Palin on Israel visit to meet with Netanyahu

Potential 2012 presidential contender Sarah Palin is scheduled to have dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on her second and last day in Israel.

Palin will dine with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, on Monday before returning to the United States.

“As the world confronts sweeping changes and new realities, I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the key issues facing his country, our ally Israel,” Palin said in a statement on her official SarahPAC website.

The Republican nominee for vice president in 2008 and the former governor of Alaska landed Sunday in Israel for what is being called a private visit. She was returning to the United States from a speech she delivered to a business group in India.

Several possible Republican candidates for the 2012 U.S. presidential election have visited Israel in recent weeks, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. All of them also met with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.

On Sunday, Palin and her husband, Todd, took a tour of the Western Wall tunnels led by the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch. They were accompanied by Likud lawmaker Danny Danon.

Palin did not walk on the Western Wall plaza, so as not to disturb those reading from the Megillat Esther in observance of Purim in Jerusalem, Ynet reported.

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Marriage is a Jewish issue

This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, is the biblical equivalent of JDate. After Sarah’s death, Abraham gets busy trying to find the right wife for his son, Isaac. He sends his servant, Eliezer, to Abraham’s hometown to make the match. Eliezer prays that the right girl will show up at the well and that she will make herself known to him through her generosity, gentleness and beauty. And sure enough, everything unfolds the way it was supposed to, and Eliezer brings Rebecca home to Isaac.

As they approach on their camels, Rebecca sees Isaac off in the distance. The translation says: “And she alighted from her camel.” But the Hebrew word can also mean: “She fell off her camel.” I’ve always loved Rebecca for that — just at the moment when you want to make the best impression, you trip. I can identify with that. Still, Isaac loved Rebecca from the moment he saw her.

A lot has changed since the biblical period about how we find a marriage partner. And our ideas about who might be an appropriate partner have changed, as well. But as we saw from the recent passage of Proposition 8, not everyone agrees.

Why is Proposition 8 a Jewish issue? After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “One who lies with a male as one lies with a female is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22)? If we read the Torah as fundamentalists do, this and other verses would indeed present a problem. (Should we really execute people for working on Shabbat?)

That’s not how most Jews read the Torah. We read it through the lens of commentary and with the understanding that certain laws, which might have made sense in biblical society, are no longer relevant now.

As Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson wrote in “Gay and Lesbian Jews: A Teshuvah,” “We have reviewed a range of rabbinic reasons given for opposing same-sex acts. We have concluded that homosexuality is not intrinsically unnatural … destructive of family life, devoid of the possibility of children, or hedonistic. We are dealing, therefore, not with a previously considered and previously outlawed phenomena, but with a situation never before encountered in Jewish law. Modern homosexual love and stable homosexual couples are different in significant respects from anything known in Torah or rabbinic Judaism.”

In other words, what the Torah proscribes has nothing to do with contemporary gay or lesbian relationships and therefore is irrelevant to the current discussion. What does matter are core values that emerge out of Jewish tradition, including the fundamental notion that all human beings are created in the image of God and mishpat ehat yihe’eh lachem, that law should be applied equally to all.

Proposition 8 is a Jewish issue because we know what it is to be victimized because we are different. We need to stand up and defend the civil and human rights of other minorities. And it is a Jewish issue because it is also about us.

Gays and lesbians are part of our family. They are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our cousins and nieces and nephews. Gay and lesbian families are in our synagogues, their children are in our day schools, our religious schools and our early childhood centers. They are part of our community. “They” are “us.”

Reform Judaism has taken the lead in the Jewish community in supporting the civil and human rights of gays and lesbians. The Reform movement welcomed the first synagogue for gay and lesbian Jews into what is now the Union for Reform Judaism in 1974. The Reform movement began to ordain openly gay and lesbian rabbis in 1990, and, in 1996, the Reform movement went on record to “support the right of gay and lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage.”

Thirteen years ago, I stood under a chuppah with my friends Rabbi Lisa Edwards and Tracy Moore. It was a powerful ceremony — without a marriage license. They were and still are such fitting partners for each other, still in love after all these years. Last month I stood with them again under their chuppah, this time with speaker of the state Assembly, Karen Bass. This time with a marriage license.

When Bass signed the license and declared them married according to the laws of the state of California, the congregation burst into applause. It was a historic moment.

Now the status of that marriage is unclear. This is a Jewish issue. The right to marry is a Jewish issue because we believe that all human beings, male and female, gay and straight, are created in the image of God. The right to marry is a matter of civil rights; each of us has the right to choose a fitting partner for ourself and enjoy the same protection that the law provides to any married couple and their children.

Few of us meet our marriage partners at the well anymore. Our world has changed. But some things never change. God is present when two people commit their lives to each other and become one family. We need to continue the struggle for marriage equality, because it is a Jewish issue.

Rabbi Laura Geller is senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, a Reform congregation.

Reading about Queen Esther helped guide Palin

If there was any doubt that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will shake up Washington and institute real change, the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee has put that question to rest. Few people can match McCain’s maverick spirit andbipartisan nature like Palin.

I’ve known Sarah Palin since her election as governor in 2006. I am confident she will be a great friend of the Jewish community and Israel, as well as a terrific leader and great vice president.

It is not surprising that her historic nomination has brought enthusiasm and excitement to the nation.

In my speech at the Republican National Convention, I shared a few reasons for that excitement.

“As a fellow Republican governor, I have had the chance to get to know Gov. Sarah Palin,” I said in that speech. “She is a terrific individual and an outstanding governor. Sarah is a person with proven leadership skills and strong moral character.”

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, wrote that he was “excited” by the choice.

“Sarah brings a wealth of experience to the campaign and will pose a formidable challenge to the Democratic nominees,” Cantor said. “Sarah Palin is a smart woman who represents change.”

Gov. Palin brings numerous strengths and qualities to the position of vice president. She has been a mayor, a governor and the head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. While serving in these positions, she has built a reputation as a leader willing to work across party lines to bring about real reform and to better the lives of her constituents.

Gov. Palin has cut taxes and curtailed budgetary spending. Rooting out corruption and establishing ethics reform have been hallmarks of her career.

Gov. Palin has also shown that she is not wedded to party politics nor does she play politics as usual. She has said that the function of a politician is not to serve one’s self-interest but rather to serve with a “servant’s heart.”

Perhaps one of Gov. Palin’s greatest assets is her firm grasp on one of our country’s greatest security issues — how to tackle our dependence on foreign oil and our growing need for energy independence. On this critical issue, she has a depth of experience and firsthand knowledge that will prove invaluable to a McCain-Palin administration.

As governor, she challenged the influence of big oil companies and fought for the development of new energy resources in her state. And as an outdoorswoman and naturalist, she understands and cares deeply about the impact of climate change.

Gov. Palin has advocated that environmental issues be weighed against economic and social needs and that meaningful discussion take place in order for policymakers to make the best decisions for our country.

During her tenure as commander-in-chief of Alaska’s National Guard, she made it a priority to visit the troops from her state deployed to Kuwait and Germany.

Finally, on Iran — an issue that is critically important to readers of this publication — Gov. Palin gets it. She recognizes the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, while advocating for strengthening the strategic U.S.-Israel relationship.

It is also clear that Gov. Palin is a woman of deep personal faith. She has established a good relationship with the Jewish communities of Alaska, supported the residents’ desire to create the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and was present at the reading of Alaska’s resolution commemorating Israel’s 60th anniversary.

In her office in Juneau, Gov. Palin has hung an Israeli flag. She displays the flag because Israel is in her heart.

One of the finest qualities Gov. Palin has demonstrated recently is her tremendous grace under fire. Since the announcement of her selection as our vice presidential nominee, she has faced an onslaught of rumor, smear and innuendo. Yet Gov. Palin has remained strong and resolute. She has let the truth speak for itself.

Shortly after coming into office, Gov. Palin asked her former pastor for examples of biblical people who were great leaders and what was the secret of their leadership. The pastor suggested she re-read the story of Queen Esther, the Jewish woman who rose to help her people and became queen of Persia.

Like Queen Esther, Gov. Palin has faced tremendous adversity, and time and again she has risen to overcome obstacles. This is the sign of a true leader.

As Americans get to know Gov. Palin, I think they will see all the wonderful things about her I have seen over the years. She will be a great friend and advocate for the issues important to us. For that she deserves our respect, friendship and, most importantly, our support.

Linda Lingle, a Jewish Republican, currently serves as the governor of Hawaii.

Courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency

toilette de esther queen esther

1841 Théodore Chassériau – Esther. Esther se parant pour être présentée au roi Assuérus, dit La toilette d’Esther, 1841.

Post-Palin Depression

A therapist I know — OK, since you dragged it out of me, my therapist — told me that I’d be astonished if I knew how many emergency calls she got the night that Sarah Palin gave her convention speech.

Actually, I wasn’t that surprised. Judging from the number of unnerved post-Palin phone calls and e-mails that I got, I wonder why I didn’t think of calling her myself.

Why was it such a psychic downer? Movement conservatives might gloat that it was because Palin kicked Los Angeles liberals in the kishkas, made unanswerable arguments, strutted her Super Woman stuff, and — worst of all — signaled their inevitable defeat come November.

I don’t think so. For one thing, we all know that Election Day comes after the High Holy Days, which means there’s plenty of time before the book on McCain/Palin — the Book of Life, that is — gets written. Who shall win, and who shall lose is still (theologically speaking, anyway) up for grabs.

For another, there’s no evidence that the independents who were the key targets of her speech are buying what Palin is selling.

I don’t doubt that some people experience a presidential campaign as one long audition for the show that will be playing on their television sets these next four years. But I’m hoping that the 5 percent to 10 percent of undecideds in the 18 battleground states who will swing the Electoral College more resemble the savvy mass audiences of “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons” than voters for the next “American Idol” or the mob in “Coriolanus.” Why should a single performance by the governor of Alaska, or even several of them, bedazzle millions of otherwise skeptical Americans into throwing away their bull—t detectors? The historic disapproval ratings of the incumbent president are continuing evidence that the American mainstream has soured on the culture wars’ politics of group against group and the rest of the ressentiment at the heart of Palin’s message. So what accounts for the panic Palin provoked?

Part of it, I think, is that we catastrophize. By “we,” I don’t mean liberals. I mean the many functioning neurotics among us who think that a doctor’s every “hmmm” during a physical is a portent of tragic doom; who mentally extrapolate from routine family conflicts to irreparable ruptures; and whose pessimism is relentlessly fed by cable news, which — in order to hang on to our attention — portrays every freeway car chase as a potential shootout; depicts every global brushfire as the start of World War III; and shouts, “Breaking news!” so frequently that the scary music that accompanies it is itself enough to spike the nation’s blood pressure.

This is not just a Jewish phenomenon, though a few thousand years of expecting to be scapegoated, persecuted, exiled or killed certainly contributes to the melancholic gene Jews are known for carrying, the optimism of a Ben-Gurion or Sandy Koufax notwithstanding. No, this gloominess is a nonethnic worrywartism, arising from the fear and sensationalism fanned by politicians and news media alike.

This is not to say that putting Sarah Palin one melanoma from the presidency would mean good times. It would be more like James Dobson with nuclear weapons. But while her Rovian apparatchiks are stoking the worst among us with passionate intensity, it’s not inevitable that the best will lose all conviction in the voting booth.

When a political candidate convinces half a country to hope again, it’s a double-edged sword. The endorphins and neurotransmitters that wash our brains when we welcome the future instead of dreading it are as powerful as any drug. It’s like love. Unless you let your guard down, unless you permit vulnerability to trump cynicism, you rarely can get what you want. That’s why Howard Dean or John Edwards or Hillary Clinton were, for many people, so thrilling to support. That’s why hardened political operatives call that kind of enthusiasm “drinking the Kool-Aid.” That’s why, when the fall comes, it’s so painful.

But my therapist, if I understand her, has another take on this. She thinks that people identify too much with candidates. Their ups have become our ups; their downs, ours as well. And by identifying with them so closely, we inevitably make ourselves vulnerable to outside factors, to forces we can’t control. And the more political media we consume — on cable, online, on e-mail, on radio, in print — the more we cultivate the illusion that we ourselves are actual political players, that our advice is urgently needed, that everything depends on our counsel.

I’m totally guilty on this charge. “Go negative!” I yell to Obama and Biden when I see them on my screen. “Put McCain on the defensive! Go after his strength! Make the POW thing irrelevant to the presidency! Destroy the ‘maverick’ charade! Call their lies lies!” But my tirades, instead of making me feel better, only underline my powerlessness to second guess the campaign’s strategy or reshape its tone and message.

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of every single citizen in a democracy. Registering to vote, giving money, going door-to-door, expressing our opinions: there is plenty that each of us can do, and the collective action that comes from that commitment can move mountains and make history.

But there is a difference between pitching in and hitching our psyches to the day-to-day vicissitudes of campaignland or to the news media’s breathless “narrative” of the horse race. One is about us, and it is within our power to control what we ourselves do. The other is about them, and it is a kind of annihilation to cede our identity and our well-being to people outside ourselves, whether those people be candidates and commentators — or audiences, critics, velvet-rope guardians, fashionistas, studio executives, admissions committees or that hottie over there at the bar.

As for me, I’m trying to unplug. I’m still reading the papers, but I’ve gone cold turkey — well, room-temperature turkey — on cable (except for C-SPAN and “The Daily Show”), blogs (except for a few), radio (except for NPR) and every other source of political news that I thought I was obligated to mainline in real time 24/7. If I fall off the wagon, maybe there’s some 12-step group for media addicts I can join, or a 1-800-TVDETOX hotline I can call. All this may make me a lesser media yakker, I know, but think of the dough I’ll be saving on therapy.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly, and his

Analysis: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews

When Sen. John McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate today, the Jewish political blogosphere — as loud and fast and opinionated as (for lack of a better word) the Gentile Web — came to a screeching halt.

After all, you can fight about John McCain, and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden . . .but Sarah Palin?

It took an Internet eternity for Jewish Republicans to come out swinging for Sarah, an just as long for Jewish Democrats to hit back.

“Homerun!” Larry Greenfield, the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, wrote me via e-mail five hours after McCain’s announcement. “Governor Palin has a very close relationship with the Jewish community of Alaska, with Chabad (Rabbi Greenberg) and with AIPAC. She is close to the Frozen Chosen!”

Seconds later came a blast from Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) claiming Palin endorsed Pat Buchanan’s presidential run in 2000: “John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans.”

Oh, now it’s getting good.

When Sen. Barack Obama picked Sen. Joe Biden last week, the Democrats had nothing but praise for the long term senator, citing positive comments from AIPAC and decades of foreign policy experience. And Jewish e-mail boxes filled with Biden’s now familiar quote: “You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and I’m a Zionist.”

Then Republican Jews struck.

An e-mail quickly circulated linking to an article on a right-leaning web site claiming Biden was in the pocket of the Iranian mullahs. As for AIPAC’s kind words about Biden? “AIPAC has to say nice things,” a Republican activist told me. “They have to be bi-partisan.” And that pro-Zionist quote? Pretty words, just like his boss, Obama.

The Dems responded with a further defense of Biden’s record. If you could call Biden’s support for Israel into question, said the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council Ira Forman, then you could call Golda Meir’s loyalty to Israel in question.

The Veep debate among Jews is important because there are many Jewish voters who are still a bit leery about Obama. Jews traditionally vote Democratic (upwards of 75 percent voted for John Kerry in 2004 — and we didn’t even really like him). A growing number of Jews have found a home in the Republican party, and are fairly candidate-proof — they vote red no matter what.

A significant number of Jewish voters, however, will change their vote depending on which candidate they perceive as “better for Israel.” These voters believe that Israel is facing immediate existential threats from Palestinian terror, from a near-nuclear Iran, and from over-eager politicians forcing it to make dangerous territorial concessions for the sake of elusive peace. These voters — call them “Israel Firsters” — see their one vote as crucial to preventing another Holocaust, and theirs are the votes that Jewish Dems and Jewish Republicans are fighting over.

Obama and Israel is the battleground issue for Jewish voters in the 2008 election — these are the Jewish votes up for grabs in this race. If Republicans can paint Obama as a Muslim or Muslim sympathizer, as an appeaser to Iran, as inexperienced on foreign policy, as insufficiently caring about Israel in his kishkes — the Yiddish word for guts — then they can peel off Jewish votes.

This strategy won’t matter in heavily pro-Democratic states like California and New York, but it can matter in swing states like Ohio and Florida. And it matters elsewhere in the race: Jews give money, Jews get involved, Jews shape opinion far out of proportion to their numbers. (Yes, there are only six of us in the entire country. Amazing what controlling the media will get you!)

Enter Sarah.

If McCain had picked Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or — cue the bar mitzvah band — Joe Lieberman, he would have unquestionably swept up the Israel Firsters. These men have track records and gravitas when it comes to Israel and foreign policy. (This debate among Jews and Israel reflects the larger foreign policy concerns about Obama that Republicans are making the centerpiece of their opposition. Many conflicts in Jewish life mirror conflicts in the larger culture — that’s Anthropology 101).

But he chose Sarah Palin: former mayor of a small Alaska town, governor of Alaska, devout Christian.

For Jews who are not necessarily Israel Firsters, she carries some positives and negatives. Positives: she is a crusader for good government and a fiscal conservative. She is smart and successful and patriotic. Jews like all these things.

“As governor of Alaska, Palin has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Alaska’s Jewish community. She has demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of the community and has been accessible and responsive,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks.

Negatives: She is anti-abortion.

Jews are among the largest pro-choice constituency in the country. She has, according to one web site, supported the idea of teaching Creationism and evolution in public schools. “‘Teach both,” she was quoted as saying on a local TV station. “You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.'”

Dependence on foreign oil is a major issue for American Jews, since a lot of that oil comes from regimes that hate Israel and support terror.

Republican Jews are emphasizing Palin’s desire to drill Alaskan oil and develop domestic oil resources as away to decrease our dependence.

“Palin has been a leader on the critical issue of energy independence and lessening our need to buy oil from nations not sharing American and Israel’s foreign policy,” Brooks said in his statement.

But Jews are also pro-environment, and have jumped on the alternative energy (hybrid) bandwagon in a big way. Obama’s convention speech calling for a 10 year campaign to switch to alternative sources of energy may carry deeper resonance.

For the Israel Firsters, Palin may be a problem. Palin has no foreign policy experience. No Israel experience. Her AIPAC rating? When you enter her name on the AIPAC home page, you get this:

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The RJC’s Greenfield says her AIPAC relationships are great, but confined to Alaska. And Republicans are now marshalling a great comeback to the charge that Palin once supported Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan is anathema to the Jews. He is someone who has blamed Israel and American Jews for directing American foreign policy against American interests. He has spoken kindly of Adolph Hitler — who is not popular with Jews — and, well, this is going to be interesting.

Sarah Palin might cause the Israel Firsters, who seemed to be pretty much done with Obama, to take a second look.

Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and

Sarah Heath (Palin), sportscaster

Setting out to look within

A 40-year-old British man named Jason Lewis recently completed a circumnavigation of the globe using only human power. He journeyed more than 46,000 miles around the world using a bicycle, pedal boat, kayak, rollerblades and his own two feet. He kayaked or pedaled across oceans and lakes, hiked over mountains and through jungles, and skated the breadth of the United States. In July, he ended his journey in Greenwich, where he started 13 years earlier.

That’s right — 13 years.

And the purpose? In the words of his friend Steve Smith, with whom he started the journey (the friend dropped out five years in), to ensure that the “prime of our lives does not turn out to be less than it should.”

Recounting the motivation that inspired the journey, Smith wrote, “What I see, day after day, are captured lives, half-lives, dedicated to a mirage of fullness that never comes…. My greatest fear is of mediocrity and of a slow, unremarkable acquiescence to society over time.”

Lewis’ story reminds me of the journey that begins this week in Lech Lecha. Like the Lewis journey, our first parents, the legendary founders of monotheism and the Jewish people, Avram and Sarai, leave their home, their familiar surroundings, all that they know to be true and head off into the great wilderness. They follow a call from an unknown God, a new spirit of unity and hope that would become the foundation of our existence, radically changing the way human beings relate to the divine and to each other; the calling of a lifetime begins in this parsha.

We live in a world today dominated by the drive to achieve more, gain more, conquer more, be it wealth, land, power or just stuff we are convinced we need. We seldom live fully in the moment, seek a connection with ourselves or discover what is transpiring, transforming within our own hearts and souls.

Shabbat is meant to be this time, which is why Abraham Joshua Heschel called it a “palace in time.” This is the one day of the week where we are gifted by our newfound Creator, as we read in the second chapter of Genesis, to rest and restore our sense of balance and equilibrium, which often can get knocked off kilter by the pace of our harried existence.

The journey each week on Shabbat is the personal journey of lech lecha, going inside ourselves — through prayer, song, community, study and rest — to ask the questions of substance, the questions that end up plaguing too many of us on our deathbeds: “Am I satisfied with my life? Am I living fully and with awareness? Do I spend enough time with my family, with my friends, pursuing moments that bring me inner joy and wholeness? Have I achieved a goal, reached a new height, a new depth in the realm of spirit, personal awareness or satisfaction?”

We have the chance, each and every week, to take the journey of Abraham, listen for the call of God and then find ways to answer that call.

The Mei Shiloach, a masterful Chasidic commentator, understood the call of lech lecha as “finding your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.”

This life is not about how much money we earn, how many cars we own, how many vacation homes, yachts or private jets we can play in. No, this life is about how many moments we spend laughing, crying, singing, pondering and kissing; how many moments we spend learning to play an instrument, sculpting, hiking, biking, gardening, knitting; how many moments we spend in silent meditation, in a deep yoga pose or chanting to cleanse our hearts.

We must do what is necessary to live, feed our families and provide shelter, but the notion that this work is the essence of our life, the sole purpose for living, is a poison that too many of us have swallowed.

Lech lecha reminds us of what is truly important in this life. We might not circle the globe, but we can circle our deeper selves. And this might be the most rewarding journey we ever take.

As we begin this new year, as each moment passes in our lives, may we be inspired by Abraham and Sarah, people of courage and inner wisdom, people who were able to hear the call of a new life, a challenge to the status quo of their day, and embrace a belief that things need not be what they seem to be. May we all journey forth into greater unknowns, forging ahead into the depths of our being, into the fear of our greatest hope coming true, and may we find God, peace, compassion and wisdom of days. And may we each receive, accept and spread the greatest gift of Abraham: to be a blessing.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. To learn more about his own journey, or to contact him, please visit

Two Tribes

“Sarah’s life was 127 years. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba [now Hebron] in the land of Canaan.” So begins a paradoxical Torah portion in which life and death touch with unusual proximity and resonance. Sarah’s death sets into train two processes – two textual episodes – each of which achieves completion as Abraham buries Sarah and Isaac weds Rebecca. Genesis 24:67 encapsulates these episodes’ interconnection in one of Torah’s most moving sentences: “Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.”

More than any parsha I know, this one portrays the cycle of generations and relations between different groups in a positive, life-affirming manner. Needing a burial place for “his dead,” Abraham enters into careful, strategically nuanced negotiations with Ephron the Hittite – negotiations that culminate in his buying the cave of Machpelah for 400 shekels of silver. Even if this constitutes an ample price, as some commentators assert, the patriarch clearly knows what he needs and how best to achieve it. Adonai may have promised the land to him and his seed as an inheritance, but then and there Abraham relates to its inhabitants with courteous humility. He listens carefully to each of their statements, detecting and responding to its inner meaning; at the same time, he orchestrates a public transaction that avoids misunderstanding and honors his negotiating partner. Not least, he proceeds slowly with due regards for the ceremonial rhythm that elevates human life.

We might say that Abraham appreciates process along with product. So too does his servant, who has been dispatched to find a wife for Isaac. Careful reading of Chapter 24 reveals how the servant keeps silent or repeats known material, hastens to act or decorously slows down – all in response to the person before him. Like his master, he negotiates a tricky situation and emerges gratified. Rebecca’s self-confident assertion, “eylech” (I will go) tells us that while the woman who returns home with him has been deferentially gained from her family, she has also given herself.

After his son’s marriage and all he has been through, Abraham might well be content to die and “be gathered to his kin.” However, in an epilogue of sorts, the text pulls up several loose ends. Shortly after Isaac’s birth, Abraham had needed to choose between two woman and two sons. In order to fulfill the larger destiny of which he was the carrier, he had dispatched into the wilderness his firstborn, Ishmael, and the boy’s mother, Hagar. While Adonai had assured him that, like Isaac, Ishmael would sire “a great nation,” only after both Sarah and Abraham himself have died does the biblical text present the fulfillment of that promise: “These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names by their villages and by their encampments: 12 chieftains of as many tribes” (25:16). As for Hagar, while the biblical text does not directly assuage the rupture of her expulsion, it does provide a hook for a comforting midrash: that the unknown Keturah whom Abraham marries in his old age is really Hagar.

Hagar returned and Ishmael fathering a parallel people – what else remains to cap this portion’s feeling of harmony, continuity and repair? Only the seeming detail that when Abraham is buried “in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre,” it is “his sons Isaac and Ishmael” who perform the burial (25:9-10). Even without being aware of Ishmael’s traditional role as the father of the Arab peoples, we would be moved by this quiet reconciliation between estranged siblings. In these painful times, when our people, the children of Isaac, and those of Ishmael battle over a common homeland, perhaps the lovingkindness of Chaye Sarah can help replenish our wellsprings of hope.

Rabbi Susan Laemmle is the dean of religious life at USC.

A Letter to Sarah

Dearest Sarah,

The boy is alive. Shaken — we both are. Butalive. I’ve sent him home to you in Kiryat Arba. I’ll remain here inBeersheba. I need some time alone to think things through.

From the beginning, this has been someadventure. “Leave home!” I was commanded. “Leave behind all thatmakes you who you are — family and place, culture and memory. Theblessing is yours only if you come naked, stripped of all thatprotects you in this world — position, patrimony, prestige.” Iobeyed because I heard a truth more compelling than any I had everknown.

You came with me. Out of love. Out of loyalty.Out of the hope that this might bring you the one thing you craved –a child. An end to your bitter barrenness. I strained to hear thevoice of God. You prayed each night to hear the cry of an infant. Itold you about the promise: Like the stars that fill the sky, ourchildren will cover the earth. You chuckled: Just one would be enoughof a miracle — a sign that we were indeed chosen.

I went out to war and defeated kings. Youfought the despair of the advancing years. And when, in yourdesperation, you gave me the handmaid Hagar, I could hear again onlythe voice of God’s promises. I couldn’t hear your anguish, yourloneliness.

The son that Hagar bore was my son, but notyours. He had all of my drive, my passion, my impulses. He had mystrength. He even had my temper. But nothing that’s you. None of yourwisdom, your patience, your tenderness. None of your laughter. Inthat, he was a dangerous creature. You were right in sending himaway. He would have destroyed us. He may yet.

And then came Isaac. “Come and know the boy,”you said. “Teach him your vision, the ways of God.” But I wasn’tthere. Having defeated kings, I took to battling God: “Shall theJudge of all the earth not do justice?” Again, you chuckled: Shallthe father of great nations never come home to meet hisson?

Then came that unfathomable commandment: “Takeyour son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land ofMoriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” For the first timein my life, I was struck dumb — silenced with fear and with pain.For this I abandoned my homeland and my kin? Where is Your promise?Your justice? But now He was silent.

I thought of waking you to say goodbye. But Iknew that this would kill you. You endured the ravages of our journeyand childbirth at age 90. But this was too much. So I rose early,made the preparations and took the boy.

The three days of journey were the longest daysany father has ever endured. It was the first time I had ever spenttime with the boy. You were right about him. He is the best of usboth. With each step, I grew to love him more. With each step, wedrew closer to our destiny.

How many times did I turn back? Swearing atmyself for once thinking that man can comprehend the ways of God,that man can think himself God’s partner in covenant. I could wrestleout of Him a concession for the few righteous of Sodom, but nothingfor my own son? Still, something drove me on. I needed to know,ultimately, if He would go through with it. Would He break Hispromise and cast us away? Is He like the gods of the land, demandingthe blood of children as His tribute? Or is He a God of life? Ineeded to know.

We went up the mountain. I bound Isaac to thealtar. We cried together, our tears mingling. And as I raised theknife to fulfill the commandment, I heard a voice — stronger andmore clearly than any I had ever heard. It was your voice, Sarah. Andit commanded me to drop the knife, to lift up the boy, to comehome.

You were right all along. No need to seek Godon the mountain top. That is the way of loneliness and death. Homeand heart are where God lives. No need to hear God’s voice from theheavens. The laughter and song of children are enough for anyone whoneeds to hear God’s voice. You were right, Sarah. I’ll be homesoon.

With all my love,


Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.

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