On Wednesday late afternoon, I was one of the Handmaids standing outside the offices of the Tikvah Fund in NYC, silently protesting the proposed overhaul of the judicial system in the Modern Jewish Democratic State of Israel. As an American Jew deeply connected to Israel, I know I have not only the right but the obligation to raise my voice in deep concern over the state of affairs in the Jewish State. I’ve been doing this since I joined the Young Leadership Cabinet of what was then the UJA, now the JFNA in 1991. And I certainly learned how to do that as Chairman of Partnership 2000, the Jewish Agency project that connects the Cleveland Jewish Federation and Beit Shean. So it was that on Shushan Purim 5783 I stood in silent solidarity with the People of Israel who live in this corner of the Diaspora. Later today, I will resume my usual form of loud and proud protest in Washington Square Park as I rally in support of an Israel that reflects the Prophetic Vision upon which She is built and that so many American Jews have invested in for so many years.
My connection to Israel began with my grandfather’s birth in Jerusalem, Palestine, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. While Pop’s family left Palestine for New York when he was a young boy, his identity as a native born Son of Israel filled him with great pride. While he and Gram only visited Israel once, I was raised on my blood bond with the State of Israel. When I took my first trip to Israel in 1979 under the auspices of the American Zionist Youth Foundation (i.e., the Jewish Agency), Pop’s first cousin Tzvi and his wife Guela from Petah Tikvah met me at the airport with chocolate and flowers! I smile knowing that my organizational bonds to the Jewish State are totally tangled up with my family relationships as well as the meaningful friendships I cultivated throughout the decades of life in Jerusalem. My depth of knowledge, concern and love for the State of Israel stem from both my family story and the amazing experiences I was blessed to have as a lay leader of affluence. That the President of the State of Israel, Isaac “Boogie” Herzog knows the power of the People of Israel through his prior work as Head of the Agency, fills me with a sliver of hope during these very dark days for Israel’s civil society.
When I joined with the Women of the Wall on Rosh Hodesh Av 5770 to thank the Divine for a new month at the Kotel, I sensed that one day this horrible moment in Israel’s civil society would come. From 2010 through 2016, I presented “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song” Concerts of Concern throughout the United States and Israel. Through songs and spoken word, the show sheds light on the conflicts arising in the State of Israel from the imposition of very traditional Jewish law in public space. It saddens me that there is need to produce these concerts again, but it is clear, American Jews who care about a healthy, vibrant, State of Israel need to raise their voices and need to raise their voices NOW.
At today’s rally in Washington Square Park, I hope to share the new lyric for “Sh’ma Yisrael – Listen Israel.” This song which I wrote with my dear friend Naomi Less, is the call to action moment of the SRSS Concerts. Protest movements need music to keep the spirit alive. We offer this song to Lovers of Israel who want to be involved in the serious conversation about what it means to have a Modern Jewish Democratic State of Israel. It is truly my hope, haTikvah sheli, that we can find a way to sing this song together, loudly and proudly, giving President Herzog the strength and courage to continue showing the brave and moral leadership worthy of one who leads our modern day Miracle in the Making.
What is a democracy, in this Land we call Holy?
What values matter? What do we share with pride?
This tribe of ours we have a mission, guided by Prophetic Vision.
Let’s claim our essence, let’s stand Side by Side.
Sh’ma Yisrael, l’chol Am Yisrael. Sh’ma l’kolot Yisrael, l’chol am Yisrael.