What we can and can’t do for Israel

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder sent the following to his congregants at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Our hearts ache and our minds are confused by the violence in Gaza and Israel and the apparent rise in European anti-Semitism.  Some have asked what I am thinking and what our Temple is doing about the situation in Israel, Gaza, and Europe.  

Let us begin with what we cannot do.

1.  We cannot demilitarize Hamas. Hamas has marginalized moderates in Gaza and therefore it is hard to imagine how real peace can be achieved without the demilitarization of Hamas. Demilitarizing Hamas requires cooperation between the world’s superpowers and the Arab powers. Former Obama advisor Dennis Ross correctly points out, “The long-range rockets came from Iran, the know-how to build the rockets came from Iran.”  Which means, according to Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, “If Iran is intent on continuing this behavior, the United States must engage not only at the bargaining table but also in the region, on the ground. This means supporting allies against Iranian terrorist groups and subterfuge, working to ensure Iran does not dominate Iraq, and getting Iran’s junior partner, Bashar al-Assad, out of Syria without turning the place over to ISIS.” We as individuals and as a congregation cannot do this.

2.  We cannot prescribe peace:  We do not live in Israel.  For Jewish leaders in America to opine about what Israel ought or ought not to do about Hamas is wrong. These decisions must be left to Israel, where currently 95% of the population supports the government’s actions in Gaza.  Decisions are up to those whose lives are at risk every day, not us. Our rallies, prayers, and sound bites will not bring peace. Peace is the result of hard work and painful compromises. Only Israelis, through their democratically elected government, can make the difficult decisions necessary for peace.

3.  We cannot end European anti-Semitism:  Anti-Semitism in Europe is the oldest of stories, yet European and American anti-Semitism do not rule the day.  Anti-Semitism continues to be rejected as a serious political ideology by the U.S. and every government in Europe and hate crimes remain just that—crimes. We must call attention to these crimes and demand their prosecution but let us not be paralyzed or defined by an anti-Semitism that has existed for more than 18 centuries in Europe.

What we can do:

1.  We can write, call, and email to say thank you to the United States. The real victims are the innocent dead and wounded Palestinians and Israelis who want merely to live in peace and security. Without the Iron Dome, for which we owe our country an inestimable debt of gratitude, there would have been many hundreds, if not thousands, more Israeli victims.  It is time to email, call, and write to our elected representatives in the House and Senate as well as to the President, who encouragingly stated: “I have no sympathy for Hamas.” Write to them and thank them for standing by Israel during this recent crisis. Thank them for helping to fund the Iron Dome, which saved so many Jewish lives. American Jews cannot say thank you enough to the U.S. for what it has meant not only to us but to our brothers and sisters in Israel. You can use this link to find the contact information for your representatives in Congress. For specific information about various legislative issues before Congress affecting Israel, please go to: www.aipac.org.

2.  We can send money to alleviate suffering:  Click on this link to support treatment for Israeli children suffering from PTSD caused by more than a month of running from falling rockets and cowering in bomb shelters. Help pay for the care of wounded soldiers. Help rebuild community centers and schools. Our board of trustees recently upped our congregation’s support for Israel by purchasing more than half a million dollars in Israel Bonds. Let’s all do our part and give what we can.

3.  We can remember:  At 6 p.m., at every Kabbalat Shabbat service at both of our Wilshire Boulevard Temple campuses, and every Shabbat morning at 10:30 a.m., we recite the names of each fallen Israeli soldier and civilian victim. We remember too the innocent citizens of Gaza who have died as a result of Hamas’ barbarism. Prayer does not create peace, but it does create community, sensitivity for others, and gratitude for our own safety and blessed lives.

4.  We can educate our children:  We have had 12 Shlichim (Israeli counselors) at our camps this summer doing the very important job of educating our 1,200 campers and 200 staff about the crisis and life in Israel. We cannot bring all of our children to Israel, but in our own way we are bringing Israel to many of our children.

5.  We can prepare our children: This Sunday, Aug. 17th, at the Glazer Campus from 12 p.m.-3:30 p.m., (lunch included), with help from the organization StandWithUs, we are offering our 11th and 12th grade and college-age Temple members a workshop to prepare them for the anti-Israel sentiment they are likely to encounter when they return to their campuses in a few weeks. It is likely to be the most challenging fall ever for Jewish students, who will be confronted with falsehoods and vitriol from pro-Palestinian groups. We will prepare our students to stand their ground with facts, intelligence, strength, self-esteem, and dignity.

6.  We can go:  We sent 50 of our high school campers to Israel in spite of the crisis and spent significant time helping parents understand the value of that trip so they would allow their children to go. We hope very soon to organize a brief trip to Israel for our members interested in visiting wounded soldiers, meeting with elected officials, visiting the threatened communities in southern Israel, and seeing first-hand the ways in which our philanthropy can improve the lives of our brothers and sisters in Israel. If you are interested in participating, please email my assistant, Nan, nan@wbtla.org<mailto:nan@wbtla.org> to let us know.

I am saddened by what we cannot do but devoted to what we can. Israel needs our shoulders to the wheel, our dollars on the line, our active support.  Let us all now do what we can.