Friday December 30, 2022 – ו׳ טֵבֵת תשפ”ג
אֲנִי יוֹסֵף אֲחִיכֶם אֲשֶׁר־מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי מִצְרָיְמָה׃” (בראשית מד:ד)”
“I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt.” (Genesis 44:4)
When the band of brothers (10 out of Jacob’s 12 sons) reached Egypt, they didn’t recognize their brother. Joseph, (aka צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ /Tzafnat Pa’aneach – the Egyptian name given to him, literally, “breaker of codes”) had risen to be #2 to the leader Pharaoh and leader of the great Nile Empire. The same brother that they cast into a pit and sold as a slave to traveling Ishmaelites, the same brother they forsook, with whom they lost touch, and whose fate they left to chance, now stood before them holding the power to determine their fate. And yet, they had their brotherhood.
A few years ago, Israel Democracy Institute’s Dr. Shuki Friedman wrote:
“In order to re-frame both the relationship between the two great Jewish communities of our times [in Israel and in North America] and the sense of interconnectedness among individual members of the Jewish people, I would like to propose the use of the altneu word ’brotherhood.’ What is brotherhood? In the book In Search of Solidarity: An Israeli Journey (published by the Israeli Democracy Institute), linguist Ruvik Rosenthal defines brotherhood as the highest level of partnership in every respect, and as a description of the kind of relationship people have with those closest to them.”
Now More Than Ever
On the one hand, now could be considered the best of times. Jews have never been stronger and more influential in the world. Our people has never had a State with such political, military, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual power. On the other hand, now could be considered the worst of times as the Jewish people is facing significant challenges to maintaining our Jewish identity and our relationship with different Jewish communities.
In 1948, the year of Israel’s founding, American Jews donated more than $150 million (in 1948 dollars) to the fledgling nation, four times the amount raised by the American Red Cross that same year. At the end of the 1940s, more than half a billion dollars of aid arrived from American donors. It is possible that without this voluntary giving the State of Israel would not exist today. The establishment of the Jewish State was the single most unifying cause of world Jewry bringing together Jews from across religious, ideological, geographic, and political lines. The entire world Jewish community came together in support of Israel.
75 years later, the idea that Israel would be the source of Jewish unity might for many seem like a stretch. However, Israel still desperately needs American Jewish support – but in new and more focused ways.
In 75 years, Israel has been an unprecedented and tremendous success story. Its military and technological capabilities are among the most advanced in the world. Tel Aviv has become an artistic, cultural, culinary, and entertainment hub recognized as among the most exciting cities in the world. The story of the thriving, strong, innovative, and humanitarian Jewish State has instilled a sense of pride and affinity in the heart of the Jewish people around the world.
Despite all that, Israel still needs our support, but in a different way.
Joseph comforted his dumbfounded brothers by saying “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.” (Genesis 44:7) He assuaged their fear of possible retribution by saying that their selling him away was all part of God’s plan to sustain and protect them. The message is clear, that the brother you refused to accept, whom you tortured and left for dead, is the one who will eventually save you.
You cannot have it both ways.
You cannot continue to turn up your noses at the Jews of the Diaspora, reject their Jewish identity, and dismantle institutions of democracy that the Western world views as sacred, and still expect them to come back and save you at some future time. The rhetoric of the new ruling coalition, and now its legislative record, shows contempt for the majority of Jews in the Diaspora, and a great many in Israel as well.
This is not only morally problematic; it is strategically short-sighted and unwise.
The Memorandum of Understanding (military aid providing a qualitative military edge) begun during the Obama Administration between the United States and Israel is set to expire in 2026. The soon-to-be Iranian nuclear reality has almost arrived. Palestinian terrorism remains a constant threat (no telling what will happen when the 87-Year-old Mahmoud Abbas is no longer at the helm of the Palestinian Authority).
It does not make sense for you in Israel to act in a way that alienates your greatest ally and a great many of your ally’s most devoted and loving citizens. You are leading Israel on a path toward a place where its allies are no longer inspired or motivated to help you.
At the risk of repeating the same message over and over again, it is becoming clear that, if implemented, the new government’s coalition agreements will deal a devastating blow to religious pluralism, democracy, and justice in Israel They will dramatically reduce the number of Diaspora Jews eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return; they will potentially end recognition of conversions to Judaism performed by non-Orthodox rabbis and privately run Orthodox rabbinical courts; and they will ban Women of the Wall and all egalitarian prayer at the most sacred site in all of Judaism, and immediately begin to cut funding to key programs promoting pluralism and progressive Jewish identity run by our Reform Movement.
And that is just the beginning.
Under the guise of fulfilling a Jewish dream of enforcing halakha (traditional Jewish law) and annexing the Greater Land of Israel, the Likud-Haredi-Religious Zionism alliance that constitutes the new government will do irreversible damage to Judaism itself and to the soul of the Jewish people. No amount of budget lines will endear Israel’s secular liberals to a Judaism of coercion, inflexibility, fundamentalism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and hate.
Jewish identity is not a quid pro quo or a transactional relationship. The proponents of change in your new coalition are operating according to what they think is “right and good,” and with regard to the fallout they say “Well, Hashem will provide.” I fear that we will see, consequently among Diaspora Jews, a significant falloff of affinity and identification with Israel on a massive scale, especially by younger Diaspora Jewry. I am already receiving messages from people who are canceling trips because of the new government.
I fear that your brothers and sisters will not be there to bail you out.
To Diaspora Jews:
The Israel of which you dream has left you behind. Some of you complain that all of the previous efforts to invest in pluralism, liberalism, and a progressive society have fallen short. You’re not wrong. But now we need to reevaluate and acknowledge that sitting here in the Diaspora sending a few donations and complaining are not sufficiently serious efforts. To use a British reference, we are playing cricket on a rugby field. We liberal Diaspora Jews have not seriously invested (yet) in Think Tanks, media channels, newspapers, religious institutions, and political parties. We do not support a strong lobby effort, nor have we instilled a culture of serious travel to Israel. We do not have a gap-year program for American liberal Jewish high school graduates in Israel and our most serious program of youth travel to Israel teeters on around 100 participants annually.
By and large, we American liberal Jews don’t make Aliyah. We don’t serve in the army of the Jewish State. We don’t vote in Israeli elections. Despite having come a long way since the days of the early Reform Movement’s rejection of Zionism, when push comes to shove, maybe our own Reform movement and we Reform Jews are not invested fully enough in Israel, though there are many of us who care deeply about Israel and its future. Speaking out is great. But simply boycotting the unsavory members of the new coalition, while highlighting their egregious policies, is just not going to cut it.
Diaspora Jews must understand why Israelis voted the way they did in this last election, and why they feel threatened and felt such a strong need to vote for those promising security and safety – especially after the challenging events of May 2021. It is important to understand that while only 10% of Israelis voted for Smotrich and Ben Gvir, incoming PM Netanyahu is to blame for ignoring the middle/center Right. Netanyahu knew that courting those that wants nothing to do with him. Had he not alienated the leadership or only courted those who agreed to significant judicial reforms to save him from his trial, there might have been a strong centrist-right government without the extremists and Haredi parties.
As we take stock of our situation, let’s not wait around for Joseph to reveal himself as our brother, rather let’s use this moment to invest in serious Jewish identity with an authentic liberal approach to text, law, ethics, and philosophy. Let’s send our kids to Israel en masse, take our families on tours before going to Europe or the Caribbean. The fact that only 43% of American Reform Jews have been to Israel is one of our greatest challenges as a Reform movement.
Rather than seeing the relationship with Israel as a marriage or friendship that can end as a result of irreconcilable differences, let us actualize Ruvik Rosenthal’s definition of “Brotherhood” (and “Sisterhood”). Let us see ourselves as siblings who bail out each other, share our resources, provide for and take care of one another, and not throw each other down into a pit. Let us create that highest level of partnership with the many hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are protesting this extremist government’s fanatical plans. Let us forge a strong and mutual bond with our ideological siblings – recreating a sense of Peoplehood amongst all Jews who believe in a Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and a commitment to those liberal Jewish values that are being ignored.
 Of course we include sisterhood or “siblinghood,” to be gender sensitive.