The noise is deafening and the chaos is unbelievable as hundreds of college students try to find each other in a crowded, post-New Year’s bedlam. Passports are checked, name badges are given, and the security line is crawling. The excitement in the air is palpable. These students are traveling to Israel, most of them for the very first time, on a tiny little program called Birthright.
The general belief among observers of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that the main obstacles to an agreement are the determination of permanent borders, the future of Israeli settlements, and the final status of Jerusalem — the latter being the most emotional issue of all.
To be sure, it will be extremely difficult for U.S. interlocutors to bridge the gaps between these bitter foes regarding these historically intractable issues. And the challenge gets greater still when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightful demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state is factored into the equation.
Sorry, I just have to say it: lobbying Congress is better than going to school.
Last week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had its annual Policy Conference, where approximately 18,000 pro-Israel activists heard from both American and Israeli political leaders.
“Live long enough to live forever.” That is the mantra of inventor, futurist, and thought leader Ray Kurzweil. Born in 1949, Kurzweil believes that humanity is on the brink of curing the disease known as “death,” and that people of his generation and younger will achieve immortality through technology.
Kurzweil and others are collecting data about themselves so that by the time their physical bodies are ready to expire, they will be able to download their personalities, their essence, onto a computer, and through the computer program they will live on past their death.
On Sunday morning, March 26, before Rabbi Yehoshua Singer’s class on Pesach, I met with Stanley Schwartz at Am Hatorah in Bethesda to discuss some pictures he wanted to show me. The amazing pictures that Stan carefully removed from a very old discolored envelope were of a seder he attended in Munsan, Korea in 1953 as a 21-year-old marine from Brooklyn, New York. The pictures were a remarkable historical reminder for Stan of the “most memorable seder” he had ever attended.
On the trip, Israeli public figures learned about American Jewish perspectives on Israel, Jewish identity, and other important issues.
Twenty Israeli leaders — including eight mayors, top Israeli TV and radio journalists, heads of nongovernmental organizations, and a former Olympic athlete — recently came to Greater Washington to familiarize themselves with American Jewry and learn how Israel can best relate to Jews abroad.
Every year during Apartheid Week, pro-Israel student groups on Columbia University’s campus are presented with the recurring dilemma: how best to combat the anti-Israel narrative and effectively communicate a positive message to the student body regarding the State of Israel and its right to exist. Columbia’s campus is not unique: campuses and communities across the country contend with similar anti-Israel rhetoric each year.
In these weeks when we transition from Purim to Passover, we transition from a narrative that takes place during the time when we were a people which had been cast out of our homeland, to that of our own national liberation movement. The story of Purim takes place in ancient Persia, during a period when we lacked direct prophecy from G-d. Part of the megillah is read in a mournful voice during verses meant to remind us of our expulsion from Israel and the loss of our national sovereignty. In the Talmud, it is written that “of all the religious texts, the ones of greatest importance are the Five Books of Moses and the Book of Esther.”
Those who know me may have heard me joke that I was once the Chief Rabbi of Transylvania (everyone was stunned to hear that Dracula needed a rabbi!). The truth is that it’s not a joke at all. Exactly 10 years ago, as part of a joint program between Yeshiva University (YU) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), I completed my official shimush (internship) for YU’s rabbinical program in Oradea, Romania. At the time, I was not just the Rabbi of Oradea, but the only rabbi in all of Transylvania.
Jewish parents may choose to send their child to a secular school, whether public or private, for any number of reasons. The cost of private school is high; transportation can pose challenges; perhaps their child is gifted, has a special need, or even both. Non-Orthodox American Jews have a long history of sending their children to Sunday school and Hebrew school, generally until their bar or bat mitzvah, but sometimes beyond. For Orthodox parents who choose to send their children to any school other than a full-time Jewish day school, there is pressure to ensure that their children still receive a Jewish education.
For me, going to American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference (AIPAC) meant taking advantage of a wonderful opportunity: an opportunity to learn and be challenged, and an opportunity to feel accepted by the Zionist community.
My favorite session of the first day was Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campus Perspectives. The panel was made up of the StandWithUs President Roz Rothstein — an AIPAC campus fellow who has fought against a strong BDS community at the University of Michigan — and a staff member from Hillel International. Hearing them speak about how they have tirelessly fought against BDS and are having success gave me hope and ideas that I could apply when I go to college. They give me the courage to stand up for what I believe in, knowing I have a strong community to support me in my Israel advocacy. It was especially nice to see that protesters were properly handled so that conversations could still happen and everyone felt safe.
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