My Reform sisters and brothers: You are also ‘holier than thou’!

'So brethren, sisters, a bit more humility, a bit more self-criticism, and much more respect for us here.'

ISRAELIS TAKE PART in a protest against corruption in Tel Aviv last year (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
ISRAELIS TAKE PART in a protest against corruption in Tel Aviv last year
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
"Don’t you criticize American Jewry!” He, who saw himself as the major American Jewish link with Israel, waved his index finger at me, as though he were the master and I his inferior.
It was the typical American Jewish “superiority.” We Israelis needed to be mentored, we didn’t know the ways of the world. American Jewry was above criticism.
OK, true, this was a few decades ago, but it continues today. Israel is immoral, not “good” enough in the eyes of its Jewish, especially American Reform, critics. They are “better,” more “moral,” and stand higher, than us.
Well, I, too, have my criticisms of our people here in Israel and certainly of our government. I have voiced them and worked for change. But you of the moralizing Reform movement have stretched my patience. Not you, the understanding, compassionate Reform rabbis abroad, and not you, my colleagues and friends, who are here in Israel.
Any Israeli is entitled to criticize Jewish movements, communities or individuals. But I may have special rights vis-à-vis the Reform Movement. So let’s get my credentials straight.
This writer, like many of you, dreamed of and hoped for a two-state solution. It was this columnist who helped Dr. Nelson Glueck open the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. This writer enabled Rabbi Dick Hirsch to pave the way for the Reform Movement to enter the WZO and Jewish Agency. This writer also believes that the Kotel does not and should not belong to the ultra-Orthodox monopolists.
But I am getting fed up with the holier-than-thou preaching at us by many overseas Reform rabbis. Yes, every Jew (and non-Jew) has the right to criticize any state, for what it’s worth. And Jews have a stronger right to criticize the Jewish state. And so we, too, in Israel have every right to puncture the self-satisfied politically correct knee-jerk “moral stand” of the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and many of his followers.
It is easy to look at Israel and find fault. Well, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the United States. (Just for the record: that’s where I earned my advanced degrees and which I know well, and value all the good things there.) Look at the US today: political, social and economic freedom is unequal for blacks and Hispanics as compared to the “whites,” and for women as compared to men. Look at the conditions prevailing in black communities, 150 years after the Civil War.
Don’t “Obama” me. Aside from a flawed health insurance scheme which empowered the insurance companies, what did he do for his electoral backers of the minority communities? Compare that to what he did for banks and bankers.
You think Israel is corrupt, and it makes you ashamed. Well, here we search out the corrupt and try to put them in jail. You know who have been in jail here. Pretty high up, weren’t they? And maybe more to come!
But what about the basically corrupt US electoral system that makes it very easy for the moneyed classes and their lackeys to be elected to Congress, to the presidency. There is no limit on how much money can be contributed to a candidate from one source! Fie! Moreover, contributions to lobbying organizations are tax-free. The US big industries can hire the lobbyists to do their damnest, and the US taxpayer pays for that.
What about the worship of Mammon in all the Jewish organizations and many synagogues? Who calls the shots, the democratically elected or the big donors? Has any rabbi dared challenge an immoral member of their congregation who cheats to enrich himself or exploits the poor or immigrant workers in his own enterprises?
“Purify yourself and then purify others.” That was said by a reformed bandit named Resh Lakish, who became a great master of Talmudic teaching about 1,800 years ago. Maybe you should take his advice. How about investing some time for self-criticism and self-purification, before blasting us?
SOME OF you call Israel an apartheid state because we erected a wall to stop our kids being blown up in buses and cafes. Is not “Palestine” truly apartheid, since no Jew may live in the Palestinian Authority’s territory?
US President Donald Trump said clearly that recognizing Jerusalem as Jewish and as Israel’s capital still leaves place for settling the final borders. But what did Jacobs immediately do? He criticized Trump for this. So did Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But Jacobs had to limp away from his kneejerk holiness, pulled back from the abyss by cooler heads.
Meanwhile, Abbas showed his true colors. If he were a statesman, or had a bit of diplomatic savvy, he would have turned a defeat into a victory. He could have said, “OK, President Trump, we disagree totally with you about the capital. But now that you have given the Jews what they claim, we demand you recognize east Jerusalem as our future capital.” Instead, he showed his true agenda: There is no place for Jews in Jerusalem; we have no connection to Jerusalem. The Arabs are the true Canaanites.
Well, say something to me in Canaanite, Mr. Abbas.
Most Palestinians are genetically our cousins. The Palestinians I speak to are sick and tired of your blah-blah while you make tens of millions of dollars disappear into the hands of your family and cronies. I wanted a two-state solution. I may still want it. But with you, Abbas?
IN BRIEF, Reform sisters and brothers, nothing is that simple in this area, and nothing is that easy throughout the world. I was taught by David Ben-Gurion that we should be a “light unto the nations,” the words of my beloved Isaiah. I was taught by Levi Eshkol that perhaps that is too great an ambition, so – at least – let’s try to be a light unto the Jews.
I say that living morally as an individual is a struggle. As a nation, if we wish to exist, we in Israel are forced by morality to carry a big stick and use it as well.
So brethren, sisters, a bit more humility, a bit more self-criticism, and much more respect for us here. We have staked our lives and that of our arms-bearing offspring on creating and maintaining this state.
And if you really want to change things, help us strengthen Jerusalem’s pluralistic demographics by coming here. Come and join the complainers and the criticizers and strugglers. Here you need not be holier than thou, but only part of the joint “us” who together share the good and the bad. Help our struggle to keep this Jewish state as moral as states can be.
The writer worked in the offices of prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, and has filled major roles in contacts between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Written to honor the memory of the great Zionist Reform figure, Rabbi Leon Kronish.