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Erev Rosh Hashanah - Rabbi Rony S. Keller

Rabbi Rony S. Keller, RJE   Erev Rosh Hashanah     2011/5772

Shalom and welcome to Israel Airlines, please sit down and buckle your seatbelt…this is going to be a long sermon.

You can’t tell by looking at a map, but there are really three Israel’s: Am (nation or people), Medina (country), and Aretz (land). They actually are one in the same, but at times they can be looked at separately. Am, the nation of Israel, that’s us. Every one of us is Am Israel. Whether in France, India, or Australia, all Jews are considered Am Israel…we are all one people. Medina (country) refers to what we see on the map, the country with distinct borders, the flag, and a national anthem. Aretz (land), that’s the dirt, the sand, the mountains, the rivers, the holy land of that sacred place we call Israel. All three come together to form the entity that is at the core of our Jewish souls. This evening I’d like to take you on a virtual tour of Israel, our first stop will be the idea of Am (nation), then we’ll see Israel through the lens of Medina (country), and finally to Aretz (land). As we begin our journey please remember that it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, man or woman, tall or short, we must support Israel.

Our first stop is Am Yisrael.

Am - are the people of Israel, we in this room are included in that group. When we come together as a community we are Am Israel…the people of Israel. Even though some of us might not know each other, we are connected as the nation of Israel. You know, it’s the feeling you get when you find out a celebrity is Jewish. What Mila Kunis is Jewish? I’m Jewish, she’s Jewish, and that means that we are both part of Am Israel…that’s awesome…bet she thinks the same thing!

We the people of Israel need to support our people in Israel.

A few years ago I participated in a dialogue with Palestinians. I’ll never forget my conversation with Ahmad, a former member of the PLO. He explained that although he didn’t like Israel or Israelis, one thing fascinated him. He said that millions of Arabs live around the globe but few support the Palestinians. He was impressed that Jews around the world use little blue boxes to support Israel. He didn’t understand how it seems innate for Jews to send money to Israel.

Is it innate? Have we in this room sent money to Israel? Have we supported Am Israel, our nation in Israel? Our people need our support! Collectively we can be a mighty nation supporting our homeland.

There must be hundreds of ways to give to Israel from planting a tree to donating an ambulance and everything in between. Donating to Israel is important. Not only is it important Jewishly and should be done throughout the year, but as we sit here on the High Holidays, it’s even more important. Charity is one of the three things that temper God’s severe decree. In reflecting on our connection to Israel, to our deep connection as Am Israel, the nation of Israel, these three actions - Repentance, Prayer, and Charity are all within reach. Hopefully already tonight you’ve experienced two of the three, repentance and prayer…now is your chance for charity, for tzedakah. Israel needs our financial support!

Our second stop is to explore Medina (country)

Medinat Israel, is that beautiful country that is our homeland.

I had been to Israel many times prior, but when I arrived to Jerusalem in the early summer of 2000 the place seemed different. I was in my first year or rabbinic school and the country felt calm. Clinton, Arafat, and Ehud Barack were about to sign the Camp David Accords and it felt like I would actually be in Israel when there was true peace. A group of us rented cars and decided to get the best chummus around. And where might you ask would 8 rabbinic students go to find the best chummus around? In Jericho of course, right in the center of the Palestinian Territory.

We ate like royalty, sat with the owners, schmoozed and spent hours there. There we were…Jews and Palestinians sharing a meal in Jericho. We talked in Hebrew, a little Arabic, but mostly in English. In a small microcosm of the ‘Arab-Israeli’ conflict, sitting together at a restaurant, we all truly believed that the dream would soon be a reality.

We agreed that true peace was finally upon us. Unfortunately a few weeks after that lunch Arafat rejected the peace accord and the second intifada began. The once seemingly historic peaceful moment was literally shattered by bus bombings and military conflict.

And now, this past Friday, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority decided to unilaterally submit a bid for statehood through the United Nations Security Council. This gesture was clearly an attempt to raise world-wide sympathy for the Palestinians. Israel, the US, and a host of other countries, including some Arab nations suggested a different path to peace, but Abbas refused to listen. His language to the UN referred to Israel as the ‘occupying power’, referred to Jerusalem as an occupied city and fabricated stories regarding ethnic cleansing.

Abbas’ mission was simply to lure the international community into supporting statehood without proper negotiations. Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, replied by saying, ‘I didn't come here to win applause. I came here to speak the truth. The truth is that Israel wants peace. Let’s listen to one another. I'll tell you my needs and concerns. You'll tell me yours. And with God's help, we'll find the common ground of peace.’

But, according to rabbi and journalist Daniel Gordis, we have a bigger problem. Gordis states that ‘Every Israeli attempt to cede land to the Palestinians…has resulted in attacks on the Jewish state. For what the Palestinians want, is not the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian’s real goal is the destruction of the Jewish one.’ (Gordis 53)*

Gordis is right, for thousands of years all we ever wanted was peace. Peace is a fundamental concept in Judaism. So often we, as a people, stood waiting for that sacred moment when we could literally beat our swords in ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks. But what if peace is simply unattainable? What if your perceived partner has no interest in peace? How much longer can we fool ourselves into thinking and praying that we have a true partner?

It’s time to face the fact that the Palestinians do not want peace…they just aren’t interested.

Medinat Israel, the country of Israel needs our support. There is only one country in the Middle East that has ever tried to help the Palestinian people…that country is Israel. A two-state solution is a viable option but only if we have a true partner that is willing to accept our needs, as well as their own. Do not be easily swayed by Palestinian propaganda, news media, and fancy rhetoric simply aimed at provoking world sympathy. Each and everyone one of us needs to support Israel. We are Am Israel, the nation of Israel and we must support our country at all times! Jews support Israel!

Our last stop is Aretz, the land of Israel!

The land of Israel, the ground, the mud, and the stone are the foundation of our people and our history. There is a reason people kiss that ground, a reason people give their lives for that soil, and a reason that Jerusalem is intertwined into almost every facet of our people. It’s our home!

However - ‘Among Jewish Americans thirty-five and younger, a full 50% said that Israel’s destruction would not be a personal tragedy for them.” (Gordis 11)* How is that possible? The land of Israel is part our Jewish core!

Take a moment to look around this room. Two out of three American Jews have not been to Israel…two-thirds! It is irresponsible to not visit the land of Israel at least once in your lifetime. Birthright, the organization sending young adults to Israel takes that initiative seriously…although imperfect; Birthright provides thousands of Jews the ability to experience Israel. Each one of us in this room has the opportunity to visit Israel, perhaps not through the Birthright organization, but through our own birthright. Beach vacations and fancy electronics are lovely but there is nothing more worth the money than seeing Israel for yourself. Although I shouldn’t tell you how to spend your money, spend it on Israel.

Digging in the sand in Coronado is fun, but can it compare to digging your hands into the Israeli soil at an archeological site. Holding a new smartphone is exciting, but is it the same as holding a freshly baked pita stuffed with falafel in Jerusalem. Getting a spa treatment is relaxing, but is it better than slathering yourself with mud and floating in the Dead Sea. Experience Israel for yourself!

How can anyone have a true opinion on Israel, a feeling, or a connection without having your own feet standing on that land? It’s not possible!

Tomorrow morning we’ll read the binding of Isaac, where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son. This story is scrutinized because it’s unimaginable that a man would kill his own child.

There is very little dialogue and therefore we’re encouraged to interpret what happened.

We immediately criticize Abraham, Isaac, even God, but truthfully we have no idea because we don’t know what happens in those gaps throughout the story. Therefore we formulate ignorant opinions.

The same is true of Israel. How can anyone formulate an opinion about Israel if you don’t have all the facts for yourselves? What gives anyone the right to critique Israel without having your feet on the ground in the Promised Land, without looking into Syria from the Golan Heights, or without having your hand touching the Western Wall? Parenting advice from someone without children is offensive. A movie recommendation without seeing the film is ridiculous. And making a decision, statement, or comment about Israel without having had experienced the magnificence of our land is ludicrous. Congregation Beth Israel is giving you two opportunities to go: December 18th-28th with the Kahn Family, and June 3rd -14th with my Family.

Together, we are Am Israel, the nation of Israel. We must defend, honor, and support Medinat Israel, the state of Israel, and everyone in this room needs to visit Eretz Israel, the land of Israel.

Our virtual tour ends here, but it’s really just the beginning…how will you support Israel?!

Shanah Tovah!

*Gordis quotes from: Gordis, D. (2009). Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.