Shouting but Not Hearing

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published May 19, 2010, issue of May 28, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Yoram Tehar Lev, a songwriter from Kibbutz Yagur, tells the story of a rabbi who was hired by an old-line congregation. Upon arriving, he was mystified: During the recitation of the Sh’ma, half the worshippers stood while the other half remained seated. Those who were standing would shout to those who were sitting, “You are supposed to stand! That is the way it has always been done!” And those who were seated would shout right back, “Sit down! One sits during the Sh’ma!”

The rabbi decided to put an end to the bedlam, and proposed a visit with the oldest member of the congregation, a man 98 years old. The committee said to him, “Zayde, tell us how it was. Didn’t the people stand for the Sh’ma?” And the old man thought and finally said, “No, that is not how it was.” Those on the committee in favor of a sedentary Sh’ma were delighted. “So, Zayde, you mean people sat during the Sh’ma, right?” The old man thought and finally said, “No that is not how it was.”

At this point, his frustration mounting, the rabbi said, “Zayde, please, please try to remember. Otherwise the two camps will just go on yelling at each other.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “that is how it was.”

Sound familiar? That is how it was, that is how it is. Oh, there’s some squeezed middle ground, kind of what it might be like to do the Sh’ma in a crouched position. When it comes to the topic of Israel, at least some of our national organizations try to speak temperately. But in the synagogue world, in particular though hardly exclusively, the rhetoric is often rough, bordering on boorish. Sit in on a committee responsible for planning a forum on Israel, and you will quickly learn how many people are “outside the tent,” unacceptable because of their views.

I will not employ the currently ritual invocation of symmetry which requires that we say things like, “the left and the right are equally to blame.” The way it works, in my experience, is that Mr. X, a longtime commentator on Israel with dovish views, is dismissed as a forum prospect because he is “controversial.” But Mr. Y, an equally experienced commentator who opposes the Obama administration’s initiatives and who supports the ideologically motivated settlers, is deemed acceptable with nary an eyebrow raised. He is seen as “pro-Israel”; his counterpart is not.

Just the other week, the executive of a major city Jewish federation took me aside at a reception and said, “You know how much I dislike the left.” (And yes, he knew that I am of the left.) “Well,” he continued, “I loathe the right. They are insufferable. Follow their advice — actually, their demands — and the ranks of the pro-Israel community would be cut by 80%.” He was complaining about the right’s objections to co-sponsorship of communal events that might include such allegedly nefarious organizations as J Street.

J Street and the New Israel Fund are this season’s favored targets. A friend tells me she attended a service where the rabbi spent a full five minutes denouncing J Street as “anti-Israel,” this after Israel’s ambassador to the United States made nice to J Street, this after officials in Jerusalem hurried to invite members of a J Street mission for collegial conversation. But no, the house may be burning, but we have to be very selective in who gets to help put out the fire. J Street? Incendiary. My goodness, it favors a two-state solution. Golly, it supports vigorous American diplomacy.

The left? Not wholly innocent, albeit quite different from the right. There are people on the left whose assaults on Israel are so brutal that they make me feel at one with the settlers. The other evening, at a Boston celebration of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, held in the auditorium of the main public library, there were people outside the building holding up signs such as “Palestine Will Be Free, From the River to the Sea.” (They were otherwise extremely well-behaved. No shouts, no catcalls. Very large police presence.) And inside, in the lobby, again, more demonstrators, this time apparently Jews. But such people have already separated themselves from the community.

My concern is with the very large swath of Jews who do care, many of them deeply, about Israel’s safety and believe that Israel’s own policies contribute to its increasing isolation in the world. That does not mean that they are enthralled with the Palestinians, or that they fail to acknowledge the complexities of peace-making. Nor, by any stretch, does it mean they are anti-Israel.

Israel itself seems bent on displaying the same self-defeating tendencies. Noam Chomsky is denied entry to the West Bank. There is a bloc in the Knesset that seeks to render criticism of Israel by NGOs illegal. And so forth.

Full disclosure: I am a longtime and very proud supporter of the New Israel Fund, and I wish J Street much success in its efforts.

As to the Sh’ma, sometimes I stand, sometimes I sit. But I never yell at the others.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.