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July 24, 2014 | 26th Tamuz 5774

Dear Reader: Our Perilous Times

As we begin preparations for the New Year, we have every reason to be confident. Our Reform congregations and the Jewish communities of North America are strong, dynamic, and secure.

Yet, at precisely this moment we need to recognize another reality beyond our borders: Israel is under attack by radical Islamist movements, making the world a more dangerous place for Jews and for everyone else.

In Gaza, Hamas sends rockets into Israel and kidnaps Israeli soldiers. Hamas' actions should not surprise us; its charter is a classically anti-Semitic document that portrays Jews as evil incarnate and calls upon Muslims to rise up and kill Jews. Hamas' hatred of Israel is not only a political ideology; it is a theological conviction.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah constitutes an even greater threat, waging all-out war on Israel with missile attacks on Haifa, Tiberias, and other Israeli cities. Hezbollah is supported, financed, and inspired by Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is notorious for Holocaust denial and his Hitlerian exhortation that Israel should be "wiped off the map." This open call for Israel's extermination cannot help but remind us of 1933, when another anti-Semite who openly called for the extermination of the Jews was elected by his people.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has had no choice but to respond decisively to attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilian centers. The unprovoked aggression of Hamas and Hezbollah is an intolerable threat to Israel's very existence, and to the security and peace of the world.

So what, then, is our task as Reform Jews?

First, let us fight the natural tendency in the broader community to "get used to" the extremism of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Ahmadinejad. Public opinion, as we know from long experience, quickly acclimates to almost any new reality, and diplomats abet this process by finding justifications for the morally intolerable. Soon we will be hearing at the U.N., even from our friends, that Hamas and Hezbollah are legitimate liberation movements, and that missile attacks on Israel are unfortunate but impossible to stop.

Our job is to educate our governments and our fellow citizens about these mortal dangers to Israel, and to insist that states which support terror and genocide remain diplomatically isolated. In addition, we need to call for tough political and economic sanctions that will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In speaking out against these extremists, we must to make it clear that we are not declaring war against another religion. Our adversaries are the angry and hating minority in the Muslim world who embrace radical Islam; surely most Muslims want to live in peace, and with them we must engage in honest dialogue.

Finally, we must prepare the next generation for living in perilous times. This means not playing down the threats that we confront, but not emphasizing them either. After all, if being Jewish means that others hate and persecute you, there is little incentive to remain a Jew. But if we teach our children love of Torah, the richness of Jewish life, and the grandeur of Jewish ethics, they will treasure their heritage and be prepared for whatever challenges they may ultimately face.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
President, Union for Reform Judaism

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