MERCAZ USA New Year's E-Letter for 5771

May 2011 Happy 63rd Birthday to the State of Israel! Iyar 5771

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MERCAZ USA is the Zionist membership organization of the Conservative Movement, the voice of Conservative Jewry within the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Zionist Movement and the Jewish National Fund to support religious pluralism in Israel and strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. Click here
to learn how MERCAZ USA's involvement in the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel benefits the entire Conservative Movement.
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Looking to join an organized trip to Israel? Click here for a list of upcoming Conservative Movement synagogue trips for 2011.

In honor of Israel's 63rd anniversary, MERCAZ USA reminds congregations about "Across the Aisle", a dramatization of Zionist issues that was produced last year by Rabbi Robert Binder. Prepared in cooperation with the American Zionist Movement, the program is ideal for use in synagogue services, high school and adult education classrooms and Sisterhood and Men's Clubs meetings. Click here to download the program.

Masorti worshippers leaving the Beit Yisrael congregation in Netanya for several Friday nights leading up to Passover were the target of stone-throwing attacks by youths dressed in ultra-Orthodox attire, apparently bent on scaring the congregants into leaving the city. The incidents come on the heels of a Reform synagogue in Ra'anana being vandalized, also before Pesah, with the synagogue's windows smashed and its walls defaced with graffiti. For more information, go to

Join together with fellow Conservative Jewish students from all over the world at the Conservative Yeshiva's Summer Program. The summer program at the Conservative Yeshiva, which is located at the USCJ's Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem, is geared to college and university students, recent grads, adult Jewish learners, synagogue members and day school parents, as well as Jewish communal leaders and Jewish educators. Two sessions, July 3–21 and July 24–August 11, are being offered. Click here for more information.

At the end of June, unless things change dramatically, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli MIA, will be marking the completion of five years in captivity, since his being seized by Hamas terrorists along the border with the Gaza Strip. We must do everything we can to release Gilad now so that he won't have to "celebrate" this terrible anniversary. Two new efforts, "Pidyon Shvu'im" and "", have been launched recently calling for messages to be sent, the former to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the latter to Gilad himself. Click here for more information about Pidyon Shvu'im. Click here for Other helpful websites on Shalit include KOACH and the American Zionist Movement.

United Synagogue is working in partnership with the Jewish National Fund so that when you plant a tree in Israel, programs can bloom at home as well. When one of its affiliated synagogues joins the program and puts a JNF-supplied link on its website, 20 percent of the cost of anything bought or donated on the page that the link takes you to – of course including trees! – will come back to the congregation, and another 5 percent will go to United Synagogue. Monies earned by USCJ will go to seed or support congregational programs about Israel. Email Amanda Levine at or call her at 516-678-6805 at ext. 135, for more information.

The Abayudaya Congregation, headed by Rabbi Gerhsom Sizomu, a recent graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, is looking to receive Harlow Machzorim in good condition for use during the upcoming High Holidays. Click here for more information about the community.

Since shipping costs to Uganda are high (approximately $8-12 per book) and the Abayudaya community and their supporters are unable to reimburse these costs, individuals and congregations looking to help the Masorti community in Uganda, are being asked to donate just 10 books and cover the shipping expenses.

If interested in participating in this campaign, please contact Rabbi Robert Scheinberg of the United Synagogue of Hoboken, NJ ( or Barbara Vinick of Kulanu ( The mailing address for the congregation is Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, Abayudaya Congregation, P.O. Box 225, Mbale, Uganda.


[Ed: The following article is by Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, in The Jewish Week, from Tuesday, May 3, 2011]

I'd like to make a wish for this year's observance of Israel's birthday: that we Jews of North America suspend heated argument over Israel's policies for a time; do our best, as well, to stave off anxiety about Israel's prospects; and allow ourselves – whatever adjective we place in front of the word "Jew" in our identity – to savor the blessing of being alive at this unique moment in Jewish history and experience.

Let's give ourselves permission to appreciate, without sacrifice of critical faculties or intellectual integrity, how much better Jewish life and the practice of Judaism have become in our generation thanks to Israel's existence and achievements.

Let's affirm clearly and without equivocation – no matter what or how strong our opinions about settlements, Palestinian intentions, or the virtues of the chief rabbinate – that our connection to the State of Israel and its citizens is fundemental, non-negotiable and unbreakable.

Let's find a way to defend the security and legitimacy of Israel without attacking other Jews – particularly younger Jews – whose positions or doubts about how best to achieve that goal disagree substantially from our own.

Israel is the single greatest project the Jewish people has going right now and, in the last two millenia, the most important arena that has ever been available to put our Jewish values to the test and our Jewish teachings into practice. We need it. And it needs us.

That is the heart of the matter for me. I am a political Zionist who believes that the survival and thriving of Jews in the world, including here in America, depend upon the existence and vitality of the State of Israel. I am a cultural Zionist who believes that the flowering of Jewish civilization in the world depends upon close interaction with the "spiritual center" of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. And I am a religious Zionist who is convinced that Jews are heirs to a unique story that we are responsible for carrying forward and – because of history, tradition, and faith – partners in a covenant aimed at bringing more justice and compassion to the world.

For me, the description of Israel as "the beginning of the flowering of our redemption" is a prayer, not a factual claim; it reminds us that, as partners to convenant, we Jews have work to do. The sovereign, democratic State of Israel affords unprecedented scope and responsibility for the fulfillment of convenant – the chance to apply the teachings of Jewish tradition to unprecedented circumstances and to join the very best of Jewish philosophy with modern thought and expertise in every arena: health care and education, foreign policy and the welfare system, treatment of non-Jewish minorities, relations of war and peace, and proper stewardship of the planet's resources.

Israel's impact, in some respects, has been extraordinary. In other areas, its failings are glaring. The difficulty that Jews and gentiles have in forgiving Israel's sins and shortcomings testifies to the unusually high standards and expectations brought to bear where Israel is concerned. Jews deeply want the state – which represents Judaism in their eyes – to do right and are sickened when it does wrong. Many Christians regard Jews as the people of God, returned with God's help to God's Holy Land and obligated to live up to the demands of God's Holy Scripture. Some individuals and nations, of course, sorely want to see the State fail and disappear. Israel has enemies. Jews everywhere have the obligation to do our best to guard the chances for success and bring hatikvah, the hope of covenant, to fulfillment.

How can we do that? I want to propose three steps toward the renewed consensus among Jews in North America that I believe are essential both to Israel and to us.

First, let's do a better job of learning about and talking with Israelis. Both sides have a share in the inadequacy of communication at present. Diverging histories (and ignorance of history) do not help. The gap is exacerbated by differences of language, ethos, political system, and religious patterns. These differences make dialogue between us all the more important. When Israeli government officials write off diaspora communities as doomed to disappear; when Israel's rabbinic establishment denies the legitimacy of the Judaism I practice and discriminates against the Jews in Israel who affiliate and practice as I do, I feel still greater urgency to talk through our differences. I am convinced we can be partners in putting "facts on the ground" that help fulfill the covenant and make Israel a state that palpably belongs to all of us.

Second, let's do a better job, as North American Jews, of talking with one another about Israel. Civil discourse has broken down in the United States Congress and, where Israel is concerned, in many synagogues. I suspect the reason for our growing intolerance of each other's dissent is a combination of hopelessness about the prospects for peace and fear that any criticism of government policy gives aid and comfort to Israel's enemies. The latter danger is real; I do not minimize it. But we need to talk with one another honestly about Israel, the single greatest Jewish concern of our times. We should not banish any Jews — especially younger Jews — from Jewish tables, nor make them feel that they have no place in our community because their views on Israel seem heretical or their criticism untempered. We need to cut ourselves a little slack where Israel is concerned. Let's trust Jewish leaders to use community agencies and forums responsibly and help individual Jews, including college students, to develop their own reasons for standing with Israel.

Third, let's make sure that our future lay and professional leaders have every chance to know the wonderful, bewildering, changing-by-the-day reality of Israel – and so come to love it, each in his or her own way. The Jewish Theological Seminary now sends its rabbinical students not so much to study in Israel for a year as to study Israel in Israel, and to learn how to transmit to others the knowledge and love they have acquired or deepened. At our New York campus, we have placed Israel front and center with programs nearly every week of the year.

These days, it is all too easy for Jews to believe that there can somehow be Judaism without Jews: a Judaism of spirituality, devoid of the claims of peoplehood, collective memory and state. Others, particularly in Israel, believe that there can be Jews without Judaism – that ethnic or national identity is self-sufficient, without transcendent ethical or religious ideals to give purpose to Jewish existence. Both paths, I think, lead Jews nowhere and certainly take us far from covenant. Israel, on the other hand, provides options for fulfillment as yet unexplored, a hope for Jews and humanity that we dare not consign to cynicism or despair.

Let's embrace that hope – and get to work.

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