Have we Zionists forgotten how to listen?

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Here are just a few snippets from recent conversations regarding American Jewish support for Israel:

“Rabbi, I’m very upset and want to talk to you. How dare you allow a group like J Street to speak at Temple?”

“Rabbi, I simply do not understand how a social and religious progressive like you can be part of such a right-wing conservative organization as AIPAC.”

Two apparently opposite statements that are, I would argue, two sides of the same coin. To me, both reflect what is wrong with the current discourse with regard to the American Jewish community’s involvement in pro-Israel activity. We seem to be living in an era where Jewish issues have gone the way of Fox News and MSNBC: We simply listen to ourselves and those with whom we agree, and we demonize those who have a different perspective.

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I’m left of the Left, and I support AIPAC

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I grew up in a liberal home in which politics, social issues and, most importantly, social responsibility were often discussed. I recall organizational meetings to support various Democratic candidates taking place in my den and vividly remember hours spent putting political placards on doors throughout my town.

My parents’ lessons on social values of inclusion, equality, and fairness have stuck with me. They shaped the adult I have become, guide my vote each November, and influenced the type of community I wanted to serve. It was the open, liberal, progressive approach long taken by my congregation that initially drew me to it. Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is a congregation that looks for every opportunity to say “yes” and be inclusive. It is why we gutted our main worship space a few years ago and made sure it was accessible through ramps and movable chairs. It is why, as …

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Israel still inspires

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AUGUST 14, 2014, 9:45 PM

One of the great privileges of the rabbinate is the opportunity to teach the Jewish leaders of tomorrow and play some small role in their learning and growth.

One of the great gifts of the rabbinate is seeing those young people grow into amazing young adults whose understanding, commitment and passion is boundless.

Numerous young people from my congregation were in Israel this summer when the missiles began flying. One of them shared her experience with me yesterday. Her words inspired me. She expressed the impact of her time in Israel beautifully. And as I read her piece I was struck that this summer’s conflict was only a small part of the overall experience she had. By relating her time in Israel this summer in this manner she helped remind me that we need to look past the missiles and the conflict. By so doing …

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Responding to a friend about Israel

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AUGUST 13, 2014, 5:41 PM

One of my former students shared a post on Facebook the other day that reflected his feelings of intense sadness about what is going on between Israel and Iranian-backed Hamas, and especially about the suffering of the civilians in Gaza. In the post, I was struck by the tension he struggles with between his Jewish identity and his sense of compassion and humanity (which are at the core of Judaism).

Many of the reports of the current conflict have been distorted, and I believe they have impacted how many people view the situation. I want to share a few thoughts in response to some of the questions my student raised and the statements he made.

In his post my student refers to “The Occupation of Gaza.”

There is no Israeli occupation of Gaza, because Israel pulled out of Gaza nine years ago. They did so …

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Guns and Social Media; Two Things That Some People Shouldn’t Touch

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AUGUST 11, 2014, 8:09 AM

What does it say about you, your perspective, and your cause when you use lies, falsehoods, threats and slander to make your point?

That is the question I have been asking about social media images of Syrian wounded being use as “evidence of Israeli atrocities” in Gaza. One particularly disgraceful image showed an Israeli family of 5 that had been murdered in a terrorist attack, claiming they were Gaza residents slaughtered by Israel.

It is the question I have been asking myself when it finally came to light that the reason we were not seeing images of Hamas terrorists or the locations of missile sites in school, hospitals, and civilian population centers was because Hamas has been threatening and intimidating reporters.

Read more: Guns and Social Media; Two Things That Some People Shouldn’t Touch | Daniel M. Cohen | The Blogs | The Times of

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Real Time… False Claims…

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AUGUST 6, 2014, 5:20 AM

In recent weeks, comedian Bill Maher has emerged as far more supportive of Israel than I would have expected. Jon Stewart, on the other hand, has revealed himself to be a consistent detractor of the Jewish State.

Last week’s Real Time with Bill Maher however, had some difficult moments for someone like me, who is both a fan of Bill Maher and a proud Zionist. During the show, Maher made clear that while he supports Israel’s right to defend herself, he does not support US aid to Israel; one of his statements was, “Israel can take off its training wheels.”

I found his comments particularly stinging, as they came shortly after Congress had approved additional funding for Iron Dome.

One of Maher’s guests, Reza Aslan the author of the book Zealot, utilized even more extreme anti-Israel rhetoric. His opening comment was, “It’s not like we …

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Remembrance Is Just the First Step

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AUGUST 3, 2014, 5:40 AM


We are a people of memory and remembrance. Our celebratory holidays help make sure we know from whence we came. Our memorial observances insure we understand grief and allow ourselves to touch the pain of loss. That psychological and spiritual excursive is, however, just the first step. For memory and loss by themselves are, at best static and, at worst, internal forms of idolatry. Remembrance that allows us to sit in our anguish serves to simply lock us in the past. It does little to honor the memory of what we, our loved ones and our community endured. Remembrance that calls us to action however opens the door to a future of action.

This is, perhaps, best seen in our communal commemoration of Tisha B’av and its aftermath.

Read more: Remembrance Is Just the First Step | Daniel M. Cohen | The Blogs | The

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An Article Filled With “Yes/But” When the World Needs “Both/And”

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Co-Authored with Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin, MSW

We are writing as Jews, as Zionists and Rabbis from two different movements to reflect upon Jay Michaelson’s thoughtful and provocative response in the Jewish Daily Forward to Rabbi Menachem Creditor’s piece about his shifting perspectives and deep commitments in the Huffington Post. Before we develop our thoughts on Mr. Michaelson’s response, a bit of disclosure is necessary. We spent the week beginning July 8th in Israel together with Rabbi Creditor and 16 other rabbis. While in Israel, we spent countless hours in meetings, staying glued to media reports about the unfolding violence and ran into bomb shelters. Together we were, time and time again, shaken by the perilousness of the situation and the human suffering on both sides of this conflict.

Not only do we know Rabbi Menachem Creditor well, but we are in awe of his deep compassion for all …

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The Day That Facebook Removed the Word “Standards” from Its Dictionary

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JULY 30, 2014, 9:55 PM

I have had a Facebook account for quite some time but only used it sporadically. Over the last six months to a year, my engagement with Facebook has grown; I not only used it to keep up with family and friends, but I have also been working to build a Facebook presence for both my synagogue and for my technology blog. My week in Israel at the beginning of July saw a huge uptick in my use of Facebook, which has continued to grow. While in Israel, I had the opportunity to spend that week with 19 rabbinic colleagues on AIPAC’s first ever Rabbinic Mission. As I’ve written previously, the first day we arrived in Jerusalem we encountered a Red Alert as missiles were fired at Jerusalem for the first time. Two days later, we were in the Foreign Ministry when there was another Red …

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I’m Progressive… Not Suicidal

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JULY 24, 2014, 4:19 AM

The other day my friend and colleague Rabbi Menachem Creditor wrote an op-ed entitled “I’m Done Apologizing for Israel.” It is a powerful piece that, judging from the number of times it has been shared, clearly struck a cord. When his post was republished on the Jewish Daily Forward an additional line was added to it on the front page. That line stated,

“Menachem Creditor is a left-leaning Rabbi. His peers expect him to condemn Israel’s military actions in Gaza. But he won’t – he can’t – not this time.”

That additional line immediately reminded me of an exchange another friend and colleague had a few days ago. He had sent a letter to his community explaining the current situation in all it’s nuance and complexity and his thoughts on it. One member of his community replied privately to him that he found …

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