Stand By Me
Sermon Saturday Morning
This is the final day of Hanukah. While we still say Hallel, and Al HaNissim, we realize that the gifts are all given and the latkes and sufganiot are all eaten and tonight we will just put our Hanukiyot away for another year.
Hanukah is the festival of dedication. The time we remember how the Maccabees fought so hard to be able to live in their land, free to worship God as they pleased. They did not stop when they rededicated the Temple; they did not stop their war with the Syrian Greeks until they had liberated all of the cities of Israel.
We live in a different time. We live in a time when we have a State of Israel, a State that has been the center of our faith for over 60 years. I am sure that there are many people here who remember a time when there was no State of Israel. Israel is our modern miracle. There is now a special Al HaNissim, a special prayer that we recite on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, that is parallel to the Al HaNissim we say on Hanukah. The two miracles are thus linked through our modern commitment to a free Jewish State.
But how are we to show our dedication to Israel today? We may live in the United States but we understand that all Jews, all over the world, must stand with Israel. Israel is there for us and we must be there for her. Certainly there is no shortage of people in the world who would like nothing else but to see the Jewish State fail. So far, these enemies remain disappointed. Israel, even with all her problems, is an active democracy in a neighborhood of dictators and oppression.
So what must a Jew in Delray Beach; on Long Island, New York, or in Boston Mass. do to show our support for Israel? I think that there are five ways we can support Israel. In a perfect world, we would be responsible for all five equally, but given our different economic and personal health issues, we should at least try and do as many of these five as we can.
Far and away, the number one, most important thing we can do to support Israel and to show Israel that we stand by her side, is to go and visit Israel. I say this not only because we are offering a trip to Israel in April, but because I want everyone to know why I think such trips are important. During the first Intifada, when it seemed that every other day a bus was bombed in Jerusalem, a 48 hour trip to Israel was put together and I and many other rabbis from around the country went directly to Israel to show our support in those trying days. Many people asked me then why I would go to such a dangerous place like Israel. I would answer simply that for 2000 years other people told Jews that they were forbidden to visit Israel. Now that we have the freedom to visit, why should I let anyone scare me away? My ancestors would have risked their lives for just the possibility of visiting Israel. For them and for those who live in Israel, I visit as often as I can and encourage others to visit as well.
If we are not standing IN Israel, we should be standing up FOR Israel. Israel needs the support of the entire Jewish people. This is a political decision and we must not waver in our political support for our Jewish state. Our work for the United Jewish Communities, both the money we give and the rallies we attend show that wherever we stand, we stand with Israel. It is not a small thing. Notice when you attend such a rally, how local politicians take the time to come out and attend. The size of the crowd is important and our presence makes a statement about our support for Israel.
AIPAC is another organization that continually stands up for Israel. If you have never lobbied a Representative or a Senator in Congress, you can not know how important it is to let our Congressmen and women know, in person, that we care enough about Israel to walk the halls of the nation’s capital to speak up for the State of Israel. Between appropriation bills, bills that support the military and immigration to Israel, and those bills that condemn Israel’s enemies, lobbying Congress is a meaningful way to help our Representatives know the importance of a good national relationship between the United States and Israel. If you have never been to an AIPAC Policy Conference, I encourage you to attend. You will meet high level experts in foreign relations, have dinner with members of Congress and the diplomatic corp. and you will have the chance to visit our representatives in their own offices to speak to the issues that are important to the American/Israel relations. UJC and AIPAC are eight letters of the alphabet that spell important support for Israel.
The third way we can support Israel is to stand up for Pluralism in the Jewish State. I believe that if there is a danger to Israel, it will come from those religious fanatics who do not understand either the politics of living in the world today, or who are willing to send others into war to protect their own self interest. There are many Zionist organizations that work to make Israel a better society. I prefer over the secular or the religious parties, the party of pluralism and Conservative Judaism, Mercaz. I don’t know if you realize that in our synagogue lobby are the forms to become a member of this unique Jewish institution. Funds donated to Israel go through the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency is made up of representatives of all the official Zionist parties. Mercaz is one of these parties and the more representatives we have, the more money goes to projects promoting religious freedom and pluralism. Mercaz makes sure that all monies that go to Israel are distributed fairly to all Israelis, not just those in favored parties.
The Masorti Movement does the daily work to provide Masorti/Traditional Judaism to the citizens of Israel. Masorti is the Conservative Movement in Israel. It operates Masorti synagogues and institutions. It pays for rabbis the State refuses to pay; it provides care for Russian immigrants, food and clothing for the poor, Jewish education for children that is fair and balanced and egalitarian. It also provides a Jewish education for Jewish children with learning disabilities and physical disabilities. To see one of these children become Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a joy that bring tears to the eyes of all who understand the meaning of what religion is all about. When we travel to Israel, we will have the chance to see these Masorti institutions in action.
The next level of support for Israel is to support the growth of Israel. We need to help Israel invest in her future. That is role of Israel Bonds. Israel Bonds allows us to participate in the massive public works programs that bring electricity and roads to every part of the country. Along side of Israel Bonds is JNF, the Jewish National Fund. For almost 100 years JNF has developed the natural resources in Israel, especially the forests and the water supply. JNF not only plants the trees that have helped Israel push back the desert, the first country to ever reverse desertification, but it also provides the water used by almost every segment of Israeli society. Little wonder that here at Temple Emeth; we have special events to help raise money for both Israel Bonds and JNF where we also honor those who have helped Israel during the last six decades of growth.
The final level of support we can give to Israel is to support the People of Israel We can do this through our support of the Magen David Adom, the Red Magen David, and our support for the many universities of Israel. ARMDI supplies not only ambulances for Israel, but critical care clinics and they operate the country’s blood banks. Support for ARMDI is support for the health care of Israel.
Hebrew University, Haifa University, Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University and the Schechter Institute are important schools that provide the best education to the young men and women after they have finished their military service to the country. I know that there are many yeshivot in Israel that also ask us for money but I choose not to support those who do not support a pluralistic society in Israel. These large universities and the Schechter Institute, the Masorti Rabbinical School in Israel, reach out to all segments of Israeli society to provide the science, technology and the humanities that are the basis of modern civilization. They also all provide intense Jewish learning, with some of the greatest scholars of Bible, Talmud and Jewish History. When we support Israel’s great universities, we are supporting the future of Israel.
There is much we can do to show our support for Israel. With our money certainly, but with our time and with our hands and feet as well. While every dollar we give to Israel makes a difference, we make an even bigger difference when we put our whole selves into our support for Israel. I can only ask that you join me and the many other members of Temple Emeth to visit Israel this spring. The information is out in the lobby, read it, and if you are ready to go, ask in the office for a registration form and send it back with your deposit. Reserve your place on this mission of support for the land and people of Israel. If you can’t join us, then use one of these other paths; political support, support for a pluralistic society, support for Israel’s infrastructure and support for the people of Israel, to let our Jewish State know that we all stand by her side, in good times and in bad; so that Israel will be the light of our faith and of the faith of our children and grandchildren even to the fourth and fifth generation.