One nation under God

Representing Israel at 60th Annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, at the beginning of year was a huge honor.

Ulpana residents pray 370 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Ulpana residents pray 370
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Representing Israel at the 60th Annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, at the beginning of the year was a huge honor. In addition to meeting representatives from 130 countries, there were private meetings with US congressmen. Delegation members emphasized that Israel is combating religious extremism and will maintain its status as the only beacon of religious freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
Organizers expressed their pride in the Israeli delegation’s contribution to the three-day event, which culminated in a massive breakfast with President Barack Obama. We have been in continuous contact with the event’s organizers as well as with other participating dignitaries to explore ongoing partnerships in a variety of projects and ideas.
It is now my hope that we find ways to convey and instill the one major theme of that special event, God, within the highest levels of the Israeli government.
The message, repeated over and over again during the National Prayer Breakfast, was that despite our many disagreements in both the political and religious realms, we can all rally together and pray to God for everyone’s health and the welfare of our respective countries throughout the world.
President Obama stood in prayer alongside some of his most fierce Republican opponents.
As a US citizen who has spent most of my life in that country, this open and public embracing of God and prayer on a government level was not new to me.
A brief glance at some of the most significant moments in recent US history demonstrates this point.
After America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, president Franklin D. Roosevelt concluded his speech by saying: “With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”
WHEN THE space shuttle Challenger exploded in January 1986, president Ronald Reagan appeared before the nation and the world and concluded his speech by saying: “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”
President Obama concluded his historic announcement about the assassination of Osama bin Laden with the words: “Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The list goes on and on, not to mention the fact that nearly every presidential address ends with the words “God bless America.”
BUT SINCE making aliya almost eight years ago, I have become accustomed to the absence of God from the public discourse in our homeland. The National Prayer Breakfast shocked me back into reality. The fact that everywhere we turned during those three days, leaders from both the US and around the world talked openly and freely about their relationship with God stood in stark contrast to the public silence about God among most leaders in Israel.
This became even more glaring during a meeting between Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and the Israeli delegation, which included secular members of Knesset. Sen.
DeMint talked about his view that the relationship between the US and Israel is more than merely a friendship because we share a spiritual bond. The secular MKs responded by downplaying the spiritual side, instead focusing on our shared values of democracy and freedom. It was so clear that these MKs lacked spirituality in their lives and I could see how this confused the senator. After the meeting, I pulled Sen. DeMint aside and quietly explained that most Israelis were spiritual and that the spiritual connection between our two countries is alive and well.
Experiencing so many US and world leaders speaking very openly about God contrasted greatly with some of Israel’s representatives ducking any identification with spirituality. It made me realize how desperately we must bring God back to the public discourse in this country.
I DON’T want to be misunderstood. Israeli citizens mention God all the time and the number of times I hear God roll off the lips of Israelis from all backgrounds on a daily basis inspires me and reminds me how special it is to live here. Recent surveys indicate that around 80 percent of Israelis believe in God. We have finally found a fundamental about which most Israelis agree! So, wouldn’t it uplift the country and give it a sense of purpose if we heard the prime minister ending his speeches with “May God bless the State of Israel?” Wouldn’t it be inspirational to hear all announcements of national successes accompanied by “with thanks to God” and all national tragedies accompanied with words about our desire for “comfort from God?” Wouldn’t this help remind all of us of our national purpose and of that which unifies most of the country? Even in the religious world, so much of the focus has shifted to the rabbis instead of God and on the nuances of ritual practices instead of authentic spirituality. As an observant Jew, I, of course, understand the significance of the rabbis and the paramount role which rituals play in our faith.
However, along the way we have permitted the Ultimate focus to be pushed to the side.
I find it fascinating that the one political personality who has brought some discussion of God into our national awareness recently is Yair Lapid. As part of his effort not to be labeled as “anti-religious” he felt the need to openly declare that he “believes in God.” He is also the one who declared in recent months that “the God of Israel kept the Jewish people going for 2,000 years” and that “if we remove the Father from Israel, why live here?” Why don’t we hear other government and religious leaders speaking so freely and openly about God? IT IS my hope that the Israeli leadership recognizes the importance of reinserting God into the equation and our country unifying around our belief in God.
Schools should talk more openly about God, Knesset gatherings should begin with a prayer, all national ceremonies should include specific mention of God, and we should be searching for ways to increase discussion regarding spirituality instead of shying away from it. Doing so will transform our country for the better and will reaffirm our very reason for choosing to live and fight for this land.
Let Israel become the beacon of light to the entire world from where Jews openly and proudly declare to be one nation under God.
The author is an ordained rabbi, educator, author and community activist in Beit Shemesh.