Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Never Been so Proud to be a Jew in America

Vice President Mike Pence praying at the Kotel yesterday (TOI)
If you are a believing American Jew and were not inspired by what took place in Israel yesterday, I have to question if you actually have a Jewish soul.

OK. That’s a little harsh. I realize that there are a lot of sincere believing Jews that might very well dispute that statement. They might even be insulted by it. But I can’t help it. The scenes that took place yesterday in Israel and the words that accompanied them were truly inspiring to me as an Orthodox Jew living in America. I cannot understand why they would not inspire other believing American Jews the same way, no matter how they might feel about the current administration. 

Perhaps the fact that some observant Jews were not inspired by it might be explained by the hatred of the man that the Vice President works for, the President. The extent of it being so strong that they cannot see any act done by a member of his administration in a positive light. 

The prism of hatred is a distorted way to see the world. I can understand their hatred and even agree with many of their reasons for it. But they should never allow it to so overwhelm their thinking that it destroys their objectivity. And thereby describe a positive act only through its negative aspects. I think that is probably the case here. 

Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Israeli Knesset.  He spoke in soaring terms about the Jewish return to the land promised to us by God.  And what the Jewish people have done to rebuild that country in the last 70 years. He made many biblical references, something even most of the Jewish Knesset members rarely do. Except for the observant ones. He even recited the words ‘Shehechiyanu V’Kimanu V’Higyanu LaZman HaZeh’ the prayer thanking God for bringing us to this moment - addressing what Israel has accomplished to date. And has yet to accomplish. 

He also added that the US embassy will move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, well ahead of the 4 years or so mentioned by the President during  his historic declaration about Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel. (I believe that was done at the behest of Pence himself). He also spoke about the terrible nuclear deal the last administration struck with Iran and promised the US would no longer sign off on it. 

The Vice President’s speech was well received by all but the Arab members of the Knesset who were removed after they heckled the Vice President as he began to speak. Pence commented that Israel has a vibrant democracy. (Which should be obvious to anyone that realizes the Knesset has Arabs that are democratically elected  by its voting  Arab population.)

Pence also spoke about the need for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and hoped that for the sake of both peoples they will come to an agreement. And that the US will support whatever kind of peace agreement at which the 2 parties arrive. How refreshing  it was not to hear the word  settlements even once!

This of course doesn’t mean that there is no controversy about the US declaring  Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there. Of course there is. It has obviously angered Palestinians and Muslims all over the Middle East. The European Union (EU) has condemned it and has responded by recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.  

Not surprised by that. Their history of antisemtism keeps on showing itself from time to time - often disguised as even-handedness. But recognizing a 70 year reality should not have generated that kind of response. The US did not say that all of Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. They just said Jerusalem - purposeless leaving it vague for the  2 parties to work out for themselves.  Unlike what the EU did - that is being both honest and even handed. 

The Palestinians are so upset that the US recognized a 70 year old reality (and by the US moving its embassy to where all embassies in all other countries are located - their capitals) that they refused to even meet with the Vice President.

Perhaps the real reason they are so upset is because in their hearts they will never accept Jewish sovereignty over any part of Israel including Tel Aviv. If this was all about their having their own  state, they could have had it 70 years ago without a single bullet being fired by anyone. 

But I digress.

The other inspiring event that took place yesterday was when the Vice President prayed at the Kotel. This is the first time a sitting Vice President visited the Kotel in his official capacity. He was inspired by his visit adding that it was a great honor to do so. His wife, the 2nd Lady Karen Pence, prayed  in the women’s section there. The Vice President and his wife respect our traditions and unlike heterodox leaders, they probably understand why we have them. 

That said, I am disappointed by the need by to separate female reporters and place them behind the Mechitza. These reporters were justifiably upset by that because they were prevented from doing their jobs properly.  They were not there to pray or disrupt any more than the male reporters that were there.

To the best of my knowledge there is absolutely no Halachic or Hashkafic issue with them being there while the VP  was praying. All this did was feed into the false narrative that Orthodoxy discriminates against women.  With this very public highly visible act, the right wing lost more than they gained. My message to them is to stand up for a principle only where it exists. Making up scenarios to demonstrate that principle can only backfire on them.