Israel’s Settlement Movement:  What Do You Know?

For your calendar:

From Gush Emunim to Amona:  The Story and History of the Settlers Movement

Presenter: Moshe Levi, Community Shaliach for the Jewish Greater Federation of MetroWest New Jersey.

Wednesday, February 1 at 7:45 PM at Oheb Shalom.

Free and open to the community.

Two days ago, Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, announced on behalf of the Israeli government that it has approved the construction of 2,500 new West Bank settlement homes, most, but not all, of them to be built within the existing settlement blocs that Israel hopes to keep in a future negotiated deal with the Palestinians.  An additional 566 units are approved for construction in East Jerusalem.  Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu, taking questions from Knesset members, said that the new homes in the settlements were “just a taste” of what is to come.  The Prime Minister expressed his delight at the departure of President Obama and the inauguration of President Trump, noting the Obama administration’s “not one brick” policy of opposing any construction beyond the Green Line (the armistice line that was Israel’s border from the end of the 1948 War of Independence until the 1967 Six Day War).  Mr. Netanyahu indicated that he would discuss the issue of settlements, along with other key issues Israel faces, with President Trump when he visits Washington next month.  Mr. Netanyahu is, no doubt, quite pleased with the initial statements made by President Trump about Israeli settlement activity and his appointment of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel.

Some may react to this news by cheering new Israeli settlement activity and would likely say that it’s Israel’s right to build settlements anywhere in the land it wants to either because it’s the Jewish people’s God-given right to do so, or perhaps because we won the land fair and square in a defensive war, or because the Arabs hate the Jews and want to destroy the State of Israel, or because Israel does not face a demographic problem at all and is not risking being outnumbered by the Palestinians, or because Israel needs to protect itself from the threat of Islamic terrorism that would most certainly take root in any newly created Palestinian state.

Some may react to the news of new Israeli settlement activity by condemning the construction of new West Bank homes and would likely say that Israel is destroying any hope of a two-state solution by creating facts on the ground that cannot be reversed, or perhaps that Israel is denying the very character and nature of Zionism by occupying another people, or perhaps that Israel is risking its democratic nature as a nation-state by occupying another people that has no opportunity for national self-expression, or perhaps because Israel, as the Jewish State, must never act unjustly.

Some may react by opposing Israeli settlement construction, but only because they feel that Israel must take a wait and see approach to what happens next in the Middle East.  With Syria in shambles, with ISIS still a potent threat that is inching closer to Israel (ISIS took credit for the recent murder of four Israeli soldiers who were run over by a truck in Jerusalem), with Iran on the rise and its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon growing stronger, some would say that this is no time to relinquish territory, but neither is it a time to build settlements on the land.

And, of course, some may not react to new Israeli settlement activity at all, either because they don’t care one way or the other, or perhaps because they don’t understand the complexity of the issue.  But people who care about Israel even a little should be neither apathetic nor ignorant about what the State of Israel does.  People are entitled to their opinions about how the Israeli government manages its society, including how it approaches the relationship to the Palestinians.  But, like so many important issues in life, apathy and ignorance do not help to bring about solutions to problems.

Because it is so crucially important that we are knowledgeable about Israeli settlement building, I have invited Moshe Levi, the Jewish Agency’s Community Shaliach (representative) to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey, and an expert in the history of the Israeli settlement movement, to present on this important topic on Wednesday, February 1st at 7:45 PM at Oheb Shalom.  The title of Moshe’s lecture will be “From Gush Emunim to Amona:  The Story and History of the Settlers Movement.” Using multi-media images and video, Moshe will discuss the origins of the settlement movement, the ideology of its supporters, and its relationship to the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

It’s important to note that the presentation will be objective and neither pro-settlement nor anti-settlement.  The purpose of the lecture is to educate and inform, not to make a case either for or against Israeli settlement construction.  Whether you consider yourself knowledgeable and informed, or a novice on this topic, I urge you to attend.

In the weeks following this presentation, I will invite our congregation to discuss our views on Israel’s settlement movement and what American Jews can and should do to advocate for those views.  I anticipate a lively but civil discussion, as is appropriate even when a topic is controversial.  Date and time will be shared on the night of Moshe’s presentation.

A Prayer for Our Country As a New President is Inaugurated

Ribon Ha-Olam, Sovereign of the Universe and Master of all creation, as we prepare to inaugurate a new president to lead this great country, we ask for Your blessing.  But what should that blessing be?

We need not ask You for freedom, for we are already blessed to live in a country that endows all who live here with the unalienable right to choose our leaders, to speak our mind openly and without fear of recrimination, to pursue our dreams and to fulfill our potential, to be who we are and wish to be, and to believe what we wish to believe.

We need not ask You for material sustenance, for You have already blessed us with more than we could possibly need or use.  There is ample food and shelter for every person who lives in this great land so that no human being needs to be hungry or homeless.  We need only learn how to share what we have with those in need.

We need not ask You to make our communities safe from gratuitous violence and crime, for You have already shown us the supreme importance of treating every human being as sacred and made in Your image.

We need not ask You to protect this marvelous and beautiful Earth You have bequeathed to us, for You have already given us the skill and wisdom to correct the harm that has been done to our planet and to chart a course that will prevent us from permanently damaging the world we live in and endangering the life it sustains.

We have already received a great many blessings from You.  So, as we welcome a new president and begin a new chapter in our nation’s life, let us ask for this simple blessing:  open our eyes that we may see one another with honesty and truth.  As we see one another for who we are, remind us not to judge one another harshly and to try to see the best in one another.  Bless us with the capacity to trust one another.  Reinforce in each of us the message of your prophet Malachi, who said: ”Have we not all one Creator? Has not one God fashioned us? Why do we deal treacherously every person against his brother and sister, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?”  Bless us by reaffirming Your holy truth that whatever our skin color may be, whatever our nationality or ethnicity may be, whatever religion we may choose to practice, whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity may be, we are all Your children and all deserving of respect and love.

Bless us by calming the fears of those who are afraid that our newly elected leaders may not uphold this truth and may seek to place divisions between the people of our nation and our world.  Inspire them to see the best in all humankind and to work honestly and uprightly for the good of all.

Open our eyes, Lord, and give us the courage and desire to see one another, to accept one another, and to love one another.


Fighting Hate with Love and Action

In a blog post three weeks ago, I wrote about how the message of Chanukkah encourages us to dispel the darkness of hate through increasing the light of tolerance and acceptance.  If only wishing made it so.  Sadly, there are forces in our nation and in the world that seek to dominate and diminish others, sometimes through violence.   Our response must never be one of apathy even merely sympathy for those who suffer the sting of hate and discrimination.  We need to act, even if our actions only have a meaningful impact when combined with the actions of many others.

In that spirit, I want to share a letter written to the Rabbinical Assembly (and many other concerned supporters) by my colleague Rabbi Francine Green Roston.  Rabbi Roston offers an update on the situation in Whitefish, Montana and the Glacier Jewish Community she leads there.  Rabbi Roston writes:

Support Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom Regarding Anti-Semitic Threats

Many supporters have asked what they can do to help now.  First, let us state what would NOT be helpful: There should be no effort to engage in a counter-protest rally should the extremists decide to come to our community. 

We have been in constant contact with law enforcement and other government officials, and also with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, all of whom have significant expertise in monitoring and dealing with extremist individuals and groups. They are emphatic and unanimous in their belief that any such counter-rally would be counterproductive; a bad idea that would only serve to feed the extremists’ craving for attention and legitimacy. We live in a small town and creating a bigger conflict or larger demonstration is only disruptive to our lives.

There are things you CAN do – actions that would mean a lot to us. First, while at this time we do not believe that the hate rally will actually happen, you can support efforts such as the initiative that encourages people to pledge money for every minute the haters march should their rally materialize. The funds will go to the Montana Human Rights Network, which supports diversity throughout Montana. This is a wonderful way to turn lemons into lemonade. Indeed, even if there is no march, this organization is worthy of your support

Second, the increased costs for security measures are significant for the Glacier Jewish Community – specifically, to protect people and property from the remote risk of physical attacks. Therefore, we are working with Secure Community Network, a not-for-profit that is overseen by the leadership of The Jewish Federations of North America, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. They have agreed to accept contributions on our behalf, and pass them through dollar-for-dollar as security grants to the Glacier Jewish Community. On a confidential basis, they have advised on security enhancements, and they will have appropriate knowledge of expenditures. In the event we raise funds in excess of our security needs, we intend for SCN to retain these funds to contribute to their ongoing work. Unfortunately, we are not the only beneficiaries of their security support services.

To contribute gifts to the “Glacier Jewish Community Security Grant” and SCN, you can mail contributions to: Secure Community Network, c/o JFNA, PO Box 157, NY, NY 10268. You may also make contributions through various donor advised charitable trust programs (tax ID 20-1437733). Smaller contributions may be made electronically via their online system

Last, you can use the Whitefish story as a way to engage individuals, organizations and schools in your own communities in positive discussions on how to stand up to hate. We never expected to be the target of a hate campaign, but this experience has made it clear to us that today no one is immune from cyberterrorism, trolling, doxxing, and other manifestations of hate online. The good news is that there are also now many resources to help people address this, including these from ADL and the SPLC.

Thank you again for your concern, your support, and your willingness to stand up and not be bystanders when anti-semitism and all forms of prejudice, bigotry and hate surface. Our community is stronger because you have been there for us. 

Rabbi Francine Roston
Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom

Sandy Perry
Chairperson, Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom

Our response to hatred and violence must be to love, to care and to act.  It is for that reason that Oheb Shalom has joined together with Temple Sharey Tefilo Israel and Congregation Beth El to sponsor a refugee family fleeing the chaos and violence in Syria.  The Hussien Family will arrive in New Jersey this Tuesday, January 17 and will settle into their new home in Maplewood.  Hussien and his wife Munna, and their dasughters Balkis (20 years old), Rahma (17 years old) and Salma (6 years old) fled Syria in 2012 and will receive the blessing of a new start in life this week.  You can help their settlement in our community through your donations of household items and money. Check the weekly eblast from Oheb Shalom for links and information.  I want to offer my appreciation to Jeremy Urban and Susan Cohen, Oheb Shalom’s representatives to the 3-congregation steering committee that is guiding this resettlement efforts.

Hatred may perpetually shadow us.  But we can never, absolutely never, abandon our quest to isolate and sideline those who hate and denigrate others.  It is only through love and active involvement and caring that this can be done.

Joseph’s Error

The emotional climax of the Joseph narrative the disclosure of Joseph’s identity to his brothers and their peaceful reunion.  But that is not the end of the story.  In what some see as an epilogue to the story, Joseph uses his power during the famine he had predicted to claim the land of ordinary Egyptians in the name of the state. Since they’re starving and have run out of money to pay for the food Joseph controls, in desperation they give their land, and indeed their very lives to till it.  As a sign of their desperation, they even express gratitude to the Pharaoh for allowing them to live.

“With all the money and animal stocks consigned to my lord, nothing is left at my lord’s disposal save our persons and our farmland. Let us not perish before your eyes, both we and our land. Take us and our land in exchange for the bread, and we and our land will be serfs to Pharaoh.  We are grateful to my lord, and we shall be serfs to Pharaoh.  (Genesis 47:18-19, 25)

 Joseph’s actions were certainly shrewd but were they unethical?  Did this man, whom the Talmudic sages call Yosef HaTzadik, Joseph the Righteous One, actually do something that was very much unrighteous?  Some commentators certainly think so:

“The insulting point of the story is that Joseph sells back the grain that he first confiscated. There is no justification for what Joseph did. Under the ‘Joseph Plan,’ the civilians were doomed from the start. The ‘Joseph Plan’ is nothing new. Calls for government action to save us from impending economic catastrophes and the supposed inborn self-destructive mechanisms in the private ownership society/capitalism abound everywhere. If Joseph had respected private property, they not only would have survived, they would have prospered. Joseph effectively sent Egypt back to the Stone Age.  A once advanced civilization was reduced to slavery in the space of a few years.  (Scott Wallace Brians, The Joseph Plan and the Road to Serfdom)

Some commentators even speculate that Joseph’s actions were not only unethical but set the stage for the future enslavement of his own people by establishing the precedent that the state could confiscate people’s lives:

“Joseph averted overwhelming famine and death, but at a price. In some respects, the sociological consequences – landless economic serfdom – are reminiscent of the changes that took place in Britain at the time of the Enclosure Acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in modern Mexico among the Mixtec and Zapotec peoples. The net results of Joseph’s actions were not only the avoidance of terrible famine but the centralization of power in a country where it had previously been dispersed, as well as the loss of liberty for most of its inhabitants. Paradoxically, he also set the stage for the creation of a powerful regime which eventually enslaved his own descendants.”  (David Ehrenfeld, The Joseph Strategy)

 The Joseph narrative opens our eyes to the perils of tyrannical, dictatorial leadership, a theme we will encounter even more boldly in the Book of Exodus.  It also opens our eyes to the perils of a society that at best overlooks and at worst crushes those who are struggling to support themselves.  Joseph’s plan was unethical not only because he had cornered hungry people, it was immoral because a decent society has an obligation to embrace everyone and lend a helping hand to those who need it the most.

Setting aside the results of the presidential election (I promise not to air my views here), one thing we were reminded of in 2016 is that a great many people in this country are suffering and their pain is often overlooked and ignored by those who have what they need and more.  A colleague of mine put it this way:

“There is the suffering of those who watch their trade become obsolete, their work unnecessary, as if they themselves are unnecessary. The suffering of those who cannot support their families or afford a reasonable place to live.  And there is the suffering of those who have lost their sense of self-respect and dignity because no matter how hard they try, they cannot make a decent life. Not this year, not last year, not for decades.”  (Rabbi Noa Kushner)

So let’s not let apathy or indifference set in this year.  Let’s redouble our efforts to reach out to those who have less, who suffer, who need food and clothing and a safe, comfortable place to live.  Let’s dedicate ourselves to the most basic lesson of our humanity, that all we have in this world is each other and that we will be judged on how much compassion we offer to those who need it the most.