, and there are plans to further increase the size and accessibility of this area. The Masorati (Conservative) movement provides prayer books and Torah Scrolls in the area, and it is available for Bar or bat Mitzva ceremonies (http://masorti.org/the-western-wall/). This has not changed with the cancellation of the Kotel Agreement.

What has changed is that the Reform leadership will not get government recognized rights over this area in the same way that the Orthodox Rabbinate are recognized as the administrators of the large Kotel Plaza immediately to the north or Robinson's Arch  (the area beyond the wooden supports in the picture above) .

Quite rightly, the Reform leadership feel insulted, however I think that their response could be very damaging to their own membership.
There have been reports that the Reform leadership are threatening to decrease political and financial support to Israel. This is very hurtful to Israel; although thank G-d Israel is less reliant on the political and financial support from the American Jewish Community (which is tiny compared to the Support Israel receives from non-Jewish groups like Christian Zionists), however the Reform Jews are our family, and is never nice when members of a family cut ties with one another.

However, this cutting of ties could do serious damage to the Reform movement itself.
One of the biggest challenges of Jewish communities abroad is how to keep their membership active and involved. Unfortunately many Reform Jews do not have a daily connection to Judaism, they do not keep kosher or Shabbat, many do not attend regular services, and many are not familiar with Jewish history, literature, and customs.
One of the areas where many Reform Jews are still connected to the Jewish people is their support for Israel. The Reform leadership should be looking at ways to increase this connection, not because Israel needs it, or the Charedi parties love them, but for the sake of their own constituents.

Instead of threatening to reduce ties with Israel, the response of the Reform leadership should be to show the world how important their connection to Israel and the Kotel is. They should encourage all their members to visit Israel regularly, they should try and get all families to consider the Kotel a far better location to celebrate a Bar Mitzva than an expensive events hall.

If the Reform movement manged to bring thousands or tens of thousands of Bnei Mitzva and other groups to the Egalitarian Prayer area at the kotel every year, that would not only strengthen the connection of their own members to Israel and to the Jewish people, but would force the government to further increase the size and accessibility of this area, and give them a much stronger negotiating position next time the Kotel issue comes up before the government or court system.

Lets hope that over the coming years Israel, Jerusalem, and the Kotel continue to serve as a source of unity for the Jewish People (in spite of our differences), and not an excuse to throw insults at one another

Monday, May 8, 2017

Brachot for the Haftara

I was trying to find a copy of the brachot to the Torah and Haftara (ברכות התורה והפטרה) in a format that could be printed out and laminated for the Bima in Shul.
Had trouble finding something suitable, so I put one together myself which I am sharing for anyone else that would find it useful.

This is nussach Ashkenaz, and the Brachot haftara include טעמיםץ
A PDF is available here.

If anyone spots an error or has suggestions how I could improve the formatting, please leave a comment.