Shalom Chaverim (Dear Friends),
It’s been an interesting week… one of disappointment and one of hope.
As leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency in Israel were meeting in Israel, the Israeli government voted to suspend the historic decision reached last year to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, or Western Wall.
Despite the disappointment we as an American Jewish community may feel, it is critical to reiterate that the love and care that we feel for Israel and its people does not change.
I have been fortunate to visit Israel 40 times in my life and have likely made that many visits to the Western Wall. I know what a powerful place it is for so many. On one of those visits, I was blessed to be with my daughter on her very first mission to Israel. She was 14 at the time. I do hope there will come a day when all Jewish people-and all people period-can experience the power and the beauty of “the wall” their way. As a father and, G-d willing, someday, a grandfather, I hope and pray that those who express the desire to be Jewish and to be part of our 4,000-year-old story will be able to do so…their way.
This week’s Torah portion is Chukat (The Statute). In this portion, G-d asks Moses to speak to a stone to draw water for the Israelites. Because Moses angrily strikes the stone instead, neither he nor Aaron are allowed to enter the Promised Land, for he did not do as G-d asked.
This story has perplexed many over the years, for G-d’s punishment seems severe indeed. One explanation is that this is a story about leadership styles and paradigm shifts. The Israelites that Moses lead out of Egypt and into the desert for 40 years were freed slaves who responded to a leader who “hit the stone.” The next generation of free Israelites required leadership that “talked to the stone”.
I pray that the leadership style in Israel, as well as in the diaspora today, will provide the type of leadership that is needed now that will enable respectful accommodation of all recognized Jewish practices at the Kotel as well as with conversions that will propel Israel forward as we near Israel’s 70th birthday.