Rabbis Must Speak About Israel, Warts and All
For most of my congregants, Israel is an accepted and welcome fact of life at the top of our communal agenda, not a point of contention. People care about Israel and identify with it. They love it in the unconditional way in which parents love their children. They are at peace with it.
Every Sabbath, our congregation recites the prayers for Israel and for the Israel Defense Forces. Over the past 10 years, four members have served in combat units in the regular Israeli army. Several more have made aliyah.
Members of Moriah Congregation travel to Israel in numbers way out of proportion to the size of our synagogue community. We raise tens of thousands of dollars every year to enable high school and college students to participate in dozens of organized programs in Israel, ranging from volunteering on kibbutzim to studying at yeshivahs.
Why is our Israel orientation so strong? We work at it.
My congregants know that every vacation I have, each of the three sabbaticals I have enjoyed, every chance I get, I run to Israel. My son was a paratrooper in the IDF. My wife’s family made aliyah — from New Jersey — in 1930. When I sermonize about Israel, I try to talk about the everyday normality of the country. I talk about our sabbatical neighbors, about shopping in the supermarket, about getting care in the hospital, about the rigors of buying a car.
I do speak about the holiness of the country and about the Jewish imperative to cherish and defend Israel, but I make every effort to contextualize the sacred component of Israel’s importance for us within a framework of a recognizable reality and a sense that Israel is a place where normal people lead normal lives. In order for American Jews to appreciate what is holy about Israel, I believe it is necessary for them to accept the mundane.
Rabbis must speak about Israel. They must tell the truth, which means admitting that Israel is imperfect. But every rabbi’s bottom line must be a nonnegotiable affirmation of the spiritual intimacy every Jew must develop with the state. When Israel is known as the center of the rabbi’s world, it will achieve centrality among the rabbi’s flock.
Sam Fraint is the rabbi of Moriah Congregation, in Deerfield, Ill.
Read the rest of our special coverage of how rabbis talk — or don’t talk — about Israel in synagogue.
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