Climbing Another Mountain

When we switch back from the special white Torah covers to the Shabbat multi-colored covers on Simchat Torah this Sunday at 6pm, it will signal the official conclusion of the High Holy Days season. I’ve never climbed a mountain before, but I would assume that the feeling upon reaching the summit is a lot like putting the last Torah back in the ark to begin the new cycle of temple life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these last few weeks of the new year. The HHD cycle felt different. Certainly, the celebration of the High Holy Days is never the same twice. Each year is a unique moment in time for us as individuals, as a congregation, and as a people. We’re all travelers, moving through time and space.

This new year is coming in with dark clouds and heavy weather. We obviously never know what will happen from day to day and month to month. But I sense a climate of intense angst, a particular kind of dread I don’t remember ever feeling, not even during the Vietnam era.

We don’t know what the vicissitudes of life will be this year. All we know for sure is that they will be choppy. Or to put it another way: we’re on the roller coaster and we’re listening to the click click click of the mechanism pulling us up the steep slope. It’s dark and we can’t make out when were going to reach that point when we begin to careen down and around.

Is it grammatically correct to say that this new year felt “more unique” then years past? However one phrases it, that’s my feeling. It dawned on me from the beginning of the cycle. Usually, at Erev Rosh Hashanah services, congregational participation is muted. It’s as if people are getting into the groove of the season; the special melodies, the prayers we say only during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur… By Kol Nidre, folks are more attuned to the music and the mood of the season. More people sing with confidence and fervor.

But this year, when we turned and sang Avinu Malkeinu, I was deeply moved by the immediacy of the congregation. People were singing. They were listening. People were profoundly present. Why? I have a theory, based on absolutely no evidence other than my gut feeling and anecdotal evidence from congregants and from rabbis serving other congregations.

I think we realized just how important – how necessary it is – to gather as a community. We know that going it alone is not how to make one’s way into the uncertainty ahead. A year after the Tree of Life murders, we understand the fragility of life as Americans and as American Jews in a new way. We need each other – it’s as simple as that. There was, I think, a kind of urgency in the congregation, borne not out of fear, but rather from the conviction that to “dwell together as brothers and sisters” is more than a hackneyed phrase. It is a raison d’être.

Embrace the World for a Moment

The news continues to be like an ongoing soap opera, with one long cliffhanger after another. It all feels more and more preposterous. The future looks murky and threatening. It feels almost unbearable. I’ve said the Yiddish word ‘oy’ a billion times these past few years. Stop the world! I want to get off!
If we wanted, we could share our outrage over the disgraceful state of our world. We could count on all fingers and toes just how many things are wrong. We all carry more than our share of fear and anxiety over every minute of every day.
The first Gerer rebbe, Yitzhak Meir Rotenberg, once said something like, ” If you spend all your time reflecting on your failings, on evil and moral decay, then over time you become enslaved by evil and the whole world turns to ashes. Stir filth this way or that, it’s still filth. In the time I spend brooding about the world, I could be stringing pearls for the benefit of the Holy One.”
It’s hard to keep positive. It’s hard not to be in a permanent sense of indignation. And certainly, I’m not suggesting we ignore the social ills. We Jews have a job to do, to repair this broken world.
It’s a grey New England, early Fall day. The leaves are brilliant, glistening with rain, blowing in the breezes. I know in just a short while, the leaves will be gone, and winter will be here. But for right now, this very moment, I’m taking a moment to breathe and to give thanks. Yom Kippur has passed. Sukkot is coming. I’m still here, and if you’re reading this, well then, so are you!
At the end her beautiful, heartbreaking poem, The Thing Is, Ellen Bass writes, “You hold life like a face/between your palms, a plain face/ no charming smile, no violet eyes,/and you say, yes, I will take you/I will love you, again.
That’s what we do: we shake our fists, we march, we seek justice. But for a moment, we can open our arms wide and embrace the mortal, tired world.

Forgiveness and Letting Go

It is so hard to forgive. After being assailed by a colleague, humiliated by a loved one, betrayed by a friend, harmed physically or emotionally, or both… the list is infinite – the resulting damage is often traumatic. We’re a mess. Our self-confidence teeters on the edge. We can’t trust anyone, including ourselves, for a long time, or at least what feels like a long time. The process of healing takes years, and sometimes, a lifetime. There are wounds to bind.

After time has gone by, and the hurt has subsided, we sometimes replace the pain caused by another with resentment. We gather our emotional strength and proceed to use it as a force to ward off the offender. Every mention of their name, every picture, anything at all associated with them gets us going. We resent the offender, yet we continue to think about them way too much. We plot fantasies of revenge, insult their reputation, and tell stories of their perfidy to anyone who will listen (and sometimes we tell the story over and over again to people who don’t want to hear it again…).

When we’ve been hurt or slighted, we get thrown off our game. But over time, as we eschew the possibility of forgiveness in favor of anger and blame, we become stunted. Our hearts whither. We become less accessible to others until we are nothing but resentment. We see the world through a distorted lens as we become a caricature: the quintessential victim.We don’t have to live in the pain of the past. We can emerge from that place, even if it feels terrifying to let go of something that has become our raison d’etre.

When we forgive someone, we lose nothing. Instead, we gain a new, open heart. We can love and be loved in a fuller, more productive way. We don’t have deny that we were wronged. We don’t have to pretend we were injured. We don’t have to forget. But we do have to try to forgive in order to live our lives to the fullest extent possible.I know that some things are unforgivable, and no one else can make that call. But finding the strength to forgive is finding freedom for the soul. It’s finding precious air to breathe. It’s admitting just how big the human heart can grow.

Yom Kippur can be a hard day, and I’m not talking about the fasting. It’s about starting again. It’s about the spaciousness of the soul and the healing of old wounds. It’s about forgiveness.

It’s Only Words, And Words are All I Have

I am in a tiny dinghy on a vast sea of words. Hebrew words, English words, transliterated words. I’ve picked up my High Holy Day Machzors a hundred times and chanted, read, then reread all the pages we’re covering. For weeks I’ve been writing and rewriting. The tyranny of composing essays or sermons, or really anything on a computer is that you never arrive at the final draft. You can continue to edit right up to the very moment you have to get up and deliver the sermon or submit the article.

This means I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing and editing my words. I reach a point when I begin to panic. Does this make sense? Have I written my way into a corner? Is this sermon worthy of your attention?

Words. When this existential confrontation occurs, I am reminded of Flaubert’s aside in Madame Bovary, when he writes, “Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”

Jules Feiffer, the famous cartoonist/writer/gadfly, produced a weekly cartoon commentary for the Village Voice. One of the recurring themes was a woman in a black leotard, doing modern dance steps while proclaiming a variety of profound truths, nonsense, and provocative insights about the world. For some reason, I’ve imagined doing a sermon like that. Don’t worry – that would never happen. And I hate to dance. And I’ve never attended a single dance performance, save my daughters’ endless dance recitals, which were, let’s face it – deadly.

It’s not the dancing per se that attracts me. It’s just words never seem entirely up to the task. They’re a cracked kettle. They’re opaque, easily misunderstood. So maybe a form beyond words alone. Maybe interpreting words through movement could make their meaning clearer. Maybe?

So here I am – heneini – talking about the limits of words – with words. And I don’t have many moves beyond the literary ones. This is what I’ve got. And I will share with you, through all of our filters and thoughts and experiences, my best attempt at making meaning. Think of it as an offering of truth or a challenge to preconceived notions. Come join me on this sea of words.

Thinking About the Good Old Days

There’s a significant phrase in Jewish liturgy. We hear it most commonly at the end of the Torah service.

הֲשִׁיבֵֽנוּ יְיָ אֵלֶֽיךָ וְנָשֽׁוּבָה, חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵֽינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם

Hashiveinu Adonai elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu k’kedem.

This line comes from the book of Lamentations, chapter 5, verse 21. Lamentations was written after Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire conquered Judah, laid siege to Jerusalem, and then destroyed the first Temple in 586 BCE. It was a horrible and traumatic time for the Jewish people.

In its original setting, this text is the next to last verse in the entire book. It is a desperate cry. The author begs God to let us back into the divine presence. After the destruction of the Temple, he feels cast out. After so much pain and loss, he despairs of anything good ever happening again.

It’s a complicated sentence to translate because these 6 words imply so much. My interpretation would be, “[Forgive us; open your heart to us]. Let us come back to you, and we will come back; make it like it used to be.”

This dream of restoration, that the good old days are possible to reclaim, is an ancient and abiding hope. But the good old days is a mythic construct. It’s gazing into a rearview mirror vainly hoping we’re looking forward. Nostalgia can be so sweet and intoxicating. If we could just go back to the way things were, we could fix everything and make it all better.

I’m in that new club of older adults who say things like, “I used to be able to walk so much faster.” Or, “I used to stay up until 1am reading and working – what happened?”

Here’s what happened; life happened. It’s not mysterious, and it shouldn’t be surprising. Yet it is both mysterious and shocking.

As we greet people to have a sweet new year, I consciously do not say anything about having a year of peace. Because I don’t think it’s appropriate to wanly wish for something that cannot happen. At least, not right now. I do remember a time in the Sixties when it felt like we could do anything. It was a time that felt ripe with new possibilities. We truly believed that we could end the war in Vietnam; we would give peace a chance.

It’s chilly out there these days, in temperature and temperament. There’s no going back. It’s all about moving forward with resiliency. The myth of the good old days is so comforting, but not instructive. It’s not real. The notion that one day, peace will come, as if it’s a long lost zeppelin, coming in for a landing, at last, is crazy.

It has to be about the will of the people of the planet to decide on just how ludicrous it is to posit that some people deserve more than others based on their race or religion. Peace will only come when we’re all willing to work for it by rowing in the same direction.

And that’s why the hope for peace is a Messianic ideal. Because, quite frankly, the whole world already knows the harsh reality of climate change. We are all under its thumb, yet we still refuse to act in concert as a human race. Which is why I can’t say we pray for peace in the new year.

Here’s what I can feel comfortable saying on the cusp of the new year. Dear God, give us the strength to live through each day with dignity. Give us the courage to stand by the ideals of justice and mercy. Give us the selflessness to extend ourselves to others as we take care of ourselves.

The wishlist is staggering. But wishing and praying are a good foundation for action. As we enter a new year in a little more than a week, I pray that we can find the courage to hope and the strength to do what must be done.
There’s no good old days, just the days to come. They’re empty pages; what a sweet new year it would be if we were to fill those pages with abiding love and holy intentions.

Shabbat Shalom

Come Take a Ride

When I was a kid, my parents would load us into the car on a Sunday afternoon and then take a Sunday drive. Do people still do this? I can’t imagine. All of us, the young and the old and those in between, are so programmed now. Who can imagine ever find the time to get into the car and just … drive?

We had no destination, no roadside attraction where we would eventually arrive and do something. We just sat in the car while my father drove. He would meander on secondary roads through the little towns and villages of Connecticut. One of his goals, I think, was to purposely get lost and then figure out how to get back home (I know, the metaphors are so overdetermined here that I can’t even begin to explore them now – I’ll save that for another essay…)

Within 20 minutes of getting into the car, everyone but me was asleep: my mother, riding shotgun, my sisters in the backseat. And I was as far away from my father as I could be, rolling around in the wayback of our Studebaker Lark station wagon.  

He had nothing to say to me, and I had nothing I could say to him that felt safe. So we sat in silence as the rest of the family dozed off. I don’t remember listening to the radio. I just remember the hum of the wheels on the uneven pavement.

This worked for him, driving along in silence. As for me, it felt odd, this aimless, directionless winding through New England. I appreciated the quiet. But there was always some anxiety associated with this trip to nowhere. What if we got lost? What if he really didn’t know where he was going and how we were going to get back? (Yet another essay…)

To this day, the notion of just taking a walk with no destination in mind and with no goal makes me a little crazy. I’m ok to say we’ll walk 25 minutes and then turn around. That’s fine. But when someone says, “let’s go exploring!” my imagination hyperventilates.  I start to worry. I think, “How long will we be gone? When will I be back in my familiar setting, in my space?”

I don’t know how Magellan and Columbus and the Vikings and all those History Channel people did it. Just setting out, as Tom Petty sings, “into the great wide open”? Perhaps it’s my existential vertigo acting up? I know for sure that I would never sign up to be crew on the Nina, the Pinta, or even on the Santa Maria.

I would wave from the shore, cheering the brave souls on. That night, I’d crawl into my own bed and fall asleep, knowing the next morning, I would be right where I belong. It’s not very brave or courageous of me, I know.

Some people were borne to push themselves to the outer limits. They are the ones who listened to all the flat earth stories, and then said, “What the heck!? Let’s see what happens.” They are the ones like Theodor Herzl, who said, “Let’s create a Jewish State!” and then set about doing it because, well, why not?

Sometimes we’re the driver, mapping it out; or not. There may be a destination. Or not. But we are the drivers. And other times? We’re in the wayback, awake while others sleep, looking out the back where we’ve just been. I was just there for the ride. And sometimes, that’s the best place to be.

Shabbat Shalom


The Story of a Broken Spine

 I love my Mishkan Tefillah, the blue Shabbat siddur(prayer book) we use every week of the year. It’s the standard size of every other siddur in the sanctuary. But it’s a special edition, made with a stronger binding. And, get this: the page edges are gilded in gold. It has the look of an antiquarian treasure and the heft of the holy. 

Over so many years of regular hard-core use, my siddur has come to conform to my hands. The balance point on its spine is perfect. It never feels too big or unwieldy. The book knows what page I’m going to next. It opens at all the places we pray from. The oil from my fingers has left darkened corners on the pages with prayers I’ve opened to a million times, like Aleinu (pg 586or the Kaddish (pg 598)

I’ve spent real quality time with my siddur, at services large and small. Cold snowy Friday nights when we’re lucky to have a minyan (including a Torah or two…), big b’nai mitzvah celebrations with 250 people in the sanctuary, opening a Sefer Torah on Simchat Torah – the list goes on. The beat goes on.

I love my siddur. So you can imagine how I felt when someone, somehow, took my siddur out of the sanctuary, something I NEVER do, my deluxe siddur with the gilded pages, and used it to copy some prayers. If that were all, dayeinu – it would’ve been enough. But it was far worse. While putting it in the copier, the culprit placed it on the glass surface of the machine. They then clearly pressed the siddur down hard to copy both sides of the book. I saw my siddur in the copy room next to the paper cutter and wondered why it was not in its proper place. I opened it and could instantly tell that it had been damaged. The offender inadvertently cracked the binding.

I was crushed. I felt violated and was almost in tears. My siddur, my source of strength, the sacred vessel with which I led the congregation in prayer and celebration, was broken. You might say, “Well, Rabbi; we own a few hundred copies of the siddur. Just grab one of those, or buy another one.” I didn’t want to take one out of congregational circulation. It would somehow not be kosher to use it. The siddurim are yours, not mine. 

I did call the CCAR to inquire about the availability of a special edition. The head of the CCAR Press personally searched high and low, but there were no more special editions for sale. They had sold out years ago. 

I decided I would simply carry on using my gilded, injured siddur. But it didn’t feel the same in my hands. It felt fragile. Whenever I turned the pages, I could feel the broken spine. It didn’t naturally open to the usual pages anymore. I had to open it cautiously to avoid turning to the wrong page. It was not ideal, but what else could I do? 

Then, a moment of reckoning. During a Jazz Shabbat service, when I turned to the Amidah (pg 164), two pages came loose. The spine had failed. I was heartbroken. What was I to do now? 

We had decided last year that with so many of our congregational siddurim in disrepair, we needed to send them to a bindery for restoration. So, with a heavy heart, I realized that I would have to trust my siddur in the hands of an unknown bookbinder. With God and Doug Ball as my witnesses, I taped a note to the cover of my prayer book. It read, “This is my beloved siddur. Please be kind to it.” It came back about two months later. It looked good! The binding was restored, maybe better than ever. I was mightily relieved and most grateful. But it’s not quite the same siddur it was ten years ago. We’ll need to get reacquainted. 

As the river pulls us all along, as we approach the rapids of a new year, we acknowledge that nothing is perfect, nothing stays the same. The pressures of work, infirmity, conflict, reversals in love and work and life, crushing disappointment in us and others – all the stuff that makes adult life so hard can cause us to break, just like the spine of my siddur. Amid adversity, what are we to do?

Giving up or giving in is sometimes the path of least resistance, but that’s rarely the best path. In the end, all we can do is to trust others to help us mend what is broken in us. This isn’t easy. There’s nothing carefree about it. We have to take a step towards health and believe there are those out there ready to catch us when we falter and fall. Nothing returns to the way it was. The past is accessible through memory but not through spirit.

My beautiful siddur is the same – but different, just like me. That may be one of the hardest truths about aging, about our victories and our losses. We’re precisely who we’ve always been. And we’re not. The river changes us – and I’m not just talking about wrinkles. 5780 will be here soon. I’m excited to face a new year knowing I don’t – I can’t! – face it alone. I’ve got my family, my friends, and my colleagues – and, thank God, I have you. So let’s embrace it all together: finitude and eternity, loss and new life, endings and beginnings, laughter and tears. With patience and humor, we can help each other mend our souls.


 It’s a momentous day today at TBA. Bryan Baumer has the final Bar Mitzvah of the 2018/19 this weekend. The sun is out and beautiful. Vacation and summer camp is around the corner. It’s that time of year when we share our intended destinations with each other.

I’m going to be traveling to Orleans this summer, as I have every summer for 40 years. I delight in returning to the same town every year, the same beaches, the same Main Street shopping, the same trip to P-Town, and so forth. As we cross the Sagamore Bridge, I know just what I’m getting. And I couldn’t be happier.

Because going to the Cape every summer has become a mythic ritual, a rite of passage that marks the passage of time. I feel like those Europeans who, without fail, withdrew from life (if even for a week), to the famed sanatoriums. Spa culture – defined by its intentional architecture, geographical remove and somnambulistic ambiance – was experienced in direct opposition to the rapid-paced, sick-making atmosphere of industrialized Europe. …[t]he bosky outreaches of central Europe served as a sort of mystical destination where people from kingdoms near and far could live temporarily apart from reality – intermingling, arguing – even as the security and sovereignty of the world around them remained imperiled. It’s unsurprising that a microcosm containing different types of people with little to do but reflect and cathect provided fiction writers with a generative setting, one which everyone from George Eliot to Henry James to Guy de Maupassant took advantage of.

When I get to the Cape, I have my best beach chair, my books, and music. I don’t want to go anywhere other than the Shaw’s Market, the fresh fish place on Rte 6, Chocolate Sparrow, Nauset Beach, or Pilgrim Lake. That’s it. It’s true that when I actually leave Orleans city limits, ending up with friends in Brewster or Wellfleet, I love it. But entropy is a tough habit to break.

I sit on the beach, soaking up the sun and fresh air. I look at the water and can’t believe my food fortune to be in such a beautiful place. I look at my adult children who were raised on these beaches, who never once kvetched, never saying, “Do we have to go to Cape Cod?” I watch my grandchildren splashing around, building sand castles, collecting abandoned beach toys, loving the ambiance, appreciating having around them their favorite adults who are not in a rush to get to work, or anyplace else. The Cape is absolutely a be here now place.

I had a friend who used to hate going on vacation. She thought it was a sign of weakness. She would stoically wave as others left for their summer destinations, all the while thinking, “I am more loyal then they are.” She did work very hard. Not surprisingly, she was not happy. She had so many complaints and concerns about her place of work and her co-workers.One day, her boss called, demanding she take a vacation. “You will be better in your work and your attitude by not doing it for a week or two. Think of it as imposed medical leave.” She did go away to Nantucket for 2 weeks. When she returned, she looked so – different. “I can’t believe I waited so long to do nothing. What was I thinking?”

I will be thinking about the new construction zooming forward in my absence. I will be thinking about my High Holy Day sermons. I will be catching rays. And I will be luxuriating in what it means to be free, loving what I do with my life and loving the people who are in my large extended temple family. I will be practicing the Zen notion of, “Don’t just do something, stand there,” or, in my case, sit there.

I hope all of you will find time to get away from the day-to-day, and just be. That’s hard work – at first. But once you relax into it, the idea and the practice of rest can be joyful. Don’t forget: even God rests from time to time. I hope your Shabbat is restful, good and long. See you in September.

Remembering D-Day

D-Day, the invasion of northern France in 1944, was the most significant victory of the Western Allies in the Second World War. American, British and Canadian forces established a foothold on the shores of Normandy, and, after a protracted and costly campaign to reinforce their gains, broke out into the French interior and began a headlong advance. This battle campaign effectively broke the back of the German army. The Nazi war machine could not recover. 

As a kid, I was fascinated by D-Day. I’d watch documentaries about it on tv. I’d take out my toy soldiers and my various vehicles – tanks, half-tracks, jeeps – and engage the Nazis on the beaches of Normandy. I didn’t know much about the war or the Holocaust, but I did know the Nazis were the bad guys and I dutifully hated them. I went to the movies and, at 9 years of age, saw The Longest Day, a dramatic retelling of the D-Day story with a star-studded cast, including Richard Burton and John Wayne. Afterwards I went to Brentanos in Hartford and bought the book.

 A few decades later, in 1998, I went to see Saving Private Ryan, the Spielberg movie that begins with the D-Day invasion. I have to say that I’ve never been in combat and pray I never will. The first minutes of Private Ryan is as close as I ever want to be. It is a staggering statement on the madness and the terror of war. The surviving men who fought on the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago are now in their 90s. They were no more than boys then, adolescents with everything to lose. Some have never, and will never talk about their experiences. Others have made it a mission in life to speak of often and everywhere, a la Coleridge and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. 

The story of D-Day has a special resonance for Jews. After all, the success of that Allied invasion led to the downfall of Hitler and the eventual liberation of the camps. Yet it is worth noting that saving Jews was never on the to do list of the US Armed Forces. Anti-Semitism would remain central to American foreign policy even as the nation stared down Nazi Germany. The United States entered the war in Europe, of course, but Roosevelt was shrewd enough to cast the move as fighting fascism on behalf of democracy. The war was about preserving American values, not saving European Jews. 

The truth of deep anti-Semitism in America and its consequences is not something I was taught as a child. My devotion to WWII movies and toy soldiers was not sullied by the deeper truth. Not true anymore. I see around the edges of simplistic patriotism and nationalism. I recognize that we can never be seduced into forgetting our past and our struggles. 

When the war ended, the world did not line up to profess mea culpa. But Americans came to understand the suffering of the Jewish people in a new context. In the decades that followed, we broke through walls and crashed through glass ceilings. We’ve worked hard to achieve our particular status in the USA. But we can’t take it for granted. We don’t need to search under every rock for hidden antisemites. We do need to be grateful and alert. 

And so today I want to express my gratitude for the 156,000 Allied troops who fought on D-Day. Without their sacrifices, even more Jewish people would have been viciously beaten, starved, and gassed. As the last veterans die over the next decade, we cannot forget that Holocaust survivors are decreasing in number every day. As we praise the efforts of the Allies and hear their stories, we cannot ever forget that we inherit the obligation to tell the stories of our ancestors, those men, women and children, ignored by the world and left to die. Not only must we say never again regarding our vulnerability, so too must we sign on for a world where no humans are devalued and left to fend for themselves against the vicious storm of hatred.

A New Election, a new Balagan (a big mess)

The American domestic news cycle is like a sack of cats: a raucous, undulating, unformed ball of noise and chaos. So it is possible, even likely, that you may not be tuned into the current state of affairs in Israel. Which is too bad, because the current political situation in the Holy Land is very high drama. Things are as dramatic and implausible as I can ever remember. It’s part West Wing, part Game of Thrones and part House of Cards. I’m not kidding.

To review, Netanyahu’s Likud party won 35 Knesset seats on April 9, a total that was tied with the centrist Blue and White alliance led by Benny Gantz. President Reuven Rivlin is required to invite someone to form a new majority in the Knesset. He asked Netanyahu to attempt to form a government because he had the much clearer path to victory, with right-wing parties controlling 65 seats. (Only 61 are needed for a majority.) Some horse-trading would certainly be required, but it was widely assumed that the right-wingers would fall in line.

The parties that are lumped in as “right” or “far-right” in media coverage (particularly international coverage) include religious West Bank settlers, secular West Bank settlers, Sephardic ultra-Orthodox, Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox, centrist neo-liberals, pot-smoking ultra-Zionist libertarians, and outright terrorists. Many of the disagreements between these parties have little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian issues that much international coverage of Israel tends to focus on. To expect consensus from this mixed collection of smaller parties was a fool’s errand.How would Bibi reach the magic number of 61? By bringing in a wildly unpredictable player, a secular Russian named Avigdor Lieberman, whose party, Yisrael Beiteinu, is very right-wing and hawkish.

Lieberman had been a cabinet minister for Bibi over the years but quit after ongoing feuds with the prime minister and his supporters. Despite the feuds and egos and who can out-macho whom, Bibi hoped that he would get Yisrael Beiteinu’s 5 seats to help constitute his ruling coalition.But – and here’s the drama – Lieberman said no. And Bibi suddenly felt the rug getting pulled from under his feet. Why did Lieberman essentially scuttle Bibi’s next term? There are a few theories.

  1. Lieberman is staunchly secular, and regularly derides the ultra-Orthodox ( when he’s not using their support…), for attempting to make Jewish Law the sole criterion for all that happens in Israel. Most controversially, while military service is mandatory for all 18-year-old Jewish Israelis, students in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas are exempt. Lieberman refused to join Netanyahu’s coalition unless the prime minister committed to passing Leiberman’s bill, without amendment, that would conscript more men and impose penalties on yeshivas that don’t comply. Without the ultra-Orthodox, Bibi cannot constitute a majority for his coalition. So he completely kowtows to them and their extremism.
  2. Lieberman just plain doesn’t like Bibi. He saw a chance to stab Bibi in the gut between the armor plates and shatter the prime minister’s future plans to rule [GOT reference…].
  3. Lieberman is the most inscrutable of Israeli politicians, and there are as many conspiracy theories for the “real” reason he shafted Netanyahu as there are pundits. But just based on the raw political data, it would seem that he is trying to stake out new electoral ground in what he believes is the twilight of Netanyahu’s career.

Leiberman’s refusal to join a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox as long as they refuse to serve in the IDF and Bibi’s potentially severe legal troubles – he is facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three corruption cases -weakened his leverage in coalition negotiations. When the prime minister failed to form a coalition, Knesset members, decided by a vote of 74 to 45 to dissolve the body just a month after being sworn in, making it the shortest-lived parliament in Israel’s history. The proposed date for new elections is Sept. 17.

Yes – you read it correctly. After a grueling, divisive election a month ago, they’re going to do it again. Which means that Israel will see deeper lines drawn between the parties of the Right, desperate centrists playing for time and power, ultra-Orthodox demonstrations against Army service, Lieberman taking swipes at Bibi as Bibi swings wildly, looking for 61 votes, praying he can constitute a coalition in time to pass a law that would grant him immunity from prosecution.

I would suggest a look at two Israeli news sources: and The former tends to lean Left, the latter tends to be relatively centrist. Not only is it an exciting story, but it is also essential for the Jews of America to follow this story, too. We may not be voters in Israel, but we are surely stakeholders.