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Love and Courage

As many of you know, Israel is engaged in inner political turmoil the likes of which we have never seen before. There has been political violence, street protests shutting down transportation and roads, and even threats of a reservist pull back. Any one of these challenges can rip the country apart. All of them together are terrifying. The military has said that readiness is at issue so real existential harm is closer to hand than we would ever want.

The current government has awakened the fears of the opposition through a series of proposals for judiciary reform and through a misuse of policing. The noted arrest of a protest leader is but one example of this misuse of the police force. Ben Gvir, leader of one of the pro-settler parties, has authority over policing and the West Bank. While there is broad consensus that some type of judicial reform is needed, these reforms need more than narrow majorities. To be done right, they must honor values of democracy and pluralism. They will change the unwritten constitution of Israel. They are the kind of fundamental changes that require supermajorities for legitimacy.

Tisha B’av starts tonight. Tisha B’av has a central message: as damaging as hatred from others has been to us historically, the worst destruction results from hatred between Jews. Two seemingly contradictory virtues are needed. First is a willingness to de-escalate and compromise. In the Talmudic account of the destruction of Jerusalem, two enemies in their hatred of each other directly brought about the sacking of Israel. Had either of them been willing to accept a compromise, to see the humanity of the other, Israel would have been saved from the Romans. Second is genuine courageous leadership. The Rabbis in that same story fail three times. First, they say nothing when they could mediate the fight between Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Second, they fail to act to stop Bar Kamtza as he moves toward outright betrayal. And third, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who has the Roman General in his debt, asks only for a small out of the way town instead of pleading for Jerusalem.

Today, we need to embody both values. On the one hand, we must see the humanity of everyone involved. Sephardic Jews have felt betrayed and locked out of power for multiple generations. Valuing their role in the building of the State and ensuring they have a seat in the halls of power is essential. Similarly, we dare not feed into the hatred of religious and non-religious Jews. We can honor the piety and practice of a community even when we disagree with some of their political agenda.

Second, we must show courageous leadership. We insist upon an Israel that is democratic and deeply Jewish. We know that freedoms and the thriving of Israel go hand in hand. Israeli power depends on Israel's economic might. This isn’t just about judicial reform. This is about ensuring that Israel thrives as a free and mighty nation for generations to come. We will protest and argue and push back with every lever we have against policies that put the freedoms of the State, and hence the State itself, at risk.

Two hopeful signs in the last forty-eight hours. First an image. As counter-protesters were returning from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and as protesters were heading to Tel Aviv, they happened to meet on an escalator. As you can see in the video, several people reached across the escalator to greet with their hands their opponents. No more powerful statement could emerge of being one people. Second, tonight there will be services at the Wall for both pro and anti-government camps. The purpose is for Tisha B’av to remind the community that we must find a path together. We can fight and argue, yet we must remember that we are one people.

I am suggesting four things you can do.

1. Attend services this year at Tisha B’av. We have to remind ourselves of what can happen and how easy it is to walk down a destructive path.

2. Read the Israeli news. I especially suggest Ynetnews.com.

3. Be in touch with our Israeli friends and family. If you have a cousin in Israel, this is a great week to be in touch.

4. Write a letter (see a suggested text below) to the Israeli consulate in San Francisco.

I believe in Israel and the Jewish people. I believe compassion will find a way to emerge and Israel will step back from this destructive path. In the meantime, I will stand up for love against hatred and for the necessity of Jewish democracy in Israel.


Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi David Booth
 

Here is the letter I plan to write to the Consulate. The address is: Consul General of Israel. 454 Montgomery St #2100. San Francisco, CA 94104, or cg@sf.mfa.gov.il.

Feel free to use it as a guide as you compose your own thoughts:

I am a Zionist and lover of Israel for my entire life. Israel represents the Jewish people. It is more to me than just another country. At the same time, I am worried by the recent political turmoil and protests. The historic support of the American Jewish community shows our love for Israel and we hope the current government can take a close look at the turmoil being awakened in the wake of the proposed judicial reforms. I believe the government should take a pause and challenge the opposition to work together to draft reforms and to govern. I also hope the Prime Minister and others can find the courage to take the long view and realize the thriving of Israel is at stake. Israel needs to be here for us and the world for generations to come.

I do not vote in Israel and so I write as a concerned Jew and Zionist. I respect and honor the right that Israelis must determine their own political destiny. I write in humility.  I write not to criticize, but rather to share with you both my love of Israel and my concerns of what I see now. I write because I pray every day for Israel to thrive as a Jewish and democratic state. I write also in the belief that the Prime Minister can find a way to bring the country back together. I believe this is his sacred responsibility as the leader of Israel and representative for and of the Jewish world.

Thank you!

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784