Menachem Begin: His Legacy, a Century after his Birth (Jerusalem Post)

revolutions4Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth Prime Minister, was born one hundred years ago today.  A century after his birth, and more than two decades after his death, it behooves us all, regardless of our political stripes, to take a moment and to reflect on the profundity of his contribution to the Jewish people. That claim will undoubtedly strike many as strange, since more than half a century after he helped rid Palestine of the British, Begin is still disparaged by many of the very same Jews who see in the American revolution a cause for genuine pride.

Begin himself seemed to sense the irony, so he spoke time and again about the American

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Getting in Touch with our Inner Birthright (Jerusalem Post)

Herzl1The hand-wringing pundits are right. Time is running out for the two-state solution. Israel’s reputation as a democracy is in danger, and its Jewish character does need to be carefully tended lest we lose it. Yet with any peace deal highly improbable, one might be excused for quoting the Psalmist, “from where shall come my deliverance?”

From Taglit-Birthright, actually. But we digress.

For starters, let’s remind ourselves of a few simple factors that make any real progress in these talks exceedingly unlikely:

You gotta wanna dance with somebody (with apologies to Whitney Houston): Our esteemed prime minister has been reminding us that in this region, “it takes three to tango.” Not a pretty image, but

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Their Revolutions, And Ours (Jerusalem Post)

revolutions2As Syrians continue to slaughter each other and Egyptian democracy fades into memory, Israelis have good cause to reflect on – and to take pride in – the exceptional nature of our own revolution some sixty-five years ago.

What was extraordinary about the Zionist revolution was not only that a viable, democratic state emerged, but rather, that the Jews of the yishuv, bitterly divided over the nature of the country we sought to create, created one Israel without killing each other. We were hardly alone in being so divided. As Joseph Ellis, the lyrical historian of early America, writes in Founding Brothers, “With the American revolution, as with all revolutions, different factions

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Making Mourning Matter (Jerusalem Post)

Exile1“The Jews were exiled from their ancestral homeland, and after two thousand years of displacement, but finally came home and restored their sovereignty,” we commonly say, and it’s true. Sort of.

“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people,” begins Israel’s Declaration of Independence. “Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped.” That, too, is accurate – sort of.

“Sort of,” because to start with a picky point, the Israelites became a people not in the Land of Israel, but in Egypt. “Sort of” because much of our identity was shaped in Babylonian exile. And “sort of” because the unspoken assumption of all these narratives is that the default

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Time to Change the Israel Conversation

Conversation1Naftali Bennett, not long ago the election season’s “candidate to watch” and today the economy and trade minister, declared the two-state solution at a “dead end” this week, and said, memorably, that “never in Jewish history have so many people talked so much and expended so much energy on something so futile.” Bennett’s controversial comments were, in part, pandering to the the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, before whom he was speaking. But he’s held these views for a long time; his famous election campaign video, still widely available on YouTube, said precisely the same thing.

Reasonable minds can differ as to whether saying publicly that the

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Sadly the Twain Do Meet

Haj3It’s almost impossible to describe, for those who’ve never done is, what it is like to watch the national Yom Hashoah ceremony on Israeli TV. The air in the room feels too thick to breathe. The speeches say nothing new (for what hasn’t already been said?), the music is simultaneously beautiful and heartrending. Then come the stories: six individual people, six worlds destroyed, six lives rebuilt, six human beings who through luck and grit actually survived. It’s difficult – actually, impossible – to speak.

The siren the next morning is the perfect response. Stillness and silence – because no words suffice. Like the Biblical Aaron when he lost his sons, the very

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There Actually Is a Middle Way

Obama #4Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Modern Arab Studies at my alma mater, Columbia University, had this to say on the pages of The New York Times (March 12) before Barack Obama arrived in Jerusalem: “For Mr. Obama, a decision is in order. He can reconcile the United States to continuing to… bankroll an unjust status quo that it helped produce. Or he can begin to chart a new course based on recognition that the United States must forthrightly oppose the occupation and the settlements… There is no middle way.”

Mr. Khalidi is wrong. There is, in fact, a middle way. It is the way that the Obama administration should have adopted long

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Much More than Just Nicer

Stav1With coalition negotiations still capturing the headlines, it is all too easy to forget that yet another election looms in Israel. Though this will be one in which most of us cannot vote, it too may exert tremendous influence on the future of the Jewish state. These elections will be for the chief rabbis of Israel. Interestingly, for the first time in many, many years, the upcoming elections (no official date has been set yet) are actually arousing interest in sectors outside ultra- Orthodox circles, because of the candidacy of Rabbi David Stav.

The minute Rabbi Stav walks into the room, you cannot help but sense that you’re in the presence of

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The Rabbis of the Talmud Reflect on Dreams, Fear, Nationhood and Homeland

Ammon1Between the Jewish holidays of the fall, on the one hand, and those of the spring and summer, on the other, lie two additional holidays which seemingly have nothing to do with each other: Hanukkah and Purim.  Despite their many obvious differences, Hanukkah and Purim share a number of characteristics.  They are the two primary post-biblical holidays, nowhere even hinted at in the Torah.  And in terms of their political implications, they are opposite sides of the same coin.  One focuses on Jewish survival through the re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem; the other focuses on the challenges of Jewish survival in the Diaspora.  Thus, both raise the critical question

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From Limmud to Lapid (Jerusalem Post)

LimmudIf Limmud is so fascinating, why do I usually find myself leaving it with such mixed emotions? What is it about this multi-denominational, volunteer-led, creative out-of- the-box experience that renders me so conflicted, whether I attend it in Nottingham or New York, Los Angeles or (later this year) Australia? The answer actually has nothing to do with Limmud, and everything to do with the country to which I return when I depart it.

Limmud is one of those places where the silos come tumbling down, where the whole point is to encounter Jews who are very much unlike us, and with that encounter, to accept and even embrace the discomfort

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