The Western Wall and the Six Hundred

 I love this Jewish country and its people. I know it sounds unsophisticated, but if you don't love your family first – that sounds inhuman. I love my extended family – the Jewish nation.
I heard that 600 hundred rabbis from one of the liberal branches of the Jewish community in America have sent what is basically a letter of blackmail to the democratically elected and popular prime minister of Israel. They say that either the government of Israel does as they wish or they will speak against Israel in this season of the High Holidays, during their sermons on the New Year and the Day of Atonement. Speaking against Israel, during these days when Jews are called upon to check their spiritual and moral lives as well as renew their spiritual commitment and their feeling of identification with the Jewish nation and Judaism, would be perverse, to say the least. It recalled to me the story of another 600 who had blundered into a detrimental and absurdly idiotic situation!
One of the reasons for their displeasure with Israel has to do with the way the western Wall prayer plaza has been run since Yerushalayim was reunited and restored to Jewish sovereignty 50 years ago. So let me tell you all a story:
I was at the Western Wall and I saw the preparations for a swearing-in ceremony for Israeli paratroopers. All Israeli army infantry brigades hold this ceremony for their soldiers in basic training, where as they stand opposite the remnant of the Second Temple, destroyed almost 2,000 years ago by the Romans, the basic trainees swear to defend the Jewish state and uphold its laws and the moral code of the IDF. This takes place in front of the soldiers' families and is considered a big and moving event.
This takes place on the upper level of the Western Wall Plaza, a bit away from the lower level closer to the Western Wall which is the prayer level of the plaza. I was standing between the two levels as a tall sergeant from the paratroopers came towards the wall. He didn't seem to be a religious Jew, having no head-covering, but as he came by he slipped his red beret from its holder and placed it over his head and went to the wall. When he reached the wall, I saw him lean up against it, kissing it and hugging it as he prayed! Then a major from the paratroopers – also seemingly not religious – came by and slipped on his red beret also and similarly and as naturally walked up to the Western Wall. Kissed the wall and leaned against it in prayer, as is the common custom. The fact that seemingly non-religious, tough paratroopers should lovingly caress the Western Wall and snatch a quick prayer there before the ceremonies began would surprise most Israelis. A large majority of Israeli Jews define themselves with some degree of religiosity, from the ultra-Orthodox to the casually traditional. At that moment I thought: "God! I love this country and its people!"
In these days of the beginning of the Jewish year when we take spiritual and moral accounting of ourselves, together with all that still needs to be fixed, refined and improved – I also see all that is beautiful in this land and its people.
So my fellow rabbis who still live in the exile even though we have regained our independence almost 70 years ago, let me say this to you directly, with all due respect and coming from a loving heart: see the good in this country and its people. You may not agree with all our policies and actions – but you're not here. It isn't your sons who are swearing loyalty to the Jewish state while standing at the Western Wall, or your students. I counted twelve of my students last Thursday who received a Bible and a rifle at the Paratroopers Brigade ceremony – how many of your students were there? Don't try to blackmail us. Instead try to concentrate on making your congregants and students as committed to the Jewish people as those young, non-religious paratroopers who went to kiss the Western Wall are dedicated and committed.
Have a good and sweetly thoughtful year!