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November 3, 2022

11/03/2022 04:47:16 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

“God said to Avram go to yourself from your land, the place of your birth, the house of your father.” Those are the famous opening words of this weeks פרשה and of the relationship between Avram (eventually Avraham) and God. It’s the beginning of the relationship of our people with the Land of Israel. It was the Land God promised to Avram and his descendants. Our stay in Israel lasts nearly the entirety of the remainder of the book of Genesis. The other four books have our people outside the Land. With the opening words of the Book of Joshua, we resumed our presence in the hallowed Land that hasn’t ceased since then.

The sanctity of the Land of Israel is irrefutable. The place Israel holds in the hearts of all Jews is central to our identity and our core. At times, we Jews in the Diaspora have mistaken our love of Israel for Judaism and our Jewish identities. Love of Israel and Zionism must never replace Jewish observance, Jewish values and Jewish traditions. We must be vigilant to grow in observance, adamantly remain true to our values and constantly cling to our sacred traditions. In addition to those three pillars, we must love the Land and State of Israel and provide it with our support in any and all ways we can.

I’ve always deeply believed, as a Jew living in the Diaspora, my public support of Israel is ironclad and everlasting. We don’t live in the country, and as such, our support must lift it up and not provide a hinderance to its wellbeing. It’s clear, that like all countries, Israel can disappoint from time to time and can do things we might not agree with. This must be okay because it’s an authentic and real relationship. None of us can say our parents, our siblings, our spouses or our children are always right and do everything exactly the way we want them done. It’s natural and okay to feel a sense of sadness when people or entities we love let us down or appear in less than flattering ways.

As I’m writing these words, all signs point to a new government for the State of Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu. There are many clear truths this election has revealed: Israel is a functioning democracy that elects its leaders. The elections in Israel have a wonderfully robust participation with over 70% of its citizens voting. Benjamin Netanyahu has earned another stint as Prime Minister. He’s a polarizing figure in both Israel and the Diaspora. Many have said the previous four elections have been directly linked to adoration of him as well as hatred of him. What’s also true is behind the scenes Netanyahu managed his side much better than Lapid and Gantz did of what will now be the opposition.

The last truth is something that’s causing some alarm in the Diaspora. Two members of the new governing coalition, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, are both quite extreme in their views. They do provocative things towards Arab-Israelis and Palestinians, they want to change laws that assure the judiciary is separate from the ruling government, and they have very negative views on the LGBTQ community. One of them used to have a picture on his wall of Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish man who murdered Palestinians while they were praying in a mosque in Hebron. They’ve also made very disparaging remarks about non-Orthodox Jews over the years. With all of that said, there’s plenty to be concerned with and disappointed by when it comes to Smotrich and Ben Gvir. They’re problematic. Democracy is problematic. It’s problematic because it means all voices are heard, including the ones we deem problematic. I’m sure there are people who support these two men and find my views and words to be wrong and dangerous. That’s the power of democracy. To have a world in which people have the ability to disagree and see things in different ways.

The State of Israel has proven once again it’s a strong and secure democracy with merits and problems. Each of us should pay attention to what’s happening in Israel and remain engaged with our homeland. Each of us should recognize that just because two people we might disagree with are in the government, that doesn’t invalidate the whole thing. Remember that in the 120-member Knesset there are plenty of people to agree with and disagree with. In reading articles and listening to interviews with Israeli political scientists and commentators, it’s been acknowledged that not much changed in this election in terms of the extremes so much as how they aligned themselves to make their votes more effective. Israel isn’t becoming a country of Ben Gvirs and Smotrichs. It’s still going to be a state we’re deeply proud of. It’ll be a state with people with whom we disagree, but we won’t let them change how we see the world. At the same time, we won’t be unable to change how they see the world either. 

Tue, November 29 2022 5 Kislev 5783