This Is Why I Love Israel #AIPAC

A man speaks of a product created after serving on the front lines in the Israel Defense Forces, where it is a top priority to bring all your men out, dead or alive. A backpack to carry a wounded soldier more easily, now sold to anyone who finds use for it.

Like the family in Oneanta, N.Y., whose son, living with Cerebral Palsy, loves to hike. The backpack helps the entire family reach new heights and have adventures they never thought possible.

imageThe African-American man in Chicago, now a devoted AIPAC supporter, who finds use for the lessons learned in Israeli cities under siege to help beleaguered neighborhoods in his American city.

The “son of Hamas,” Mosab Hassan Yousef, who explained to 16,000 supporters of Israel why he turned his back on his childhood (father a founder of Hamas, mother from Muslim Brotherhood) to help Israel because he finally saw the Truth.

So many people, not just Jews, in love with Israel, grateful to Israel, in support of the only Jewish nation in the world. Because of its innovation. Because of its dedication to ethical living. Because of the way it cares for its people.

imageI saw a movie about IDF paratroopers, “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to Homefront,” where 18 year olds from Hungary, Russia, Ethiopia, Switzerland, came to Israel to serve in the armed forces because “Israel neimageeds me more.” Because “this is the home for Jews.”

Because soldiers are taught about history and those who have sacrificed their lives to ensure the safety of others, believing “if you don’t learn your history, you can’t build the future.”

Because Israel stands for good and right and the future.

People don’t understand why I am so singularly devoted to Israel.

You can sit here in America or in Europe or wherever you find yourself and insist on taking “an objective” stance on Israel. You can say they’re not nice to Palestinians (not true). You can say they’re “occupiers” (also not true).

You can spin all kinds of stories, believing you’re building a rational argument against the only democratic country in the Middle East, believing you support underdogs and oppressed peoples.

You couldn’t be more wrong.

Last year, despite enduring 50 consecutive days of rockets (Operation Protective Edge), Israel reported its best economic year ever.

This is a nation kissed by God. It is a nation so spectacular in its humanity, you begin to wonder what the hell we are doing over here.

imageYou can choose to believe me or not, but I urge you not to take my word for any of it, but to go to Israel yourself. There are all sorts of missions for all sorts of people to see what it’s really like, and I encourage you to seek one out. If you’re not interested in doing the research, I’ll help you find it.

Because as long as Israel thrives, the entire world has a chance of building a collective goodness.

I was last in Israel four months ago. Exquisite food and sights and terrain and culture and incredibly beautiful, smart people.

But that hardly matters. Israel has a je ne sais quoi that no other place on the planet comes close to. It is a miracle in our midst. And it is our salvation.

I have loved every minute of this AIPAC Policy Conference, and I can’t even begin to explain why. The energy coursing through the Washington Convention Center. So many people in support of one tiny nation that didn’t even exist 100 years ago.

The mystique of this nation and its imprint on all of us, subtle and glaring. It is the closest we come to seeing God on Earth.

I’m so glad I came. Sometimes we need an environment of connection and unity to pump us up to focus on right and good and making a difference. You can bet I’ll be back.

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Eliminating Amalek

imageIn every generation, there is evil. It rises in the form of hatred toward a people or a conglomerate of peoples, and it is carried out by blind masses hoping to believe in a supreme leader who pledges to lead them from darkness into light.

Except light can never contain evil. Evil lives in darkness, shrouded in its corners and crevices, and only when the light is allowed to shine bright and cover the landscape, can evil be finally wiped away.

imageThe Jewish holiday of Purim is coming up this Wednesday night and Thursday, and a Torah passage we read yesterday in synagogues around the world reminds us to eliminate Amalek from the face of the Earth, once and for all.

Amalek is a biblical people whose descendants seek the destruction of the Jews. We have endured many attempts at annihilation and somehow, we remain alive and well, today at the AIPAC Policy Conference 16,000-strong in Washington, D.C., advocating for a strong and continued friendship between the United States and Israel.

Jews feature in every industry in America. We have the freedom to observe as we so choose, to befriend whomever we like, to attend the best universities.

aipac-american-israel-public-affairs-committee1But we haven’t always had this luxury. And in many parts of the world today, Jews are targeted, afraid, unsafe.

When will it end? Will we ever succeed in eradicating Amalek from the Earth?

Can you imagine a time when evil could not survive? When the Hitlers of the world are shut down before they can grow big and onerous?

I can’t. For this globe has never experienced a true peace, where people live for the love of one another and the shared goal is success, health, and well-being for all.

Why is that so hard? Tell me. I honestly don’t know.

Perhaps hatred exists to motivate us to do better. After all, that’s why so many of us have come to Washington this weekend and into the week, to advocate for what we believe will be best all-around, to have heartfelt, meaningful conversations on Capitol Hill so that maybe, just maybe, we can make a lasting difference.

If every nation loved Israel and none threatened its borders, would we need an AIPAC? If the Muslims in France lived in harmony with the Jews, would many Jews feel the need to move to Israel?

If, If, If.

The holiday of Purim is the time when we are encouraged to don costumes and blur the lines between awareness and dream. The most important parts of this holiday, said a speaker during the Shabbaton, are the ones that encourage us to give to others.

imageWe are mandated to give gifts to other people and to donate to the poor. Those, he said, are the most important acimagetivities of this upcoming holiday.

And, the story of Esther teaches us that we must be careful, at all costs, not to turn indifferent, not to gain a “palace perspective” and disassociate ourselves with the masses.

We must forever keep our eyes trained on the populace, on the fact that the man sitting in the 20-degree street with tears in his pants and holes in shoes showing pavement is just the same as you in your Armani suit. If he is cold, you are cold, and if you can’t relate to that, there is your biggest challenge.

Amalek is alive and well in this world in many forms (ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, to name a few). But sometimes, Amalek lives within each of us.

The only way to eliminate evil for good is to embody its antithesis, to be the antidote, the advocate for peace.

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Choose Your Words Carefully

imageI am spending this Shabbat in a crowd of 600, praying, studying, and learning about the intersection of Judaism and modern life and Israel.

It’s a Shabbaton leading up to the AIPAC Policy Conference here in Washington, D.C., and all of the study sessions focus on understanding how we came to this precipice in world matters, and where we must take it from here.

There is much I’d like to write about, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus on how important it is to choose the right words, with two prime examples.

imageThe first is found in this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, Exodus 28:20-30, which focuses in detail on the clothing and adornments of the kohanim. We’ve always translated kohanim as high priests; it’s the class of people who descend from Aaron in the time of the Tabernacle, myself among them. (I am a bat kohain, daughter of a kohain, hence my maiden name of Cohn.)

(Priest, however, is not an apt definition, which will be the subject of another blog soon. We’ll go with it for now, but the better term, according to Rabbi Steven Weil’s d’var Torah last night is role model, mentor, educator.)

There are all sorts of details of the robes and the colorful threads and braided chains. And then there is the breastplate, in Hebrew, hoshen mishpat.

In the translated text I had in services this morning, it’s translated as “the breaspiece of decision.” I wish I were more of a Hebrew scholar so that I could look at the root word and know what its true meaning is. We are always at the mercy of the translators! Those who are expert in the language truly do control the conversation.

And so I did a little digging and learned that a better definition for mishpat is justice, as it is a derivative of the root word shaphat, which means judgment.

imageSo in my translation, someone translated it over and over again as breastpiece of decision. When in reality, words relating to conferring justice or deciding one’s judgment might be more apt.

How does that slight variation in definition change the understanding of the story? Hugely!!

If you see the role of the community role model to be one of passing judgment, you imagine a stern finger-wagging leader. If, however, the person at the helm who is supposed to be educating one and all, wears a breastplate of justice, then that softens the person’s important task, to be equitable to all, inclusive, fair.

See how one slight difference of words changes the entire discussion? One path sets up an us vs. them conflict, a sense of judging and being judged.

The other creates a harmonious picture of mentors looking out for every person in the community.

Modern Orthodox on the left, Reform on the right. I say, "Just Jewish, both."

Modern Orthodox on the left, Reform on the right. I say, “Just Jewish, both.”

My second example of the importance of our words comes alongside how we define ourselves as Jews. It’s an age-old question, and in modern times we’ve created this concept of denominations to lump ourselves in with one or another community.

Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox. Humanist, Haredi. Right-wing, centrist, modern. And it goes on.

Lots of terms, with synagogues to follow along each and every definition. And then there are those individuals for whom none of the labels work, either because they are too limiting or because they are a blend of movements, as I say to my kids, “I’m just Jewish.”

That’s what programs like the Adventure Rabbi were created for. You don’t fit into a box? Great! We’re the community for you. Make your own meaning. (Which we all do anyway, but that’s another blog entirely.)

So some people are changing the words. I heard several people refer to themselves and the crowd gathered for the “traditional” services (with the curtain dividing men from women down the center of the room) as “Torah Jews.”

practicing-judaismTorah Jews. Implying that they and their compatriots are those who are faithful to the Torah. Implying that anyone outside of this room or this flavor of observance are not faithful to the Torah. Which makes what I’m sure is intended as an inclusive term incredibly exclusive.

My Conservative synagogue, for instance, has no divider between the genders, and we claim to be Torah-followers. Same goes for my dear friends in Reform communities. We simply interpret the Torah with shades of difference from our friends, the “Torah Jews.”

And yet, what connects us all, in addition to biological and ancestral lineage to this tradition, is the Torah itself. So aren’t we all, in every denomination, Torah Jews?

Words are so delicate, so important, so hard to pin down. They can, in the flash of an eye, divide us horribly, never to repair the rift.

There are people so committed to the state of Israel that they move there and, in becoming more and more religious, stop pledging allegiance to the modern state of Israel and take to calling it eretz Yisroel, the land of Israel, because their tradition tells them there cannot be a political state of Israel until the Messiah returns to lead us all into peace.

Simple words change the meaning, change the conversation, divide people.

Think about that next time you craft a sentence. Carefully string the words together and think first of the impact once they are spoken into the air. Will they unite? Or will they divide?

tumblr_mzgrzt4x5v1rikjj8o1_500As my late grandmother used to say, Out of your mouth, printed. Once you speak it, you can’t get it back. It forever changes the course of everything that follows. Words matter more than you can ever imagine.

Bergen Evans, a 20th century American writer and educator, once said, “Words are one of our chief means of adjusting to all the situations of life. The better control we have over words, the more successful our adjustment is likely to be.”

That, and we will win more friends when we use a language of inclusivity and thus be closer to having a chance of actually healing this crazy world.

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Where Do You Sit at the Table

imageThe conference room was empty for my client meeting yesterday, so I flipped the light switch to on and surveyed the table to decide where to sit. As I chose a side chair, passing the head of the table position, which had chairs at either end, I wondered briefly why I didn’t claim that spot.

It’s a common dilemma and one we don’t notice as often as we do it. I’m the public relations consultant. I know my stuff. My client hires me to be an authority counsel, guiding them in growing their exposure in the public and among existing constituents.

So why would I leave the head seat for someone else?

If I were a man, I bet I would have plopped right down at the head of the table.

In fact, research shows that where you sit, determines where you stand. Kick back against the wall and no one will notice you. Claim the head seat and claim it with confidence, and people will pay attention. Blend in with the crowd and that’s exactly what you’ll do.

imageMore women than men leave the head seat open. I’ve seen it with offices, too. A female executive doesn’t push for the biggest office because she doesn’t want to upset anyone, but if she’s the #1 or #2 in the company, shouldn’t it be hers? A man would take it without looking back.

Is it a desire that women have to be liked in the business world? Is it that maternal nurturing instinct rearing its ugly head?

Whatever the reason, I watched myself sidestep the oval-shaped table, navigate all the way around, and plop down in an obscure side seat. I used the chair beside me for my purse and work bag, and when others filed into the conference room to meet, and no one needed that seat, I marveled at the fact that I was taking up two seats but afraid of the one at the head of it all.

Interesting, isn’t it? We want to command attention, but we’re not sure we should. Or that doing so is comfortable. Or deserved. Or earned.

If we don’t take our leadership positions and assert our knowledge, no one else will. So slide into the head seat and make your voice heard. After all, no one’s going to do it for you.

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What Work Is: In Memory of Philip Levine

what-work-is-philip-levinejpg-c2b3dd2eb268173f It’s the running from place to place

gunning a packed schedule

trying to please everyone and never yourself

not having time

or air

or freedom

of choice

 

Work is trudging through feet of snow

in 12 below

and knowing

you can’t possibly go fast enough

your breath clouding in puffs before your face,

sifting off to clouds that seem to never work at all.

 

p-levineSome days, I work so hard I never get the actual work done

and that’s just a fact

of this hamster wheel of life.

 

But then you read a book about survival

during war and you realize all

this is make-work

and you’ve never had to fight

for anything, really,

and you wonder about the work you’ve chosen

and that you even get a choice in the work

is a fantastic luxury.

 

No matter how long the to-do list,

there will always be unfinished

work and you’ll just have to do

what is urgent,

right in front

of you, and trust

that everything will work

out as it should.

 

levine-memoriam-270x345Breathing,

walking,

eating,

that’s not work because we just do it

automatically

but it IS work

when it doesn’t come easy.

The absence of work

is perhaps the cruelest work there is,

no purpose or pursuit,

no passion driving

incredibly long days.

 

To matter,

have a life’s mission,

focus on this one moment,

that’s the hardest work

and the most elusive.

 

After Philip Levine died,

we are left with our own wonderings

about what work is

and perhaps it is an illusion

in the end, setting us on a path

to set us free.

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