Tag: Israel (Page 1 of 2)

Two Cities—two lessons—one people

This Shabbat we learn of two cities and two lessons.  Each of these cities offers us a value and a cautionary note.  We relearn these values and we recall their accompanying cautionary notes.

The first city is from the Torah portion.  It is Hebron.  In this week’s Torah portion Sarah dies at the age of 127 years.  Abraham mourns her and seeks to buy a burial plot.  He purchases the Cave of Machpeleh from Ephron, the Hittite.  We learn that Abraham pays more than the asking price and thus Hebron becomes the first Jewish place.  From this city we are reminded that the land, the land of Israel, is more than a sentimental note, it is holy to us.  It is made holy by Sarah’s death, by Abraham’s purchase, and God’s promise.

Here is where it all started.  Our faith began in Hebron, located in the modern day West Bank.  Thus it is not just any land that the Palestinians claim. It is our people’s as well.  When it comes time to make peace (may that day be very soon) it will not be as simple as withdrawing from Gush Katif in Gaza.  And if you recall this recent history, remember that it wasn’t simple or easy at all.  In Hebron we still feel Jewish history and its reverberations.  There one can sense Abraham’s and Sarah’s presence.

Still our cautionary note is that the land is no more holy than any people;  no place is worth more than human life and preserving Jewish democracy.  Even a place as holy as Hebron, with its many Jewish resonances, is worth “sacrificing” for the sake of furthering security for Israel and saving lives.

The second city is Berlin.  We think of it because of our commemoration of “Kristallnacht” this week.  On November 9, 1938 in Germany and Austria, and in particular in Berlin, the Nazis perpetrated this “night of broken glass”.  There are many dates to which we can point and date the beginning of the Holocaust.  This date would be one.  On this day the Nazis destroyed and burned synagogues and Jewish books.  And on this day the world stood by.  Kristallnacht was reported but little, if anything was done.  The Nazis were allowed to destroy Jewish lives and homes with impunity.

We are reminded that even the most cultured of places can become evil.  The place that gave the world Max Liebermann, Alexander von Humboldt and Rahel Varnhagen also gave rise to the past century’s most unparalleled evil.

Lest we be naïve, we must proclaim that anti-Semitism still exists.  We hear its venom coming from Iran. It exists in Europe, in the United States, and even in South Africa.  There are tinges of it emanating from BDS. This is a movement that is all about anger and not about peace and empowerment of the Palestinian people.  Standing in front of Jewish owned places and calling for boycott of exactly those stores and companies follows only one pattern, the Nazi terror of the Third Reich. From the memory of Jewish Berlin we are cautioned: stay vigilant. Never be so quick to dismiss racism and anti -Semitism. It can arise anywhere and everywhere. It can be found in any city.

For us Jews, history is relevant, it is part of our identity. Those two cities are only two examples for how history has shaped us as a people, as a faith, as human beings.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Steven Moskowitz  )


Gusti Braverman’s encouragement for unity and engagement

Last Shabbat we had Gusti Yehoshua Braverman (pictured above) from the World Zionist Organisation visit Bet David. In her talk prior to the Shabbat service she highlighted the importance of the World Zionist Organisation and of the Progressive Judaism in Israel, and how important it is that we—Progressive Jews—need to made our voices be heard in order to keep the dream of Herzl alive, making Israel a place where all Jews feel connected with.

In her sermon, during the service she explained why destructive organisations – such as BDS – can‘t create anything that leads to a positive solution, as boycott and disengagement always leads to seperation and division. She understood that many of us struggle with and criticise the current goverment in Israel, and she encouraged us continue this, but in a positive, constructive way, which will lead to  more unity and engagement.


My Chanicha Patrizia

Our Parashat Matot Masei, which brings the Children of Israel to the plains of Moab on the border of the Land of Israel, deals with the nexus between two of the founding stories of Judaism. The story of peoplehood frames the Jewish People as a family and a tribe bound together by a shared history and destiny in mutual responsibility. The story of nationhood views the People of Israel as a community that is associated with a specific land, Zion, from which it was exiled and to which it ever seeks to return.

In the second half of our Torah portion, the tribes are informed of the borders of their future dwelling, while the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe chose to remain beyond those borders; on the east of the Jordan river. Thus, we see that even before the Jews entered the land, life beyond Israel’s borders was already a reality accepted and validated by the Torah. However, such a “proto-diaspora,” was not freed from its own obligations to the rest of the Tribes of Israel.

Indeed, in the first half, Moses challenges the two and half tribes: “Shall your brothers go to war while you dwell here?” (Numbers 32:6). However, the tribes assure Moses that they will join their sisters and brothers to conquer the Land of Kana’an, only returning when all of the people are settled.

Thus, the roots of Diaspora Judaism are long and deep; so too are the expectations of the Jewish People from Jews beyond Israel’s borders to contribute to the unity and wellbeing of the people within the Land of Israel, while Israel itself is the beating heart for all, keeping all Jews connected—close by or far away. This obligation has taken many forms in different times and contexts over centuries. This is highlighted in this very moment while we discuss the egalitarian extension of the Western Wall Plaza and the conversion bill.

On the one hand, multiple missions of solidarity especially from the Progressive Diaspora Communities, millions of Rand, Euros and Dollars of financial assistance and broad mobilisation on social media have all embodied our commitment to Israel. On the other hand the on-going diminishing and out-casting of the non-orthodox communities in Israel have left severe marks on our Jewish souls.

Progressive Jews in South Africa, and all over the world have continually shown their unbroken solidarity with Israel. The security and well-being of our sisters and brothers in Israel are without a question part of our “DNA“, and no group or organisation in Israel or outside of Israel has the right to challenge or even cut this bond we have.

Patrizia (in the picture right) is one of my former chanichot at Netzer. She visited Israel for the first time when we had an exchange programme with Noar Telem (Netzer Israel) in 2014. Last year she made Aliyah after her Netzer-Shnat year, and today she serves as a lone soldier in the IDF. I could not be prouder of her, because she lives the values and ideals we teach in Netzer and the Progressive movement. And it is for her and all other Progressive Jews that we stand and fight for a more pluralistic Jewish Israel. Patrizia, as any other Jew, deserves a Jewish home and place that reflects their, our, values and traditions, too. Moses, in our Torah reading, challenges the diaspora to stand on the side of Israel. Today, we challenge Israel to stand on our side.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Josh Gottesman/Gidi Grinstein)


One Kotel for One People

The crisis that erupted last week over matters of conversion and equal access to the Western Wall has yet to be resolved. 

At the conclusion of last week‘s shabbat, several 100 friends, supporters and members of the Progressive movements in Israel gathered in front of the residence of PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem, showing their disapointment with his government‘s politics. This was a meaningful beginning, but only a beginning. We all need to stand hand in hand together in protecting core Jewish values: Judaism is impartible and all Jews are equal.

Please consider sending an email to the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa:  consular@pretoria.mfa.gov.il, and if you can, please support the Women of the Wall nancially (see Anat Ho man‘s letter below).

Thank you all for your support. 

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

“The decision of Prime Minister Netanyahu to renege on the Kotel agreement for a pluralistic prayer space has angered you – and us. The government lacks the courage to stand up to the ultra-Orthodox and do what was promised – make Israel a place that welcomes ALL Jews.

It is said that “love remains after you know the truth.” Lovers of Israel learned the ugly truth that has rocked the Jewish world. Some people, those experiencing
“puppy love,” want to disengage. But passionate lovers of Israel must unite to repair the damage inflicted upon our beloved country. 

Turn your anger into a positive action.
We have reached a pivotal time and your donation to WOW of $18, $36, $180 or any amount is essential for: 

1. Legal expenses for WOW’s representation by the strongest legal team in Israel; 

2. Mobiliztion and transportation of supporters to attend protests and be on the front lines; 

3. Expansion of the WOW Bat Mitzvah program for Israeli girls: training and mentoring the next generation of female leaders. 

You believe in the future of the Jewish homeland. You know WOW is a powerful force leading the fight for social change.

Now’s the time. Donate now.
As ever,  

It will create opportunities

Dear congregants,

The press release from the SAUPJ/SAAPR (read it here) is an  immediate response of our movement on the newest development in Israel. It is a well thought through reaction on a demeaning attack on our Progressive movement. In the last days since the decision was  made by the Israeli government I read and learned about many who stand with us in solidarity and support our request to re-instate the compromise about the Western-Wall-Plaza, but I also hear voices that ask why we care about a “bunch of stones”. Our connection to Israel, so they say, are human beings and much more. While I agree that the Kotel is not Judaism alone, and that we have more and perhaps even many more spiritual places in Israel and around the world to practise Judaism, the Kotel and the Western-Wall-Plaza symbolises an important part of our traditions and history and a common link between us and the generations to come.

For me it is not a question of what we can currently do in Israel and in our homes, but what we are not permitted to do, even though the absolute majority of world Jewry shares our request to create a space where all Jews feel comfortable and recognised. The compromise would have enabled women and men to worship God together  as we do in our Synagogues. We need a place where we can share a pre-wedding-blessing with a gay-couple as any orthodox yeshiva student receives one in the orthodox-men-section before their wedding. A transsexual women should have the right to do hagba-ah (lifting the torah) at the Kotel to show her connection to the Torah without fear, and a young boy should be able to celebrate his bar mitzvah standing next to his grandmother and mother at a place that is meaningful for them without (!) being shouted at and booed by ultra-orthodox extremists. Women should be allowed to sing proudly and loudly and not have to remain silent because some ultra-orthodox men argue that a woman’s voice is evil.

It is important for me that when teenagers from our congregations arrive for the first time in Israel and perhaps celebrate Shabbat in Jerusalem that they can do it in a meaningful and dignified way, too—strengthening their Jewish identity.

A third, egalitarian—pluralistic section at the Western-Wall-Plaza will enable more Jews to pray to God in their own authentic way. This section will create opportunities and does not take anything away from anyone.

And this is why I feel so strongly about the decision of the Israeli government. This decision demands from us to give up our way to pray, to cut our connection to the Kotel and perhaps even to give up on Israel. The Kotel is currently not a place for “all Jews”. Sunday’s decision is a clear statement that non-orthodox Judaism doesn’t count for the Israeli government.

We can’t accept this. We are proud Jews. We have values and ideals that are worth being protected and cared for. Israel and Jerusalem is as much part of our Judaism as it  is for any other Jew.

In the next few days and weeks we will—together with our partners in Israel (the Israeli Progressive movement and IRAC) find ways to challenge this newest development, and I urge you to support us.

Thank you—Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell


To be a Zionist is to wrestle with, but not to give up on Israel.

This week we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “6 Day War“ in 1967. As a Progressive Jew and Zionist, I have mixed feeling about this anniversary. Not because of what happened in 1967, I think what happened was necessary and important for the Jewish state, but since then, I feel as though the Jewish visions and values unmatched and transgressed. As a Zionist, I see that the present-day Israel has not yet achieved what – to my understanding – Herzl had envisioned for the Jewish state. As a Progressive Zionist, I believe Zionism also needs to progress and continue to create dreams worthy to be followed.

Israel is important to me – that’s why I am not giving up on it:

  • As a Progressive Jew, I am committed to the modern State of Israel as a reflection of God’s unbroken and eternal covenant with the Jewish people. And I continue to promote the values and visions of our prophets in regard to a democratic and pluralistic foundation of the State of Israel as it is written down in  the Declaration of Independence. At the same time, I see the pain any war and any tragedy has caused, and for me, human dignity can’t be limited by borders, religion or belonging to an ethnic group.
  • As a Jews living in the Diaspora I stand, without question, with Israel when it is under attack, or when people try to undermine its mere existence. I know that the Jewish state would do the same for me, being my stronghold, when I am in need or (even worse) in danger.
  • As a Progressive Jews in the Diaspora, I have a vital interest in the Jewish state which also reflects my way of being Jewish, and I will continue to stand for our progressive values and to raise my voice when pluralism and our sisters and brothers of the Progressive communities in Israel are under attack. The Kotel also belongs to us, as any other holy and historic site in Israel does.
  • Jerusalem is important to me, too. As much as I believe that God’s presence is not limited to one single place, and that anyone can find God wherever one seeks God, I not only recognise Jerusalem’s historical importance for the Jewish people, but also understand her as the geographic and spiritual centre of our Jewish identity.

Yes, Israel is important to me.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Adrian M Schell



Israel und Edom

Die Haftarah für den letzten Shabbat war nach sefardischer Tradition das Buch Obadiah. Diese Wahl scheint der sonst üblichen Auswahl zu widersprechen, nach der die Haftarah inhaltlich parallel zur Torah-Lesung sein sollte. Während unser Wochenabschnitt die Versöhnung der Zerstrittenen Brüder Jacob und Esau zum Thema hat, beschreibt die Haftarah die ewige Feindschaft zwischen Israel und Edom. Die Wahl der Haftarah muss eine tiefere Bedeutung haben.

Continue reading

Stop the Bill

Liebe Freunde,

Ein NOTFALL ist keine Untertreibung für das, was gerade in Israel passiert. Diese Woche, obwohl es anderweitige Zusagen gab, überlegt die Knesset ein Gesetz zu verabschieden, welches die bisherigen Regelungen für Übertritte ins Judentum fundamental ändern würde und alle Macht hierzu einzig und alleine dem ultra-orthodoxen Oberrabbinat übertragen würde. Der Gesetzentwurf sieht vor, dass alleine das Oberrabbinat Konversionen prüfen soll, was bedeuten würde, dass nicht-orthodoxe Übertritte in großer Wahrscheinlichkeit nicht mehr für die Einwanderung nach Israel (Aliya) oder vergleichbare Vorgänge, für die eine „offizielle“ Anerkennung gebraucht wird, gültig sein werden. Continue reading

Untersuchen und nicht Vorverurteilen

Die jüdischen Sozialdemokraten haben folgende Pressemitteilung veröffentlicht, die sich durchaus interessant liest. Es wäre nur schön gewesen, wenn sie in einigen Punkten deutlicher die Meinung und Position der jüdischen Sozialdemokraten  ausgedrückt hätte und sich die Autoren gewagt hätten, echte Stellung zu beziehen. Ich hätte mir gewünscht, etwas zur Hamas zu erfahren, die ein wichtiger politischer Akteur ist und wie sich die jü-Sos. eine langfristige Lösung der Gaza-Frage vorstellen, denn auf Dauer lassen sich der aktuelle Vorfall und die Lösung dieser Frage nicht trennen (so wichtig dies für die sofortige Aufklärung auch ist). So bleibt die Pressemitteilung ein wichtiger Forderungskatalog zur aktuellen Diskussion, bringt aber keine wirklich neuen Impulse in die Debatte ein: Continue reading

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