Report from Israel

August 28, 2015

Other News

Having spent parts of June and July in Israel, the land in which I had the privilege to grow up, I was exposed once again to the vibrancy of Israeli society and democracy at the time of great and dangerous tumult in the Middle East.

Obviously the “deal” with Iran topped headlines in a country where everyone is involved in the political scene, along with profound convictions, every cab driver an expert and every tour guide a war hero. Just about everyone is deeply concerned that the deep holes in the Iranian agreement bode ill for Israel and the United States, with no trust in a state run by religious fanatics who sponsor the world’s largest network of terrorism. After all, a nuclear Iran is a mortal threat to Israel (“Little Satan, America is “Big Satan”), as well as a troubling reality to the Sunni Arab states. The growing presence of ISIS on Israel’s borders is a formidable concern challenging the IDF.

What emerges from what feisty Prime Minister Netanyahu has characterized as a “bad deal,” is an Iran inevitably becoming a nuclear power armed with ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel, the release of billions of dollars that will further fuel and sustain Hezballah and Hamas, allowing for the Syrian dictator and mass murderer, Bashar Assad, to remain in power.

The first anniversary of the Gaza War was a reminder of an enemy using its own civilians as human shields and engaging in digging attack tunnels to reach the Israeli population. I was in Israel a year ago, witness to terrorizing rockets raining on Israel’s cities with its people’s incredible heroism, resolution and restraint. Of course, Israel mourns its dead, civilians and military, with a profound Jewish regard for the sanctity of human life, which its adversaries abhor.

The observed 10th anniversary of the controversial disengagement from Gaza under Prime Minister Sharon is a wound not yet healed, raising trying questions affecting Israel’s unity and soul.

Netanyahu’s narrow coalition government with a majority of just one vote in the Knesset, is a prescription for potential instability. The ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas Party was given charge of the Ministry of Religious Affairs with Minister David Azoulay, reversing to the chagrin of many, the previous administration’s hailed reform of conversion (Giur) procedures. In addition, Reform Jews were slighted, Conservative Jews belittled and some Orthodox rabbis not respected. The ultimate solution to this long-standing and intolerable state of affairs is the separation of Synagogue and State in Israel. Without it, Israel’s democracy is lacking, its internal front weakened, its most vital bond with American Jewry fractured and Judaism itself debased.

The unrest in the Ethiopian community is also alarming. The list of grievances needs to be addressed while acknowledging accomplishments. There is much discussion and disagreement on how to handle the promising large off-shore natural gas deposits.

Otherwise, all is well in our beloved Israel. I surely enjoyed my mother’s East European cuisine along with falafel and shwarma on the street. I totally immersed myself in my native Hebrew tongue (I came to Chicago 49 years ago!), schmoozing a lot and buying new books from the flourishing Israeli literary field.

I took a side trip with a group of lively Israeli tourists to Germany (where I spent my early childhood, 1947–1949), France and Switzerland enjoying the beauty of The Black Forest and the Rhine’s waterfalls, but also being reminded of a long Jewish presence of both pain and perseverance, culminating in the devastating Holocaust. In the town of Tubingen, we were treated to a unique experience of a German church group whose mission is to ask forgiveness from Jews for the sins of the grandfathers during WWII . The group organizes Marches of the Living and pro-Israeli rallies.

Am Yisrael Chai! Our people Israel proudly endures.

by Rabbi Israel Zoberman

Letter to the Editor