On this 9th day of Elul, 5779, I am sitting at my desk in NYC. Since Hurricane Dorian, autumnal weather has descended upon the East Coast. Not only is it cooler and cloudier, the news of the past week has been utterly glum, as the Demagogue in the White House continues his lies about the weather. While reasonable people can disagree about many matters of public concern, there is no doubt that we can all agree on the weather. That Trump cannot admit a mistake, is devoid of the ability to say “I am sorry” in a matter of pure meteorological fact, is more than distressing. Never did I think I would see American democracy so fundamentally challenged.
In a way that resonates of yet another “sacred synchronicity,” Israeli democracy is facing a crisis of Her own. While I no longer have a residence in Jerusalem, as a passionate Zionist I feel deeply connected to the Jewish State. Like the poet Yehuda Halevi, while my body is the “West/UWS”, my heart is in Israel, especially now as the citizens of the Jewish State prepare to participate in yet another national election.
Nine years ago, when I created “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song,” I knew it was just a matter of time until the clash between Democratic Values and Public Jewish Law became a matter of great concern for both the residents of the State of Israel and Zionists around the world. That Avigdor Lieberman, representing the voice of the great modern Aliyah from the Former Soviet Union, blocked the formation of a Likud-led government based on that clash is proof positive that this issue matters. On this question of whether Israelis care if the Jewish State is a healthy Modern Jewish Democracy, David Horovitz writes in his September 8 Op/Ed, “Some lament the fracturing of relations with a large part of Diaspora Jewry, and Netanyahu’s refusal to curb the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over religious practice here and the governmental cold shoulder to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.” I remember well when David and I publicly clashed at an AIPAC Policy Conference in the early years of the SRSS Project as he challenged my vocal concern on just these two issues. If social change is meant to happen, it will happen – the progress of the Modern Jewish Democracy Movement is proof of that. How proud I am to be a part of the UJA-Federation of New York’s Israeli Judaism committee that is empowering many non-governmental organizations that are doing the hard work of social change on Holy Ground.
Despite having a Jerusalem home for 19 years, I never took Israeli citizenship; in other words, I never held the right to vote in Israel. Yet, like many, I care deeply about the future of the Jewish State, on both a personal and communal level. I know that my children and grandchildren will return and settle there, fulfilling a dream I had when I purchased the apartment on Derech Bethlehem 20 years ago. Yet, if Bibi is given the opportunity to be Prime Minister yet again, in the face of the facts found by the Israeli judicial system and reported by the Israeli press, what kind of Israel will Shira, Molly and Akiva grow up in? If the government of the State of Israel fails to respect the voices of All Jews, regardless of Adjective, what kind of Public Jewish Law will govern the public spaces of Israel? When I stood with the Women of the Wall 9 years ago, when I celebrated the legal victories of WOW, could I have imagined that this battle for religious equality would still be raging and that the Prime Minister would support the ultra-Orthodox? Could I have imagined an Israel that values the right to free speech barring two Members of the US House of Representatives from visiting? At this point in our histories, which democratic values are we, the US and Israel, actually sharing? In other words, what has happened to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion in the Jewish State?
For the sake of Our Future, the course of current events in the Jewish State must change. It is time for new leadership to begin a new chapter in Our Story. We, the Jewish People, deserve much better. The great sacred experiment that is the modern State of Israel demands much better. Whether this happens is in the hands of the Israeli voter, with some Divine Guidance. With that thought, while I have no vote, I certainly have a voice and so I offer this prayer:
May the modern State of Israel become a place where truth, justice and equality reign supreme, no matter the weather.