Settlements Again

Donald Trump’s win in the presidential race, and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, have signaled to some members of Israel’s government that hard times are over with regard to American disapproval of settlement building in the West Bank. In their euphoria, pro-settler party leaders have pursued two very different approaches to moving forward with the settlement effort.

One leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Orthodox Jewish Home party, declared that Trump’s victory was “an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country” and that it signaled that the “era of a Palestinian state is over.”

In pursuit of that goal, a government ministerial committee on Nov. 13 unanimously passed a bill designed to retroactively legalize outposts that sit far from established settlements. The bill, which was approved despite the objections of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and significant legal concerns raised by his attorney general, would effectively enlarge Israeli-controlled areas throughout the West Bank. It would create a situation that diplomats fear would make a contiguous Palestinian state all but impossible.

Another pro-settler leader, however, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman — head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party — counseled caution in fulfilling the dream to settle all of the historic Land of Israel. Lieberman proposed a deal in which Israel would not build on the Palestinian side of Israel’s security fence, in exchange for the right to unrestrained building in the settlement blocs along the Green Line. “In the messages we received from the Trump team, they asked us to act modestly. We will wait and we won’t establish facts on the ground,” Lieberman said.

We welcome Lieberman’s recognition that provocative actions regarding settlements will not build trust. That was part of what soured Netanyahu’s relationship with President Barack Obama. Any activity that closes off the possibility of a two-state solution is likely to engender strong international opposition and would not appear to be in the longer term interests of the Palestinians or Israel.

Lieberman’s proposal is consistent with his goal of carving out a Palestinian state through land swaps. In the past, he has favored Israel annexing the Israeli settlement blocs on the West Bank and then ceding heavily Arab populated areas of Israel proper — specifically in the Galilee — to the Palestinians. However, he hasn’t explained how he proposes to get Israeli citizens to agree to become part of another country.

Notwithstanding some bravado, both Lieberman and Bennett understand that the Palestinians exist and that they cannot be wished away. Whether they are willing to acknowledge that settlements and land swaps are the stuff of negotiations, and that the Palestinians need to be a part of that effort, is another story. We hope that sensibility and sensitivity to these issues will prevail under a Trump administration as efforts move forward with respect to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian puzzle.

Focus on the Future

Editorial Director

You don’t need to go far to find troubling news about American synagogues, whether it’s their decreasing memberships, decreasing attendance or financial instability.

This time last year, for instance, sociologist Steven M. Cohen was bemoaning the contraction of the entire Conservative movement. He wrote that over an almost quarter of a century, the number of those identifying as Conservative and belonging to a synagogue had decreased by 21 percent, from 723,000 adults in 1990 to 570,000 in 2013.

Cohen, however, noted that the “quality” of those remaining Jews had remained strong over the same time span, with more than 90 percent reporting that being Jewish was “very important” and that they had attended a Passover Seder in the past year.

Even with such positive findings, though, it’s hard not to notice the shrinking pool of adherents and the challenges institutions like synagogues face as our community evolves and ever-larger segments assimilate.

That’s why it’s so important to note such a significant milestone as a thriving synagogue’s 60th anniversary, which many in Northwest Baltimore are celebrating at Beth Israel Congregation. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the landmark synagogue in Owings Mills has come a long way since 10 young Jewish families gathered to form their own community. As with its founding, part of the congregation’s continuing success has been in how it caters to young families.

“This is like our second home,” Ellie Cohen, who has belonged to the congregation for about 35 years, told reporter Justin Silberman. “Beth Israel is like our family. It’s had a very special place in my heart for so many years.”

While 60 years is quite an accomplishment, Beth Israel’s history pales in comparison to several older synagogues in Baltimore. But like those institutions with longer roots, Beth Israel has followed the Jewish community in its march from the Randallstown area to the Owings Mills-Reisterstown corridor.

“We’ve always tried to be forward looking and have always had strategic planning going on to try to see where we will be years into the future,” said Howard Gartner, a member of more than 40 years who headed up the committee that identified the synagogue’s current home in 1993.

While there’s nothing radical in Gartner’s statement — businesses have long recognized that if you want to sell something, you have to go to where the customers are — it’s important to note that many an institution has suffered when it failed to adapt. That Beth Israel has been able to continue to draw families in means that it is inherently doing something right.

For Beth Israel, it appears that the preschool and Hebrew school account for much of the draw. And that’s a lesson for all of us: At the end of the day, religion and spirituality amount to little if devoid of education and a focus on the future.

The Need to Move Forward

Last week’s presidential election revealed not so much a nation divided, as it did a society whose residents inhabit two very different realities — with the apparent inability of those who live in one to understand the perceptions and beliefs of those who live in the other.

Which begs the question: How do we move forward in the face of that newly exposed reality?

What can our community, which largely supported Hillary Clinton — reportedly, 70 percent of Jews backed the Democrat for president — learn from the rude awakening early in the morning of Nov. 9 when Donald Trump was declared the winner? And while we understand that half the electorate does not share many of our views, is it really so clear that “the other half of the electorate” is that much different from us?

Post-election polls report surprising statistics regarding many aspects of the vote, including that a majority of college-educated white men and women voted for Trump. And that’s in addition to the blue collar and working middle class vote that most understood to be favoring Trump.

So, how should we react? While street demonstrations against the lawful winner appear to be a waste of time, acceptance of the result doesn’t mean that anyone needs to compromise or abandon core beliefs and moral principles. Rather, even as we accept that the country wants change, we see no reason not to continue to insist that our leaders show the kind of compassion, concern, sensitivity and respect that has been the hallmark of American exceptionalism since the birth of our republic.

But rather than complain, call names, accuse and point fingers, we suggest that the wisest course is to wait and see. Will the president-elect move smoothly from rhetoric to planning to action? That is not going to be easy, even with both houses of Congress and the executive branch in the hands of one party. Indeed, the Republican Party, considered as good as dead a few weeks ago, is very much alive but clearly divided. Nonetheless, the responsibility is now theirs to improve the economy, fix the national infrastructure, improve the health care system, make college affordable, provide retraining for the unemployed Americans whose jobs will not be returning or bring those jobs back, save the social safety net, reduce the debt, keep relations with our allies — including Israel — strong, manage relations with adversaries such as Russia and China, remain involved in the Middle East and lead the way to blunting the environmental catastrophe caused by global warming.

It’s a long list. But no longer than it was during the last eight years. Trump has promised to solve most of these problems. We hope that he can. And it is because of that hope that we pray that Trump and his team will move to heal the fissures of our society as they make the White House theirs. We wish them well, and we are ready to do what we can to help.

Drawing a Lesson from a Complicated Relationship

101014_riskin_sholmo_rabbiThe Akeida serves as a model for one of the most important questions in contemporary family life: To what extent should a parent continue to influence, direct or channel their adult child’s life? The Torah offers an insight to this question in describing the immediate aftermath of the Akeida, or binding of Isaac.

What happened to Isaac after the harrowing experience with his father on Mount Moriah? Where was he? Didn’t Isaac also descend from the altar and return to Beersheva?

Yonatan Ben Uziel, in his interpretive Aramaic translation, writes that Isaac is not included as having returned home to Beersheva because he went instead to the yeshiva of Shem and Ever. In other words, prior to the Akeida, father and son magnificently joined together — “and they walked, the two of them, together” — but afterward, they had to part ways.

Abraham returns to his household, while Isaac returns to his books, to an academy of solitude and study. In the vocabulary of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Abraham is the outer-directed, extroverted, aggressive Adam I, while Isaac is the more inner-directed, introverted, introspective Adam II.

In the conceptual scheme of the mystical Zohar, Abraham is the outgoing, overflowing symbol of chesed (loving kindness), while Isaac is the disciplined and courageous symbol of gevura (inner fortitude). The Akeida is both the point of unity as well as the point of departure between father and son. Isaac enters the Akeida as Abraham’s son; he emerges from the Akeida as Jacob’s father.

Isaac’s commitment to God is equal to that of his father, but his path is very different. Simultaneously, the Akeida is the point of unity and separation between father and son, for each must respect both the similarities as well as the differences within the parent-child relationship.

From a symbolic perspective, it is the parent’s responsibility to transmit to the children the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not. Nevertheless, despite the fact that every child is a product of the nurture provided by his/her parents — and the Torah teaches that a child must respect and even revere his/her parents — the existential decisions of how to live one’s life can only be made by the adult child himself/ herself.

When a parent enables a child to psychologically separate, the child will ultimately move forward. Our paramount parental responsibility is to allow our children to fulfill their own potential, and our challenge is to learn to respect their individual choices.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat.

Apparently, Decency Is for Losers

In its own way, the 2016 presidential election (“It’s Trump,” Nov. 11) was a referendum on Jewish values, vis-a-vis their compatibility with contemporary American values. If the results of last week’s electile dysfunction (Alan Dershowitz’s term) are any indication, the two are monstrously adversarial.

Hillary Clinton is every Jewish parent’s ideal kid: the well-prepared, hard-working, super-smart, well-mannered best student in the class. Donald Trump is

a crude, bullying, solipsistic, sciolistic, crotch-grabbing, compulsively lying am-ha’eretz. And he won. Bigly.

Personality now trumps character; discipline, experience and decency are for “losers.”

As leader of the free world, the president of the United States serves as a role model and exemplar of the highest level of professional success.

Since the purpose of education is to train children for leadership and accomplishment in 21st-century America, will Jewish educators now be forced to modify — Trumpify — their K-to-12 curricula accordingly?

Dems Ignored Too Many

The Democratic Party has reinvented itself. It was the party of the working poor and middle class. But now it has become the party of the African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, LGBTQs, radical left-wingers, socialists, disenfranchised, anarchists and so on.

The Democratic Party pandered to these groups and recruited them into a rainbow coalition determined to advance their agenda. Along the way, they just wrote off the working poor, the middle class, rural America and everybody else. This has led to a fractured country (“It’s Trump,” Nov. 11).

The Democrats lost on the issues. Nobody wanted another four years of the last eight years. The Republicans won with their message of change and rebuilding the economy and job security. They won on the commitment to defeat our enemies and to protect us against radical Islamic terrorists. They won on addressing the illegal immigrant problem. They won on health care. They won on supporting law and order and rejecting Black Lives Matter and affirming that all lives matter.

The Democrats lost on their attempt to delegitimize Israel and advance the Palestinian agenda. According to some sources, while campaigning, mentioning Israel was discouraged.

The Democratic Party has traditionally been the party of the Jews. But it has veered to the radical left. The Republican Party has become more centrist and may appeal to more people. “To everything there is a season.”

Hopefully, with the new administration, this wounded land will heal.

Job Well Done

In response to Joshua Runyan’s Nov. 11 Opening Thoughts (“Thank God, the Election Is Over”):

A degree in journalism and speech from what was then Syracuse University’s School of Journalism and School of Speech and Performing Arts didn’t result in my pursuing either of the fields except indirectly, but I can appreciate the quality of your writing and how you have professionally insulated it from other personal life choices. Yasher ko’ach!

Got Trump Where He Belongs

Whether or not I appreciate the JT’s coverage of the presidential election remains to be seen. But was it really necessary to put Donald Trump’s picture on the Nov. 11 cover? It will, however, fit perfectly at the bottom of my bird’s cage.

The Gift That Gives Back to You

view1_lindaelmanWith the arrival of November, Americans started to prepare for Thanksgiving. Of all the American holidays, Thanksgiving seems to resonate most with Jews, as Thanksgiving’s theme centers around hakorat hatov, gratitude. It is a time to reflect on how grateful we are for the gifts that are bestowed on us by G-d that allow us to give to others. We are grateful for the friendships we form in being part of this giving community.

Although Jews like to think of ourselves as givers, in reality we are also receivers. We all benefit from the strength of our community. We all benefit from the strong institutions in Baltimore, whether they are the synagogues, the Jewish Community Center, The Associated’s agencies, the schools … The list is endless. So many of our children and grandchildren receive books and programming through the Center for Jewish Education’s PJ Library. Many of our children or grandchildren have gone on a free trip to Israel through Birthright.

So we are not only givers, we are takers as well. We are able to live fulfilling Jewish lives in a wonderful Jewish community in large measure because of the foundation laid and the continued support provided by The Associated. Much of the time, the gift we give, which we intend to benefit others, is also helping ourselves and our own families.

This year, The Associated will again participate in #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday has become a global movement to kick off the charitable season in the greater community. It provides an opportunity to bring together nonprofits, businesses and individuals to address local challenges. The Associated has been an integral part of this unique program since its inception five years ago.

In its first year, The Associated raised more money than any other nonprofit in the country on that day. For The Associated, #GivingTuesday is one of our biggest fundraising days of the year. #GivingTuesday provides a great opportunity to teach our children the Jewish values of gratitude and giving back. It doesn’t matter how much we each give. What matters is that we all participate.

Please keep the uniquely Jewish concept of gratitude in mind when deciding on your gift to The Associated campaign this year. It is not only a gift that gives to others. It is a gift that gives back to you.

Linda S. Elman is chair of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s women’s campaign.

Dismayed Jews Have a Place to Go

Americans who opposed Donald Trump have awoken in a stupor, shocked that his victory was no mere nightmare. For those who cannot envision living under a Trump regime, “I’m moving to Canada” or elsewhere no longer feels like election-year blather.

But where would you go?

If five million Americans, alarmed by a reckless, ruthless chief executive, decided to move north tomorrow, Canada would not have the desire — or the ability — to absorb them. No country in the world would absorb that magnitude of American expats.

Well, there is one country.

If the five million would-be emigres were American Jews, Israel would welcome and cherish every single one. That massive a population transfer would boost the tiny nation’s population by 62 percent (think: 200 million new Americans) and require exhausting everyday sacrifice by Israelis. Housing, employment, health care, education, traffic — every aspect of Israeli life would be upended. Yet, there’s very little antipathy to olim among Israelis.

Welcoming olim — and especially those who see themselves as refugees — is not just part of Israel’s culture. It is Israel’s very raison d’être.

Will anti-Semitic attacks be a hallmark of the Trump administration? Hard to say. The president-elect has shown no personal animus toward Jews, and in fact, his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Orthodox members of the Tribe.

But if just by campaigning for the presidency Trump energized the “alt-right,” with its open contempt for Jews, imagine what his victory has already begun to do for such malignant voices.

A global move is always hard, and English-speaking olim face daunting challenges in their new home. But the Israeli government, as well as non-profit organizations (start with Nefesh B’Nefesh) and most every Israeli you meet will gladly help you learn Hebrew (though in bigger cities, English goes far) and find work and a home.

A lot of Americans are discombobulated, feeling helpless about a country that is slipping out from under their feet. If you’re Jewish and want to do something, stop and ponder a question you may have considered preposterous weeks ago: Should I live in Israel?

Ask yourself, “Where do I want to build a life? Where do I want to make friends and raise a family? Where do I want to contribute to a thriving society?”

Is the answer Donald Trump’s America? A country where his regime implements his vision while you watch in horror? A society where every other voter you might meet actively helped him become president?

Because if that answer doesn’t work for you, you have something no other category of American has. You have another choice. Come home.

David Benkof is senior political analyst for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared.