Provocative Speakers Help Micah Commemorate Israel's 60th Year
One is a well-known peace negotiator who has worked alongside American presidents. Another is a rabbi, a trailblazer in Israel's nascent Reform movement. One is a journalist who brings to life, through his own personal lens, the passions of Israelis and Palestinians. Another is a professor who has deemed some liberal Jewish writers anti-Semitic. The last works to gain support for Israel among American college students.
The five will address the congregation over the next seven months on different aspects of the U.S.-Israel relationship as part of Temple Micah's yearlong celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary. The speakers--four Americans and one Israeli--come from different backgrounds and view Israel from divergent perspectives.
"I think that helping American Jews figure out our relationship with Israel is of exceedingly great importance," Rabbi Zemel said, explaining his thinking behind the series. "We increasingly have two great centers of world Jewry--in the U.S. and Israel--and we have to develop a new level of relationship with each other. We are at the very beginning of that process."
The series will begin Oct. 7, with Indiana University Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld and run through April 13. Four sessions will be on Sundays at 11:15 a.m., and one on Friday evening at Kabbalat Shabbat services. In addition, there will be two follow-up sessions on Nov. 4 and Feb. 3, to further sort out and digest the speakers' topics.
Taken together, the speeches will provide Micah members and friends with some fresh and thought-provoking perspectives on old and challenging topics, giving them a chance to reflect on and question experts with a wide range of views.
Rosenfeld will speak on anti-Semitism; Israeli Rabbi Ayala Miron, Oct. 12, on the Reform movement in Israel; diplomat and peace negotiator Dennis Ross, Dec. 2, on prospects for peace; author and journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, Jan. 27, on his latest book, Prisoners: A Muslim & A Jew Across the Middle East Divide, and David Harris, executive director of Hillel's Israel on Campus Coalition, April 13, on the college scene.
Miron is a pioneer of the still small and struggling Reform movement in Israel. Born in Tel Aviv and raised in a secular environment, she discovered Reform Judaism while studying film at UCLA. She returned to Israel, studied at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and was ordained in 2005. Since then, she has been working with B'vat HaAyin, a small Reform community in the central Israel city of Rosh HaAyin. When the first Reform community in that city was formed in 2004, there were about 300 Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox synagogues in Rosh HaAyin, population 40,000. Forty people attended the first Reform Kabbalat Shabbat service in someone's home. Last Yom Kippur, the congregation had grown to 250 people.
"If there is one special mitzvah that only very few people in the world are willing to support, it is the critical one of helping Reform Jews in Israel build a Jewish religious alternative there," Rabbi Zemel said.
Ross is a household name on the subject of Middle East peace. He was the U.S. point person on the peace process for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and brokered peace accords in 1994, 1995 and 1997. Currently, he serves as counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His latest book, Statecraft, And How to Restore America's Standing in the World, was released in June.
"I simply am interested in what he views as achievable in terms of peace and what it will take from this country's leadership," Rabbi Zemel said. "I am also interested in hearing his thoughts on Israel in the mind of the Arab world at large and how that affects the Muslim world in general."
As for Goldberg, Rabbi Zemel said, "his book was simply a great read. He seems from the book like a total mensch. I thought I could learn from him." Now a national correspondent for The Atlantic, Goldberg has written for the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, Forward, the Jerusalem Post and New York magazine. Prisoners is more a memoir of his journey from idealistic Zionist adolescence on Long Island to Israeli soldier to prize-winning American journalist covering Israel. He tells the broader story through the personal tales of Palestinians--many of them prisoners and former prisoners--and Israelis.
The final scheduled speaker, Harris, directs a coalition of 30 national groups attempting pro-Israel education and advocacy on college campuses across North America.
Rabbi Zemel called this session "critical." "We read that the campuses across the country are hotbeds of anti-Israel fervor," he said. "To what extent is that true? How do we prepare our kids to face that?"