Shifting Gears

"It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s our problem." The problem Devorah Shubowitz is talking about: poverty.

Over the summer, Shubowitz worked with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) to study the Jewish working poor in Los Angeles.

Through CLUE, more than 400 religious leaders throughout Los Angeles County have already helped hundreds of workers unionize for better wages, and helped refugees threatened with deportation to become citizens. Now the efforts of CLUE, and the Jewish interns who worked with the organization this summer, are focused on extending those successes, bringing awareness of the working poor to congregations throughout Los Angeles.

Shubowitz came to CLUE from New York, where she teaches at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, a center for women’s advanced study of classical Jewish texts. Mark Goodman and Jennifer Flam, rabbinical students at the University of Judaism, also worked with CLUE over the summer. In addition to studying the problem of the Jewish working poor in Los Angeles, their summer internship included helping organize Santa Monica residents of all faiths to support a living wage initiative for hotel workers, and reviving the "Sanctuary" movement of the 1980s.

With inspiration from the prophets (Goodman likes to quote from Jeremiah because, "All he ever talked about was ‘We must have done something wrong and you haven’t been good to other people,’") the Jewish interns at CLUE worked all summer with clergy and lay leaders of all faiths in support of social action. "It was a summer internship," Flam said, "but it’s a life’s work."

The big project for CLUE these days is on the November ballot in Santa Monica. Measure JJ, the Living Wage initiative, would increase wages for as many as 2,000 hotel workers in Santa Monica’s coastal tourist zone. In the wake of a Labor Day project called "Labor in the Pulpit," in which CLUE-affiliated clergy delivered sermons on the issue, the group plans to hold a get-out-the vote kickoff event on Sept. 22, featuring a performance by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary at Santa Monica City Hall. "CLUE is a bridge between both sides," Flam said, "We’re not bound to the unions, and there are ethical business owners who work with us."

For workers who have been lost their jobs for their unionizing or living wage efforts, CLUE is reviving the Sanctuary program, first used in the 1980s when thousands of workers were threatened with deportation, often back to repressive regimes. CLUE encourages clergy and congregations to publicly support the fired workers. "Even though people are not losing their lives this time, they are losing their livelihoods," Flam said of the program.

One of the biggest problems the CLUE interns faced in trying to bring Jewish congregations into the fight for economic justice was in presenting the working poor as a "Jewish" problem. Working with the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, CLUE’s executive director, and local rabbis including Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom and Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel, CLUE’s interns supplemented their organizing efforts with a study of poverty among Jews in Los Angeles. They found that, "Poverty among working people also plagues the Jewish community here," Goodman said. And the solution requires more than money.

"The Jewish response to poverty has been more about giving than creating societal change," Shubowitz said. "The problem won’t be alleviated by giving people food."

To support that societal change, Shubowitz, Goodman and Flam undertook a study of Jewish working poor in Los Angeles. Starting with figures provided by a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles study, they interviewed Jewish workers, counselors at Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles and local rabbis. They found Jewish workers, primarily immigrants from the Former Soviet Union or Israel, who worked solely for tips, or below the minimum wage, without any type of health insurance, even after years at the same jobs — the same conditions that non-Jewish low-wage workers face. "Our purpose has been to demonstrate the connection between Jewish poverty and poverty at large," Shubowitz said, "We have the same problems — immigration, lack of organization to fight this problem. It’s important the Jewish community get connected with other communities doing this work."

"At least 13 percent of Jews in the Los Angeles area make below $10,000 a year," said Flam, citing the Federation study, "When we

This year, the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, which has treated more than 500 victims of terrorist attacks, including those from the Passover massacre in Netanya, received $250,000 toward its intensive care trauma unit. Sheba Medical Center received $135,000 toward a portable ultrasound system. And Natal, an Israeli trauma center, received $200,000. All the funds came from L.A. Jews.

Over this past year, during which some of the most insidious and relentless suicide bombings in Israel’s history have occurred, these Israeli institutions, as well as dozens of others, have received — and will continue to receive — millions of dollars in emergency funds, thanks to Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, through its Jews in Crisis (JIC) campaign, funneled emergency funding to Israel within a short window of time. A roster of emergency agencies and trauma centers, mostly based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have received millions of dollars earmarked toward everything from hospitals to children’s education and bomb-sniffing dogs.

"Our goal was to raise $10 million for Israel as part of our share of the $300 million campaign nationwide [sponsored by United Jewish Committee of North America, the umbrella agency for all Jewish federations]," Herb Gelfand, chairman of Los Angeles’ successful JIC campaign, told The Journal. "We also wanted to raise $2 million for Argentina. We’ve raised $18 million. We’re over the national goal [by $8 million]."

In just a few months, The Federation’s JIC was able to bring together a windfall of contributions raised from the community, Federation-sponsored events and a plethora of parlor meetings — fundraising receptions held at the private homes of affluent Jewish individuals. But with the year winding down, The Federation is now shifting gears in its fundraising goals.

"It isn’t over," Gelfand said. "We’ll continue to raise [JIC] money, mainly through direct solicitations, but we’re moving into the end of the regular campaign, and we’re careful not to interfere with that, because the regular campaign feeds into The Federation’s core services and our constituents here and in Israel."

Ed Robin, who, along with Stanley Gold, is co-chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee at The Federation and is in charge of the JIC’s allocations process, said that JIC and the annual campaign are related.

"The general campaign funds the main social services — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency," Robin said. "The needs we tried to fund with JIC were specifically toward the crisis."

The JIC’s success owes much to the parlor meetings, which became a galvanizing local phenomenon, particularly after the March 27 Passover massacre. Gelfand estimated that about half of JIC’s total came from parlor meetings.

"Contributors were very eager to do something," Robin said. "The JIC [through parlor meetings] gave them a tangible outlet to express their concern."

Gelfand credited The Federation’s Annette Shapiro and Fredi Rembaum for organizing the meetings. But a key element to JIC’s efficiency, organizers said, was The Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, unique to Los Angeles’ Federation, which lent the campaign its focus and cohesiveness.

The long-running partnership — a network of collaborations with Israeli scientists, schools and human service agencies, which until February was directed in Los Angeles by Rembaum — was able to identify Israel’s needs and rally JIC’s efforts by April, rather than June, when most federations organized their JIC campaigns.

In addition to parlor meetings, The Federation sponsored missions to Israel to generate awareness of JIC and its efforts, such as the early June entourage during which The Federation presented contributions to various agencies, singles missions and a late summer mission that sent actor-comedian Larry Miller and others to visit campers at the Jaffa Institute for the Advancement of Children.

Los Angeles’ humanitarian efforts, consolidated by The Federation through JIC, have provided substantial financial support for continuation of programs. The efforts represented an important statement of solidarity, according to spokespersons at the beneficiary agencies in Israel.

"The gift has been like receiving a dose of oxygen, because it will enable us to purchase essential equipment that we immediately need," said Talia Zaks, deputy executive director of ZAKA. She said the $87,000 that was received will go toward the volunteer-staffed organization, which provides first aid and collects body parts for proper Jewish burial after every terrorist attack. "This money will help us save as many lives as possible," she said.

The Jaffa Institute, which shelters underprivileged children, has worked with The Federation before. JIC raised $50,000 to help the institute build a security fence to prevent terrorists from penetrating its Beit Shemesh campus.

"My immediate reaction," said Dr. David Portowicz, Jaffa Institute’s chairman, "was that I could sleep better at night knowing that the 300 children in my charge are not exposed to the risk of a terrorist attack."

Akiva Holtzer, spokesman for Bikur Cholim Hospital, a public facility in Jerusalem, said that its $25,000 gift will go toward trauma center equipment.

"We appreciate the fact that Jewish people worldwide think about us and want to help us," Holtzer said. "The fund will help us provide better services."

"This was the largest gift we’ve received from any federation in North America," said Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Natal director of development, of its $200,000 grant. "We were overwhelmed by the generosity of Los Angeles Jewry, and very encouraged by the effort made by the delegation of L.A Jews who visited us in June."

"The [JIC] campaign is providing direct support to nongovernmental agencies that are working directly with individuals," said Marty Karp, The Federation’s senior vice president for Israel and Overseas, who is based in Israel. "It is not only providing cash support to help individuals return to good health from physical injuries and psychological anguish, but is also helping those that support them."

Gelfand noted that this year’s general campaign, stimulated by JIC, is on the verge of being the strongest since 1990. "If things go where we expect it to go," Gelfand said, "we’ll raise $45 million in the general campaign, in addition to a $19 million Jews In Crisis campaign."

This would be an improvement over recent years, when the slowing of the economy and the dot-com crash affected The Federation’s fundraising, Gelfand added.

But with the success of this year’s emergency relief effort, will there be a need for a JIC campaign next year?

"It depends on what happens in Israel," Gelfand said. "About 50 of us are going to Israel in October, when we’ll get a better idea. Of course, there will always be a need. But let’s hope that the next six months will bring a relative calm.

"The community has responded extremely well and very generously, as it always does," he added.

Hopes Dashed for Release of ‘Iran 8’

Another Jewish New Year has come and gone, and eight Iranian Jewish prisoners remain locked up in Iran on charges they spied for Israel.

Some observers had tracked rumors last week that the Islamic regime, with its membership in President Bush’s “axis of evil,” might be rethinking some of its polcies — including a possible pardon for a group of pious Jews believed to have been wrongly jailed in the first place.

For the third straight year, the lone Jewish member of the Iranian Parliament, Maurice Motamed, took to the floor of the legislative body in advance of Rosh Hashana and appealed for freedom for the “Iran 10” — now down to eight, as two were released after serving their sentences. Their release failed to materialize, though the authorities reportedly permitted their families to visit them in prison last Friday night to celebrate a Rosh Hashana service together.

“We’d started seeing some changes with respect to attitudes toward religious minorities in general, and we were hoping this would translate into some actual movement on the ground,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian-American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, a community that boasts some 40,000 Iranian Jews. “As far as we’re concerned, we always felt these people did not belong in prison, that the charges against them were wrong. We would welcome the pardoning of these prisoners as an excellent first step forward in a more equitable treatment of religious minority groups,” he said.

That the holiday passed without the prisoners’ release did not surprise more pessimistic Iran-watchers, who have long maintained that the mullahs in charge are tone deaf to international concerns and never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity at a goodwill gesture.

“I don’t think they’re smart enough to make these kinds of overtures,” said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman for the L.A.-based Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations. “If they understood good PR work, they wouldn’t have put these men in jail to begin with — and they wouldn’t have landed in the ‘axis of evil.'”

Thirteen Iranian Jewish men were first arrested in January and March 1999 and eventually charged with spying for the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service. Their real offense, said American Jewish observers, was that their increasingly fervent brand of Orthodox Judaism became a source of irritation to the authorities. Most of the men were religious leaders and came from the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, said to be a bastion of religious conservatism in general. The arrests were believed intended to send a signal to the rest of the community.

But the issue was soon sucked into the vortex of the political dynamic at the time — a power struggle between conservative forces, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the reformist faction, led by President Mohammad Khatami, observers said.

The Islamists seized upon the issue to whip up anti-Israel fervor, which is often seen as a galvanizing factor among all Iranians.

After a year-plus in solitary confinement, in May 2000 the Jews were brought before Iran’s Revolutionary Court and delivered “confessions” that they had indeed spied for Mossad.

However, media and foreign observers were barred from the courtroom, the prosecutor served as judge and Israel denied it had any contact with the men. Most foreign diplomats and human-rights activists assailed the process as a sham.

There was initial fear the men might be executed. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, 17 Jews had been condemned to death, primarily for being accused spies. But three of the 13 were acquitted, with the 10 others convicted on July 1, 2000, on various national-security charges. They were sentenced to terms ranging from four to 13 years. The men appealed, and under international criticism, Tehran reduced the jail time in 2000 to two to nine years.

In March 2001, merchant Ramin Nemati Zadeh, who had taught religious school, was released after serving out his term. And this past January, a second Jew, Hebrew teacher Faramarz Kashi, completed his term. For the remaining eight, their lone hope seems to be a pardon from Khamenei.

Much of the Iranian Jewish community — both here and there — has become resigned to the fate of the prisoners.

“Iran now has too much to face besides this issue,” Dayanim said. “Unless Iran feels that releasing the prisoners will win them some kind of international brownie points, they will remain in prison and serve out their sentences.”

Indeed Iran’s greatest problem may come from within.

With unemployment said to be 14 percent — particularly hard-hit are the young and educated — and stifling social restrictions, the significant strata of university students are reportedly ever more restive and disappointed with Khatami’s promises of reform.

But it’s not only U.S. Jews who are keeping up the pressure. Foreign dignitaries visiting Tehran continue a steady drumbeat of criticism of Iran’s treatment of its minorities, including the Jews behind bars.

In late July, for example, Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy and security chief, listed the concerns that impede improved relations between Iran and Europe: disregard for human rights, a muzzled media, acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and meddling in the Middle East.

For its part, Washington has become increasingly concerned about Iran’s support for Palestinian terror groups. Iran has long been seen as aiding Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border. And in January, ties between Iran and the Palestinian Authority surfaced with the Israeli interception of the Karine-A, a ship carrying more than 50 tons of weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

Bush’s now-famous “axis of evil” speech followed on Jan. 29.

Some in Washington suggest that Iran poses a much greater threat than Iraq.

If nothing else, Iran’s inclusion in the axis may be playing a part in Tehran’s recent rally to the defense of arch-nemesis Iraq as Iran seeks to form a united front against Israel and the United States. As relations began to thaw, however, some thorny issues of the past have resurfaced.

Iraq, for example, is home to an Iranian dissident group, while Iran shelters an anti-Iraq dissident group of its own. When regimes both asked for the other to boot out the opposition groups, it re-opened old wounds. The insults exchanged focused on which nation is truly in bed with the “Zionists.”

“You will not find a single episode in history when the Persians have cooperation with the Arabs against the Zionists,” said Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

To which Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi replied, in the words of the Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency: “Baghdad had become the supporter of the Zionist regime by waging a destructive war on Iran, sowing the seeds of discord among Muslim nations.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s intense focus on Israel’s actions against the Palestinians — coupled with the widely publicized arrest of the Shirazi Jews on spying charges — has fomented a hostile climate for the Jews remaining in Iran, Dayanim said.

An estimated 22,000 to 25,000 Jews remain in Iran, down from a peak of 100,000 or so before the 1979 revolution.

Dayanim said he has heard of Jewish children being beaten and harassed at school, with their fathers accused of being “Zionists.” “We’re actively engaged in efforts to increase emigration,” Dayanim said. Those efforts, though, are hindered by the fact Jews face obstacles in trying to liquidate their assets, he said.

Those seeking to immigrate to the United States also face greater scrutiny from American immigration and FBI officials once they get to the immigrant way station in Vienna, given new post-Sept. 11 restrictions.

Kermanian, meanwhile, remains somewhat optimistic about the future of Iran’s Jews. “Jews have lived in Iran for 2,500 years, always lived there as loyal citizens, and they loved their country,” he said. “Even though there were ups and downs, Iranians and Jews found a way to live together in peace and cooperation. I have no doubt that with some good will, those days will return.”

Be Careful With ‘Terrorism’

The LAX shooting on the Fourth of July was another test of Muslim-Jewish relations.

Some Jewish leaders complained that Los Angeles Muslims did not denounce the shooting. That some people didn’t hear it, and then accused Muslims of remaining silent, seems to be a common problem in many public pronouncements Muslims make these days. It is not an issue of transmission by Muslims, but of reception by others.

Another problem for the Muslim community, and other ethnic/religious groups in America, is the definition and application of "terrorism" in violent crimes.

As we await the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation in the LAX shooting on the Fourth of July, we are witnessing a sudden attack on law enforcement’s definition of terrorism. If the investigators conclude that the shooting incident involved terrorism, let’s all accept it and move on. If they maintain that it was an isolated incident, expect a widening of the debate on the methodology on classification of violent acts.

At the root of that debate, I believe, is the deeper problem of how our society has politicized and exploited violence and its painful aftermath.

When police charged the Jewish Defense League’s Irv Rubin last fall with attempting to bomb our office, the King Fahd mosque in Culver City and the office of Congressman Darryl Issa, the federal authorities avoided calling it terrorism. It was a bomb plot and the charges centered on the possession of explosives. The president did not issue any statement to the nation as he did for the LAX shooting. In fact, the Jewish Defense League is still not listed as a terrorist organization. Where were the brave voices speaking out against political correctness then?

In another landmark case reported in The New York Times on June 24, a federal judge dismissed charges against seven members of the Mujahedeen El Khalq (MEK), a pro-Marxist terrorist organization established to overthrow the current Iranian regime. The group was charged with aiding terrorist groups by soliciting donations at airports. The judge asserted that MEK’s civil rights were violated when they could not defend themselves against the State Department’s assertion that they were a terrorist group in the agency’s listing. Members of Congress even passed a resolution in solidarity with the MEK after the Clinton administration placed the group on its terrorist list. Congress was never accused of aiding and abetting terrorists.

Should the same standard apply for the three American Muslim charities shut down last fall as a result of the government’s freeze of their assets? Of course, the MEK story did not stir up any debate, because these terrorists are working for the Western geopolitical interests against a Muslim country. Selective justice is injustice — it does not help us in the war on terror and continues to project the image that the United States is anti-Islam.

Other cases involving violence against ethnic groups could have been used as political footballs. An Egyptian storeowner was killed weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the authorities did not classify it as a hate crime or a terrorist attack. The U.S. Government never considered it terrorism when black churches were torched throughout the South.

If a group of Muslims were caught storing arms to ship to the Kashmiris, for example, I’m sure there would be a national uproar about it as another chapter in the war on terror. It’s not just a matter of arresting and prosecuting the criminals, but how it is played out in the court of public opinion that leaves deep impressions in our society.

American Jews celebrate the fact that their children defer going to college in order to serve in the Israeli army, but American Muslims are chastised if they recruit any of their youth to join the Palestinians, or are called terrorist sympathizers for giving money to the refugees of war-torn countries.

Whether violence is committed by groups or individuals, our job as leaders in the Muslim and Jewish communities is to diminish — not exacerbate hatred; there is an alarming trend from those who jump on opportunities to score more political points against one another at the expense of human relations.

I can understand the hysteria surrounding the Middle East conflict. Public policymaking is not the place for allowing that hysteria to influence serious decisions.

Emotionalism has negatively impacted Muslim-Jewish dialogue throughout the United States and in Los Angeles. But those who have managed to endure these oppositional forces will, in the long-run, be the pioneers of fostering mutual trust between the two communities. Those who have left the dialogue usually have done so in a circus atmosphere to demonstrate zeal to the right-wing members of their constituencies.

We passed the test from the LAX shooting, because of the leadership of a handful of Muslims and Jews, but more tests will follow. We all have to deal with the realities of extremism today and the violent acts emanating from it.

A violent crime that takes the life of innocent people is bad enough. But to be so adamant about, and outraged over, the labeling of the crime does not serve anyone’s interest. To the valiant spokespeople who want to promote the war on terrorism in their selective application of terrorism: Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. And then you will have to recoil to your corners when the double-edged sword of the terrorism debate swings the other way.

An Appeal to the Clergy of All Faiths

Colleagues in faith, we must act together now. We owe it to our respective faiths and our common calling. We cannot feign blindness or muteness while all about us the toxins of racial and religious hate and the anarchy of anthrax continue to poison our environment. Lethal libels against entire people and religions in the name of God threaten not only our generation but our children's generation. Mounting verbal vilification is as perilous as the casualties of the wars.

What does our religious conscience demand of us? We are not generals. We are not politicians nor diplomats. But we are spiritual leaders of world religions, and we have a mandate to use our moral powers to stanch the hemorrhaging of our civilization. What wisdom have we inherited from our respective religions, and what can we do?

Our spiritual ancestry is rooted in the prophet. In each of our traditions, the prophet is venerated for the courageous word hurled against power. For us, the word is not straw. With the word, the world was created. With the prophetic word, the steely armor of the predators has been pierced. At this moment in history, the word is sacred, and silence is blasphemous. Silence condones.

Now is the time for the prophetic voice to be heard in every mosque, synagogue and church. To muzzle the voice against terrorism, homicidal suicide and the defamation of God's name imprinted on every human being is to commit acts of fatal muteness. Surely, injustice exists, but as Pope John Paul II recently declared, “Injustice cannot be used to excuse acts of terrorism.” Man is a rationalizing animal who manages to camouflage slander, racism, and anti-Semitism beneath the robes of piety.

Today, more than ever, it is the third commandment admonishing us not to abuse the name of God that is blatantly violated. When today religions are held hostage to militant political parties, it is our duty to rip aside the false mask that conceals militant malevolence. God's name must not be desecrated.

The prophet does more than confront and chastise. The prophet has a crucial task to perform, even while the warring goes on. The prophetic God is to prepare the heart, for “the preparation of the heart is made by man.”(Proverbs 16:6)

Sooner or later, the violence will cease, whether out of mutual exhaustion or external imposition. In any event, people will have to live together; wounds must be healed, and relations normalized. We priests, rabbis, imams must follow the prophet's cry in the wilderness. “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” We must together today cultivate a spiritual ambience that will encourage the building of trust among ourselves and our congregants. The task of the clergy of all faiths is to struggle against the paranoia that has seized us and whose mantra is “suspect thy neighbor as thyself.” Confidence-building is critical in these parlous times.

What can we do? We who believe in the power of the word and the sanctity of the dialogue must bring our people together. We can exchange pulpits, arrange for our congregants to meet with each other in their private homes, and thereby discover the face of humanity behind the veil of theology. In meeting, a pre-theological reality is revealed. We do not have the same language or the same dogma, but we have the same tears and the same fears. The caskets may be draped with different symbols, but the broken hearts of the widow and the forlornness of the orphan are the same. That sameness the prophet proclaimed when he asked, “Have we not all one God, one Father? Has not one God created us all? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with our brother?” (Malachi 2:10)

We spiritual leaders must not be intimidated by those who dismiss dialogue as mere rhetoric or by those who attack us, the ingatherers of people of other faiths, as naive or as traitors to their extremist causes.

Together we can counter the insidious cynicism that insists that war is inevitable and hatred immutable. We can restore the promise of the prophet Isaiah who in a critical time held out the hope that in the future, “Israel will be a third with Egypt and Syria,” and who in God's name pronounces an embracing benediction: “Blessed be Egypt My people and Syria the work of My hand and Israel My possession.” (Isaiah 19:24, 25)

We can preach against the grain of our polarizing society and raise up from obscurity the wisdom and compassion in our respective sacred texts. Let the Surah 2:257 in the Quran be publicized: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” “To everyone have we given a law and a way, and if Allah would have pleased to, he would have made all mankind one people. But he has done otherwise.” (Surah 5:48) Let us bless our pluralism and His will.

What can we do? We can organize “trialogues” of Christian, Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders throughout the country, not to debate the borders of territories but the wholeness of humanity beyond borders. We can educate the congregations to avoid the trap of monistic thinking. Not all Muslims are the same; not all Christians are the same; not all Jews are the same. Our faiths are not monolithic. There are, for example, those like the most prominent Muslim leader in Indonesia, the world's most populated Muslim country, Nurcholish Madjid, who celebrates unity in diversity and who writes of the “many doors to God.”

We clergy of all faiths are endowed with the power to transform the spiritual atmosphere of our environment so that peace can have a chance. In the language of the prophet, God calls to those who believe: “You are My witnesses, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 43:10) The rabbinic sages interpret this divine imperative conditionally. “If you are My witnesses, I am God. But if you are not My witnesses, I am, as it were, not God.” We must not betray the call.