Rabbi’s Review – April 2018

Israel at 70

Rabbi Charles K. Briskin


I don’t like to throw things away. Rather, I like “collecting”. Until recently, I had ten boxes of old New Yorker magazines, neatly organized, filling shelves in my garage.

That number is down to five. I now have one single memory box from Kindergarten through 12th grade. A file box of twenty five year old 4th and 8th grade lesson plans remains in my possession. It will be interesting to see what stays and what goes.

Before keeping something or discarding it I review it. I recently found two source books titled, “Israel at 50” and “Israel at 60.” As I review this material and as we approach Israel’s 70th, it’s interesting to reflect on how my relationship with Israel has matured over the years, how Israel has changed, and what has remained the same.

I wonder what the upcoming “Israel at 70” source books will offer. Will it focus on Israel’s remarkable technological achievements? Its stellar health care system? Its acceptance, unrivaled in the region, of LGBTQ folks? Its strong military? Or will it focus on the widening divisions between the rich and poor, Arabs and Jews, the enmity between the religious and secular, or the occupation of the West Bank?

Israel remains a very young country that has grown up very fast. It astounds and amazes at every turn. Despite its sometimes unwieldy politics and controversies, Israeli culture and society, its arts and music, even its burgeoning food scene is remarkable. In many ways, Israel’s intersection of politics, culture and society and the robust debates among Israelites mirrors the United States. In recent years, I have found that those who have a cursory knowledge of Israel begin to develop a greater appreciation for Israel when they focus on its land and its people and less on politics. In time, we can try to better understand its messy parliamentary form of government, its wily coalitions, and the outsized influence of ultra- Orthodox parties.

Temple Beth El has celebrated and explored Israel in different ways over the years—through the extraordinary iEngage video lecture series, the year-long book group that I led two years ago, or our biannual trips to Israel—engaging with Israel remains one of our core values.

As we prepare to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, we are blessed to join our friends at Congregation Ner Tamid for a lovely concert. I am grateful that Rabbi Schuldenfrei has invited us to participate in their celebration. Details about their program and concert are on the enclosed insert.

I hope you will join us as we mark this momentous anniversary in the history of the young State of Israel.