Kol Nidre 2015 – Strengthening our Family Story

Rabbi Rachel Ain – September 22, 2015
This summer I had the experience of a lifetime.
I was one of 18 Rabbis who was invited to Israel by AIPAC
Though I have been to Israel many times, this trip was …unique.
We listened, toured, thought, argued, cried, anguished, and celebrated our extraordinary Jewish home.

And then we were given the amazing opportunity to visit the
National Archives of Israel annex in Jerusalem.
The building was non-descript- but what we saw inside made our eyes tear,
Our hearts beat, and our minds go into overdrive.
Try to understand how you would feel if you were there.
We saw the United Nations’ voting sheet from November 1947, tallying the countries that voted for or against the creation of the State of Israel. At the bottom of this page were the signatures of Abba Eban, Golda Meir, and David Ben Gurion.

It was so exciting to see the signed letter from President Harry Truman, recognizing the State of Israel, the first Head of State to do so- that I had to take a picture of it.
Imagine looking at the actual pictures of different suggested illustrations for what the new Israeli flag should look like.
And then we were brought down to earth when we saw the handwritten German manuscript by Adolph Eichman, from his trial in the State of Israel written during his time in jail. He had created an org chart to show that he was “just following orders.”

And then I could hardly believe it when I saw one of six original, signed copies of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, signed by Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, and Jimmy Carter on March 26, 1979.
And then (Pause….)
And then….we were shown the black gun and bullet that killed Prime Minister Rabin.
The instrument that killed a(OUR) Great and beloved Leader, a leader about whom I spoke (about?) on Rosh Hashanah.

The archives had a profound (and deep) effect on me.
On all of us there…

We left quietly, wordlessly
thinking about what it means to be a Jew… a proud Jew living in the Diaspora
but with our souls always tied to our homeland.

My thoughts turned to the constant struggles of our people throughout our
Five Thousand Seven Hundred and seventy six years of history
and brought me back to Hayom

Who, What and Where are we at this minute? (Pause)

Who tells our people’s story? (PAUSE)

What does our partnership with Israel look like? (Pause)

Do we have the responsibility and the authority to help shape Israel’s future or does it belong to Israel alone? (Pause)

I certainly believe that this is a shared venture. Whether we live inside or outside of the land, a connection to Israel, has always been and must always be strong. We see ourselves in the stories of the pioneers and we proudly celebrate (as we have watched ) watching the desert BLOOM.
Those items in the National Archives don’t just belong to those in Israel, if they did, we wouldn’t have been brought there to see them.
And yet, how can we understand each other better, and strengthen a relationship that sometimes appears frayed?
During the trip we were introduced to a variety of speakers-from members of Knesset, including the head of the Arab party, to a man doing tzedek work in Nepal, to Saeb Erakat at a hotel in Ramallah, to the head of peace now, to a start up community called Rawabi in the Palestinian areas.

One of the most captivating speakers was Yossi. Yossi Klein HaLevi, a prolific, brilliant writer, teacher, and speaker, who spoke here at Sutton Place Synagogue (JUST) two years ago!

Yossi spoke about the deal with Iran, and in a sobering conversation, it was clear that he feels there is major work to be done between US Jewry and Israeli Jewry for he felt that there is often a deep misunderstanding between the two major Jewish communities in the world.
At a time when it it is very difficult to find a unified voice on Anything in Israel, virtually all of Israel, from right to left, were united that the proposed deal with Iran was a bad one.

Sadly, in the conversation with Yossi, it was clear that he was bereft at this gulf that he perceived between Israeli and US Jewry. Now, he recognized that it wasn’t all about Iran. There are a number of issues that are troubling-issues that need to be explained to each side. And so he said: the Israeli Jewish community needs to remind the US Jewish community not to be naïve
and the US Jewish community needs to remind the Israeli Jewish community not to be brutal.

Though a stinging statement, (pause ) on both sides,
it was worth unpacking then
and it is worth unpacking this evening.
There WAS ,
there IS
something for us to learn from each other,
and it is crucial.



There never has been unity in the Jewish world and we can probably all agree that there never will be full consensus. The fact is, that we can agree to disagree on areas of policy
we are a worldwide, global Jewish family,
and we must be able to treat those with whom we disagree,
even vehemently,

And there are three areas in particular that are very present to us in the Jewish world that have been discussed lately
and sadly, not in a very Jewish way.

Jewish Identity,
and Jewish Extremism.

We need to talk about Iran;
We need to talk about religious pluralism
and the lack of it in Israel;
And we need to talk about the growing religious extremists
on the fringes of Israeli society
who are ebbing their way in.
To Yossi, the American Jewish community seemed to be displaying naiveté with regard to the Iran deal.
Of course he wasn’t speaking about everyone,
but his feeling of loneliness was profoundly present

He was surprised that so many in the US do not see this as an existential threat to Israel (and other places).
Then, Yossi said
After all the arguments are made,
after all the politicking and back room deals and phones calls are completed,
all we are left with is our instincts.
And so
If a person’s instincts is that this is a good deal, then the results that the deal will pass will come as a relief.
For others, and I include myself, whose instincts make us gravely concerned about this deal, we are still very much on edge:
• I believe the deal in its current form is dangerous to the world because of the money that Iran will get to sponsor terror
• I am concerned that the set up for the inspections and sanctions will not be implemented.
• We have given Iran a prime spot on the world stage and have validated their politics despite what we know about them.

(softly) But I am a rabbi and not a political scientist or a uranium specialist…so, let me focus on what really concerns me
REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOU STAND ON THE DEAL HOWEVER: IT IS ALSO the seams in the Jewish community are coming apart and the relationship with Israel is fractured.
The name calling in both directions has been horrific.
I am afraid that if we speak past each other, we will weaken our strong US-Israel relationship.
The fact that teachers of mine, teachers that I believe to be true lovers of Israel and teachers of Torah have been called Self-hating Jews because of their support for the deal is HORRIFIC!
And on the flip side, that people in opposition to the deal are being called War Mongers because they are calling out what they see,
as flaws that cannot be overcome,
This is not a way to engage in a relationship and is not a way to support Israel.
It is clear that the deal will go through-

so NOW we need to figure out how to talk to one another
show our support to Israel
because many Israelis are feeling profoundly alone at this moment.
When we met with Rabbi Danny Gordis during the trip,
he shared his concern about Israel’s loneliness and isolation from the world regarding to the Iran deal that was announced the week of the 9th of Av.
He taught:
It will be fitting, wherever we may be on the 9th of Av,
to fast, to mourn, to begin to chant the Book of Lamentations
(Slowly) “Alas, lonely sits the city, once great with people.
She, once great among the nations, has become like a widow.”
Israel feels abandoned.
So what must WE do?
We cannot abandon Israel.
We need to be in a relationship with Israelis.
And they need to be in relationship with us because we need to hold each other accountable.
Israelis want it-I hear it.
And they need it and us.
And we need them!
And so just as they can and should critique the American Jewish community-or at least those in the Jewish community that they believe don’t understand the danger of this deal,
a strong relationship,
one of dialogue and thoughtful reproach,
can work both ways.
When people love each other deeply,
which our communities do,
we need to be able to challenge each other,
even when we disagree with the other’s behavior.
This is of course what true teshuva is all about.
As Yossi said:
Israel must be reminded not to be brutal.
That at the end of this,
when the deal passes
we will have a major concern about how Israel will be perceived on the world stage .
SO YES-we must speak up for Israel,
for democracy,
and for safety when it comes to Iran,
we, Israeli and American Jews
We must celebrate the best of Israel.
But it is ok to offer critique when Israel doesn’t reflect what we know are foundational principals of
and democracy.
Israel is the heart and soul of the Jewish people,
It must aspire to behave the way it was founded-
the way it was reflected in those documents on the table that filled me with awe.

In the last year alone,
there have been horrible incidents, yes just some,
but incidents nonetheless,
in Israel that in no way reflect OUR Jewish values.
How can it be that Reform and Conservative Jews can live in Israel and die in Israel serving in the IDF
but then the minister of the Interior says they aren’t Jewish?
How can it be that colleagues of mine in Israel can’t officiate weddings?
How can it be that mosques are being burned in Northern Israel by Jewish extremists?
And Palestinian homes are being firebombed?
What is happening within Israeli society to cultivate this hate?
“We” are speaking up.
All of us-

In Israel and in America!
(FASTER here)
When the victims of the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade were stabbed, the Chief Rabbi went to visit them.
When an 18 month old Palestinian baby was burned, people from throughout the political spectrum in Israel, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, spoke out against it.
But we are not done
. There is so much work that needs to be done for the soul of Israel.
We need a body ….. and we need a soul …..and we need to function in concert with one another.
As Rabbi Hillel said
If I am not for myself who will be for ME
but if I am only for myself, what am I?
Now is the time to reconcile our ideas and our relationships both within Israel and around the world.

The most powerful self-condemnation of Israel this summer following the stabbing at the pride parade and the arson attack on a Palestinian baby, was Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party for Knesset.
We are at war. …. the IDF is going to war against the enemy
. Only this time the enemy is from here,
from inside,
from within us.
And they’re trying –
like the enemy always tries –
to destroy the State of Israel.

We won’t let that happen.
This isn’t a war between right and left
but between the sane Israeli center and the lunatic fringes.
We are at war!
For the future,
for Zionism,
for our existence.
And like every one of Israel’s wars,
we cannot afford to lose.

These two major Jewish communities don’t always see eye to eye,
but we are spiritually connected, we must reconcile.
I believe WE CAN and I know

When I walked in the national archives,
I felt I was at home in a profound way.(whisper/)

We need to understand that our homeland of the Jewish people is open to all of us and we need to be a part of it together.
And that is why this is so important during this time of year.
On Kol Nidre.
When we recall our failings.
For it is now that we engage in teshuva,
In acts of introspection.
We look deeply at what is dividing us
and we need to work hard to come together.
We know that these issues are often compounded by the lack of involvement and knowledge on both sides.
People listen to the channels they want to
and read the papers they agree with
without acknowledging that there can be truths throughout the political and religious spectrum.
The prophet Jeremiah warned the Jewish people of the danger of our destroyers coming from within.
Our people cannot afford to be further splintered.
As Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove recently said,
“Think what you want,
argue and advocate with passion,
but do not contribute to the fraying of the fabric of our people.”

This is the time that we need to talk. New conversations must be had,
new relationships must be formed,
and a commitment to our global Jewish family
and the values that we share will be in tact
and we,
as individuals
and as a synagogue
need to be committed in our relationship with Israel
and that is why we need to look towards the year ahead.

• It is why I am so proud to be representing the Conservative movement as a delegate at the World Zionist Congress this October in Jerusalem, on the Mercaz slate.
The 37th World Zionist Congress, comes almost 120 years after Theodore Herzl, gathered about 200 Jewish leaders to discuss the condition of the Jewish People.

• It is why we at SPS are partnering with the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and other synagogues here in NYC this year
to sponsor a speaker series about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;

• It is why I will be teaching another adult education course this year through the I-Engage program, called The Tribes of Israel.

• It is why we are bringing former Member of Knesset, Einat Wilf,
to speak at SPS on Oct 31 about her vision of Zionism;
and on November 2, Ambassador Martin Indyk will be here to explain the geopolitical situation on the ground today in the Middle East.
• It is why we bring a delegation from SPS to the AIPAC policy conference where we celebrate a strong and secure US-Israel Relationship-
• I hope that all of you will consider joining me this year.

The Fact is:
We can’t talk about Israel if we don’t understand what is going on in Israel.
And we certainly can’t have a relationship with Israelis if we don’t open ourselves up to hearing their stories.


I want to share a reflection on one more item that I saw this summer.
Everywhere we went, there were mezuzot-from the doors of the checkpoints from Bethlehem
to the doors of the national archives, the Knesset, and even doors of hotel rooms.
A clear reminder that this is a Jewish state.
I proudly touched them everywhere I went and it connected me to my past, present, and future.
I was home.,,
But with that comes the reminder that we must treat those who walk through OUR doors, equally.
As we are told, over THIRTY SIX times in the Torah, !!!
We were once strangers
so WE must treat the stranger well.
When we see those mezuzahs they are there to inspire JUSTICE
Let US
both communities,
think about what we can do!

Having a relationship, especially a long distance one, is not easy, but I KNOW it is worth fighting for.
The work begins now. ..
The work begins here. ..
The work begins with us….
For our family’s story depends on it.

G’mar Chatima Tova.