What Would Moses Say About Modern Israel?

This past weekend, I was honored to give a D’var Torah (sermon) in front of my fellow congregants at Beth David Synagogue. The week’s Torah portion covered some of Moses’ speech to the Tribes of Israel before they took possession of Eretz Yisrael. I took the opportunity to evaluate modern day Israel through the eyes of Moses. 

What follows is an excerpt from my full remarks. I’ve spared you the re-hashing of the text, and just included my insights and thoughts.  

The Repeating Themes

What stood out to me after several readings of the parsha were three repeating themes.

First, Moses hammers home the need to follow God’s word. Chapters 8, 9 and 11 all begin with Moses emphasizing adherence to the rules and laws that God passed down to the Jews. In fact, Moses uses the hard sell: “Bear in mind that the LORD your God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son,” he says. Meaning that if we don’t act according to the rules God sets before us, we are to expect God’s punishment.

A second repeating theme is the covenant made between God and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses brings this up again and again to remind us that this is when God promised the Land of Israel to the Jews.

The third repeating theme is Moses’ criticism of the tribes of Israel. Moses call us a “stiffnecked people.” He recalls the many times that the Jews have refused to follow God’s laws, even after witnessing some of God’s miracles.

Through these repeating themes, Moses sets forth the charter for Jewish ownership of the land of Israel. In doing so, Moses creates Zionism.

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On The Heels of #MeToo, Can We Have That Honest Talk on Israel?

Allow me to conflate two issues that, at first blush, don’t appear at all related.

First, as a man, I know my voice in the MeToo movement that’s currently taking place is not the most vital. That said, I am happy to express my admiration for the many women (and the smaller number of men) who’ve stepped forward and outed their abusers. In the process, they’ve brought the topic of sexual abuse and harassment into the national, and international, forefront.

Early on, it was called the #MeToo moment. And, in the instant gratification world we’re living in today, that wasn’t an inaccurate qualification. If the media firestorm was only about Harvey Weinstein and the women he, personally, harassed, it really would have been just a moment – a fleeting blip in our collective consciousness.

But the New Yorker expose was really made possible by many pre-moment actions, including those of women who stepped forward and confronted Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. For the record, it feels more than a little foreign to me to be praising (former) employees of Fox News (full disclosure: I did work for Media Matters for America for a bit, where Fox News is a frequent target of attention). Nonetheless, women such as Gretchen Carlson, Megan Kelly, Laurie Luhn, Laurie Dhue, Andrea Tantaros, Juliette Huddy, Wendy Walsh and Andrea Mackris, set the stage by outing arguably the top two mahers at Fox News. They sparked the conversation.

The Weinstein story followed. And after Weinstein, came the flood. With the timely assist from Alyssa Milano, the flood is what made the “moment” into “the movement.” Actors, news anchors, comedians, celebrity chefs, producers, directors, politicians and pundits… many men in positions of power have since been made accountable for their actions. Forced out of positions that made them so powerful. Had their covers blown. (Notably, our President has, so far, proven immune to his accusations.)

The consequences have been surprisingly swift and punishing. So much so, that there’s a legitimate conversation taking place about overreach, and what type of actions, exactly, deserve the MeToo label.

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Mahalo, Maui!

Dear Maui,

I miss you! Since I’ve left your welcoming beaches, luscious hills and wondrous mountains, I’ve been filled with longing. I want to feel your sand between my toes once more, and to drink in your intoxicating air.

I want to return. I know one day I will. But that day is not today, and that makes me so sad.

I can still feel the warm kiss of your sun and the gentle lapping of your waves. I’m different now that I’ve experienced your presence. You’ve changed me. But the essence is fading fast.

Instead of your beautiful blue horizon, this morning I woke to frosty grey skies and freezing air. I’m happy to be home. Though, as I’m contemplating the return to my regular life, my heart is still with you.

I saved a memory of us for just this moment.

I’m floating on a paddleboard in the warm silkiness of one of your bays. The sun is showering my back with radiance, as I’m awed by the sharp, green slopes rising in front of me. Clouds are gently skimming your peaks with their smokey wispiness. I look down, and through feet of depth, I’m able to peer the shimmering outlines of curvy boulders at the bottom of your crystal clear waters.

You’re so perfect. I want nothing more than to remain here with you, at peace.

I’ll be back. Wait for me.

US Embassy Move to Jerusalem: Biting the poison apple

Many of us learned last week of President Trump’s announced plans to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The move was not unforseen, as media coverage in the preceding week informed us to expect the decision; and Mr. Trump, himself, made the pledge during the presidential campaign last year.

The anticipated announcement consumed the media for days, as political and foreign policy experts weighed in on the consequences of the decision. I assume similar debates were held in the halls of leading Jewish organizations in Israel and the diaspora. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is a big deal, and an organized response by the Jewish community is to be expected.

I had a chance to read the statement made by Jewish Federations of North America, which was subsequently reaffirmed by our own Greensboro Jewish Federation. Many of you, like me, also received a follow-up message from Rabbi Fred Guttman, who called the Trump administration’s decision “the right thing to do.”

“The right thing to do…” That phrase gave me considerable pause.

Do we know that this is really the right thing to do?

After a few days of deliberation and internal struggle, I found myself very much unsettled by the statements made by Jewish organizations and leaders in support of Mr. Trump’s decision. This includes our local Jewish institutions that speak for our community.

Having the benefit of a few days’ time to analyze the world’s reaction to the announcement, I am not at all convinced that the consequences are worth the “victory.”

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Steady There… Facing Approaching Fatherhood

I confess. For most of my life, if I ever thought about raising children (which was hardly ever), my immediate internal response was panic. It’s not that I’m afraid of children. In fact, most of the time, I think I kinda like em. I am just mortified of ruining some unsuspecting and underserving kid’s life.

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