July 21, 2006
Sitting in shul this past Shabbat, mind and heart moving back and forth from the prayer book and the parashah to the headlines of the day and the sadness and anxiety they provoke, I realized once again—as I'm sure you did as well—just how much every fiber of our Jewish being is connected to Israel.
There are days when we simply glow with pride at what has been accomplished by the people of Israel in the land of Israel. There are moments when we are filled with happiness to be alive as Jews in the same generation as the rebirth of the State of Israel. And there are others like the ones we are living right now, when the pride and happiness are mixed with worry and sorrow. There is so much suffering inside and outside of Israel's borders—so much violence—no sign of when or how it will end. It is difficult to imagine how the peace we have sought resolutely for so long will finally be achieved. So little promise seems available right now as we are grasped by an overwhelming sense of remaining in the wilderness.
Any attentive reader of Torah this summer cannot but shudder, as we all did last summer, at the eerie confluence of events reported in B'midbar with the stories we are following in the news. As a people determined to serve God and seek holiness in this world, we have no choice but to roll up our sleeves and get involved. Politics has always been a serious business for Jews, never more so than today. We have interests to protect—survival first of all—as well as principles to pursue. Even as we work to ensure survival we feel responsible to live up to the demands of the covenant. Curses and blessings are not easily distinguished as we engage in this process. The Promised Land beckons, as always, but the way to get there, through a wilderness, is not always clear.
At our shul last Shabbat, three young people about to depart for Israel came up to the bimah to receive a blessing for their journey. The week before two young people who grew up in our congregation had reported on their continuing service in the Israel Defense Forces. The missiles do not fall on us, and yet Israel’s troubles are close at hand. Many of you, like me, have been on the Internet and the phone a lot these days, keeping up with friends and family. I caught my cousin in K’far Tavor on her cell phone as she was dropping off her son, a soldier now, who had been home for Shabbat, and now on his way back to join his unit. Her daughter was in Tiberias, in the midst of the chaos caused by the threat facing Israelis, many of them elderly, who had fled the bombing further north only to suffer it again in Tiberias.
"What can we do for you?" I asked my cousin.
"Stand with us," she replied. "Let us know you are with us."
I'm proud that the Conservative Movement here and abroad has launched immediate initiatives of solidarity and marshaled much needed emergency support. I want to assure members of our Masorti community in Israel that we do stand with you, will be there in person in coming weeks and months, and will help with the special needs created by this outbreak of violence. I want to assure family members of JTS students in Israel that we will continue to monitor the situation closely, keeping their safety and security in mind.
Last but not least, I want to say, in the name of my colleagues in the faculty and administration, that we at JTS share your concern at this urgent crisis facing the Jewish people. We will do all that is in our power to make sure that the full resources of the institution are brought to bear to help us all navigate our way through this wilderness. May our knowledge help provide wisdom and sustain courage now and in the days ahead.