Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Plea to Israelis on Behalf of Diaspora Jews

Here is a piece of mine that was published in Ha'aretz in Hebrew last week -

and in English this week

reflecting on Israelis' understanding (and lack thereof) of Diaspora Jews and our communities.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Daniel Greyber

Friday, June 24, 2011

An Army for the People

An Army for the People

“I have horses and a stable.  The stable is cleaner, more suitable for living, than the homes where some of these kids come from, if they have homes.  If you saw them, you’d cry; it’d break your heart.”  Those words were uttered not by a social worker but by a hardened army commander who heads a unique unit in the Israeli army, a unit unlike any in the armies of the world.  Yesterday, I visited his base, Chavat HaShomer, with the Mandel Jerusalem Fellows program.  We sat in the commander’s army and talked with the commander, his staff, and even some of the graduating soldiers.  Chavat HaShomer is a training center for Israel’s most troubled boys (there is a parallel one for girls) to get a new start on life.  Sixty-five percent have not studied past 10th grade.  Some were drug-addicts.  Some were abused.  Some lived on the streets.  Some have long arrest records.  For most, this base is the end of the line.

“We don’t want anything from these kids,” says the commander.  “We only want to give to them.  To help them.”  Few of the kids will ever see combat;  most are being trained towards a profession – to be a mechanic, or a driver, or a chef – so that, after the army, they can go back into society, have a job, and live productive lives off the streets.  What does this have to do with the task of the Israeli Defense Force?  Nothing, some might argue.  “On the one hand, the narrow task of an army is to win a war,” the commander tells us.   “Our task has nothing to do with IDF’s mission.  But the government asks this of us, and we do it.”  But the commander and his staff are not just following orders; he and his staff are deeply passionate and committed to their work.

A female commander sits with us.  She is 19 years old and is responsible for 11 soldiers.  “I wanted to do this work.  I wanted to contribute something to Israeli society, to give back.  It’s really hard work – I have to go back and forth between pushing the boys to show them what they’re capable of and being compassionate and nurturing when they need it.  Our first group graduated today.  It’s an amazing feeling to see how far they’ve come.”

The mifakdot – female commanders – train the boys.  When commanders were male, the boys would act violently towards their commanders, but not towards the girls.  We ask one of the soldiers, “Was it hard for you to take orders from a girl?”  “Oh yeah, at first it was really hard, but there is a system and we had to learn to respect the system.”  While the boys are technically getting vocational training, what they are really learning is life skills: discipline, self-respect, self love.  “The first thing we tell them,” says the commander, “is that we believe in you.  We trust you.  These kids have never had someone tell them that before.  Nobody has ever told them they can amount to something.  We tell them, ‘you can do it.’”

As an educator, one of the things I was reminded of in that moment was how critical it is for us, if we are in the role of teaching, to build trust with our students – adults and children alike – and to remind them that they can do it, that ultimately we can help but it is they, not us, who must “do it” – who must read, or fix a computer, or shoot a basket, or overcome an addiction.  Each of us is what the Piazachne Rebbe called a “self-educator” – the teacher can help us, inspire us, remind us and show us how much more we are capable of, but in the end, it is we who teach ourselves.

I was also reminded how, sometimes, having no choice helps us.  All of the boys made a conscious choice to sign up for this unit - they expressed an interest in getting better, but once they are in, they know that they're in.  "There is nowhere for these boys to go.  In a few extreme cases, they might be sent away from here, " says the commander, "but for the most part they know they are here, we are totally committed to them succeeding and finishing what they started."  "It helps us," says one of the soldiers.  "The commanders don't give up on us.  We've got to keep going even when we don't want to."

A couple of the boys sit with us.  One has an American parent, speaks English and Hebrew fluently, and grew up in a religious community.  When he started to have doubts about religion and not to keep Halakhah, his parents friends shunned him.  “I would go over to my friends house and their parents would tell me that they weren’t home.  But then I’d ask my friends and they’d say, “what?  I was upstairs on the computer.  When I was 14 or 15, I would do drugs – hash mainly.  I dropped out of school, had a long arrest record; I would just sleep all day.  My brother convinced me to do this program.  It saved my life.”

Ask most people to think about Israel’s army and, sadly, the world’s idea of the IDF doesn’t include a place like Chavat HaShomer.  This isn’t the whole story, but it’s an important part of the complex story that is Israel; it’s a story that should be told.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Marking Yom HaShoah: Calendars and Memory, God and History

Marking Yom HaShoah: Calendars And Memory, God And History

 The piece below appeared on the Jewish Week website on April 28, 2011
Special to the Jewish Week
The Orthodox Chief Rabbinate decided in 1949 that the Shoah (the Hebrew, literally meaning "catastrophe," that is now used for the Holocaust) should be commemorated on the 10th of Tevet, a minor fast day already established in the Jewish calendar.
In 1951, the Knesset ignored the Chief Rabbinate's decision to incorporate commemoration of the Shoah into the existing calendar of traditional Jewish days of mourning. The first Knesset proposal was to hold Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on the 14th of Nisan, the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (April 19, 1943) but that was rejected because the 14th of Nisan is the day immediately before Passover. You might imagine that the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto drew inspiration from the Passover story in selecting the night before Pesach as the date for their rebellion. In reality, they selected April 19th because the Germans entered the ghetto that day and were determined to deport the remaining Jews of Warsaw as a gift to Hitler whose birthday was April 20th.
The Knesset finally established Yom HaShoah on the 27th of Nisan, eight days prior to Yom HaAtzma'ut, a day that runs dafka - in the face - of the traditional Jewish calendar's association of joy in the month of Nisan, and the Chief Rabbinate's decision for the 10th of Tevet two years prior. Choosing to commemorate Yom HaShoah during the month of Nisan - a month that is supposed to be filled with the joy of Passover - reflected a desire to choose a different narrative than the one that forms the basis of two thousand years of Jewish history.
It is curious to note that the official name of Yom HaShoah is Yom HaZikaron LaShoah v'HaGevurah, Remembrance Day of the Holocaust and Heroism.
What is implied in the second part of the name is an effort to re-interpret the meaning of the Shoah - an event that represents the ultimate devastation when Jews were powerless to defend themselves - into a story of both weakness and power. That the Warsaw ghetto uprising was an act of bravery and light amidst darkness and evil is indisputable, and important. But, seen in a sea of blood and slaughter, and understood in the context of six million men, women, and children who were the victims of state-sponsored, systematized murder, the uprising was significant much more for its symbolic, rather than practical, value.
The modern state of Israel chooses to remember this moment of Jewish heroism in the Shoah because the lesson Israel learns from the Shoah is that it is Jewish strength and heroism, not God, that will save the Jews.
In Israel, one hears the sirens of Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron (Israel's memorial day for fallen soldiers) and sees on television stories of death and tears and sadness. The calendar creates a beginning, the utter blackness and death of the Shoah, a middle, the courage and sacrifice of those who died fighting, and an end, Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, the day of Jewish independence and freedom.
But in the competing, traditional Jewish narrative, the story continues. Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, like Yom HaShoah, runs against the grain of the traditional Jewish calendar. Yom Ha'Atzma'ut is a day of celebration that occurs in the midst of a period of mourning, the first 33 days of the Omer during which traditional Jews remember 20,000 students of Torah who perished. On Lag B'Omer, the dying came to an end and, in another few weeks, Shavuot arrives and traditional Jews celebrate standing before God at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. The traditional Jewish narrative tells us that the freedom of Passover is not only freedom from slavery, but freedom with a purpose: to serve God.
Which narrative is "true?" Do Jews celebrate the God of history who saves from Egypt and gives the Torah at Sinai?
Or, after the Shoah, does the story end at Yom Ha'atzma'ut, having given up on a saving God and, instead, saved ourselves? The question at the heart of these competing calendars is not academic; it is critical to the Jewish future.
As the twenty-first century begins, do Jews find themselves with a state of their own, a safe haven for the first time in two thousand years, but existentially alone in the wilderness? No Jew with a modicum of knowledge of the suffering and persecution that befell Jews for thousands of years would turn away from our newfound ability to defend ourselves. We have independence, for which we should be grateful, but at what cost, and for what purpose?
On Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, I sing Hallel prayers, another liturgical statement: we officially praise God for giving us a new beginning. But as I sing to Him, I am haunted by His absence 70 years ago when we needed Him the most. Does Yom Ha'Atzma'ut lead to Sinai? Can Israel forgive God and find Him in history again?

Yom HaShoah will take place this year on Monday, May 2nd, 2011. Yom HaZikaron will take place on Monday, May 9th. Yom Ha'Atzma'ut will take place on Tuesday, May 10th. This was adapted from an article that appeared in the journal, Conservative Judaism, Spring 2009.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A World Upside Down

Jennifer and I were out of touch over the weekend. We returned on Sunday evening to find (in the words of megilat Esther) an “olam hafuch” – “a world upside down." Our hearts are broken by the horror of what is still unfolding in Japan, and by the horror here in Israel of the Fogel family brutally stabbed to death. My experience of the past few days has been filled with extraordinarily painful images.
Doing something highly unusual in Israeli society, the grandparents of the Fogel family gave permission to the media to publish photos of the murder scene “so that,” they said, “the world will learn the truth of what happened to their family.” Those photos are on the internet. Other pictures with faces of the Fogel parents and children – including a 3 month old infant – are on posters in the streets, on the news, in newspapers. Like you, I have watched the terrible images on TV and the internet of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the continuing danger of the nuclear power plants in Japan. As I have walked the streets of Jerusalem these past few days, I have thought about how, in the past, very few people in history lived with the visual memory of what a tsunami looks like. Video recording didn’t exist; most of those who actually saw a tsunami died moments later. A few who survived walked through the world able to convey perhaps through poetry and myth the stark reality of such calamity. It is a distinctly modern experience to walk through the world carrying with us images of such terrifying power and awful destruction.

Our challenge as Jews and human beings who live with such difficult images is to let our hearts grow, not to replace but to add to the circle of those we care about. It is understandable that, for a time, we may need to shield ourselves from the unending stream of images from a broken world, but we may retreat only for a time. Then we must continue again to give and, in doing so, to be God’s hands in the world.

I pray God gives us each the strength to return to a world so much in need. May our hearts expand, our generosity increase. And, as we read the story of Purim again, may we be granted the vision to sense God’s hidden presence and behold a better day when the world will be made right again.


On a very different note, if you are interested in reading some thoughts on Judaism in the public square written by Rabbi Aaron Alexander and me - click here:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Young Adults and a Movement’s Future

I have been following from afar the debate about the new Strategic Plan for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).   Below are some thoughts about its implications for the movement's future.
I know synagogues are important - they are the "bread and butter" of USCJ. But if you don't put adequate resources into the 18-30 age group there will be very few synagogues left to serve.”  That simple wisdom was offered as a comment on one of the “message boards” currently debating the draft of the Strategic Plan for USCJ.  I hope it is heeded.
About Koach, the movement’s Hillel presence, the plan says: “While the Conservative movement cannot abandon Conservative Jewish college students, it needs a more effective vehicle than the current Koach program.”  What is suggested are “highly focused interventions.”  About the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem, largely serving post-college young adults, the plan calls for a “an independent blue ribbon commission to undertake a complete strategic review of the Fuchsberg Center in Israel, including its relationship to USCJ.”  To be fair, the plan hasn’t yet cut either program, but Koach and the Conservative Yeshiva are on the chopping block – both of their funding could be gone in a year or two.  Yet college students and post-college young adults represent the future for a movement that sorely needs one.
 “Conservative congregations face financial stress, declining and aging membership, narrow leadership base, weak denominational commitment,” the plan acknowledges,” and a loss of meaning for many young people.”  Wouldn’t programs for college students on campus and for young adults learning in Israel be the last things you’d want to cut?  Students at the Conservative Yeshiva find deep meaning in Jewish life, possess (for the time being) a strong commitment to Conservative Judaism, and, as passionate and Jewishly knowledgeable young people, represent the future leadership of Conservative synagogues. They possess the potential to serve as a powerful link to the next generation of membership.
In reconstituting USCJ’s leadership, the plan says, “the majority of the leaders of the new USCJ should be drawn from a pool of philanthropic investors who are capable of, and motivated to, making [sic] significant investments in the new USCJ.”  Those funders will be less motivated by “highly focused interventions” than by big ideas that represent a vision for the future.  They will give larger sums for big, innovative projects; they are unlikely to invest in leaner, “focused” versions of what has not worked before.
Why not create Koach co-ops on campus where Conservative Jews can replicate the energy and passion of Ramah summer communities by living, eating (kosher), praying and learning together?  Rather than compete with Hillel, as many Chabad houses do, these co-ops can partner with Hillel on campus to strengthen Conservative minyanim and foster stronger Jewish life on campus.  Similar to how Kollel and Chabad couples in the Orthodox community are dispatched to campuses and communities as role models who exemplify for college students and young adults what the next stage of engaged Jewish life can look like, graduates of the Conservative yeshiva could be paid to return to live in these co-ops.  Having obtained text and prayer skills from a year or two in yeshiva, and with the availability of internet distance learning, these graduates can continue their own learning while supporting Jewish life on campus.
Similarly, why not create kollels at Conservative synagogues where groups of yeshiva alumni can receive stipends to live together in homes or apartment buildings within walking distance of existing congregations?  Once rooted in the community, they can support the daily minyan, host Shabbat dinners (especially for new young members), teach texts about social action, organize service projects such as soup kitchens and community gardens, and form the backbone of a creative, young religious school staff?
The vitality of the Orthodox world today is largely due to young adults in their 20s and 30s, many of whom are products of the yeshiva—a place where participants worship together, live together, form a dynamic religious community, and most importantly, study together.  Conservative yeshiva alumni represent a powerful, yet untapped resource for the movement’s future.  USCJ would be wise to dream big about how to strengthen, not cut, its relationship with its yeshiva in Jerusalem.  Conservative yeshiva alumni can support the movement’s college students on campus and the revitalization of its existing synagogues.  Those synagogues should be USCJ’s bread and butter, but the raw ingredients must come from somewhere.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Witnessing Anti-Semitism

So far this week, the government of Libya has fired into crowds of pro-Democracy protesters and killed, according to some estimates, more than 320 people.  Of course the numbers could be much higher.  We don’t know because Moammar Ghadhafi has tried to impose a media blackout and shut down the internet.  Actions taken by the governments of Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria have only been slightly less brutal, to say nothing of earlier government violence by Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan against their own citizens.  Given everything that’s happening, shouldn’t those who purport to care about human rights in the world be demanding U.N. Security Council resolutions?  Why aren’t they?

Imagine what would happen if Israel did to Palestinians what these Middle East governments did to their citizens this week.  Shooting into crowds of mourners with live bullets?  Media blackouts?  Europe would be up in arms.  Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, would summon Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, into her office for reprimand, and the same Arab governments that have been brutalizing their citizens this week would be leading the charge in the United Nations for its Security Council to condemn Israel for the nth time.  And the Security Council would listen.  The irony, of course, is that while this violence against Arabs by Arab governments was taking place, the one resolution taken up by the Security Council was against Israel’s settlements.  This resolution was urged by Palestinians who have refused to negotiate for the past two years because of the settlements, while according to the United Nation’s own resolutions, the issue of the settlements is to be resolved only through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

In his book The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz wrote,

 “A good working definition of anti-Semitism is taking a trait or an action that is widespread, if not universal, and blaming only the Jews for it.  That is what Hitler and Stalin did, and that is what former Harvard University President A. Lawrence Lowell did in the 1920s when he tried to limit the number of Jews admitted to Harvard because “Jews cheat.”  When a distinguished alumnus objected on the grounds that non-Jews also cheat, Lowell replied, “You’re changing the subject.  I’m talking about Jews.”  So, too, when those who single out only the Jewish nation for criticism are asked why they don’t criticize Israel’s enemies, they respond, “You’re changing the subject.  We’re talking about the Jews.”

Too often, charges of anti-Semitism stifle legitimate criticism of Israel’s actions – that is not my intent.  Israel should be fairly criticized, but we should call a spade a spade.  Could it be that if one were to ask the U.N. Security Council or human rights organizations this week, “why are you criticizing Israel in this moment when so much violence and oppression is being perpetrated against Arab citizens by their own governments?”   that they would respond, “You’re changing the subject.  We’re talking about the Jews.”  Dare one call it anti-Semitism?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friends - below are remarks I delivered on Shabbat last week at Beth El Synagogue in Durham, NC about the recent revolution in Egypt.

Freedom – For What Purpose?
Rabbi Daniel Greyber, Beth El Synagogue
Shabbat Tetzaveh, February 12, 2011 / 8 Adar I, 5771

It was with some trepidation that I decided to speak this morning about what has been unfolding in the Middle East.  We are still only beginning our journey together but I hope from the teachings and remarks I’ve shared thus far that you understand I will not primarily use this pulpit to speak about current events.  Like you, I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Ha’aretz, the Jerusalem Post  and the Jerusalem Report.  I get daily emails from JTA and Jewish Ideas Daily, I get weekly emails from The Forward.  I am constantly scanning columns and opinions to try to understand what happens in Israel as best I can.  But on foreign policy, Middle East affairs, political science and theory, there are many people in this room at least as knowledgeable, if not more, than I.  When I was ordained a rabbi almost 9 years ago, it did not make the conclusions I draw from all those websites and newspapers sacred.
On the other hand, it seemed to me that it would be almost bizarre if, having lived in Israel during the events of the past few weeks, I flew 7,000 miles and said nothing at all about what is, almost all acknowledge, a significant moment in modern history.  Why travel to Israel, why live there for a year to live and study, if only to return and act as if it was the same as living here?  So, for a few minutes this morning, I want to share with you some insights from the Torah and from living in Israel, each of which will, I hope, help us to think about and understand a bit more about the revolution that took place in Egypt.
This week, we continue the cycle of portions from now through the end of the book of Exodus that talk about the mishkan, the tent we carried with us through the desert as a meeting place between God and the Jewish people.  I want to begin by asking, “why did we build the mishkan?”  Based on the midrash (Tanhuma, Terumah #8) that “the gold of the mishkan atones for the gold of the golden calf,” Rashi argues that “there is no ‘earlier’ or ‘later’ (chronological order) in the Torah – the incident of the golden calf actually happened a considerable time before the command regarding the work of the Tabernacle was given” (Rashi on Shemot 31:18).  The idea is that once God saw the Jewish people commit the sin of the golden calf, God realized that we needed a physical structure to have a sense of the holy, and so the mishkan was a compromise to that very human impulse.  But the Spanish commentator, Nachmanides (1194-1270) disagrees (see his comment to Shemot 25:1): he says there is no need to read the Torah as being out of order.  The mishkan was part of God’s plan all along.  Why?  Because the symbolism of the mishkan parallels the events at Har Sinai – the incense of the mishkan reminds us of the smoke that surrounded Mount Sinai; the gold of the mishkan reminds us of the fire on the mountain – and that the mishkan was intended all along as the vehicle with which the Jewish people would carry forward the experience of Sinai in the desert.  We could ask ourselves – how do we carry forward our peak experiences in Jewish life?  For example, as we sit in synagogue this morning, I would encourage us to ask, how will what happens this morning make a difference in the lives we live during the rest of the week?
What is nice about Nachmanides’ interpretation – that the mishkan was part of the plan all along – is that it points back to something in the story of the Exodus we too often forget.  Let’s do a test – I want you to finish the verse for me: God tells Moshe, “Say to him [Pharoah], ‘Adonai, God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you,  let….” Right – “let my people go.”  But we forget the 2nd part of the verse: “let my people go so that they may serve me” (Exodus 9:1).  What we forget is that our freedom is not a value in and of itself – it derives its very value from the fact that it is put towards the service of God.
Some things are undeniable.  First, that, as a dictator, Mubarak has denied his people freedoms and failed to build basic institutions of democracy.  Second, that the Egyptian people have suffered for 30 years since he came to power and, third, that however afraid we are of what will come, the fact that 77 million people – a population more than ¼ the size of the United States – has escaped from the rule of a totalitarian regime, is a step forward.  As Americans, as human beings, we cannot believe only we deserve to chance to live freely.  As President Obama said in his June 2009 Cairo speech quite interestingly entitled, “A New Beginning,”:
…I…have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.

Some have been disappointed at President Obama’s, and Israel’s response, in the face of a revolution that seems the fulfillment of the American and Jewish ideal – freedom! A friend wrote to me:  I can't get over that the Jewish community’s response seems to be focused on, “how does it affect Israel?” Isn't what is truly important that 77 million people are freeing themselves from dictatorship?  The sense that, well democracy is good, but they hate us and we won't like the decisions they make is both hypocritical and defeatist,” he wrote.

I reminded my friend that we must remember the 2nd half of the verse – the purpose of our freedom is the service of God.  What does that mean for us?  The Torah reminds us freedom is not an ultimate value; quite the opposite; unchecked freedom is the tyranny of the masses.  The rabbis remind us that our urges – our sexual urges, our appetites, our fantasies – should not be fulfilled, nor repressed, but rather should be harnessed towards the service of God.  In the Talmud, one who is blood thirsty should become a butcher or a mohel – that person should channel the impulse for blood to the service of God.  “Eizeh Hu Gibor?” “Who is the hero?” One who conquers the inclination, the yetzer (Pirkei Avot 4:1).  In his introduction to Pirkei Avot, Shmonei Perakim, Maimonides describes how we should engage in a repeating good behaviors continually to train ourselves towards the good.  All of Jewish life can indeed be seen as being freed from slavery in Egypt not to wander aimlessly, but to surrender our freedom in the desert and give it over to the service of God.  Dr. Walter Ackerman wrote an important essay on Jewish education entitled, “Jewish education – For what purpose?”  This Shabbat, we might ask, “Freedom – for what purpose?”
By the way, it is too easy to condescendingly look down our nose at “those people” in Egypt and say, “now that they are free, they should use their freedom well.”  It is much more difficult to ask ourselves, “to what purposes have I put my freedom?”  What do I do with each moment of my life?  Have I served God in the desert?  Or have I wandered aimlessly, letting precious moments slip away, wasting my time and money on things that don’t matter.
A long time ago in this country, the words of the Negro spiritual could be heard, quietly sung in faith and hope…
When Israel was in Egypt land
Let my people go
Oppressed so hard they could not stand
Let my people go
Our story has given hope to many peoples throughout history – as God hoped it would: “that my name be proclaimed throughout the earth” (Exodus 9:16).  One of the more interesting images of the past few weeks was seeing an Egyptian protester hold up a sign that said, “Mubarak the Pharoah has to go.”  I just wanted to ask, if Mubarak is Pharoah, who are the Jews?!  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that’s watching protesters in Tahrir Square – which means “liberty square” – reminds us of our own story.  We had our Pharoah; they have theirs.  Just as we went into the desert, the country of Egypt is headed into the desert, into the unknown; again as before, the whole Middle East, the whole world, is watching.  To what purpose, then, will Egyptians put their freedom?
Just as there is a 2nd half of the verse, I want to quote the next paragraph of President Obama’s speech in June 2009,
[G]overnment of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power:  You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.  Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy
Put another way, freedom to take power from others is an imposter, a corruption, an abuse, not a use, of the law.  Unqualified support of liberty that will be exploited by terrorists feeds into the hands of thugs.  DeTocqueville wrote, “When I see the right and the ability to do everything granted to any power whatsoever, whether it is called people or king, democracy or aristocracy, whether it is exercised in monarchy or republic, I say: there is the seed of tyranny, and I seek to go live under other laws.”  An election is not a democracy.  The process that has just begun must give birth to freedom that is used towards ensuring more freedom even, and especially, for those with whom you disagree.  It must lead to freedom, not suppression; towards equality and education, not indifference and ignorance; towards peace, not war.  Today, that is our prayer.
Many of you have asked what it’s like to be in Israel right now.  I want to conclude with a story.  On Sunday morning after the revolution began, I was sitting at Mandel and started talking with a friend of mine named Tomer. I told him how it was strange that people were asking me from the United States what it was like to be in Israel because for me, it felt like more people were talking about the rain than Egypt; Egypt felt like a 10-hour flight, not a 10-hour drive.  “Not for me,” said Tomer.  Over Shabbat, we couldn’t talk about anything else.
“Why?” I asked him.
“Well,” he explained, “my dad and his friends fought a lot of wars in the Sinai.  They were telling me about all the campaigns and the people who died; they remember.  It’s all they can talk about right now…the idea of going back…”
Tomer reminded me again that all our freedom was paid for by those who sacrificed before; but it’s too easy sometimes to think about, even to thank, “those people,” nameless, anonymous ancestors.  In Israel, such a large part of the population was, or will be, a soldier.  What that means is that when Israelis watch the TV and see 77 million Egyptians free, when they hear the Muslim Brotherhood threaten to tear up the peace treaty signed 30 years ago, they watch and wonder with more than a passing interest about what Egyptians will do with their freedom in the desert?  Freedom, to what end, they wonder?
For Tomer and his family, the news is not anonymous.  It was their family who fought and died for peace in the Sinai, and it will be theirs, God forbid, if it is necessary to fight again. They remember the Sinai and what happened there, as should we.  For them, the news is personal, as it should always be for us.  Today, that too is my prayer.