Rabbi Aaron Weininger, of Adath Jeshurun Congregation, called me early last week. He was in Jerusalem, with a Rabbinical Assembly (RA) and Masorti Foundation solidarity mission. The RA is the umbrella group for Conservative rabbis in North America; and Conservative congregations in Israel are referred to as Masorti.
Weininger, who has been an assistant rabbi at the shul in Minnetonka for two years, was getting ready for dinner with a Masorti rabbi. The previous Shabbat, he met with young Adath Jeshurun members participating in USY Israel Pilgrimage, a four-week course that includes a two-week stay in Jerusalem, and two weeks traveling around the Jewish state.
“The mission has been very, very meaningful,” Weininger said, regarding the RA trip. He added that his brother, Daniel, “made aliya” two-and-a-half years ago, and just completed his military service. As it happened, Daniel wasn’t in Israel during the rabbi’s visit; he was in New York.
Prior to Weininger’s call, the AJW received a press release about the Conservative/Masorti rabbinic mission. The statement noted that the rabbis were traveling in Israel at a time when the U.S. State Department had warned against travel to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank “due to the current hostilities. A substantial amount of funding from the Jewish Federations of North American Emergency Fund has been prioritized for Conservative movement programs and community work in order to allow them to continue to carry on their efforts in affected areas.”
The day before we talked, Weininger and a dozen or more American rabbis toured southern Israel, near the border with Gaza, “to see people affected by rocket attacks. We visited Sderot… Ashkelon, we were in Beer Sheva, and in Omer,” where they visited Magen Avraham, Adath Jeshurun’s sister congregation in Israel, and with Rabbi Yonatan Sadoff, who formerly served at Adath Jeshurun.
On the bus ride going to visit Magen Avraham, Weininger and his colleagues heard air raid sirens sound. It happened another time while on the bus, and while visiting a congregation in Ashkelon. “It was very painful to hear the siren,” he recalled, about the incident on the way to Omer. “For us, we’re there for one day; but this is the reality on a daily basis for many of the residents there. But it was also comforting to know that we were on our way to the sister congregation of our community in Minnesota. It was very moving.”
Perhaps Rabbi Weininger will write something about his experiences in Israel for a future edition of the Jewish World.
In the meantime, the rabbi explained on the phone from Jerusalem: “What’s very powerful is that there are about 15 to 18 of these U.S. rabbis, and at different points we’re joined by rabbis who are on the ground here, who have kehillot, who have congregations, who are sharing their experience and enriching our own understanding of the situation. And… first and foremost, the reason I came is really to show up, to be present for these communities, and to listen and to learn how we can be supportive.”
The Twin Cities Jewish community came together last week to show support for Israel. The event, “A Community Gathering for Israel,” took place on the evening of Thursday, July 24 at Adath Jeshurun. Among the sponsors were the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul, the Minnesota Rabbinical Association and the Minnesota Cantorial Association.
There were songs, prayers and speeches, including talks by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Alex Goldman Shayman, deputy consul general of Israel to the Midwest, making his first official visit to Minnesota.
Ris Arbel, the St. Paul Jewish Federation’s shlicha (Israel emissary), read the names of the Israeli soldiers killed in the fighting in Gaza.
Some speakers allowed in passing that members of the Jewish community — the 1,400 in attendance and those not at the July 24 rally — might hold different views about the conflict between Israel and Hamas. However, there really was no expression of compassion for the innocent victims of the conflict in Gaza.
As the Jewish World went to press this week, 1,148 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza, since Israel’s major military offensive began on July 8. The press and humanitarian groups report that the great majority of the casualties are civilians. According to the New York Times, Israel has hit 3,289 targets in the densely populated Gaza Strip; militants in Gaza have launched 2,319 rockets at Israel; and 56 Israelis, nearly all soldiers, have been killed.
Again, when the Jewish community gathered last week, there was virtually nothing said in sympathy for hundreds of Palestinian children and other civilians who have been killed in the warfare. No rachmones, compassion.
I checked back in the AJW archives, and found an editorial that I wrote about a previous similar communal solidarity gathering that was held Jan. 11, 2009, at the Sabes JCC. Here’s some of what I wrote five years ago:
In an eloquent expression of the discomfit felt among most Minnesota Jews about the civilian casualties in Gaza, Rabbi David Locketz, of Bet Shalom Congregation, reminded those in attendance of the Exodus story that is explained in the Talmud: “We are taught there that when the Israelites miraculously crossed the sea on dry land, angels up above were watching the Egyptians. As the walls of water folded back over Pharaoh’s army and horses, destroying them all, the celestial beings began to cheer jubilantly. In that moment, God rebuked them saying, ‘My creatures are perishing and you sing praises?’”
In his invocation to the gathering, Locketz continued, “There is so much pain it is hard to sing praises of Israel’s successes when God’s creatures are perishing. But we also know that Israel has to do what Israel is doing. Even so, doing what is right doesn’t always feel good. Knowing that there is deep collateral damage on both sides tests our humanity.”
That was during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, 2008-2009; now it’s 2014, and Israel is waging a military campaign, Operation Protective Edge, to destroy rockets and tunnels of Hamas.
And our humanity is being tested again. I checked with some rabbis, and it’s very much in the Jewish tradition to express compassion for the victims of war, especially the civilians killed and injured. Why wasn’t that out front at our communal gathering last week? What is wrong with us?
Nothing here should be construed as supporting Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel and kill civilians with its rockets and by infiltrating terrorists into Israel. The Hamas leaders are culpable for many war crimes; but that does not permit Israel to commit war crimes by attacking buildings housing civilians. Of course, Hamas leaders do everything they can to encourage such actions by Israel, and they do not value the lives of their own people, much less the lives of Israelis.
The arguments being made during this current round of Mideast conflict by Jews in Minnesota, and across the United States, probably are of little consequence compared with the arguments being made 6,000 miles from here, where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict actually is raging.
But we Jews in Minnesota can show some compassion. The closest anyone came — please correct me if I missed something that was said at the gathering — was during the “rabbinic perspective” of Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, of Temple Israel in Minneapolis. She read a note from a friend in Israel, Galia, executive director of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem. Responding to Rabbi Zimmerman’s expression of support, Galia said, to the rabbi and her congregants: “Thank you so much for your prayers. You can’t imagine how much it strengthens us to receive such a letter and know we have your support. May the Israeli soldiers be protected and return home quickly. May both the Israeli and Gaza Strip citizens know peace soon!”
Peace for Israelis and Palestinians would be wonderful. Until peace breaks out, I hope that members of our Jewish community can open their hearts to those suffering horrifically in the Middle East. At Adath Jeshurun last week, we sat looking at the inscription carved in Jerusalem stone above the bima: Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomecha — Spread over us the sukka of Your peace. God’s sheltering peace is not just for Jews, it’s for everybody. If we forget that, God help us.
— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com
(American Jewish World, 8.1.14)