Never Alone: The Israel Connection

Sermon Theme for 5775 – Jewish Identity

Yom Kippur Evening Sermon

When the incursion into Gaza commenced this last summer during the war now known as Operation Protective Edge, among the first Israeli casualties was an American who had made Aliyah. Texas born Sean Carmieli was the son of Israeli parents. He had made Aliyah from America, and was what is known in Israel as a “lone soldier – one who has come to live in Israel not having the physical support of his large family to go home to.

When he died, his friends went to social media, concerned that Sean would have a small funeral, since the family and the friends he grew up with, lived in Texas. They published a photo of him draped in the flag of his soccer team, Maccabi Haifa. The officials of the team saw this photo, empathized with Sean’ story, and urged fans to show up to the funeral, so that Sean would not be buried by his family alone.

In less than 24 hours, Sean Carmieli’s two sisters and 20, 000 people gathered at his funeral. They came in scout groups and biker groups. They came young and old. They came as individuals in tears. Most had never met Sean. Ariel Horowitz penned an amazing song paying homage to this poignant moment at the beginning of the war:

Esrim elef ish, v’atah ha’rishon /Twenty thousand people, with you at their head —

Esrim elef ish, acharecha ‘Sean’ /twenty thousand people are walking behind you, Sean,

Tzoadim b’sheket im prachim/ marching in silence, carrying flowers:

Shtei Achayot, esrim elef achim/ two sisters, twenty thousand brothers.”

For me, one of the most moving lines of the song, filled with poignant lines is –

“a young woman holding a flag who doesn’t know why she’s crying so much when she’d never even known you.”

There are times we identify or are identified with a cause. The Jewish people and Israel are causes that are inextricably intertwined. Our relationship as individuals with Israel is one we must choose to be engaged in. We have no choice but to make it part of our identity as Jews.

My own politics are neither AIPAC or JStreet. I know we have folk to the right and to the left in their beliefs on Israel who sit here at BCRC this evening, and people who feel distanced from Israel. My politics are unaligned but they are not ambivalent. I am a Zionist and understand that my identity as a Jew cannot be separated from Israel, land and people. As Yossi Klein HaLevi stated so eloquently in a recent Rosh HaShanah article about the events this last summer: “I am, like many of us, a confusion of emotions. I am angry and fearful, grieving and grateful, proud and ashamed and, despite everything, hopeful”[i]

I believe in a two-state solution. I feel sympathy for the Palestinians caught in a nightmare world created by terrorists and am livid that the world perpetuates the Hamas myth that more casualties on their side, which Israel tried their best to avoid, makes Israel the villain. I feel sadness and fear for Israeli friends caught in the horror of constant terrorism hanging over their lives and for mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters grieving over their children. I accept as true that the conflict perpetuated by Hamas and reluctantly engaged in by Israel radicalizes Palestinians. I am angry that the UN has turned Israel’s right to defend herself into a war crime.

I dare to dream that peace is possible, and it will come, as Golda Meir said, “when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us” and when we begin to see the humanity in the Palestinians faces and souls. I advocate that we should speak out lovingly in our critique of Israel, but with Israel our loyalty should remain. For in Israel lies my heritage and right, our heritage and right. And when Israel is vilified in false reports in the media, it is my responsibility to speak out.

But not everybody feels as I do. There are Jewish pundits, journalists and activists and tribe members, who take the position that Judaism is separate and different to supporting the land of Israel. What happens in Israel does not reflect on Judaism and Jews elsewhere. They take the side of the Palestinians who portray themselves as the underdog, even if an element of that underdog is using terrorism to further its cause, in the name of social justice.

Rather than lovingly critiquing Israel, angsting with her people on the state of her soul, wanting the best for the Jewish homeland, they voice their dismay of Israel as a “them” rather than an “us”. If in disagreement with the policies of the Israel government, they voice that to the world at large, differentiating themselves from such behaviors, believing that there are no consequences for the Jewish people, and dismissing the arguments that criticizing Israel in such a way has a greater long-term effect on the Jewish people.

But there are repercussions for every anti-Zionist voice which affect us personally. Protests and demonizing Israel has melded to make anti Jewish rhetoric strong once more. In the past one might have been able to argue that anti-Zionism was not anti-Semitic. But these hatreds are more aligned than ever before and can clearly no longer be separated.

This last year has seen a rise in anti-semitism. It is hard to fathom the numbers found in the ADL Global 100 Report, the recently published index of surveyed anti-Semitism, that tells us that over a quarter of the world population holds stereotypes and hatred of Jews.[ii]  Much of this anti-Semitism is based in historical biases but reinforced by negative reports around Israel. The Anti-Defamation League has well documented in their Global100 reort, the belief by many in the world that Jews and Israel are one and the same. What I believe to be biased tainted anti-Israel discussion in our media, has spurred larger anti-Semitic repercussions. In this last year, there has been an acceleration of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which are in essence made of the same cloth.

Anti-Israel rhetoric is pervasive. From the divestment and sanctions put in place by the Presbyterian Church towards Israel, to the propaganda of the BDS movement that has falsely labeled Israel as an apartheid state, to the vilification of Israel at the UN, without condemnation of the terrorists Hamas who provoked and sustained the most recent conflict.

Anti-Semitism has followed quickly on its heels… From the political leaders in Turkey, Venezuela and South Africa who have called for violence against their Jewish population. To the protests on the streets of New York that damaged Jewish stores, to the calls in France for Jews to be gassed and bombed, the ice bucket challenge that turned into the blood bucket challenge at Ohio University followed by the arrest of Jewish students who protested this grotesque action, to the unlikely candidate running for US senate in Kentucky, who posted a sign on folks lawns with a central platform that reads: “With Jews We Lose”. [iii]

Two weeks ago in Jackson MS, my rabbinic colleague Ted Ritter from Congregation Beth Israel, ordered a salad and was asked by the owner: “A full size or a Jewish size?” When Rabbi Ritter asked the owner what he meant he explained: “It’s small. Jews are cheap and small. Everybody knows that.” Incredulous, and thinking he may have heard the owner incorrectly, he asked “Did you really just say that? The owner then asked him if he was a Jew and when the rabbi replied “Yes”, a whole lot of expletives followed, and the rabbi was asked to leave the restaurant. Rabbi Ritter wrote publicly on this, “It was all a bit surreal, so I left.”[iv] And then he spoke out asking for an apology fitting this Jewish season of forgiveness.

Anti-Israel opinion has garnered into anti-Semitic reality. Being anti-Zionist has become even more obviously than in the past, a synonym for and a justification for Jew-hating.  Anti-Zionism has become without equivocation just another guise for Anti-Semitism.

On the Facebook page of my dog breeder there is a cute picture of a puppy looking a lot like my Zuchon dog Ben Bag Bag. His mouth, face and paws are covered in a red lipstick he has been playing with and chewing. His little mouth has an innocent dog look. The caption reads: “No. I have not seen your lipstick. Why would you even ask me that? I’m insulted. Every time something goes missing around here, everybody looks at me.”[v]

We might ask what we have done to be blamed? We might claim to our friends and society – that Israel is not us. But will they understand? Will they listen? They see Israel as us. They see a smear of lipstick all over our faces. We have no choice but to make Israel part of our own Jewish identity, because the fate of Israel and Zionism is linked as one to us as Jews in the minds of others. Like our 19th and 20th century ancestors, Israel is our haven, Israel is our representation, Israel is our country – because we are Jews linked historically to our birthplace.

When I visited Israel this last year, as a Jew living outside the land of Israel, I was given the opportunity with a number of rabbis to visit the Knesset and to make the views of world Jewry heard on religious pluralism. Israel has always understood that what happens in Israel effects the Jewish world. That is why they allow Jews from other countries, not just rabbis, to lobby at the Knesset. We too need to have such an understanding. They are us. We are them.

This means that we need to make sure that we are educated around Israel. I have put together this evening, a sheet with resources for you to take, that will help you with this endeavor. You need to peacefully arm yourself through knowledge. To protect yourself and our people, you must become familiar with the history of the Middle East and its mindset. You must read history books and articles, play video games to teach us about the complexities of the situation (such a game night is on our Adult Education agenda), attend plays and films that show us the complexity of Israel and her neighbors today.

You must visit Israel if you can and become sensitized to the realities of everyday living. You must understand what it is to live as part of the Jewish people with Israel at her center. You must comprehend what it means to be a tiny democratic country surrounded by hostile nations. You must keep abreast of Israel’s politics, her challenges, and her struggle with mores.

Join organizations that are Israel focused. Educate your friends and those around us about Israel, and respond to newspapers and media when you see things that are falsely reported.

You must partake in having our voices heard in Israel.  ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists here in the United States, speaks for us as a Reform Movement in Israel. Who of you would be willing to take the lead in running an ARZA membership campaign among our congregants? Or is there some other Israel focused organization that speaks your Jewish language and politics that you might join?

Make sure that our children have a strong connection with Israel. Perhaps we as a congregation might consider a Bar/Bat Mitzvah trip for our families? Or you might speak about Israel in your car pool or around your dinner table? Or you might consider collecting Tzedakah from your kids allowance for a cause they designate in Israel fostering their connection.

You should consider buying Israeli products, trying Israeli foods, listening to Israeli music and learning Hebrew. Tout Israel’s achievements and be proud of her scientific and cultural and humanitarian endeavors. You must draw your soul closer to this country to which you will always be identified.

We must bear in mind that they, Israel, are us, American Jews. What happens there is linked to what occurs to us here. Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh B’Zeh. All Israel is responsible for one another.

In Ariel Horowitz’s song about the funeral of Sean Carmieli, the lone soldier, he sings:

“They came to thank you and to say goodbye,
to say that there’s no such thing as a lone soldier
or a nation that dwells alone…”

Israel can never be a nation alone. It is our country even though we live here and are loyal to the United States. It is a nation that dwells inside our Jewish souls. Our destinies are linked.

It is our business to foster and maintain that connection. Oseh Shalom Bimromav, Hu Ya’aseh Shalom/May the One who makes peace on high make peace for us, in the autumn that Sean Gavrieli did not live to see.

This Kol Nidre, a night when we renounce vows that we did not fulfill between ourselves and our God, may we make a vow…. to recognize that Israel is part of our Jewish identity. May we make a vow to march with Israel through our lives. May we vow to honor her and to work for her and to pray for the peace of Israel and all Jews, wherever they live around the world.

Anthem: Esrim Elef Ish (Ariel Horowitz)

Translation (with thanks to Julian Duband who notated words, music and provided this translation)

Chorus

Twenty thousand people, with you at their head —
twenty thousand people are walking behind you, Sean,
in silence, carrying flowers:
two sisters, twenty thousand brothers.

The soccer fans

who came wearing scarves in the team colors,

and a young woman holding a flag
who doesn’t know why she’s crying so much
when she’d never even known you.

Twenty thousand people…

They came to thank you and to say goodbye,
to say that there’s no such thing as a lone soldier
or a nation that dwells alone
as long as in Texas, Haifa and Gush Etzion
there are people like you.

Twenty thousand people…

May the One who makes peace on high
make peace for us in the autumn
that you will not live to see, Sean,
and that’s why they’ve come here, from elderly to infants,
from Haifa, from Gush Etzion.

Twenty thousand people…

Twenty thousand people, with you at their head —
twenty thousand people are walking behind you, Sean,
silently, carrying flowers:
two sisters, twenty thousand brothers,

Twenty thousand brothers.

[i] http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/as-we-enter-rosh-hashanah/

[ii] http://global100.adl.org/

[iii] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/kentucky-write-in-senate-campaign-slogan-jews-lose-article-1.1945010

[iv] http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2014/09/23/rabbi-says-asked-leave-restaurant-jewish/16116385/

[v] zuchon lipstick

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