Yerushalyim Shel Shalom

Yesterday, the US officially moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It has brought up a number of discussions, so I thought I would share my thoughts this morning before I start the day. I refer people to my statement of core values from a few days ago.

Why was the embassy moved? Ostensibly, it was in recognition of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capitol, but as that had been on the table for a long time before, it wasn’t the real reason. The timing behind it being done now was to please Trump’s evangelical base: it fulfills a biblical prophesy that supports Covenent Theology and hastens the end of days. If you read my core values, you know my thoughts on that: I think it is presumptuous for humans to take the place of God and to do things to fulfill prophecies of a particular religion. Let God fulfill God’s prophecies in God’s time.

I saw others seeing yesterday as a “dark day for the US” because no Democratic Congresscritters attended. Given the Congress normally doesn’t attend embassy openings, I’m glad they didn’t waste the money. In the long run, who attended the ceremony won’t matter one bit. Unless is it the catalyzing action for a war, even moving the embassy won’t matter 100 years down the road. All that is significant is US support for Israel, through monetary support and military and trade alliances. For some segments of Judaism, moving the embassy is vitally important (again, often for prophetic reasons). For most American Jews, however, it is more problematic. It is likely good that it is in Jerusalem, but the timing is problematic. Right now, there was loads of violence and death as protests erupted; and unsurprisingly, the Israeli government may have responded in a way that hurt their image. Did the Israeli government overreact? Probably, but I don’t always agree with what the Israeli government does, nor do I have to. I do predict there will be chaos over this for a while, but eventually things will settle back to the normal level of hatred between the parties. After all, it’s just an embassy. In fact, one article I read noted an interesting side effect: It might lead to the opening of an embassy for the Palestinians, also in Jerusalem, which they consider as their capitol.

Finding peace in the region is a difficult goal, and it ultimately depends on the parties agreeing to compromise with each other — and that means formally recognizing each other. Palestinians must recognize that Israel must be allowed to exist in peace in some form; that to achieve their nation means not wiping Israel from the map. Israel must agree that that Palestinians have the rights to some land and some level of reparations, and that how their government has been treating them has been wrong. Both are hard recognitions to make. Trump may stumble into a solution (just has he has in Korea), not through any particular action other than pandering to his base and being batshit crazy and having a much more personal style. Being crazy and focusing on personal relations is normal operations in the Middle East, and I’ve at least one article suggesting the Palestinians work with Trump. Consider that his pulling out of the deal with Iran has not only given Iran the power to look like a good guy by staying in the pact with the Europeans, but has put fear into the Saudis and gotten them talking … to Israel. Who knows what will happen because of the unpredictability of Trump, and the fear of the unpredictable may push parties together. If in the long term the balance of powers shifts in the Middle East so that the US’s power is diminished, well, at least the US is taking care of itself, right? After all, that’s worked with China and Russia? Right? Bueller? Bueller?

However, the point of this is that the opening ceremony for the embassy in Jerusalem is noise in the larger geopolitical issues. It may seem a big deal now, but it will be overshadowed by other things quickly. Despite evangelicals seeing it as important and the fulfillment of prophecy, it ultimately is at most a sentence in a history book (if indeed there are history books — the world is coming to an end, right?).


The Day of the Herring, no Kipper

What did you say? I’m hard of Herring?

Seriously, I just got back from Yom Kippur services, and I thought I would share my recollections of the sermons. The services themselves were the typical Temple Beth Hillel services, nothing different (unlike the first night of Rosh Hashanah).

  • Last night we had Rabbi Jim talking. He built upon his sermon of Rosh Hashanah where he talked about the first 60 years of the congregation. Last night, he spoke about the history of Reform Judaism. He noted how is started in the early days of Germany with folks that translated the prayers into the vernacular, and discarded what they felt were outmoded traditions (such as replacing Bar Mitzvah at 13 with a communal ceremony, called Confirmation, at 16). He noted how Reform got very popular in the US, where in its early days it was effectively Orthodox Reform: that is, unaccepting of those that wanted to retain tradition. I remember that well: my great-Aunt grew up in Shaare Emeth in St. Louis, and would scream at you if you wore a “beanie”. He talked about how Reform has drastically changed in the last 60 years: accepting many things that were once discarded (Bar Mitzvahs, Kippot, Tallit, and many other practices). He noted how Reform has grown to embrace and become an active supporter of Israel. He noted how the Rabbinate has become more caring–he attributed this to the grown and involvement of women in the rabbinate. He closed with his fears for the next 60 years: there are so many more notions for “God” out there (look at Kaballah, the mystical notions taking hold) that the simple God is being lost. He urged us not to let that happen.
  • This morning we had Rabbi Sarah. She had more of a “charge” sermon. The main sermon related to Israel, and what we must do to support Israel. She noted the financial support that can be provided through the URJ, through the Assocation of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), by buying Israel Bonds, through the local Jewish Federation, and by supporting organizations such as the Leo Baeck Education Institute. She also noted how important it is to visit Israel, and announced to that end she would be organizing a congregational trip. Later in the service, she turned her attention to Darfur. The congregation is in the process of funding a well through Jewish World Watch, and also plans to raise money to fund solar ovens.

Some other observations from services:

  • They had out a history display of the last 60 years of the congregation. Needless to say, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I was less focused on the people, but on the history of the buildings (does that surprise you). While I was looking at it this morning, Cantor Emeritus Brown came by. I told him the display was missing one thing: the seminal role the congregation played in starting other congregations throughout the valley. I view this as important: Effectively UAHC seeded the valley with TBH (in fact, it was seeded by Rabbi Alfred Wolf, one of my heroes), and TBH later had a close relationship with Wilshire Blvd Temple. I also told Cantor Brown that through his work at the congregation he had a positive impact on many, many lives.
  • The daughter of our current cantor, Cantor Allan, was one of the Torah readers this morning. At one point, she started stumbling, and had to turn and shush her dad on the bima. It seems he was chanting along with her, and it kept throwing her off!