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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 for our mission statement. Click here to (re)join for the current 2010-2011 fiscal year.
IN THIS ISSUE:
— FEATURE STORY
Rabbi Robert Golub (left) marching with the staff of the American Zionist Movement at the 2010 NYC Salute to Israel Parade
SYNAGOGUE TRIPS TO ISRAEL
Looking to join an organized trip to Israel? Click here for a list of upcoming Conservative Movement synagogue trips for 2010-2011. Click here for a list of different short-term and long-term programs to Israel.
CONVERSION BILL PULLED UNDER DIASPORA PRESSURE
After weeks of intense lobbying, Diaspora Jewish leaders from the Conservative and Reform Movements, plus those from the Jewish federation system, succeeded in forcing Prime Minister Netanyahu to withdraw support for the proposed Conversion legislation introduced by MK David Rotem of the Yisrael Beitenu Party and to prevent the bill from being presented to the entire Knesset before the end of the summer session. Click here for the Conservative Movement letter of support to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Click here for background information about the Rotem bill which would consolidate control over conversions in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and which may be reintroduced during the Knesset's winter session starting in mid-October.
HELP THE ABAYUDAYA COMMUNITY
The worldwide Conservative/Masorti Movement, led by Masorti Olami, has undertaken to develop youth leadership within the Abayudaya community in Uganda by sending two young leaders to the NOAM UK Summer Camp. Click here to read a report about the community. Click here and enter "Abayudaya Youth" in the dedication field if you would like to contribute to the campaign.
PROJECT RECONNECT'S ONLINE ISRAEL STORE:
Project Reconnect, United Synagogue's alumni organization, has recently opened an online Israel store featuring a large selection of Israeli-made projects. This is a great way to support Israel and the Conservative Movement. Click here to begin shopping.
JNF'S FOREST FIRE EMERGENCY CAMPAIGN
This summer, there has been a rash of forest fires that have been plaguing Israel. Arson is suspected in many cases, and conditions ripe for forest fires have worsened due to Israel's severe heat wave. Crews have been working around the clock to extinguish them. Donate here to help the Jewish National Fund with recovery and reforestation. Click here to support Israel's firefighters.
LEADERSHIP DELEGATION TO ISRAEL IN SUPPORT OF WOMEN OF THE WALL
Monday, November 8th, marks the one-year anniversary of the Women of the Wall's Rosh Hodesh service at which Nofrat Frenkel, the Masorti-affiliated medical student, was arrested at the Kotel for praying with tallit and holding a sefer torah. The West Coast "WOW" Organizing Committee is calling for supporters from North America to meet in Israel on Monday, November 8th and join this year's Rosh Hodesh Kislev service in support of Women of the Wall. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a campaign underway to gather 10,000 photographs of women holding Torah scrolls to send to Prime Minister Netanyahu and other key Israeli leaders. Click here for more information.
GZA'S GREEN ISRAEL SUMMIT
Join the Green Zionist Alliance, MERCAZ USA partners in MERCAZ Olami, and fellow Jewish environmentalists (ages 18-40) at the fourth annual Green Israel Summit, taking place October 8-10 at Eden Village Camp, just north of New York City. Click here for more information about the Shabbat retreat which is co-sponsored by COEJL: The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the American Zionist Movement and Hazon.
OP-ED: ISRAEL: FROM ELUSIVE UTOPIA TO INSPIRED REALITY
(Article by Rabbi Alan Silverstein, originally published in JTA, June 29, 2010)
During the recent World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Professor Micah Goodman of the Hebrew University presented an illuminating assessment of post-Zionism and anti-Zionism. Goodman observed that the second generation of classic Zionist thinkers — from the socialist Zionist Yosef Haim Brenner to the cultural Zionist Ahad Ha'Am to the religious Zionist Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook — envisioned a future Jewish state in Utopian terms.
Utopian thinking offers a fantasy, a hope that all of life's problems will disappear. Utopianism secularizes messianic expectations for the end of human history and imagines a world devoid of any imperfections.
Yet as noted at the congress by Israeli historian Yaakov Talmon, the danger of Utopian political thinking is that if only the perfect is worthwhile, then anything that is imperfect — such as the modern-day State of Israel — is worthless.
Measured against the dream of a Jewish state in which there are no criminals, no corrupt politicians, no unethical soldiers and no political compromises, the real Israel will always fail.
By contrast, other nations are not held to high standards at all. While Israel is condemned for its "occupation" of Gaza, strategy on dealing with the Gaza-bound flotilla, defense against Palestinian terrorism and reticence toward Palestinian statehood, Turkey is given a free pass for its occupation of northern Cyprus, its opposition to an independent Kurdistan for 25 million Kurds and its military approach toward the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party. In the past month alone, Turkey has killed more than 100 members of this separatist group.
The world's lack of interest in Turkey's anti-Kurdish policies assumes that Turkey is entitled to a military defense against threats to national security. By contrast, Israel was condemned immediately when nine militant members of the Turkish IHH group were killed aboard one of the boats in the Gaza-bound flotilla.
Israel is judged not merely by a double standard but by the Utopian standards of the early Zionist thinkers. In this view, Israel is entitled to defend the lives of citizens only without the use of military force.
Goodman urges that contemporary Zionists replace the Utopian thinking of the 1920s with the kind of moral realism that can be found in, of all places, the Bible. The Bible envisions a just society within the Holy Land, but not a perfect society. It mandates court systems to protect the vulnerable and punish the criminal. Its heroes are not paragons of perfection. Moses, David and Solomon sin; their greatness reflects ethical growth, repentance and renewal. The ethos of America captures this with its aspiration toward "a more perfect union," not "the perfect union."
Zionism should not see Israel as the total solution for all Jewish problems. Instead, it offers a healthy change in the status of the Jews. In Goodman's formulation, we were transformed from being chased by genocidal murderers to not being chased, from having no power in determining our own lives to having power.
We should help the world see the beauty of the real Israel, even with its imperfections. Maybe then they will also see its accomplishments: the thousands of Third World engineers trained by the Israeli Foreign Ministry to make their deserts bloom; the unparalleled medical, agricultural and scientific advances forged by the Israeli technology industry; the human miracle of absorbing and integrating immigrants of all races from more than 120 nations; and much more.
Israel is no Utopia, but it is a remarkably inspirational modern state.
(Rabbi Alan Silverstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in West Caldwell, N.J., chairman of the Masorti Israel Foundation, past president of the Rabbinical Assembly and the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues – Masorti Olami and a veteran member of the MERCAZ USA Board of Directors.)
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