Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPage County

Rosh Hashanah 5775- The Israel Challange

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 1:43pm -- Rabbi Bob

Rosh Hashanah Video

In the last few weeks many of us have participated in the ALS challenge. Just about all of us have seen the videos. The person in the video thanks a friend or relative for challenging them. They then challenge three other people. Generally they pledge to make a gift to the ALS Association. And then they pour a bucket of ice water over their head.

I certainly support the ALS Association and I intend to continue to be an annual contributor to the ALS Association. And I hope you to do so as well. I have seen their important work in lives of people dear to me, dear to us.

Today I have my own challenge for you. You will not have to pour anything over your head. But my challenge will require an ongoing effort.

My name is Steven Bob. I support Israel. I challenge you to support Israel. I am not going to name names. I am calling you all out.

What do I mean by this declaration that I support Israel? I mean that I support the land of Israel, the people of Israel, and the State of Israel.

This does not mean that I agree with everything that every government of Israel ever does, just as I do not always agree with everything that every government of the United States ever does.

Both governments are led by human beings who make choices that they believe to be correct. Sometimes I agree. Sometimes I disagree.

Within Israel today there is not always a broad consensus about public policy. Even among the Ministers in Israel’s coalition government, we can see major disagreements. And the opposition parties have their own opinions.

We can identify more strongly with those Israeli leaders with whom we agree. Some of us identify closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Some of us identify with Israeli leaders who stand to the right of Netanyahu, like Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party. Others of us identify more closely with Israeli leaders who stand to the left of Netanyahu, like Yitzhak Herzog who leads the Labor Party. All of us can stand with Israel. 

During the recent war a broad range of Israelis from left to right supported the government.

The war in Gaza was a tragedy. Hamas began to fire rockets at Israel from Gaza knowing what the result would be. After each cease fire Hamas resumed firing rockets at Israel knowing what the result would be. Hamas fired rockets at Israel knowing that it would lead to the death of Palestinians. After each cease fire they resumed firing rockets into Israel knowing that it would lead to the death of more Palestinians.

We take no joy in the death of Palestinians. On Passover, when we read the Ten Plagues, we remove a drop of wine from our cups for each plague, to express that our joy is diminished by the suffering of the Egyptians. I take no joy in necessity for Israeli military action. I am saddened by the suffering of the Palestinians. But I understand that Hamas bears the responsibility for this suffering.

The story of the Palestinian people moves from one tragic choice to another. In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition the land of Israel into two states, a Jewish State and an Arab State. The Jews accepted the Partition Plan. The Arabs rejected the Partition Plan and went to war to destroy the State of Israel even before it declared its independence.

If the Palestinians had accepted the Partition Plan, they would be celebrating the 66th year of Palestinian Independence. Instead they went to war and lost.

In 2000 President Bill Clinton brought Yasir Arafat the leader of the Palestinians and Ehud Barak the Prime Minister of Israel to Camp David to reach a peace agreement. President Clinton placed before the two leaders a plan to divide the land. It included providing the Palestinians with most of the Old City of Jerusalem. Israel said yes. The Palestinians said no.

The Palestinians made a tragic choice in 1947 when they refused the Partition Plan. The Palestinians made a tragic choice in 2000 when they refused the Clinton Plan at Camp David.

Hamas continues to refuse to accept the events of the 1948 war that lead to Israel’s Independence. Hamas continues to speak of the destruction of the State of Israel. They see Israel as similar to the Medieval Crusader Kingdom. The Crusaders established kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099.The last vestiges of it was destroyed in 1291. It lasted 292 years. Hamas sees their struggle against Israel in the context of the Arab struggle with the Crusaders. They see Zionism as European Imperialism.

We reject this image. Zionism is not European Imperialism. Zionism is the return to sovereignty of our people in our land. King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem 1600 years before Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock. King David ruled in Jerusalem 1600 years before the rise of Islam. Jews have lived in the land of Israel continuously throughout the centuries.

In the last 125 years Jews have returned to our land, from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, from Afghanistan and Argentina, from Mosul and Marakesh, from Great Britain and Glen Ellyn, from Minsk, Pinsk and Chelyabinsk. I have lived in Glen Ellyn for over thirty years but I will never feel about Glen Ellyn the way that I feel about Jerusalem. Glen Ellyn is where I live. Jerusalem is the capital of the homeland of the Jewish People. 

Last January in Jerusalem our JUF rabbis mission met with Khalil Shikaki, the leading Palestinian pollster. He told us that most Palestinians have accepted Israel as a reality. They want to see a Palestinian State created next to Israel. As a supporter of Israel I also want to see a Palestinian State created next to Israel. The two states solution remains the only solution to this ongoing struggle. A large majority of Israelis understand this as do a majority of the Palestinians.

The recent criticism of Israel has been staggering. But we should not lump all this criticism into one category. On Passover we speak of four kinds of children: The Wise, the Wicked, the Simple and the One who does not know how to ask. We can see the critics of Israel in these four categories as well. 

The first child is the Wise. Of course these critics are not exactly wise. But they see themselves as wise. They think of themselves of educated. In truth they do not understand the situation. We need to reason with them. The Haggadah tells us to teach the wise child everything there is to know about the Exodus from Egypt. We too must teach these critics everything there is to know about Israel and the Middle East.

The second child is Wicked. Some of Israel’s critics are actually wicked. Some express old fashioned European Christian Anti-Semitism and we see a dangerous new phenomena in Europe. Moslem ruffians have attacked Jews in France and elsewhere. The Wicked are enemies of the State of Israel and enemies of the Jewish people. The Haggadah tells that we should respond to the wicked child by setting their teeth on edge. We need to respond strongly to these enemies of the Jewish People.

The third child is Simple. This group casually repeats criticism of Israel that they have heard from other people. They are not evil.

They don’t pay that much attention to events in the Middle East. They tend to see the world as good guys vs bad guys. We need to tell them the situation in simple and clear terms. It is our task to help them see Israel as the good guys.

The fourth child is the One who do know how to ask. They are not critics. They are indifferent. Like the Haggadah suggests we have to begin the conversation with them. And tell them the Israel story.

So what is our part? How do we support Israel these days while Israel is under attack? While Jews are under attack in Europe. We need to do more than talk to each other. We need to do more than yell at our computer screens.

During the war I asked our members to help a specific unit in the Israeli army. Our members responded quickly to my appeal for funds to support these soldiers. We provided tools to the soldiers of the Diamond Brigade and we will continue to aid wounded soldiers.

So how can we support the Land of Israel, the people of Israel and the State of Israel?

I have six suggestions:


We can learn more about Israel and the situation. Many of us feel inadequately prepared to explain Israel’s position. I invite you to participate in our nine-part course: Engaging Israel. We will meet on nine Sunday afternoons beginning October 12. We will use video lectures from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and key Jewish texts concerning our relationship with Israel. The deadline for registering is in just a few days.


For many years on Sukkot we have thought about the needy of our communities. The children of the congregation have for years brought to services, Gaily decorated baskets of fruit, which we share with the needy families in our neighborhood. This year on Sukkot the Ritual and Religious Committee and I will ask you to also help the needy of Israel by supporting Leket. Leket was established to prevent needless waste by rescuing fresh food and then distributing it to Israel’s needy. Leket collects food from hundreds of food suppliers and delivers it free of charge to over 180 nonprofits assisting the poor, the invalid, the aged, children, and at-risk populations of all races and religions.


I have become involved with a new Israel project called SpaceIL. SpaceIL is Israel’s entry in the competition for the Google Lunar X Prize to build an unmanned spacecraft, land it on the Moon, move 500 meters across the lunar surface and send high definition pictures and video back to Earth. The first team to do so wins a $20M prize. The competition started out with 33 teams, there are now 18. SpaceIL is among the teams now favored to win. SpaceIL’s edge is that they will build the world’s smallest, smartest spacecraft. 

The mission of SpaceIL is much bigger than just this competition. Some of us recall the space race of the 50s and 60s. I grew up on the Apollo project. My father worked on the Apollo project. He was the production manager for the guidance system for the Apollo spacecraft. The space race drew people to science and technology.

SpaceIL’s vision is to inspire the next generation in Israel and around the world to think differently about science, technology, engineering and math. We want to give communities a cool new way to connect with Israel.

SpaceIL will use the potential prize money to further their educational mission. I have joined the mission. Our Religious school students will be joining the mission on Yom Space on October 26. I invite you to “join the mission” by making a financial contribution to the project to help send the spacecraft of the Jewish people to the moon.

WZO Elections

In 1897 Theodor Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel Switzerland. In a year the 37th World Zionist Congress will meet in Jerusalem. This winter the American delegates to the World Zionist Congress will be selected through an election.

The World Zionist Congress impacts how the Jewish Agency spends its money.  ARZA, represents the Reform movement in the World Zionist Congress. ARZA will have a slate of delegates in this election. We will all be eligible to vote. I was a delegate to Congress 10 years ago. I hope to be a delegate to the Congress next fall. The size of the ARZA portion of the American delegation impacts the strength of the Reform Movement’s voice in Israel. I hope that you will participate in the WZO elections and vote for the ARZA slate.

AIPAC Policy Conference

AIPAC advocates for the relationship of Israel and America. Each March 14,000 AIPAC activists gather in Washington to learn about the issues and to lobby Congress. Etz Chaim has been represented by a modest delegation. In recent years we have heard from leaders of America and Israel: The Prime Minister of Israel, Senators and members of the House from both parties, The President and the Vice president of the United States and two Secretaries of State. On the last day of the conference we visit our congressional representatives in their offices. We become part of the process of seeking the support of the American government for Israel. I invite you to join us in Washington next March.

Israel Travel

The most significant way of standing with Israel is standing in Israel. Rather than sitting in America and saying we care about Israel, we need to meet Israel face to face. We need to demonstrate our support for Israel by going to Israel. If you have never been to Israel you need to go. If you have not been to Israel in many years, you need to go again.

The war has crippled Israel’s tourist industry. A group of us went to Israel in February of 2003 at the end of the Second Intifada and during the run up to the American invasion of Iraq. American Jewish tourism in Israel had dried up. We were alone on the top of Masada. Hotels prepared lavish feasts for us because we were their only guests. Everywhere we went people thanked us for coming.

We are going to Israel in May. I promise an insider’s look at Israel. We will see the important sites but more importantly we will meet the people. During the war in August we purchased equipment for the Diamond Brigade of the IDF, the Special Operations Engineering Unit. They have invited us to visit their base this May.

We will meet Journalist Daniel Estrin. We will meet Israeli scientists working on SpaceIL. We will meet the elderly crafts people at Yad L’Kashish. And will meet regular Israelis. 

I understand that everybody cannot afford to go. I understand that some of you have family obligations which make it impossible to go.

But if you have the money and you have ability to travel, you need to go to Israel You need to meet our brothers and sisters in Israel. And they need to meet you.

If you are 18-26 you can go to Israel as a gift of from the Jewish people. Birthright Israel provides a gift of peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. Birthright recently changed their rules so that previous participation in a high school trip no longer eliminates you from Birthright. Registration for Birthright for winter break is now open.

After services in the lobby you will see a table with flyers about all these projects. You will find a page on our website with links to all these projects. Let me know how you are supporting Israel. You can send me an email or you can even just tell me.

Today you and I cannot afford to be indifferent to the struggles facing the Jewish people. I can look back at the American rabbis of other eras and ask, why didn’t they do more to support the Jews of their time? I do not want any future Jews to look back at us and ask, why didn’t they do more to support Israel?

My name is Steven Bob. I support Israel, by learning and teaching, by giving, voting and visiting. This Rosh Hashanah I challenge you to support Israel.