Posts Tagged 'Zionism'

Dirty Laundry: Revisiting Napoleon & the Jews

Last week I read an troubling story in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on a Jewish educator who lost her job at Westchester Reform Temple because she had written an article online espousing her “anti-Zionist worldview”. Based on her blog post, her beliefs go farther than just criticizing, questioning, or wrestling with Israel. She and her fellow blogger wrote, “We reject the notion that Zionism is a value of Judaism. Zionism is not equivalent to, or a necessary component of, Jewish identity.” The educator in question is suing her former employer in New York courts over wrongful termination. She claims that she was unlawfully discharged for expressing views during a “legal recreational activity” (blogging) that was conducted outside of work hours, off the employer’s premises, and without use of the employer’s equipment.

There are many disturbing elements of this story. As much as the educator has every right to be critical of Israel, is a blog the best forum? ( Yes , I do appreciate the irony of my writing this in a blog myself. )As much as the synagogue might not have been happy with her, was firing her their only recourse? This represents a larger tectonic generational shift. It is sad that our organizations, run by and largely for an older generation, and our Millennials are not aligned to work together, let alone disagree amicably. Another disturbing element of this story is how this internecine fighting is coming so close to the hostage situation in Colleyville Texas. Why do we always need to deal with anti-Semitism from outside and also hating each other within our community? And yet another element is that it is never fun having our dirty laundry aired in public.

All of this said, and yet none of this particularly noteworthy. It is all sad, but not surprising. What I find most troubling and newsworthy is the implications of the involvement of the court in this case. While we strive to move forward in history, in many ways this has the real potential of turning the clock back over 200 years ago.

The French Revolution abolished the different treatment of people according to religion or origin that had existed under the monarchy. Roman Catholicism had been the established state religion, closely tied historically to the monarchy, which represented both religious and political authority. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen guaranteed freedom of religion and free exercise of worship, provided that it did not contradict public order. That was all wonderful.

In the early 19th century, through his conquests in Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte spread the modernist ideas of revolutionary France: equality of citizens and the rule of law. Through his policies overall, Napoleon greatly improved the condition of the Jews in France and Europe, and they widely admired him. Starting in 1806, Napoleon passed a number of measures enhancing the position of the Jews in the French Empire. This all still seems great.

But there were still some unsettled issues for Napoleon and the Jews so he convened the Grand Sanhedrin as the representative group elected by the Jewish community as their representatives to the French government. The Grand Sanhedrin was to give legal sanction to the principles expressed by an Assembly of Jewish Notables in answer to the twelve questions submitted to it by the government. One of these questions was:

Do the Jews born in France, and treated by the law as French citizens, acknowledge France as their country? Are they bound to defend it? Are they bound to obey the laws and follow the directions of the civil code?

They sat and voted on the replies of the Assembly of Notables, and passed them as laws. The decisions of the Grand Sanhedrin was formulated in nine articles and drawn up in French and Hebrew. They declared that, by virtue of the right conferred upon it by ancient custom and law, it constituted, like the ancient Sanhedrin, a legal assembly vested with the power of passing ordinances in order to promote the welfare of Israel and inculcate obedience to the laws of the state. In response to this question from Napoleon they replied as follows:

That the Israelite is required to consider the land of his birth or adoption as his fatherland, and shall love and defend it when called upon.

In 1807, Napoleon designated Judaism as one of the official religions of France. And just like that the Jews in this domain were free, but at what cost? To be equal with their fellow Frenchmen, they had to give up their notion of being a nation of Jews living in diaspora from their ancestral homeland in Palestine. Giving up their own notion of a nation, they would have full access to society as Frenchmen who’s religion happen to be Judaism. With all of the rights and challenges the Jews were being assimilated into French culture.

So back to the case at hand. What would have happened if this educator had written on her blog that she did not believe in God or her religious practice was divergent from those of Westchester Reform Temple and she got fired? I serious doubt that the secular court would have anything to say. I have trouble imaging the “state” would want to be seen at dictating matters of faith for the “church”. This separation of church and state is the hallmark of the liberty we have enjoyed here in America. The case before the court is forcing the issue. In order to rule if she was wrongfully terminated from her job the court will need to determine if Zionism is legitimately part of the Jewish faith. The court needs to define if Zionism is a value of Judaism. What will the court say? Is Zionism equivalent to, or a necessary component of, Jewish identity?

This is an ironic reversal of roles. Over 200 years ago Napoleon forced the hand of the Grand Sanhedrin to disavow their “duel loyalties” and become full Frenchmen. Now a disgruntled employee is forcing the state court to define for the Jews if being loyal to Zionism is a legitimate faith claim of Judaism in America. While, I do believe that there is healthy debate to have on the subject, if history has taught us anything, it is best not to have the government involved in sorting out our dirty laundry.


Said It Before: Tisha B’Av and Ani V’Ata

This Shabbat is Shabbat Hazon with the vision of the destruction. Tisha B’Av, the annual fast day commemorating the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and our subsequent exile from Israel, is Sunday. According to tradition this day was started due to the sin of the twelve spies (Mishnah Taanit 4:6). The Israelites wept over the false report of the ten spies and in turn this day has become a day of weeping and misfortune.

In his amazing book Em HaBanim Semeichah Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal refutes the anti- Zionism of his Satmar Hungarian Orthodox upbringing and beautifully lays out a vision of redemption realized in a Jewish State of Israel. There he writes:

Our mentor, the Ari z”l, revealed to his disciple , Rabbi Chayim Vital z”l , that when one chooses a mitzvah for which a certain tzaddik sacrificed himself, the soul of that tzadikk comes to his aid. The author of Midrash Shmuel once entered the study hall and [the soul of] the Ari HaKadosh stood before him, as is well known. The same is true today. Yehoshua and Calev sacrificed themselves for aliyah. The entire Jewish nation wanted to stone them, but they said, Let us go up (Numbers 13:30). Similarly, if we sacrifice ourselves for aliyah, the souls of Yehoshua and Calev will come to our aid. This is as clear and true as the Torah of Moshe from the Almighty”.( Em HaBanim Semeichah) 

I was thinking about this deep Torah of Rabbi Teichtal when listening to Arik Einstein’s iconic Ani V’Ata. There he sings:

Ani V'Ata -You and I- We will change the world
You and I- then everyone will come
Others have said it before
It does not matter - You and I will change the world. ( Ani V'Ata)

The entire song assumes that two people can change the world. This echoes the words of Margaret Mead when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” But who are the other who have said it before?

Is it possible that the partnership was none other than Yehoshua and Calev. For most of Jewish history we have lamented our having ignored these voices. On one level Einstein is urging us to move past the tragedy of the spies to have hope. On another level he is inviting us to move past the idea of just having hoping for 2000 years. The Modern Jewish State is far from perfect, but it surely not just a dream. Ani V’Ata is a call to action. Will we be like the 10 bad spies or will we answer the call of Tisha B’Av? will you and I move from optimism to activism?

Other post on Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal

Awake,Arise, Abram Orlow: A Prescient Poem from 1918

I am named for my father’s father Abram Orlow. To a great degree he is a mystery to me. This is what I do know. He was born May 3, 1900 and died April 30, 1950. He was born in Poltava, a town that I have visited during my stay in the FSU. His family emigrated from northern Ukraine to Philadelphia when he was young. His first language was Yiddish, but he seemed to do fine in English. He went to University of Pennsylvania where he later was a political science professor. The story goes that he was the first Jewish professor at Wharton.


Image result for abram orlow

Abram and my grandmother Lena had two sons. My father James Joseph and his younger brother David. Abram, Lena, and my father were all immigration lawyers. In fact in 1948 Abram was the Second President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Interestingly Lena went on to be the president of AILA in 1954 and twenty years later  my father was president of that organization the year I, Avram Orlow, was born. My father was younger than Yadid when his father died, so there is just not that many people I have ever met who knew much about him.

Years ago I found a poem that he wrote which was published  January 11, 2018 in The Jewish World. Seeing that is has been 100 years it seemed fitting to share the work of  person for whom I am named. Like my grandfather, Abram Orlow, I am a Zionist. To me the modern State of Israel is central to my Jewish and human identity. As hard as it is to imagine what the world looked like a 100 years ago, it is harder for me to imagine a world before Israel existed. Reading this poem I am filled with wonder. What do we make of the romantic call for a reprisal of the Hasmomean military victory from the pen of an 18-year-old? How did he balance his fierce nationalism with a universal appeal to flock to this yet to be realized Zionist “standard”. He is simultaneously asking Palestine to be born so we can be like ever other nations and also be exceptional and a model to the nations. I have no idea if my grandfather ever stepped foot in the land of Israel. What was Palestine to an immigrant from the Ukraine who would go on to spend his career as an immigration lawyer in “Goluth“?

Reading this poem I find myself looking back to look forward to look back again. Abram’s poem for the ” Jewish Homeland” is prescient. We are still striving to fully realize the Zionist ideal.  We are still struggling with Diaspora identity in “Goluth”.  We are still coming to terms with the challenge of wielding the power of the Maccabees. We are still trying to fuse our commitments to particularism with our universalism. And all the while I have not done much to demystify the person for whom I am namesake, but I hope you have found it interesting nonetheless.

A Note on Israel for Our Children

I am blessed with a full life. I spend all of my time parenting, partnering,working, and learning. Recently I have found that with every spare moment I am trying to follow the news of what is going on in Israel. And if I get a brief moment to reflect I just cry thinking about what is going on in Israel. It is the 21st Century, why must we still fight to exist?

Earlier tonight Adina and I took our children out to join us at a community wide event in support of Israel. We could have left the children with Maria, our Au Pair, and just gone by ourselves. We realized that despite it being past their bedtime it was important for our children to join us. We want them to value Israel in their lives as we do in our lives. It was great to see the room packed with people in support of Israel. But I realize that at the ages of eight, six and three this might be a bit too much to ask for at this time. I remind myself that this is the very reason that I started writing this entire blog in the first place over threes ago. I hope that years from now you ( Yadid , Yishama, and Emunah) look back and read this blog and are able to connect all of the dots of our parenting choices over the years. I can admit that I often daydream about the your future lives. What do I see emerging in each of you, our children, and might that be a clue of what is to come. I am curious which if and of you will choose to live in Israel. There is a big part of me that would love to follow you.

As we read in Vayetzeh, this week’s Torah portion, Yaakov dreamed a dream about a ladder. There we read:

And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! ( Genesis 28:12)

As Yaakov was leaving Israel to go into Diaspora he had this vision. We need to be idealistic and have our head above the limiting details of life, but we always need to have our feet firmly rooted in the ground. As important as any of the ideas we might talk with you about are the actions that we model. While I hope to share with you my ideas and ideals, I realize that you will have your own. So I hope when you read this years from now you have seen our commitment to Israel in our words as well as our actions. On the way to the event tonight Yadid said, ” I was born in New York, I live in White Plains, but Israel is home.” Obviously that is a well rehearsed line in our home, but it is also important that it is not just something we say. It is important that we make sure that our ideals are founded on our actions. For a second there was a hint that Yadid was starting to get the point. Who knows? Maybe he will be reading this blog post from Israel?

Our thoughts, prayers, and actions are for the people of Israel in the land of Israel. May we see a lasting peace as soon as possible for all of our children.

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