Friday, February 27, 2015

Esther's Quiet Room: Shabbat-O-Gram for Feb 27

The Shabbat Announcements are sponsored by Beth and Jeff Goodman in honor of their son, Benjamin, becoming a Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat morning.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mazal tov to Ben Goodman and Emma Ostrovsky, this Shabbat b'nai mitzvah, and their families!  March is truly coming in like a lion (or, more precisely, Feb. is going out like one) , with a weekend full of celebration, beginning with services at 7 tonight, with musical guests (why do I feel like Don Pardo whenever I say that?) Avram Pengas and Eitan Zahav.  And if you have a preschool or younger aged child, come to the Cantor's home at 4:30 for a special Tot Shabbat playdate!  And plan to join us for Purim on Wednesday night, with our Megilla reading (for families and later, for adults) and always enjoyable carnival.  Wait til' you see what I'll be wearing!

March will bring several very important events to TBE, including the first event for our new LGBT group next Saturday night (see news coverage), our Interfaith Seder on the 26th, with the theme "Befriending the Stranger." On the 19th, we'll be privileged to host the National Yiddish Theater, "From Rosenfeld to Robeson,"program, a special gift provided free to the community in memory of Dr. Harry Romanowitz - a man so dear to so many of us.  And well over a hundred have already reserved for the March 13thShabbat Across Stamford.  Hundreds of Jewish groups will be celebrating the annual "Shabbat Across America" that day.  But we are the only community that will be coming together - Jews of all denominations - to do that.  I'll talk more about that next week, but it is a real feather in Stamford's  cap.  Because people observe Shabbat in such vastly different ways, our prime goal has been to bring people together in the spirit of unity and mutual respect. So no one group will feel completely familiar with the kind of Shabbat we'll experience.  We'll all have something to learn - but most of all, what we'll learn is how important it is to cultivate an atmosphere of nonjudgmental love and respect, despite the differences. 

Gee. If we could just export that to Washington and Jerusalem, how different our world would be!

Jerusalem, Washington, Tehran...and Shushan.  Esther's Quiet Room

This is not the first time that Purim (next Wed. night) comes on the same week as a major speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu in Washington about Iran. It almost seems like he's been making these speeches since Mordechai and Esther frequented the streets of Persia.   Add to that the fact that this weekend is Shabbat Zachor and the temptation to draw historical parallels is irresistible.

But which lessons do we draw?  That the threat from our eternal enemies, especially the ones from Persia, never abates?   That Jewish life in the Diaspora is precarious and we need to stick together in a bipartisan way in order to survive?  That we need to be diplomatic - and courteous -when approaching the king? 

Esther fasted for three days before entering the palace's inner sanctum.  Maybe we all should do that before Bibi comes to Congress.

Maybe Netanyahu will surprise everyone.  Maybe he will actually apologize for his inexcusable snub of the President. Maybe he will offer a substantive good will gesture on the Palestinian issue to garner more American support. Maybe he will offer to form a unity government should he win the upcoming Israeli elections to de-politicize this appearance.  Right.  If the situation weren't so dead serious, it would almost play as a Purim farce. So many miscalculations. so many behind-the-scenes political machinations.  And so much foolishness.

David Brooks nailed it in today's Times.  The proposed deal with Iran might be a calamitous miscalculation on President Obama's part.  Bibi's speech to Congress was too.  He pulled the rug out from under many of Israel's greatest defenders, includingMossad chiefs, and reportedly, AIPAC leadership.  Everyone foresaw the train wreck that was slowly developing.  But it didn't matter.

For another view, see this letter to the editor by our own Jan Gaines in Thursday's Stamford Advocate. Always good to hear from Jan.  Until now I've been reticent to chime in with any reactions to next week's speech, for a few reasons:

1)     There has been too much noise as it is.

 2)     There has been precious little honesty - from all sides.

3)     Because this is totally about politics, on all sides.  On one side it's about getting Bibi reelected (check the ads from his prior campaign, which featured snippets from his last Congressional speech) while sticking it to Obama; and on the other side it's about defeating Netanyahu on March 17 - and the Prime Minister gave the Administration the perfect excuse to abandon all pretense of objectivity and go all-in on that.

4)     The one thing it isn't about is Iran. 

a.       If it were about Iran, the speech would have been scheduled for any time after the Israeli election (there would have been plenty of opportunity to schedule it between March 18-31, the Iran negotiation deadline, or even after.

b.       If it were about Iran, the Prime Minister would not have weakened Israel's position by turning this into a partisan issue in American politics.

c.       If it were truly about Iran, the Prime Minister's speech at AIPAC, attended by a majority of Congress, would have been the perfect platform. Now, instead, it is his appearance before Congress that will be debated front-and-center, rather than the Iran deal.  He could have chosen to make next week a serious, reflective, Fast of Esther.  Instead, he went right to the Purim Carnival.  Welcome to Bibifest, and the circus will be all about him.

5)     This whole thing is so incredibly painful. 

The actions that have taken place have caused great damage to Israel's image, including among many American Jews.  Some may feel that the speech is so important that it doesn't matter that feathers were ruffled.  I agree that there needs to be a substantive debate over this possible Iran agreement, once the details are revealed.  I have grave concerns about what I've heard - though I know that much more about the deal remains as yet unknown.  But meanwhile, it is much harder for us to make Israel's case in an atmosphere of confrontation and partisanship, where everyone is yelling and posturing and no one is listening.  It's really too painful to bear.

I do believe that the US - Israel relationship is strong enough to withstand this episode, and I do believe that the current Pennsylvania Avenue good-cop bad-cop routine could ultimately lead to a better agreement with Iran, if an agreement is to be had.  But who will care about the young Jews who feel increasingly distanced from the Israel their grandparents loved?  Soon they, and many other Americans, will simply yawn when Israel is discussed.  And that represents yet another, perhaps more pernicious, existential threat.  Perhaps the Prime Minister should have thought about that before accepting this invitation.

So I've decided to opt out of the Bibifest circus, and I'm going to make like Esther next week.  I'll retreat to a quiet room and watch the speech from there, fasting and praying that this capricious and reckless roll of the dice will prove to be just another Purim disaster averted, in our long history of courage, foolishness and blind luck. 

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