SEPTEMBER 12, 2015

Rabbi Jon Adland

            “I will tell you right now, right from the beginning, that I don’t have any answers.  I can also tell you this, many people think they do, but the longer I think about the State of Israel, the more I ponder, discuss, read, and write, the further away I get from understanding what happened this summer.”  These are the words I used last year when beginning my Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon.  Each year I think that this may be the year that I won’t need to talk about Israel, that Israel won’t be in a crisis mode, that all the problems, situations, conditions, and issues are resolved.  I keep hoping.  I have to hope.  After 34 years in the rabbinate, after two years lived in Israel, after seven tours led and two partnership trips, when anticipating the next tour, I need to believe, I need to have faith that someday, somehow there won’t be six articles in the New York Times on a daily basis about Israel.

            When I started thinking about subjects to address this year, I knew that the rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the growing BDS—boycott, divest, and sanction—would be the real focus to consider.  Now, I believe that anti-Semitism, BDS, anti-Israel movements, and the current crises within and without Israel by Iran, the rising Palestinian unrest, the extremist settler movement, the attack of the Haredi orthodoxy on non-Orthodox Judaism all seem to be bundled into one great heading of US!  As I said at the top, I don’t have the answers.  I didn’t last year and I probably won’t next year.  People with a higher pay grade than me are battling amongst themselves on how to respond to all of these growing issues and threats.  The American and Israeli and European Jewish communities are fractured as to what they support and how to respond.  We have gone from this vision of a unified Jewish world in 1967, rejoicing at the quick devastation of the Arab armies who sought to destroy Israel, to a much more complicated landscape in 2015 where the joy has been driven out by worry and concern.  Couple this with the millennial generation who isn’t as engaged with World Jewry or a commitment to Israel or strengthening organized Jewish life in America and I would say that there are gray clouds overhead that we need to seriously consider.

            Sometimes living in Canton or when I lived in Lexington, Jewish communities somewhat isolated from the rest of the Jewish world, we forget about the need to stay interconnected with the Jewish world out there.  We grow comfortable in our little shtetl and don’t worry about the storm clouds hovering over Jews, Jewry, and Judaism.  Though I don’t want to use this as an advertisement, it is why we encourage our leaders to attend URJ Biennial conventions and connect with a wider Jewish world or why I believe that getting our children to Jewish camps broadens their Jewish horizon or how I believe that our Temple Sisterhood reconnection with the Women of Reform Judaism offers a path to being part of a great worldwide Sisterhood of women.  For me personally, it is why I schlep to Cleveland once-a-month for the Greater Cleveland Board of Rabbis’ meetings to try and stay in touch or why I peruse a number of Jewish listserves and periodicals to see what is going on in the Jewish world.  It is why I am so proud of this congregation of learners that studies in a number of official and unofficial groups.  Find your personal Jewish path and don’t make these two days your Jewish life for the year.  We are part of something great that has been around for a long time, but to sustain this greatness it means being informed and, when necessary, appropriately concerned.

            Let me start with the topic that is generating most of the conversation right now—Iran!  Personally, I’d like to stop right there.  People, and amongst people are Jews, are quite passionate on this subject.  No matter what argument you put forth there is a counter argument.  For those who support the deal as negotiated between the U.S. plus 5 other countries including China and Russia, this is a good deal or the best deal possible.  It may not be perfect, but no deal is perfect.  According to many experts from the scientific and military worlds, this is a good deal and will be for many years.

For those who oppose this deal and think that we should scrap it, it is because this is the worst deal ever conceived, it leaves Israel in harm’s way and we should go back to the negotiating table to demand a stronger, no loopholes, rock solid deal.  Your choice.  Not sure there is a right or wrong side.

            Tom Friedman, on August 12th, wrote an op-ed piece titled, “If I Were an Israeli Looking at the Iran Deal.”  He broke the deal down into three perspectives.  The first was from the view of an Israeli grocer just following the deal on the radio.  He said that the grocer would hate it, “for enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium, since Iran regularly cheated its way to expanding that capability, even though it had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.”  Moreover, Iran supports any number of terrorist groups including Hezbollah who started a war with Israel in 2006 and fired thousands of rockets supplied by Iran into Israel. (There was no Iron Dome then.) He said the grocer would reject this deal from his gut.

            His second perspective was that of the Israeli general who would remind others that Israel has 100-200 nuclear warheads that it can deliver by plane, submarine and long-range rockets.  The general would also remind others that Hezbollah has not launched an attack against Israel since 2006.  He knows that “no enemy will ever out-crazy us into leaving the region.”  Friedman concludes by saying that the Israeli general wouldn’t love the deal, but that he could see its advantages, especially if the U.S. enhanced its deterrence.  (Just as an aside, it appears that Israel and Hamas are in top-secret negotiations to find a way, and these are my words, to get along.  Hamas is now threatened by the appearance of ISIS and needs a “friend” to support its rule.)

            Finally, Friedman looks at this deal from the perspective of the Israeli prime minister who’d need to admit that Israel faces two existential threats: one, external and the other, internal.  He suggests that the prime minister shouldn’t be pressuring U.S. Jews to go against their own government to try to scuttle the deal when there is no credible alternative.  He should admit that without this deal, when there is no deal, that Iran could have a bomb in three months.  Instead, the prime minister should be working with the U.S. to strengthen deterrence against Iran and with that secured work as hard as possible to disengage from the West Bank in order to preserve Israel as a Jewish democracy.

            Let me allow Friedman’s article, which you can look up on the internet, to stand as the best position on the Iran nuclear deal that I’ve read.  It really depends on where you are coming from and where you think it can truly go to determine what is the best position.  If you want to know what I think will happen, here it is.  Congress votes to oppose the deal.  The President vetoes this vote.  The Senate overrides the veto, but the House doesn’t and the deal stands.  Everyone wins in his or her home district.

            Let’s move on.

            The situation that is most troubling to me is the growing undercurrent (and not so undercurrent) of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel thinking and action that is surfacing throughout the world.  Whether it is direct attacks on Jews in Europe, including deaths, or direct attacks on Israel through BDS or group divestment against Israel, I believe that the basis of this using anti-Israel platforms is an excuse for anti-Judaism.

            Let me begin with BDS—Boycott/Divestment/Sanction.  Many of us have heard the term, but don’t know the details.  To get their actual statements just go to  It is right there for you to read.  BDS is the anti-apartheid movement of this century.  Just as South Africa was isolated and sanctioned into changing, the BDS movement believes that it can do the same thing to Israel and, in the end, gain Statehood for the Palestinians and force Israel, through isolation in the world, to be a better State. 

Here are some excerpts from BDS’ home page.

  • In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. A truly global movement against Israeli Apartheid is rapidly emerging in response to this call.
  • For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation. Despite abundant condemnation of Israeli policies by the UN, other international bodies, and preeminent human rights organizations, the world community has failed to hold Israel accountable and enforce compliance with basic principles of law. Israel’s crimes have continued with impunity.
  • The campaign BDS is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:
  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

Boycotts target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Anyone can boycott Israeli goods, simply by making sure that they don’t buy products made in Israel or by Israeli companies.

Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies.

Sanctions are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes.

            Though I don’t disagree with the fact that there are some serious troubling aspects to Israel controlling the West Bank, the BDS movement does nothing in its manifesto to bring a balanced approach to the ongoing terrorism by Palestinian extremists and to securing and acknowledging Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign and independent state.  Using words such as colonization and apartheid in its manifesto is absurd and just inflames the problems.  By including Arab refugees, it does nothing to address the number of Jews who had to flee Arab countries after Israel was established in 1948.

            And allow me a moment of sarcasm, if the BDS movement truly wants to boycott Israel’s goods, then it should put down its cell phones, computers, Teva medicines and many more technologies and products.  There is little we do today in our daily technological life that isn’t impacted by research in Israel.  By trying to cut Israel off from the rest of the world, we are the only ones hurt and the great advancements Israel continues to make are ignored.

            The problem with BDS is it is gaining traction on university campuses that see the plight of the Palestinians as unjust and cruel without a fair and balanced presentation.  Jewish youth who try and stand up against the BDS movement are often overwhelmed in size and noise by this movement.  We need to continue to support Jewish groups on the campuses where our children or grandchildren attend so that they will have resources to be brave and bold in combatting this movement.  One of the pieces of good news is that despite student governments passing BDS resolutions, most universities are just ignoring the resolutions for divestment. 

            Anti-Semitism in Europe is where my gut hurts the most.  I watch and read about these small events that continue to pop up.  A Jewish man attacked.  A synagogue defaced, burned, vandalized.  A store destroyed.  Then, there are larger moments where it is mob rule, laws passed that limit kashrut or circumcision.  There are political parties advocating the expulsion of European Jews.  Yes, this could be found reading some of the Repository’s headline pages on A-3 from the 1930’s, but these are actual incidents from the last year or two.

            Without citing the incidents, which you can find on the ADL webpage, here is a list of countries where anti-Semitic events have been reported in the last year: ARGENTINA, AUSTRIA, BELGIUM, BRAZIL, CANADA, DENMARK, FRANCE, GERMANY, HOLLAND, HUNGARY, ITALY, POLAND, RUSSIA, SOUTH AFRICA, SWITZERLAND, UKRAINE, UNITED KINGDOM, UNITED STATES, AND VENEZUELA.

Anti-Semitism has existed in Europe for more than 1,000 years.  Jews have been persecuted, expelled, tortured, and murdered.  We have faced discrimination in so many forms that it is impossible to list all the ways.  After the Holocaust, many of us believed that the end of persecution in Europe was finally here.  There was barely any Jewish life left and most of the infrastructure had been destroyed.  What good would Jewish persecution do any more?  What we have learned is that it never really left.  Maybe it wasn’t polite for 60 years to be openly anti-Semitic, but obviously that isn’t the case today.  I fear for the large Jewish community in France.  I worry about the continuing persecution and discrimination of the Jews in Scandinavia.  The Jews of Hungary face physical threats and political right wing extremists seeking the power to destroy them.  Even the Jews in Germany are worried, though I commend the German government in its vigilance against those who threaten Jews.

            What can we do?  We should be pressing our elected officials to remind European leaders about their responsibility toward minorities.  We should be ready and willing to use whatever resources we can to rescue Jews if necessary and for this government not to turn its back as it did 80 years ago.  We must not be lax or think that this will pass.  We were fooled once and we won’t be fooled again.

            And finally, the recent extremist up tick in Israel.  I am not speaking about Palestinian extremists here, but Jewish extremists who are taking Judaism and twisting its words and teachings in such a way that it is okay to burn down a mosque or church.  It is okay to attack West Bank Arabs with no provocation.  It is okay to throw a fire bomb into an Arab home and kill a toddler.  If this is Judaism, then I want no part of it.

            There are Haredi, ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are trying to control Jewish life in Israel.  They make statements such as, “Reform Jews aren’t really Jews.”  They take control of the laws of conversion cutting out any rabbi who isn’t like they are.  They deny women equal access to the Kotel in profound and hurtful ways including not allowing them to use a Torah because they are women.  They attempt to impose their will on where women can sit on a bus, what can be shown in ads on billboards, or what is taught or not taught in schools, and against the right of a young Jewish woman to march in a gay pride parade without fear of death.  May Shira Banki’s death not be in vain for the gentle position she took.

            This is not my Israel.  My Israel said for all Jews to come home.  My Israel thanked me for my support with no conditions attached.  My Israel is based on the Jewish teachings of love and tolerance, of the prophets vision of caring, of creating a land for all.

            Because this is Erev Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of the New Year, it is important my message not be all about despair and anger or fear.  There is a general apprehension in the world today, but I don’t let this change who I am or how I live my life.  Judaism is filled with so much wisdom and beauty and opportunity to color the world with righteousness and compassion and caring that it is these colors I see.  I use Judaism to guide my life and Shabbat to anchor my week.  I love so much of the State of Israel that leading trips there gives me a chance to encourage others to see the truly good in the State and not just what you read in the paper or hear on the news.  I believe, like Anne Frank, that people are good and I believe that evil and hate will be defeated.  I believe in hope and I embrace faith.  We are truly blessed here in Canton with a wonderful community, a strong congregation, great leaders, committed congregants who support Temple Israel and say yes when asked.  Just watch as the bags of food and paper goods flow into the building over the next week.  This is just one example of who we are.

            As we begin the next year, here is my prayer: may Rosh Hashanah’s sweetness bring us strength and may the sound of the shofar tomorrow lift up our hearts to a vision of a world where all is good and everyone is filled with the belief in a better day.

Kein yehi ratzon—may this be God’s will.