Pushing the Button

Issues arise in the headlines. We read the concise few words, we may read a few paragraphs of a few articles, but we rarely have the chance to dig in to the issues underlying the headlines, and learn from a plethora of voices.
In this section we shall be “pushing the button” – inviting short responses from interesting and unusual people throughout the world of Jewish and Zionist education and culture – trying to explore beyond the surface to find the real conversations. 

Encouraging Aliya – insensitive?

The videos produced by the Absorption Department encouraging Israelis in North America to return to Israel, ignited a controversy. Within a few days the Prime Minister himself ordered the campaign to be cancelled.

Yet in the meantime, an interesting and important dialogue had begun to open up. Were the commercials really so offensive?

Or were they mainly touching on a subject that itself is terribly sensitive yet crucial: What is the value of Jewish life in Israel as compared to the Diaspora? Indeed, how do we define a valuable Jewish life?

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz


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We should always strive to build bridges, further dialogue, engage in critical thinking, foster hope, open our hearts, and do all we can to perpetuate peace.

At this particular time though, given the rampant anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity posing grave threats around the world, we should strive to show collective public leadership to support the state and people of Israel.

Activists at AIPAC’s 25th Saban Leadership Seminar


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The young activists at AIPAC’s 25th Saban Leadership Seminar did not send us a couple of ideas of what Jews in North America might do. They sent 72 ideas…

Mobilizing the Base
  1. Yom Yisrael: Students are encouraged to wear blue and white to support Israel. Pictures of students in blue and white with signs that say “I Stand with Israel” will be posted to social media.
  2. All State Israel Solidarity Day: Students will mobilize solidarity events on campuses across their state.
  3. Campus Solidarity Rallies: Featuring special speakers, community leaders and media.
  4. America Stands with Israel Day: Students will host a day in honor of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
  5. HBCU Solidarity Events: To celebrate the long-standing relationship between the African-American and Jewish communities in support of Israel.
  6. Safe Room Simulation: Students would display a model safe room at Hillel and use the red alert siren to educate students on the ongoing threat of Hamas to Israelis and Palestinians.
  7. Concert for Peace: Invite students to a musical event to demonstrate public solidarity with Israel.
  8. Solidarity with Israel Campaign: Using AIPAC NGauge, coordinate solidarity vigils on campuses across the country at the same time and share on social media.
  9. Solidarity Candlelight Vigil: Students will host candlelight vigils co-sponsored by various religious, political and cultural student organizations on campus.
  10. Wear & Share Campaign: Solidarity t-shirts with images or statements of support (i.e. image of Israeli flag with “I stand with Israel”).
  11. How Many Rockets Would You Tolerate?: Use balloons to demonstrate how many rockets are being fired from Gaza each day.
  12. IDF Care Packages: Preparing care packages for IDF soldiers as a demonstration of solidarity.
  13. Shelter Care Packages: Including teddy bears and board games for Israeli children.
  14. Flags of Freedom: Display of Israeli and American flags on the quad to show support and solidarity.
  15. Shop for Israel Night: At a local vendor with portion of proceeds going to benefit Israeli charity connected with conflict relief.
  16. Raise Funds for Friends of the IDF: From birthright returnees.
  17. Israel Solidarity Shabbat: At Hillel or Chabad.
  18. Help Build CUFI on Campus: Chapters.

To Full Post

Marion Gribetz, Hebrew College, USA


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Stop demonizing the OTHER.Whether it is Palestinians, Israelis with conflicting views and life styles, Americans, Westerners, protesters, the media, the American government, the Israeli government, the left, the right etc. Hate is a toxin.

We need to remember that we are all created btzelem elohim and our actions reflect on ourselves. By vilifying others, even when we are certain that their actions, thoughts, ideas, words are part of the problem our words just add to the deafening cacophony. We need to be part of the solution. The solution needs to begin with us all valuing human life above all else. Only then can we engage in purposeful problem solving.

Study and Learn. Become literate and knowledgable about Israel, about Jewish History and about the Jewish People. Do this NOT so that you can engage in arguments about who is right. Do this so that you have knowledge as your foundation and then your actions will have meaning in the context not just of today and this war, but will give you a way to engage and make meaning across time and space.

Commit to the Jewish People. See yourself inside the Jewish People. Do not remove yourself. Do not point fingers.

Pray. It couldn’t hurt. But don’t stop there. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said “Prayer may not save us. But prayer may make us worthy of being saved.”  and  “Prayer begins where our power ends.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

Visit Israel. Don’t cancel plans for a visit. Be smart, but don’t abandon ship. Our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters need to know that we are with them. Decades ago there was a slogan ISRAEL IS REAL. The closer we stay to the reality, the more we engage with the reality, the more we will know that these horrors are not just myths. Building tunnels to cache weapons of destruction is real. Rockets firing on playgrounds and  bustling, cosmopolitan areas is real. Pursuing peace is real.

Marion Gribetz is faculty at Hebrew College, Newton , MA  Jewish Education Programs and President of Gribetz Mencow Consultants

Nigel Savage, Hazon


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Here are a few things that I think one could do:

  • “Every person has to decide before every action that that particular action is the most important for him or her to do in the world at this time. There is no thought or action that is more important.  And if there is, then you should be doing that most important thing, at this time…”
    This remarkable quote was found on the desk of Eyal Frankel, in the beit midrash at his yeshiva, after his murder. (He was one of the three Israeli teens whose murders triggered the recent events.)   In his memory we should commit to what Eyal called “tikkun midot” –  striving to be a better person.
    I learned about this quote from a really remarkable video of Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, speaking at an evening of learning in memory of the three teens, on July 9thhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2TWAYBPHLI
  • Don’t stick your head in the sand, or  say “it’s all too complicated.” If you feel confused about what’s going on in Israel, now’s a good time to start reading.  A good start would be Ari Shavit’s recent and acclaimed My Promised Land, which includes one or two very intense chapters.  The reason I think it’s such an outstanding book is precisely because he offers such a wide range of vignettes and perspectives, and because in each case he contextualizes in a way that I think is particularly important. If you want an accessible (and free) sense of what’s going on in Israel, read http://www.timesofisrael.com/ .
  •  Create a context in which to share your feelings about what’s going on in Israel. At Hazon we devoted one of our regular staff meetings to this topic, two weeks ago, as we did during the war in Gaza in 2008. On both occasions I said, “this is not a debate. Each person gets 3 minutes to say whatever you want to say; you can pass, if you don’t want to say anything; and anything that anyone says is private to this meeting – it’s not something for someone else to argue with you about afterwards. This is simply an opportunity to listen to each other, and to share what we feel.” It is/was a powerful and an important thing to do.


  • If you have the opportunity, visit Israel and, once there, volunteer in some way and learn in some way.  There is no substitute for being in Israel, not least because the reality of what is going on there – the range of opinions – is so wide and so fascinating. If you have the chance to go in the near future that will be a great opportunity to give Israelis a sense that you care enough to be there at a difficult time.


  • Don’t lose hope. The whole situation seems to be a mess. It really does. And/but don’t presume that things can’t get better. They can. And it’s legitimate for us to ask ourselves – each one of us – how can I in some way be a force for good, in relation to Israel and in relation to the world?
  • If you have friends or family in Israel, reach out. Just be in touch. Pick up the phone. Email, text, remind them you know it’s not life-as-usual. And, separately, go to shul, or connect (or re-connect) with Jewish life in some fashion.
  • Don’t presume that to be “pro-Israel” is somehow to be “anti-Palestinian” or anti-Muslim or anything else. Holding complexity is vital. It’s legitimate – some of us think it’s desirable – to love Israel, and to disagree with some Israeli policies, and to hold Hamas responsible for the loss of life in Gaza, and to want to engage with – and listen to – Palestinians and other Arabs saying things we may find difficult to hear.  And, at the same time, as Israelis say, yesh gevul – “there’s a limit…” Here’s a trenchant piece that I personally agree with, from Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a Conservative rabbi in Berkeley, CA –http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-menachem-creditor/im-done-apologizing-for-i_b_5606650.html

  •  Finally: if you want to support one organization that is doing remarkable work, not in ending war but in creating the enduring relationships that can truly build peace, check out the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies – http://arava.org/ They’re bringing together Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, Palestinians, Jordanians and Americans, in a program that’s training a new generation of environmental leaders in the Middle East.  Many of their Muslim or Christian students wouldn’t necessarily agree with the views of the Jewish students at AIES – and vice versa (and many of them wouldn’t agree with my own views, expressed here). But what their students learn to do is to disagree as friends and colleagues, rather than as enemies. Few things are more important. Check out AIES – very inspiring.


Rabbi Michelle Dardashti, Brown University


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I’m a rabbi. So when asked what one should do in the face of the horror in Israel and Gaza right now, I emphatically reply: “pray.” But I know that message doesn’t resonate for many and besides, our tradition has more to say.

The Mishna teaches us to be ohavei shalom v’rodphei shalom, lovers of peace and seekers (chasers, more literally) of peace. For American Jews, far away, this teaching is particularly apt; notably, we’re not expected to be osei shalom, doers/makers of peace. (Our liturgy reserves that title—Oseh HaShalom, Maker of Peace—for only The One … who doesn’t seem in a hurry.) We’re charged, it seems, with laying the ground for Shalom by loving and pursuing this Divine attribute. Some thoughts on how we might do so:

  • When possible, visit Israel and: volunteer there (there are countless social change organizations spanning political and religious divides), donate blood, study Hebrew/Arabic, learn Torah, visit southern cities, hardest hit by rockets from Gaza and visit Palestinian territories (each have reputable groups with which to travel safely) – all these things will bring you in contact with the land, its people and its narratives.
  • Learn more: read much and read widely, take courses and talk to people you trust on varying sides.
  • Reach out to family and friends touched in any way by the current conflict in Israel and Gaza (which is really everyone you know there); listen to what they need to say, ask them how you can be most helpful (and it might be simply listening…).
  • Get involved with NGOs or political groups working/lobbying on behalf of the Israel/Gaza you seek.
  • Bring speakers to your community that represent voices you think need to be heard.
  • Seek out/Create safe and productive spaces for communal conversation on this topic.
  • Connect with Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims wherever you may be. Share in a Shabbat dinner, join in an Iftar, get to know one another’s stories. The only human headway I can imagine in pursuit of peace will come from human relationships and a commitment to their constant care.
  • Cultivate deep empathy and humility and reflect them in all you do, say, post and write.

All of this brings us back to the text with which I opened, the next clause of which instructs us to be ohev et habriyot, lovers of all God’s creatures.  If there is ever to be real peace—between Arabs and Jews and between Jews and Jews—we must push ourselves to hear, see and feel the place of the “other” – Palestinian civilian in Gaza, Jew on the right/left, soldier enlisted to fight, parent cradling a scared child amidst sounds of war – be willing to hear her narrative, understand his fear, feel her pain, argue their side….

So by all means, pray – but don’t stop there. Don’t just love peace, pursue it. Chase it down any way you can.

Michelle Dardashti is the Rabbi at Brown RISD Hillel and Associate Chaplain for the Jewish Community at Brown University.  


Shuki Taylor, Yeshiva University, Israel


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To those reading this, thank you for caring.

Please show your care.

If you have family or friends in Israel, distant or close – call them. Don’t email, tweet, Facebook or Whatsapp them. Call them. Ask how they are. Tell them you are thinking about them.

Showing care feels like sharing burden – physical or emotional. If you can’t share the burden physically, you can still do it emotionally.

Call to show you care.

* * *

To those reading this, thank you for feeling a sense of duty.

Please go on duty.

In Israel, families are on reserve duty right now. Many soldiers are in the front lines. Many partners, parents and children are alone at home. They are all called to duty.

Go on duty – send a care package, attend a rally, pray.

Take duty upon yourselves.

* * *

To those reading this, thank you for hoping.

Please express your hope.

Pray – alone or together. Believe in the power of our faith, that as individuals and as people we can express words and feelings that somewhere, on a cosmic level, can “turn the decree”. Believe that your voice, your cry, your hope, matters.

Pray. Its what has kept us who we are for thousands of years, and will keep us who we are for thousands more.

* * *

To those reading this, thank you for listening.

Please listen.

Don’t write everything you think, and don’t post or publish everything you write. Posted and published words can elevate as they can destroy. Sometimes an opinion, an analysis or a critique can bring spirits – which must now be high – down. There will be a time for analysis. There will be a time to shout out your opinions.

But for now – please just listen.

David Bryfman, The Jewish Education Project, NY


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You know who they are.

They are the ones who taught you Hebrew. They are the ones who taught you to swim at camp. They are the ones who taught you about Israeli politics and Zionism on your year abroad. They are the ones who were your tour guides on your Israel trip. They are the ones whose house you stayed at in a home hospitality experience. They are the ones who you kissed, and the ones who waved good bye to you en route to Ben Gurion. They are the ones who enlisted in the army while you worked on kibbutz.

They are the ones who have come and gone in your life, and who now need to be reminded of the times you shared together. They are the ones that no matter where in the world you find yourself, need to know that you are thinking about them, care about them, and are longing to hear from them in more peaceful times. They are Israelis.

So what should you do?

Get on to your Facebook page and locate 10 Israelis that in someway have touched your life. Simply, send them a message of support and friendship, of awe and respect, of guilt and respect. Whatever it is that you have wanted to tell that person in your life who once held that special place in time and space.

Now is that time.

Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, Wexner Foundation


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Above all, we should be sharing our support for Israel in loving and passionate ways.

Be thoughtful in conversations and educate yourself about the situation. If we have the funds, we should send them to organizations that are extension of our hands and hearts.  We should be informed without becoming overwhelmed (hard to do).  If we have friends and family in Israel  be in touch without expecting responses, just let people know we are present and we are praying.  Yes, we should pray.  And hold each other up here and there and when there is a rally we should show up.  And if there is an opportunity to be in Israel we should go, especially those of us in the position to take the time and have the network that allows us to do so.  We don’t want to be in the way, but we do want to help our family in Israel find a way to cope.

And then there is this.

We must find a way to stand as one even in our angry disagreements. Can we possibly table the anger while holding the difference? I cling to the ever-fading hope that we can, at least when there is real conflict in the State of Israel, when there is war and the names of dying soldiers are released, when we are weeping over life and death, that maybe we somehow could observe a ceasefire of words.

Maybe we could learn to not bicker with each other, to for a few days stop drowning each other out when we don’t like what this Jews does or what that Jew says, when your organization and mine don’t agree.

We are, at our roots, a people known to sit around tables of disagreement and yet, those roots are withering. I fear we are a long journey away from that dream and I see it ripping apart the fabric of a community that, I still have the audacity to believe, can do a better job of unifying at least in times of strife.

We have sacrificed our unity on an alter of indignant certainty.

What should WE be doing?  We should all engage with Israel.  We should worry less about being right and more about finding the right path to engagement.

And for those seeking practical and attainable actions, shop on line with your favorite Israeli merchant.  Or call them and order another something.

Be persistent in your love and when this war ends (may it be soon), stick around and be an advocate for Israel well into the future.  She needs us when the normal tensions return.

Bob Sherman, The Jewish Education Project, NY


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What to do? Yes, write and call. Yes, participate in collective acts of solidarity & mourning. Yes, send money to where it helps. And this: talk to strangers about the people you know in Israel and what they are experiencing. Make it real, personal, intimate as opposed to headlines and the politics of war.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah


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Two things we have to do: talk and bond. Talk about our concern for Israel, for the future, for peace and safety for our people and the Holy Land;  at the same time speak in unifying language that brings us together as Jews and as human beings. At an Iftar I was at in NY, the Palestinian organizer welcomed us as Jews and said that we are all concerned with events in the Holy Land. Jews need to find ways to engage with Jews of different political views so that the we present our brothers and sisters in Israel a unified, bonded Jewish community backing them through harmony and respect.

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