May 2, 2011-28 Nisan 5771 Delivered by Rabbi Richard Jacobs at the Religious Action Center's Consultation on Conscience, Washington, D.C.
It is such a great honor to be with you today as part of the RAC's 50th
anniversary celebration. Modim anachnu lach-How grateful we are
for this crucial pillar of our Union for Reform Judaism.
My own social justice commitment began back in the late 60s when I was a
camper at the Union's Camp Swig in Northern California. Rabbi Joe Glaser of blessed memory had
invited Cesar Chavez to speak to us. Chavez told us about the plight of the farm workers and how eating
non-union grapes or lettuce harmed their lives. Right then and there my Jewish identity was
connected with social justice. Doing
justly was as fundamental as saying the shema
Over the years I have worked closely with David and Mark and the rest of
the RAC's extraordinary staff. The RAC
has never stopped raising its prophetic voice on the most critical issues
facing our country and our world. On
Darfur, civil rights, economic justice, reproductive rights, the environment
and so many other important moral issues, the RAC has fought for what our Movement
Throughout my rabbinate I have been a social justice activist standing
proudly with the positions advocated by the RAC, the URJ and the CCAR. Our Movement stands strongly and proudly for
Israel. Our Reform Movement believes that peace is indispensable
to Israel's security and well-being, and that a two-state solution (one Jewish,
one Palestinian) is necessary to achieve a viable and lasting peace.
Our Movement also believes that robust foreign
assistance to Israel is an important anchor for the peace process, providing
Israel with the confidence and assurance needed to move forward with peace
negotiations. Knowing how crucial
Israel is to our Movement, what a crossroads this is in the Middle East peace
process, I'd like to take the next few minutes to share with you what Israel
means to me.
I fell in love with Israel. It was during my junior year of college,
which I spent studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Ever since, working to strengthen Israel's
security and well being, well that's been at the core of my public life.
What is the source of my passion for Israel? Yehuda Halevi best expressed my commitment
when he wrote: "My heart is in the East."
I love the extraordinary and
complex mosaic that is contemporary Israel:
the secular, the settlers, the peaceniks, the Orthodox, the Bedouins,
the Reform, the new immigrants, the chalutzim,
the Arab-Israelis, the left, the right and the center. They are all part of my Israel. I'm
responsible for all of them.
Like all of you, I am proudly and strongly pro-Israel. While there are many legitimate ways to
express pro-Israel commitments, I believe all must uphold Israel as a Jewish
and democratic state. By "Jewish
state" I mean a state with a stable Jewish majority, and by
"democratic state" I mean a state that grants full political and
civil rights to all who dwell permanently within its borders.
Now, being pro-Israel means
always standing in solidarity with the State of Israel.To me, Jewish life
cannot be imagined without Israel at its core. Occasional disagreements with Israeli
policies are a necessary part of serious engagement with our Jewish state. But our love for Israel is not
dependent on who is prime minister or on what issues are before the Knesset or
the chief rabbinate.
Daniel Pipes, an academic
known for his hard-line Middle East views, had it right when he said recently
"that anyone concerned about the security and welfare of Israel is in the
When it comes to my strong
support of a two-state solution, I stand with all of the current and recent
Israeli and American administrations and with the great majority of American
Let's be clear, the stakes
are very high. There are plenty of people around the world who question
Israel's very right to exist. Now those same people do not question Sudan's
right to exist even though their president has been charged with genocide, but
they do the democratic state of Israel's.
Attempting to delegitimize
Israel, on too many college campuses and throughout much of Europe, critics try
to portray Israel as though it is some apartheid-like state. It is an absurd assertion. Anyone who knows what
apartheid was, and who knows Israel today, is well aware of that.
Critics cite assessments like
the Goldstone Report to justify such contentions. When it was first issued I
publicly challenged its fatal flaws. The
Goldstone Report states that Israeli
armed forces "carried out direct intentional strikes against civilians," a
contention, as you know, that Goldstone has now retracted. But the damage has been done, and we're going
to spend years trying to undo that damage.
When Rabbi Eric Yoffie excoriated Richard Goldstone and his biased
report at the first J Street Conference, some booed him. Rabbi Yoffie was unfazed and went on to say
"Anyone who supports a peaceful two-state solution must consider the role of
Hamas in destroying such a prospect-and yet, quite astonishingly, nothing of
this is discussed in the Goldstone Report."
I applaud Rabbi Yoffie's independent and clear voice in this and other
And just weeks ago David
Saperstein had my full support when he gave his constructively critical keynote
address to the second J Street Conference. I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Saperstein's decision to speak at the
conference, to assert again how vital movement towards a peace process is to
Israel's security and America's interests, to offer thoughtful criticism of J
Street's policy making, but also to offer a strong critique of J Street's stand
opposing the recent US veto of the UN resolution condemning Israeli
Like my colleagues Eric and
David, I am unafraid to challenge misguided views regardless of the source.
Leaders of the Reform
Movement must never be defined by membership in outside organizations but
rather by the longstanding policies of our Movement-policies that are fully in
consonance with those I have held for decades.
Over the years I have
attended many rallies, I'm sure many of you have as well, for Israel here in
North America and in Eretz Yisrael. Back in 2002 while suicide bombers savagely
slaughtered hundreds of Israelis, there was a rally in support of Israel on the
mall in Washington DC. I pulled my own
kids out of school and convinced over a hundred members of my synagogue to take
the day off from work and school to make the five-hour trip to Washington DC to
stand up for Israel. Though tens of thousands of lovers of Israel
attended the rally, I was disappointed there were not more liberal Jews. My then 12- and nine-year-old sons made
their own poster that said: "Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace."
If you were there, you
remember the sun was scorching hot and I was thankful that my wife had made
sure I had sunscreen in my pocket. As I
looked over at a bearded man in his black coat with a "Hebron Forever" hat on,
I couldn't help but notice he was getting quite a sun burn. I passed my sunscreen over to him but he
hesitated, seemingly questioning whether he could trust our help when he saw
the sign my boys were holding.
Thankfully, reason prevailed on him.
The many speakers at the
rally all had strong pro-Israel messages.
The speakers included fundamentalist Christian leaders, members of
Congress, and mostly right-wing Israelis.
Finally, the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz gave a very
pro-Israel speech, but when he went on to say that we should not ignore the
suffering of innocent Palestinians in the conflict, he was booed. At that moment I lost some of the powerful
feeling of solidarity. Why couldn't a
strong pro-Israel rally tolerate a balanced statement by this well-respected
pro-Israel hawk who was one of the highest ranking Jews in the Bush
In times of crisis it is not
uncommon for lovers of Israel to close in tight around only a narrow slice of
the community; but Israel is not served by such a narrow tent.
I also believe that Israel's
security and well-being require that Israel must become a more tolerant and
pluralistic society. I have spent over 20
years working to strengthen the Israel envisioned in Israel's Declaration of
"THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be
based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it
will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its
inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of
religion, conscience, language, education and culture..."
Working to fulfill those
commitments should be central to every responsible pro-Israel activist. Working for the rights of Israeli Arabs
makes Israel more secure. Working for
the rights of Russian speaking immigrants to convert to Judaism without
coercing them to ultra-Orthodoxy makes Israel a home for all Jews. And removing legal barriers keeping non-Orthodox
communities from building their religious communities makes Israel a more
authentic Jewish state.
Consider the case of Yossi
Fackenheim, the son of the late Jewish philosopher and Holocaust survivor Emil
Fackenheim who was converted at the age of two before an Orthodox beit din in Montreal. At the age of 29,
he was told by the Jerusalem rabbinic court that he is not Jewish because he
does not strictly observe the mitzvot.
If this is how people with Orthodox conversions in Israel are treated, you can
imagine what happens to Reform and Conservative converts.
This week our congregation, like
many of yours, will hold many events to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut. On Erev Shabbat, as we have for the past
years, we will host five IDF officers who will share their diverse backgrounds
and service in defense of Israel. Last
year, our teens were privileged to host 25 elite IDF commanders. Following Operation Cast Lead, it is
critically important for these remarkable young soldiers to know that we in
America are with them. I know first
hand as a senior rabbinic fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute the kind of
ethics training these officers receive because they are taught by many of the same
scholars with whom I study.
As I stand with the IDF
soldiers this Friday night, I will let them know that my congregation stands in
solidarity with them. We admire their
courage; we support their abiding efforts to make Israel secure. I am confident
that the IDF always aspires to conduct itself according to the highest ethical
standards. There will always be lapses
and errors in judgment especially in the new unprecedented ways of war
confronting Israel, but I believe no other fighting force has more ethical
rigor than the Israel Defense Forces.
is up to all of us" to foster a deep love for and engagement with Israel among
Reform Jews of North America, young and old.
We need Israel and Israel needs us.
Israel is not a vaccine
against assimilation, but it can be an inspiring source of Jewish creativity
Israel is not only a bundle
of issues and challenges. Rather, it is our dynamic, complex and inspiring
Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman
in their study of attachments to Israel by generation found that 80% of Jews
over age 65 said "caring about Israel is an important part of being
Jewish." But that percentage begins to
drop as you move to the younger generations. Only 60% of young Jews under 35
believe caring about Israel is a key part of their Jewish identity. I take that downward graph as a challenge
not a conclusion.
There can be no doubt there
is, at this moment, a critical juncture in the history of Israel.
Despite the expanding
sanctions and the undermining of Iran's technical abilities that U.S. and
Israeli joint efforts have achieved, Iran remains determined to move its
nuclear weapons program along as expeditiously as possible endangering Israel's
literal existence and U.S. interests throughout the region.
In the UN and around the
world, Israel's enemies have launched an offensive of economic attacks aimed at
weakening and delegitimizing Israel that is taking hold in anti-Israel
strongholds on and off campuses in Europe and North America. These Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions tactics are destructive and we must do everything in
our power to combat these attacks through education, legislative advocacy and
good, old-fashioned community organizing. The RAC and ARZA have played a key
role in these efforts. But all of us, we've got to do our part. I know we can count on each other to get it
With all of these menacing
existential threats to Israel, we need more vigorous, thoughtful debate regarding
Israel and the complex questions of how to best respond to these
challenges. One key theme through all
of my observations this morning is that we need the pro-Israel tent to be as
large as possible. Leaders of the
congregational world know this well, for the diverse views held among our
congregants mirror the community-at-large.
The pro-Israel community must
reach from the IDF veteran fighting for peace on the college campus to the
AIPAC activists lobbying members of Congress, to the human rights activist
protesting unlawful seizure of Arab homes in Jerusalem, to the fifth grader
planting JNF trees in Modi'in, to those who oppose the conversion bill by
sending emails to the prime minister, to those who can't wait to dismantle the
settlements, to those who show up for pro-Israel rallies at the UN.
A very important part of my
leadership as the URJ president will be to help all of our congregations become
ohavei Tzion-lovers of Israel.
I want all of our URJ
congregations to see the Israel that I love.
I want to show them all of the hard parts but still I know they will
fall in love with this place of miracles and courage. They will see the gorgeous faces of the
Ethiopian children who marched across African deserts to reach the land of
their prayers. They will marvel
listening to Russian immigrants playing Bach concertos on the Ben Yehuda
Mall. They will see the miracles that
remain hidden to those who only know Israel from afar.
We're a week away from
celebrating the day when Israel was declared 63 years ago. At 4 p.m. on Friday, May 14th 1948,
a very diverse group of Jewish leaders signed on to the Declaration of
Independence. The 37 signators included
communists, socialists, revisionists, rabbis, atheists, kibbutznikim, urbane city dwellers, Ashkenazim, Mizrachim, rich and poor.
It was an unlikely and very
diverse group of Zionists bound together by a common vision that our people
could one day live as a free people secure in our land. That same vision can unite us today as well. That is the vision that informs my deep and
abiding commitment to and love for Medinat
I will never back down from
my commitment to a secure Israel.
I will never stop fighting
for an Israel that grants all of its citizens, Arabs and Jews, fundamental
I will never stop working for
an Israel that grants equal rights to Jews no matter their spiritual practice
I will never stop advocating
for the US to remain Israel's staunch ally.
I will not back away from my
commitment to a two-state solution living side-by-side in peace and security.
As the leader of the largest Movement
in Jewish life, I intend to work every single day to build up the ranks of
those who share my Zionist passion. And
I call upon everyone in the pro-Israel community to join me in this critical
When Israel gets into our
hearts, then I know that we will never stop fighting for an Israel that is
secure, religiously free, guided by justice and dwelling in peace.
Our hope is not lost- The hope of two thousand
years: To be a free people in our
land, The land of Zion and