Monthly Archives: March 2023

The Stakes

On May 14, 1948, as the last British troops were leaving Palestine, Jewish leaders declared the establishment of the State of Israel. The Declaration of Independence was read aloud by the country’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, in Tel Aviv and was broadcasted to the world. The declaration proclaimed the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, recognized the historical connection of the Jewish people to the region and pledged to uphold democratic values and principles. Most significantly, the text reads, “The state of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The current challenge to Israel’s Supreme Court jeopardizes these lofty goals and the foundational rights of Israeli citizens. Because if the authority of the Supreme Court is scuttled, then the currently constituted coalition government will redefine what Israel was meant to be since the time of the founders – and even before them.

The promise that Israel will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture” is at risk. That’s why I am supporting the hundreds of thousands of Israeli demonstrators gathering in every Israeli city to demand the government cease and desist in this attempt to destroy democracy.

Reform temples could lose all funding currently guaranteed to ALL synagogues in Israel. Reform rabbis could lose all of their rabbinic authority. Jewish women who want to read Torah at the Western Wall on the women’s side could be arrested.

For the LGBTQ+ community in Israel, all rights for equal access and fair employment standards could be overturned. Their status and their safety could be dangerously tenuous.

Secular Israelis and non-Orthodox Jews could lose access to transportation on Shabbat. Seven-Eleven-style convenience stores and restaurants, and pharmacies that are currently open 24/7 could be forcibly closed on Shabbat.

The settler movement in Israel could use this lack of judicial oversight to continue its increasingly provocative and violent behavior toward Palestinians with impunity.

Most of all, the gutting of the Court’s authority stands to besmirch the image of the modern Jewish State. It causes a calamitous change in who and what Israel has represented since the beginning: the only true democracy in the Middle East. If the Court is lost, so too, then is democracy.

My take on this is from Israeli narratives, not my own. I arrived at my cause for concern via articles and news reports by those on Israel’s Left and Right. From The Times of Israel and Haaretz, and the Jerusalem Post. I have heard the anguish expressed by Israeli army reservists. Jet pilots. Professors. Cab drivers. People in their 20s. People in their 80s.

If we’ve learned anything over the decades since the Holocaust, it is that we need Israel as a bastion of freedom and safety for the Jewish people. We need Israel to continue to struggle with the real-time dilemma of statehood in the face of occupation. We need the Jewish State to proudly embrace the citizenry of Israel with all of its messy, demanding challenges. We, Jews of the Diaspora, need Israel to uphold the best values of progressive Jewish life as it has struggled to do since 1948.

To speak out for a democratic Israel is to uphold the Jewish State’s promise as signified by the Declaration of Independence. It is to declare oneself to be a true Zionist. What are the pro-democracy demonstrators holding at rally after rally throughout Israel? Israeli flags. Hundreds. Thousands of Israeli flags.

Winter Is Coming?

What a miserable snowfall tally we witnessed this winter! It’s hard to fully comprehend just how pathetic it’s been. All those meteorologists and local tv news reporters, desperately watching the maps, comparing different snowfall models to predict future storms, and all of it for naught.
It’s so sad to lose a cornerstone environmental marker, a regular life event that defined not just the season but also an attitude about life in New England. Whenever it snowed, everything had to change. School was canceled, offices were closed, and plans were scuttled. We were all forced to look out the window, chill out, and enjoy the stunning sight of snow cover. Time slowed down, and so did we.
With snowfall would always come the skis and the sleds and the skates. And then, of course, the hot chocolate, the hot toddies, and tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. What memories…
Certainly, snowstorms are not without peril and aggravation. Getting stuck in a storm on the road struggling to get home was always a frightening, exhausting experience. The relief of finally getting home, off the road, and pulling into the driveway was deep and gratifying.
And getting kids ready to go outside, stuffing them into snowsuits like making sausage, finding hats and gloves and scarves… not a lot of fun. But once the kids got outside, it was often a dream time. The requisite snowman, the attempt at a fort, and the snowball fight that would last until the youngest participant got smacked in the face with an icy mass are all templates of wintertime bliss. Even coming back into the house and stripping off the wet snow gear was beautiful! Chapped cheeks glowing, the warmth returning to fingers and toes: these are just a few of the joys of the snow.
I would be remiss were I to leave out the dissenting votes on wintertime snowfall. My mother hated the snow. She would no doubt be celebrating this climate change twist if she were alive today. But not me.
It is deeply problematic to witness the inexorable destructive power of climate change. The chickens have come home to roost. I have lost the snow.
I don’t know what the next winters of my life will look like, how cold it will get, what my garden will do. But I will do as Jews have always done: adapt. I will also lean into memories of another time, of deep snow, puffer coats, and boots. Since my heart surgeries, I don’t shovel snow anymore or use my snowblower. But I will recall the unique sense of accomplishment of a cleared driveway and sidewalks clean and salted. And I will, with irony, utter the words from Game of Thrones: “Winter is coming.” I am still determining what it will look like, but arrive it will. I will engage in the Jewish practice of remembering what was and engaging in what is.