Ever since the election of Israel’s new right-wing government, there has been a veritable avalanche of negative comment from the leaders of Jewish communities abroad, primarily from the United States, bemoaning the destruction of Israel’s democracy, disappointment in the Israeli public and even from some, a call to boycott the appearance of right-wing government ministers when they travel abroad.
The latest metastasis of this cancer of negativism (there is really no other term for it) comes from Ansche Chesed, a Conservative synagogue on Manhattan’s tony Upper West Side. There the rabbi has deleted three key words from the Prayer for the Government of Israel, raishit smichat gi’ulateinu and refuses to pray for the welfare of the government.
Hebrew for “the initial sprouting of our redemption,” it’s the signature line from the Prayer for the State of Israel that Jews worldwide have been saying each week since shortly after the modern state was founded almost 75 years ago.
Sadly, and reflecting related statements made by other Jewish leaders in the US since the election, Ansche Chesed’s Rabbi, Jeremy Kalmanofsky, feels he can no longer honestly and with full throat pray for the success of Israel’s leaders, ministers and advisers, as this liturgy calls for, as its new government includes right-wing extremists he considers akin to the Ku Klux Klan.
He is quoted in the Forward as saying: “I don’t hope that this government succeeds; I hope that this government falls and is replaced by something better. I just could not imagine us saying this prayer that their efforts be successful. I think their efforts are dastardly.”
Full disclosure here if you will. I voted for one of the left of center parties that did not make it into the coalition, although I understand the fear on the right for the security of our country that propelled the majority to vote in a different way. I am also disappointed in many of the statements that have come forth from the most right-wing elements of the coalition and deplore the elevation of Aryeh Deri to be a Minister in any government after two convictions for financial fraud, let alone be Minister of Finance. But I support the democratic process, recognize that this was the will of the people, and pray, yes pray, that the present government will fail and the populace will come back to its sense.
But comparing this government to the Klan? The Klan who physically tormented (primarily) blacks, but took care of their share of Jews and Catholics as well? The Klan who pillaged, raped and murdered at will while making the lives of those they disagreed with pure hell? This is the comparison made by a reputedly staunch, lifelong Zionist – a liberal Zionist, as most American Jews would describe themselves, but also a religious Zionist, in the sense of seeing a Jewish homeland in the holy land as a fulfillment of a fundamental tenet of our faith? Shame on him!!! How dare he and others talk about Israel in such terms.
Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinions, no question about it. But the community leadership is duty bound to be extra careful as to how they convey their opinions as not everyone will stop and read the fine print, as it were.
The State of Israel is very much raishit smichat gi’ulateinu, the initial sprouting of our redemption, and something our ancestors dreamt about for 2,000 years. We here are not perfect to be sure. But what has been built here in 75 years is testament to the commitment of those who labored hard and long to prove that this time we will retain our sovereignty. We have to work hard on that, mistakes have been made along the way, we have treated some people less equal than others, but Israel has very much lived up to the hopes that are expressed in the Prayer for the State of Israel.
Here in Jerusalem, in the large synagogue located next door to the President’s residence, that I have the pleasure of serving as President, we continue to say this prayer every shabbat and holiday. There is no attempt to change the wording even though many of us disagree with the position of a number of government ministers. Because what we all do agree on is that for all Jews, those living here and those who have made the choice to remain abroad, the existence of a vibrant and successful Israel is elemental to the long-term survival of our people.
History has taught us that the pendulum always swings back after it gets too far to one side or the other and things will get better in the end. And because things are not better yet, it is, therefore, simply not the end. Let us hope that notwithstanding the anger and disappointment that has bubbled up in the diaspora Jewish community, that the general populace will see today’s news on balance as an ugly blip on a superior record of achievement of which we can all be proud, even within the framework of the present government. History has taught us that we cannot do otherwise.