A Commentary Magazine Exchange on "Are Young Rabbis Turning on Israel?"

From the June issue of our publication, Daniel Gordis’s article ‘Are Young Rabbis Turning on Israel?’ has occasioned impassioned debate around the world, with a flood of responses coming into our offices by e-mail, through our website, and, yes, even in envelopes with stamps on them. This special letters section features comments from 15 of those who wrote in, with a significant response from Gordis. ….

An important conversation is unfolding. Presidents, deans of rabbinical schools, and their students have written to me saying that there is now more discussion of Israel on their campuses than there has been in years. That is a positive development. So, too, is the

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Nowhere to Run

There’s nothing quite like staying in a lakeside cabin in Ontario for a few days to get the Middle East entirely out of your system.

Surrounded by nothing but trees, birds, water and a couple of wonderful friends, it all begins to melt away. The doctors’ strike, the omnipresent stinking piles of garbage on Jerusalem’s streets, the histrionic politics and the looming UN vote – it all fades with time.

As there’s little to do there but hike, kayak and read, I brought Yair Lapid’s recent – and truly wonderful – autobiography of his father (no, that’s not a typo) for the vacation. The book opens with Tommy Lapid’s childhood in Nazi-occupied

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The Newest Avatar of an Ancient Hatred

If you don’t know any better, Tykotzin actually looks like a decent place to live. A small town in northeast Poland, it’s just a nicelooking Polish village. Modest but wellmaintained homes, clean streets and a well-coiffed central square with a church at its edge. The people of Tykotzin are probably not particularly wealthy, but neither do they seem poor.

They’re reasonably well-dressed, and the town is actually pretty. Just a pleasant little place in the middle of nowhere.

Were it not for the extraordinarily beautiful synagogue that’s been turned into a museum (it’s cared for by non-Jews, of course, for there are no Jews in Tykotzin), you’d have

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An Image of What Might Still Be

There are still those unexpected moments here, fleeting and infrequent though they may be.

Moments that provide a glimpse of what we could yet create in this young country of ours. With cottage cheese stealing the headlines, doctors on strike, the peace process in an utter stall and the UN’s September showdown creeping ever closer, they are moments worth reflecting on, and sharing.

Some three years ago, an anonymous donor gave the Shalem Center (where I work) a generous grant to offer liberal arts enrichment programming to the country’s top high school students. Schools weren’t challenging the best kids, we knew; most of what they learned was being taught for the bagrut

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Are Young Rabbis Turning on Israel?

No day of the year in Israel is more agonizing than Yom Ha-Zikaron—the Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars. For 24 hours, the country’s unceasing sniping gives way to a pervasive sense of national unity not apparent at any other moment; honor and sanctity can be felt everywhere.

Israel’s many military cemeteries are filled to capacity with anguished families visiting the graves of loved ones. Restaurants are shuttered. One of the country’s television stations does nothing but list the names of the 23,000 men and women who gave their lives to defend the Jewish state, some of them killed even before independence was declared and the last of whom

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In the Tent, or Out: That is Still the J-Street Question

Good morning and welcome to Jerusalem.  It’s a pleasure to meet with this Leadership Mission; I understand that there are some first time visitors to Israel among you, so a particular welcome to those of you who’ve never been here before.

Before we got seated, one member of your group conveyed a message from the Israeli Consul General in his home community.  The message was that I shouldn’t speak to you.  As you can imagine, I received similar advice from a wide array of people after I received your invitation; but I’ve chosen to ignore it.  As most of you know, I disagree strongly with much of what you do.  But

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Challenge and Responsibility on Yom Ha’atzmaut

There were years when Yom Ha’atzmaut was cause for near-euphoria. The first sovereign Jewish state in 2,000 years, Israel represented to Jews everywhere much more than a country, a flag, and even a homeland. Independence for Jews was synonymous with a renewed lease on life, and therefore, even in the midst of unending wars, periodic economic crises and many dark clouds on the horizon, Israelis’ celebration of independence was much more than a good party. There was an existential quality to Yom Ha’atzmaut, a sense of sanctity that not everyone could articulate, but that everyone could feel.

This year, however, that unbridled euphoria is going to be hard to come by.

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The Stories We're Obliged to Tell

We read it so often that we hardly even notice it anymore.

It’s that famous line from the Haggadah, which Jews around the world will recite in just a few days: “And even if we were all wise, filled with understanding, all elders and all learned in the Torah, we would still be obligated to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.”

Why, though? If we were all so deeply learned, what possible need would there be to tell a story? The message is clear – there are truths that emerge from stories that cannot be gleaned from “mere” study. There is knowledge to which the heart can lead us that

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Of Sermons and Strategies

In this spring of youthful Arab discontent, it has become de rigueur to note that no one could have seen this coming. We had no warning, the strategists are all explaining – there was no way to predict this.

Perhaps. But closer to home, where other seismic shifts are already changing our world, we do know already what is happening. Far from the Middle East, a new battleground is emerging, and it is going to change the world we bequeath to the next generation no less than what is happening in Egypt, Syria and Libya. For the most part, though, we’ve chosen to ignore it.

This battleground, strange though it may sound,

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A Final Purim Thought

It’s a strange world, indeed, when the one place in the Middle East that seems the most stable and secure is the State of Israel. This is the spring of Arab revolt.

Tunisia has fallen, Hosni Mubarak is gone, Yemen is in danger, Hezbollah has taken over Lebanon, Saudi troops have moved into Bahrain, Jordanians are nervous, Syrian officers have fired on protesters, and in the skies above Libya allied missiles fly, seeking to destroy Muammar Gaddafi’s defenses.

Only in Israel do things seem quiet. It’s the nahafoch hu of the Book of Esther, a world in which what unfolds is precisely the opposite of what might have been expected.

The similarities don’t

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