At the AIPAC conference some weeks ago, I attended a special session for rabbis. 750 of us from all religious streams of Jewish life sat together over lunch to think about some of the challenges confronting Israel right now. As we were listening to the speakers and talking among ourselves, a friend of mine observed that this occasion was notable for bringing together such a large and diverse gathering of rabbis who represent the full variety of ideas and practice in contemporary Judaism. He then commented wistfully, “and we came together to talk about politics not Torah.”
Political and communal support for the American-Israel relationship is AIPAC’s mission, of course. Yet even in that context, I thought about my friend’s observation. How precious it is to gather in our diversity. How unique is Israel that we form such a broad Jewish community around her in our Zionism and concern, and that within Israel’s borders all forms of Judaism and Jewish identity live.
Today there are only two ways we identify as Jews. Through our connection to Jewish tradition and our bond with the history and heritage of the Jewish people. Israeli Jews who are unmoved by Judaism demonstrate their bonds to the Jewish people simply by virtue of their address, their language, and their nation’s culture. As Diaspora Jews we have to make more conscious decisions to find personal meaning in Jewish tradition and/or in belonging to a community of people who support and care for one another as well as for Israel.
This is the Torah of Zionism. Understanding that Israel is vital to the Jewish present and future. Recognizing that a democratic Jewish State of Israel is vital within the community of nations. We need to teach this Torah among our neighbors, on college campuses, and to ourselves because discussions about Israel that necessarily focus on difficult and complex political challenges and policies, in their criticisms, so often deny Israel recognition of her legitimacy, accomplishments, and contributions.
In teaching the Torah of Zionism we provide ourselves with a national response to the purposes of Jewish identity. We advocate from our history the reasons for Israel’s security and significance. We advocate for changes within and around Israel. We explain from our experiences, and acknowledging different perspectives, why Israel is important as a Jewish state for the whole of the Jewish people and the world community.
In teaching Torah and Judaism we encourage personal meaning and life purpose. We open our Torah to those Jews who want to know it, who seek to discover the joys and ideals of Judaism, who hope to find God in their experiences. Only through living Jewish values and thriving Jewish communities do we transmit Jewish identity and impact society.
What you and I celebrate about the Jewish state and about Jewish identity are not values shared by many others. This is why we choose to come together on Israel Independence Day to celebrate Israel at 68. It’s also why we gather as a synagogue community on so many other occasions to celebrate life through the milestones and markers of Jewish tradition.
There are only two ways we identify as Jews. Through our connection to Jewish tradition and our bond with the history and heritage of the Jewish people. For our sake and for the sake of Israel, it is our responsibility to foster both links.
So, like my rabbinic colleagues did at AIPAC, whenever we come together let’s talk about politics and Torah. Actually, let’s talk about anything and everything that strengthens our bonds to each other and to the heritage of our people.