Israel and the Fantastiks



Pesach is celebrated by more than 90% of all Jews. We recall the story of our liberation from slavery, but we often forget that we were freed in order to be a holy people. Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, is celebrated by most Israeli citizens, but less than a third of the Jews of America? Why?

In the play The Fantastiks, there is a song about vegetables and children. The opening line is, “Plant a radish; get a radish, never any doubt.” The song goes on to the subject of children. “While with children, it’s bewilderin.’ You don’t know until the seed is nearly grown; just what you’ve sown.”

Pesach is sort of like a radish. We know what to expect, the story is well established, and the facts of the Exodus do not change, even as we add layers of interpretation and meaning. But Israel – Israel is an organic, alive, ever-changing and ever-challenging enterprise trying its best to live up to its own ideals, be a light unto the nations for all of us, and still remain safe and secure in a very dangerous neighborhood. Life in and supporting Israel is sometimes messy, often exhilarating, and always full of surprises. For sure the “seed” is not nearly grown.

If we take Israel seriously, and if Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a holiday for all Jews, which it should be, then how do we celebrate the success of Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, this April 25/26 as Israel turns 64?

The answer is relatively easy; make a commitment to make Israel an always improving society. In a recent study in the United States by the Public Religion Research Institute, the question was asked: What is most important to one’s Jewish identity? The leading answer, with 46%, was a commitment to social equality. Support for Israel was second with 20%. If the Jews in group one and the Jews in group two could be combined, then 66% of American Jews could work together to create more social equality in Israel.

Didn’t your mom or dad repeatedly say, in the mantra of all Jewish parents, “If you put your mind to it you can achieve anything?” If not for this attitude, we would not have reclaimed Israel in the first place. It is the Jewish élan of self confidence that moves us forward. Aren’t we the people of miracles, of splitting seas, of Nobel Prize winners who are the envy of the world? Ours is the amazing story of a people repatriated, a land reclaimed, and a language renewed because we know that we can achieve anything.

Zionism- and now Israel – always was and is more than politically aspirational, it is about ethical aspiration as well. Israel is our opportunity to continue to create a unique Jewish society, one that will long stand as a light unto the world as it already does in so many ways. As Ahad Ha’am wrote, what we need is not just a state for Jews or a state of Jews, but a truly Jewish state.

As Reform Jews, we have a vital stake in that Jewish State. As Reform Jews, we are committed to social equality. As Reform Jews, we are already making Israel an ever more inclusive democratic state. Our collective efforts are shaping the soul of Israel which is the ultimate security of the country. This Yom Ha’Atzmaut, rededicate your efforts to the unfinished work of growing what is still just the seed of Israel.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.

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Rabbi Daniel Allen

About Rabbi Daniel Allen

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is the Executive Director of ARZA, and has served as the CEO of the American Friends of Magen David Adom and the United Israel Appeal. Allen is considered a leading expert on Israel and American Jewish Philanthropy.

10 Responses to “Israel and the Fantastiks”

  1. avatar
    Sidney Margulies Reply April 11, 2012 at 9:28 am

    I do not agree with the premise of this piece. Israel is not my first priority. Life in the USA for me and my family is my first priority. Israel is important, but I was a Jew before the new State of Israel was created and, although I fervently hope it never occurs, will be a Jew without it.

  2. Larry Kaufman

    Danny, I wish I could accept that Israel is trying its best to live up to its own ideals, be a light unto the nations. As long as the party of fear is in ascendancy over the party of hope, reluctance to make the two-state solution happen, refusal to halt expansion of the settlements — we are people walking in darkness who have yet to see or be the great light.

    Kudos to ARZA, and our partners in Israel in IMPJ and IRAC, who are constantly lighting matches rather than cursing the darkness. May Israel truly become that light unto the nations, bim’heira u’v'yameinu, speedily and in our days.

  3. avatar

    Enjoyed your comparisons.

    As we were marching through the desert all those years ago, God provided Mana from Heaven to keep us alive. Unfortunately these days there’s not much in the way of sustenance coming from Heaven or other places. In order to survive we are dependent on our own wits and willingness to compromise and change as change is needed … and yet there are many issues where we must stand our ground.

    Today, Israel is walking a tightrope. it’s almost impossible at times to find the right answer. Perhaps the fact that Israel still exists as a haven for Jews, a democracy in a part of the world that doesn’t know democracy, and working hard to help the world progress in technology, medicine, ecology and so many other areas, is a sign that God is still watching over us and leading us in new directions. Having sent us mana to survive as we left Egypt and wandered through the desert, we have been gifted with the tools necessary to follow the right path for survival. However, with Iran on the horizon and terrorists on our borders, a little Mana now and then would be very helpful!

    Sandy Tankoos

  4. avatar
    Elaine Alexander Reply April 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    “A language renewed.” Another interpretation, “A rich and expressive language tossed off.” Hebrew was the language solidified within Hebrew scripture. It had ceased to be a dynamic, growing language. Yiddish the language of Jews across the globe and Yiddish literature was summarily sacked. Hebrew less expressive. Only one verb tense for the past. A limited vocabulary established by scripture and Talmud.

    • avatar

      As someone who grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home, and who studied Hebrew formally from second grade through freshman year in college, I don’t see the need for the scolding I infer of the chalutzim for dumping Yiddish in favor of Hebrew. Yiddish was never the language of Jews across the globe, and Hebrew was always the heritage of Jews across the globe. But as parents know, we don’t love one of our children more than the other, we love them differently for the different people they are.

      • avatar

        “[w]e don’t love one of our children more than the other.” Speak for yourself, not for all parents. Because that statement is not true in all families.

    • avatar

      By saying there is “[o]nly one verb tense for the past,” you are clearly implying that Hebrew can only express the past in one sense. That is inaccurate. There are a variety of other devices–certain prepositions and helping verbs–which allow Hebrew the same range of past tenses as exist in English.

  5. avatar

    To Elaine: Hebrew has ceased to be a dynamic,growing language? Who are you trying to kid? One of the greatest living writers of the Hebrew language today, Amos Oz, loves writing in Hebrew. He describes the Hebrew language as a “volcano in action.” Sayyed Kashua, an Israeli Arab fiction writer, chooses to write in Hebrew. Elaine, you haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about.

  6. Rabbi Daniel Allen

    Dear Friends,
    thanks for all the comments and the back and forth. Just a few comments. While I understand Mr. Marguiles comment I am not sure the conclusion is true. Without Israel, heaven forbid, we might still be Jews but Jewish life would be changed perhaps for another 2000 years. My fear is that if the world can not tolerate- let alone embrace- Israel then perhaps the world will implode all together.

    The Hebrew back and forth is fascinating. Hebrew is very much alive. Amos Oz has a famous essay in which his only complaint about writing in Hebrew is that when he uses a word he does not necessarily use it the same way as one of the prophets and hence could be misunderstood. While Yiddish for those of us with Eastern European roots may still be comfortable at some level, there were many other Jewish folk languages. The only truly universal Jewish language has always been Hebrew, even in the days of Aramaic.

    Finally, Thanks to Sandy Tankoos. Your words are comforting while bringing reality to bear.

    Danny

  7. avatar

    What puzzled me about your article was the twice-used phrase “social equality,” because no examples were given. I don’t know of a single society in the history of man where all members of that society were “socially equal.” Putting it bluntly, I simply don’t know what you meant by urging the creation of “greater social equality.”

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