My Impressions on Being in Israel - Part I

From RLI 3 Graduation - 2010

My two weeks of study at the Shalom Hartman Institute are drawing to a close. It has been a truly amazing experience and a gift to have been part of the special Rabbinic Leadership Initiative. I've met wonderful colleagues who have become my new friends with whom I can share ideas, advice, and support. All of them, no matter their denomination, recognize that we are serving the Jewish people. We realize how humbling that is. Read this article on the Hartman website about our graduation and especially the remarks by Rabbis Alan Lucas and Mari Chernow to get a sense of what the program has meant to us.

Another benefit of the program is that we can evaluate in smaller groups of friends, what it means to be in Israel and even more broadly what it means to love and support Israel. The topic of study this summer has been engaging Israel and we've learned Jewish texts and modern legal and political sources about power, sovereignty, and peoplehood. Since I already have bought into the idea that Israel is my homeland these texts aren't challenging. What has been provocative is the notion that we need to constantly engage with Israel to ensure that it upholds ideals of democracy and that it continues to reflect on the idea of what it means to be a democratic Jewish State.

Several speakers reminded us of the precarious nature of Israel's place among the fellowship of nations and also its value to the Diaspora Jewish community. The world doesn't necessarily accept Israel's right to exist and the American Jewish community, especially, doesn't support Israeli government policy blindly. In order to bridge that gulf Rabbi Danny Gordis suggests that Israel needs to get back to the basics. It needs to discuss and present a clear and cogent argument as to why Israel has a right to exist. It's imperative for the world to know that Israel wasn't created as a reward for suffering through the Holocaust - that it deserves to exist on its own merits. The American Jewish community also needs to know that there are ideals regarding a Jewish State that are just as valid as the ideals on which America was founded.

These are very important issues that may determine Israel's future. Important thinkers in Israel are working on these problems and there is much discussion in Israel about them. Read Rabbi Gordis' blog to get a better sense of who he is and go to the links that he suggests to get a taste of what this is all about.

My head is always swimming when the Hartman Institute program concludes, and I'm glad that I have a few days to reflect upon and digest these thoughts before the Shaare Tefila Congregation arrives. More thoughts to come!