Lech Lecha

1. Shabbat Shalom

2. At the very beginning of this week’s Parsha, God, out of the blue, tells Avram to leave his home country and go to a different land that God will show him. God makes all kinds of promises about what will happen to Avram when he and his family get to this unknown land, but the reason Avram has to leave the land of his birth, the land of his ancestors is never mentioned in the text of the Torah.

3. One reason that Avram might want to leave his home country is because he lived in a world where people worshiped local gods. The only way to teach people to worship the one God of the universe, the God who will be the focus of Judaism in later centuries, is to be in a country where one can see the hand of God clearly. For Avram and for us, that land is the land of Israel. For over 4000 year, from the moment that Avram first set his sights on the land, Israel has been the one place in the world where Jews have gone to find a personal connection to God.

4. I usually don’t speak about Israel from the pulpit for the same reasons I don’t do most news stories, current events or political positions. We live in a world of 24 hour, seven day a week news cycles. There are many really famous television, radio and cable personalities who have a small army of researchers who make sure that each broadcast is completely up to date and ready for intelligent conversation. OK, maybe some of it is not so intelligent, but for me, a pulpit Rabbi in a large congregation with many pastoral and spiritual responsibilities, I just don’t have the expertise to argue policy from the Bima. My duties are to teach Jews the spiritual and moral direction of their lives. I have never seen my role in a congregation to be the mouthpiece for Israel to the exclusion of everything else.

5. But that does not mean that Israel is not important. In fact, Israel is one of the really important parts of being a Jew. The Jewish Federations had a campaign recently that put their message on T-shirts and banners all over our community. It said, “Wherever I stand, I stand with Israel”. And that is something we must always feel every day we speak out in the world. It does not matter if we stand on the left or on the right. It does not matter if we are Democrats, Republicans or Independents. It does not matter if we are Conservative, Reform, Orthodox or Reconstructionist. If we are Jews, we must stand for Israel. God knows that there are certainly plenty of other people, who, for all kinds of reasons, don’t understand why Israel, even with all her imperfections, is important to Jews, to the Eastern Hemisphere and to the world. If we don’t speak out about Israel, then who will support the Jewish state?

6. Russel Robenson, the CEO of the Jewish National Fund, the organization that literally owns the land that Israel is built on, recently said in a report to Rabbis, “Any Jew in the world who wants to go to Israel can now go to Israel. And they have a place called Israel to go to. We have won even more than we had hoped to win. There are over 15 Israeli companies now on Wall Street. Israel is an economic miracle. All the detractors and boycotters can do what they will but at the end of the day, we are here and we are strong.” There may be many countries and world leaders who do not like Israel but Israel is not going anywhere. And we don’t need to have the constant siege mentality. We only need to do our part to keep Israel strong.

7. I received from many people here, a sermon from the internet, from Shelomo Lewis. That is actually an error. Rabbi Sholom is a long time friend of mine in Atlanta. He too is a strong supporter of Israel. That fact is clear from his long time stance in support of Israel and you can’t read the sermon and not believe that his heart is with Israel constantly. I had only one problem with his sermon. While it is passionate and articulate, it does not tell anyone what they can do to support Israel. He gets everyone fighting mad but never gives any guidance about what we can do to keep Israel strong. That is an argument I have will all my colleagues who speak about all the terrible things others say about Israel and all the terrible things that others want to do to Israel. Just what do they expect us to do about it?

8. So I say today, if anyone here wants to be a REAL supporter of Israel, these are the five things that everyone should do to show that their support of our Jewish homeland is more than just angry words.

9. First of all, if we are to be a supporter of Israel, we need to buy Israel Bonds. The most basic bond is only 100 dollars. It has a return on investment that makes it secure enough to place our retirement accounts. The money that we are lending Israel with those bonds goes directly to building the Jewish state. It goes to roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railway stations, transportation, the electrical grid, and thousands of other basic requirements of a modern country. There are many good causes in Israel to donate our money, but if we are to be real Israel supporters, we need to invest our money in the basic structure of the state.

10. This means that we should buy at least one bond every year. It is not enough to say I bought them last year, or the year before. If we can afford to, we should reinvest our bonds as they become due. The State of Florida invests in Israel Bonds. The pension accounts of dozens of cities and counties in south Florida also are heavily invested in Israel bonds. They see these bonds as safe investments for their future retirees. But if Jews don’t invest in Israel bonds, then how can we say that we believe in what Israel stands for? Warren Buffet has said that one should never invest in a company that you don’t understand. We Jews understand the importance of Israel and that these investments are safe and secure. We will have a breakfast for Israel Bonds here at Temple Emeth in February. You don’t have to wait that long if you don’t want to. You can find out about Israel Bonds at the local Israel Bonds office or online. Don’t call yourself a supporter of Israel unless you are buying Israel Bonds every year.

11. The second way we must show our support for Israel is to join Mercaz, the Zionist party of Conservative Judaism. American Jews should not be telling Israeli political parties how to run their country. But we can tell them how to spend the money we send to Israel every year. This allocation is done through the World Zionist Congress. Our representatives to the World Zionist Congress are from Mercaz. We support pluralism, freedom of religion, equal funding for all religious organizations, support for Jews with disabilities and special needs, education for all citizens and a center political course for Israel. Membership in Mercaz is only $36 dollars per person. We are given votes in the World Zionist Congress based on how many members our organization has. Just by joining, we strengthen our representation in the Congress and enable us to work in coalition with other parties that have similar agendas. Mercaz works closely with Reform Judaism, Hadassah and many Israeli parties to plot a course for Israel that is for a state that represents all of the citizens, not just the most radical positions on either the left or the right.

12. Since the day I came to Temple Emeth, Mercaz information has been in our lobby. Joining is as simple as sending in a check or using a credit card online. It is the best $36 dollars you will ever spend. As a member of their national board I donate to Mercaz far more than regular dues. It is a vital part of my identity as a Jew and a show of my support of Israel. If you are an active Israel supporter, then you should also be a member of Mercaz.

13. The third thing all Israel supporters must do is to join an Israel advocacy organization. A real supporter of Israel must be politically active in this country on behalf of Israel. It is not enough to just vote for the candidate who says that he or she is pro Israel. We need to lend our voices to the ongoing lobbying effort to provide security and political support from the United States to Israel. The two largest Israel advocacy organizations in this country are AIPAC and J Street. I know that it is strange to mention them in the same breath; they are very different but they both work hard to show us how we can lobby our representatives in support of Israel. I am a member of AIPAC. You can like what J Street stands for or not but the discussion is important, and joining one or the other is important. AIPAC will be holding is Fall Conference in Hollywood, FL in just two weeks. There are fliers in the lobby about a special community forum on Monday evening, October 25, at 7:00 pm. The cost is reasonable and the support we show is vital for Israel. If we get ten of our members to attend we can have our own table. If we get more than 20 to attend, we can talk about getting together and renting a bus to take us to the Westin Diplomat Hotel for the program. To be a supporter of Israel, one must be involved.

14. The fourth duty of being an active supporter of Israel is to visit Israel, at least once every three years. Change happens so fast in Israel that after three years there is more to see than what we saw before. It is not enough to have a member of our family live in Israel. That is very good and also important, but that is how they show their support for Israel. To show our support, we need to visit Israel for ourselves. Every year, I have many families tell me that they would have visited Israel if only the economy would be better, if the terrorism was not so bad, if the Arab situation was not so scary, etc. etc. Our parents would have given anything to visit Israel even once in their lives. How can we show our support for Israel if we never go there? There are many ways to visit Israel even if we have all kinds of special needs. Israel is one of the most accessible countries in the world. To be a true Israel supporter, we need to visit the land we love or send a member of our family to the land at least once every three years. For over a decade one or more members of my family have been in Israel every year. If this is a year you would like to go to Israel let me know by sending me an email or a letter. If we get just 20 people who want to go, we will call a meeting and organize a Temple Emeth trip to Israel.

15. Finally, if we really want to show our support of Israel, we need to stop waiting for the Rabbi to tell us what to do, and we must organize an Israel Committee at Temple Emeth. This committee would create at least one important program for Israel for the congregation each year and would be the source of information for all our members on how each of us can do something for the Jewish State. The members of this committee would represent our congregation at Israel events in the community and help organize advocacy on behalf of Israel. Our members don’t need me to speak every week about Israel; the greatest support for Israel will come from those in our congregation who will create the forum to keep Israel always on the minds of our members, in the bulletin, in our programming and in our wider community. How can we say we support Israel if we don’t serve on a committee for Israel right here in our own congregation?

16. These are the five things that a supporter of Israel must do: Buy Israel bonds, Join Mercaz, Join AIPAC or J Street, Visit Israel AND (nor or) AND serve on our own Temple Emeth Israel committee. Sitting at the Kiddush and commenting on the Rabbi’s sermon may be OK when we are talking about our moral obligations in the community. But if we are to call ourselves Supporters of Israel, we need to offer our hearts, hands and voices on behalf of the state that we love. For thousands of years, Jews longed to return to Israel and spoke about it on Shabbat, holidays and at Seder. What Herzl did was to stop talking and DO something about it, and within 50 years Israel was born. Imagine what a wonderful state Israel will be fifty years from now…. Let us go out and work to make that dream a reality. I could give a thousand sermons and not make one bit of a difference. But if each of us does each of these five things this year, we will affect life in Israel for years to come. I am waiting to hear from you after Shabbat.

 Shabbat Shalom

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