MERCAZ Olami Newsletter

Israel at 61 - Special Edition

In This Issue
Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu & my sister by Dr. David Breakstone
I am a Zionist by Yair Lapid
Message from our shlicha, Reli Israeli
Israel UK .
 Israel 60 celebrations in UK
Moshe Cohen and Rabbi Vernon Kurtz at Kibbutz Hannaton 
Kotel Hamasorti
MERCAZ delegates praying at the Kotel Ha'masorti in Jerusalem
  Israel flag
Yom Ha'atzmaut Sameach!
New ways of counting our age
After the big celebrations of 60 years to the State of Israel, we thought we would be going back to normal celebrating 61. What kind of a "normal" year did we have? A war, elections, a new government, threats from Iran, the global economic crisis and more. Some people reviewing the first 60 years of Israel might think that this is actually normal for Israel.
The fantasy days of our prophets never seem more further away than at 61. We might want to stop celebrating yearly birthdays to our beloved state and rather count by 50's. The first 50 years of Zionism 1900-1950 were about creation and actualizing the dream. The second 50, that is 1951-2000, were about building and strengthening what exists. The next 50, that is 2001-2050, will be about bettering and rebuilding the current structures.
We need to continue the Zionist vision of a "chevrah lamofet", focusing on building and bettering the society from the inside, and not only focusing on survival and how to deal with our outside enemies. We need to make sure that one day, when the wars and threats will be less severe, we will have a viable and just society. So for our 61st birthday, we wish ourselves a more stable and meaningful life.
MERCAZ Olami, the Zionist arm of the worldwide Masorti / Conservative Movement, promotes and supports Zionist education, Israel programs and aliyah in our movement and works to enhance the quality of Jewish life in Israel. Join with us in our efforts.  Come to Israel for a visit, participate in a short or long term program, learn Hebrew, form partnerships with our institutions and kehillot in Israel, support Israel by political activity...and JOIN MERCAZ! Only because of what we have already achieved together is there now so much still to do.
Yom Ha'atzmaut Sameach,
Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, President MERCAZ Olami
Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, Executive Director of MERCAZ Olami and Masorti Olami
Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu & my sister
April 27th, 2009
Masorti AMLAT Director, Ariel Blufstein
On the eve of Israel's 61st Independence Day, I've discovered that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Binyamin Netanyahu and my sister have something in common. They have all seen fit to raise the matter of the Zionist idea. I am writing now to thank them personally for having taken it upon themselves to remind me that what we are celebrating is nothing to be taken for granted.

Each, of course, has a different perspective on the subject. The president of Iran denies the very legitimacy of a Jewish state, the prime minister of Israel insists on its explicit recognition by our enemies, and my sister merely wants to know what we are talking about. I'll leave it to others to tackle the easy challenges put forward by the president and the prime minister; I'm going to struggle with the more difficult one raised by someone who loves me, but who doesn't fully understand what I am doing here.
"A place where Jews can live comfortably I can appreciate," she said to me during a recent visit to the States, "but a Jewish state - how can a state be Jewish?"

Behind the question I sense a degree of uneasiness. If what you mean by a Jewish state is what I think you mean, then it must inevitably be one that oppresses, or at least marginalizes, anyone who is not Jewish. How would you feel if people began calling America a Christian country? Thinking that there must be those who would be absolutely fine with this idea, I tried Googling "Christian America" and came up with 31,100,000 results. But as neither she nor I would be happy about the prospect, I've chosen not to ignore the problematic nature of her proposition. Instead, I present here the rest of a conversation that never took place.

"THE PROBLEM is that when you say 'Jewish,' you're thinking religion," I begin. "When I say it, I'm thinking culture, values, mythology, nationality and history. Framed this way, you should have no more problem accepting a country being Jewish than you do accepting one as being Chinese or American."

"Religion isn't a part of it? There's really a separation of 'church and state' in Israel?" she asks accusingly.

"Yes... No... It's complicated," I stammer, a bit befuddled. "Okay, religious law is imposed on important aspects of our lives," I concede, "but not just on Jews. Druse, Muslims and Christians have to contend with this as well. That only clergy can perform weddings doesn't mean we're a theocracy; the religious establishment derives its authority entirely from a democratically elected Knesset and, ironically, it is the Jews who are complaining most loudly. Those who aren't Orthodox feel disenfranchised."

"While in America, you've got all the freedom you could possibly desire," she persists. "So what do you need a Jewish state for?"

Holocaust Remembrance Day has just ended, along with Durban II, and I am tempted to retort with the obvious. But that would be too easy, and not really answer the question she is asking. Fortunately, Passover has just ended as well, and that offers me an entirely different realm of response.

"Because the other day when I was shopping for groceries, a riot almost erupted in the supermarket," I explain. The quizzical look on her face prompts me to continue. "It was just before the Seder and the store manager rolled out a container of five-kilo boxes of matza that he was selling for a shekel each for as long as the supply lasted. It didn't last long. Only in a Jewish state can you witness men, women and children from a hundred different countries trampling one another to save $6 on a carton of carton-like sustenance, when all around them aisle after aisle was overflowing with delicacies for which they would be shelling out 60 times that amount.

"When I managed to extricate myself from the pileup (victorious, I might add), I realized that I was shopping to the tune of 'Chad Gadya' and other Pessah melodies piped in to add to the festive atmosphere."

"Sounds a little like Christmas here," she says.

"Exactly my point," I retort. "Anyway, it wasn't only the matza that disappeared. Anything not kosher for Passover had either been removed or covered."

"So anyone not observing the holiday is being persecuted..."
"'Persecuted?' I protest. "How about 'inconvenienced'? That I'll go along with - happily. There's a law - again, passed by the Knesset - that actually prohibits the display of hametz in Jewish neighborhoods throughout the holiday. You can sell it; you can buy it; you just can't see it."

"You don't find that offensive?"

"Personally, I far prefer living where I don't encounter any bread for a week than where I am enticed for far longer to amass Easter eggs, bunnies and chocolates at every checkout counter."

"And Passover isn't commercialized in Israel?" she challenges me.

"Of course it is, but that's precisely what I'm trying to tell you. Only in a Jewish state. For months before the holiday, billboards advertise discounted kitchens that can be installed in time for the Seder, thereby precluding the need to turn your old one inside out. Full-page ads in the papers read, 'The wise child. Where does he shop?' playing on the theme of the Haggada's four sons. Vacations - Seder included, and prices jacked up - are promoted on every Web site and have become integral to the holiday ritual. Schools, public institutions and private businesses close down for the week, and before they close down, they slow down, so that for at least a month before Passover nothing is promised to be delivered until 'after the holiday,' a handy excuse for procrastination which anyone who has encountered it knows there is no sense arguing with."

"That's what Passover in your Jewish state has been reduced to - time off from work?"

"And intolerable lines at the barbershop," I add, leaving her totally confused. "Also at the carwash."


"After the Seder, we begin counting the Omer, seven weeks when Jews traditionally don't cut their hair. (Google it for a full explanation.) So suddenly everyone needs a trim at the same time. As to the cars, well, people make a fuss about cleaning them just as they do their homes, strictly observant or not.

"But once the frenzy of preparations are behind me, I am free to sit contentedly in my garden. The rains have ceased along with our prayers for them, and I am profoundly appreciative of the first fruits sprouting on my fig tree and the tender grape leaves unfolding on my vine - all in perfect harmony with the ancient rhythm of nature indigenous to this ancient land of my forebears and described in glorious detail in the ancient language of the Song of Songs."

"IT SEEMS you've found a real fullness in this Jewish state you're so proud of," she concedes, not anticipating my answer.

"There is one thing we're missing," I confess with a sigh.

"And that would be?" she inquires curiously.

"A modern-day Moses," I reply. "One who will implore us to relate justly and with sensitivity to the strangers in our midst - Palestinians, foreign workers and refugees from Darfur alike - who will beseech us to remember that we, too, were once strangers in a strange land.

Someone who will shout out that our very right to be here is predicated on our acceptance of the charge we received while still on the other side of the Jordan to fashion a society that cares for the widow, the orphan and the downtrodden among us. An impassioned prophet who will chastise us for proclaiming at the Seder table, 'Let all who are hungry come and eat,' while doing nothing the next day to alleviate the misfortune of those less fortunate than we."

All of this may not constitute a sufficient palliative to the vitriolic diatribe delivered by Ahmadinejad in Geneva, nor will it further Netanyahu's diplomatic stratagem. But perhaps it will satisfy my sister, and all who would wish to understand what it is that those of us who live here mean when we talk about a Jewish state, and why it is so meaningful for us to celebrate its independence.
The writer is a member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization where he represents MERCAZ Olami, the Zionist organization of the worldwide Conservative Movement.

Copyright 1995- 2009 The Jerusalem Post -
I am a Zionist
January 1st, 2009

I believe that the Jewish people established itself in the Land of Israel, albeit somewhat late. Had it listened to the alarm clock, there would have been no Holocaust, and my dead grandfather - the one I was named after - would have been able to dance a last waltz with grandma on the shores of the Yarkon River. 
I am a Zionist. 
Hebrew is the language I use to thank the Creator, and also to swear on the road. The Bible does not only contain my history, but also my geography. King Shaul went to look for mules on what is today Highway 443, Jonah the Prophet boarded his ship not too far from what is today a Jaffa restaurant, and the balcony where David peeped on Bathsheba must have been bought by some oligarch by now. 
I am a Zionist. 
The first time I saw my son wearing an IDF uniform I burst into tears, I haven't missed the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony for 20 years now, and my television was made in Korea, but I bought it to cheer for our national soccer team. 
I am a Zionist. 
I believe in our right for this land. The people who were persecuted for no reason throughout history have a right to a state of their own plus a free F-16 from the manufacturer. Every display of anti-Semitism from London to Mumbai hurts me, yet deep inside I'm thinking that Jews who choose to live abroad fail to understand something very basic about this world. The State of Israel was not established so that the anti-Semites will disappear, but rather, so we can tell them to get lost. 
I am a Zionist. 
I was fired at in Lebanon, a Katyusha rockets missed me by a few feet in Kiryat Shmona, missiles landed near my home during the first Gulf War, I was in Sderot when the Color Red anti-rocket alert system was activated, terrorists blew themselves up not too far from my parents' house, and my children stayed in a bomb shelter before they even knew how to pronounce their own name, clinging to a grandmother who arrived here from Poland to escape death. Yet nonetheless, I always felt fortunate to be living here, and I don't really feel good anywhere else. 
I am a Zionist. 
I think that anyone who lives here should serve in the army, pay taxes, vote in the elections, and be familiar with the lyrics of at least one Shalom Hanoch song. I think that the State of Israel is not only a place, it is also an idea, and I wholeheartedly believe in the three extra commandments engraved on the wall of the Holocaust museum in Washington: "Thou shall not be a victim, thou shall not be a perpetrator, but above all, thou shall not be a bystander." 
I am a Zionist. 
I already laid down on my back to admire the Sistine Chapel, I bought a postcard at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, and I was deeply impressed by the emerald Buddha at the king's palace in Bangkok. Yet I still believe that Tel Aviv is more entertaining, the Red Sea is greener, and the Western Wall Tunnels provide for a much more powerful spiritual experience. It is true that I'm not objective, but I'm also not objective in respect to my wife and children. 
I am a Zionist. 
I am a man of tomorrow but I also live my past. My dynasty includes Moses, Jesus, Maimonides, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Woody Allen, Bobby Fischer, Bob Dylan, Franz Kafka, Herzl, and Ben-Gurion. I am part of a tiny persecuted minority that influenced the world more than any other nation. While others invested their energies in war, we had the sense to invest in our minds. 
I am a Zionist. 
I sometimes look around me and become filled with pride, because I live better than a billion Indians, 1.3 billion Chinese, the entire African continent, more than 250 million Indonesians, and also better than the Thais, the Filipinos, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the entire Muslim world, with the exception of the Sultan of Brunei. I live in a country under siege that has no natural resources, yet nonetheless the traffic lights always work and we have high-speed connection to the Internet. 
I am a Zionist. 
My Zionism is natural, just like it is natural for me to be a father, a husband, and a son. People who claim that they, and only they, represent the "real Zionism" are ridiculous in my view. My Zionism is not measured by the size of my kippa, by the neighborhood where I live, or by the party I will be voting for. It was born a long time before me, on a snowy street in the ghetto in Budapest where my father stood and attempted, in vain, to understand why the entire world is trying to kill him. 
I am a Zionist. 
Every time an innocent victim dies, I bow my head because once upon a time I was an innocent victim. I have no desire or intention to adopt the moral standards of my enemies. I do not want to be like them. I do not live on my sword; I merely keep it under my pillow. 
I am a Zionist. 
I do not only hold on to the rights of our forefathers, but also to the duty of the sons. The people who established this state lived and worked under much worse conditions than I have to face, yet nonetheless they did not make do with mere survival. They also attempted to establish a better, wiser, more humane, and more moral state here. They were willing to die for this cause, and I try to live for its sake.

Biography of the Author:
Yair Lapid (born November 5, 1963 in Tel Aviv) is an Israeli journalist, author, and TV presenter. He is the son of politician Yosef (Tomy) Lapid and author Shulamit Lapid.

 Message from our Shlicha, Reli Israeli
Reli Israeli is currently serving as shlicha (emissary) to the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, UK

Shalom Chaverim,

As I have said to some of you before - this time of year for a Shlicha is like the high holidays for a rabbi...

I am definitely pleased to be full of activities but also very happy that I found time to write and share with you some of my thoughts about this year's Yom Ha'atsmaout.
Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atsmaout were never an easy time for me. In a way, it became a time similar to Yom Kippur-sombre and reflective -- from a national point of view. It is a time to remember the friends I have lost as victims of war and terror attacks but it is also a time to reflect on the past year in the life of Israel, my home, which I, like many other Jews around the world, feel responsible for. As always, Israel faces challenges and my thoughts and beliefs are being challenged as well, this year more then ever.
This will be my second year commemorating Yom Hazikaron and celebrating Yom Ha'atsmaout away from home. It looks a bit different here - TV shows continue as usual, we don't stop to the sound of one minute alarm during the morning and we do not hear the joyful sound of fireworks in the evening. The operation in Gaza earlier this year left many people confused and even disappointed. I took part in discussions about the most appropriate way to mark this year's Yom Ha'atsmaout in light of the past year's events. The discussion is valid but after giving it much thought I think it is still important to separate between the two things - do we need to have conversations about what happened in Gaza and deal with difficult questions? Yes. Do we have the right to criticise Israel and feel angry? Certainly yes. Should we make this Yom Ha'atsmaout a day of celebration? Absolutely.
I feel blessed for being part of this state and I consider Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atsmaout as an inseparable part of the Jewish calendar - I value those times as much as I value Pesach, which we celebrated just a few weeks ago. Similar to the story of Egypt, the miraculous story of the reborn State of Israel changed who we are as a people. And we should never take Israel for granted, in the same way we strive not to take our freedom for granted.
Israel's mistakes do not cancel her achievements, they should only give us more reason to become involved and to make sure this state represents everything we believe in and become everything we expect it to be. Just because we feel frustrated by a family member - does not mean we miss his birthday. We help him become better and wiser and we show up carrying a gift. Israel, in her 61st birthday, is not just the only Jewish state in the world. According to surveys she is also the second most hated country in the world (after Iran). I think she could really use, even only for one day, our gift of compassion and love.

Masorti AMLAT Director, Ariel Blufstein