Archive | Dispatch from the Homeland

For the sake of Jewish honor

Posted on 04 December 2019 by admin

People don’t really like us. We’ve been chased out of country after country, persecuted and discriminated against on six continents (the penguins seem generally averse to anti-Semitism) and in the past century alone a third of our people were murdered in cold Aryan blood. Popular and institutional support for our destruction has infected the world at large since time immemorial.
In 1948, though, we proved the world wrong and became the first indigenous people to return to their land and regain our sovereignty. And despite everything, our nation has succeeded socially, economically, and politically, and our cultural and academic achievements are envied the world over.
“The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose,” Mark Twain once wrote, “the Greek and the Roman followed, they held their torch high for a time, but have now vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all… all things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Seeing our successes, envying our unprecedented comeback, and perhaps feeling some shame over the crimes they’ve committed, several nations of the world have expressed their regret. Of note, Germany, Spain, and Portugal have all offered to re-naturalize the descendants of Jews who lost citizenship upon fleeing either during the 15th century inquisitions or under the Nazi regime.
The logical thing to do, the honorable thing to do, would have been to appreciate the sentiment, to thank these countries for trying, albeit in vain, to right these historical wrongs, and to reject these gestures.
Instead, a more sinister phenomenon has taken place. Hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the world are desperately trying to reclaim the citizenship of the countries that murdered their families. Thousands of Israeli Sephardic Jews have applied for Portuguese and Spanish citizenship and many British Jews whose families fled Germany have applied for citizenship there as well, most in the hopes of obtaining the benefits of a European Union passport in the wake of Brexit.
It’s absolutely horrifying.
Let me make some things clear. Firstly, nations are responsible for the crimes they’ve committed against us, not their individual citizens alive today. Secondly, though I personally cannot bring myself to step foot in those countries of Eastern Europe that murdered my family, it is paramount that we learn and interact with those societies that in the past have worked towards our destruction. Cultural exchange is our primary weapon in the fight against bigotry and anti-Semitism. Lastly, I acknowledge that as a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, it isn’t necessarily fitting for me to criticize those who seek dual citizenship for themselves.
Regardless, to reclaim citizenship of Spain and Portugal, to say nothing of Germany, is an assault on Jewish honor. It is to spit on the memories of our ancestors — to trade in their pain and suffering for citizenship to countries that rejected them in life; and to play with our identities, trading passports like they’re worthless pieces of paper.
It’s been 70 years since we regained our state and yet Jewish self-respect is still a rare creature; we still suffer under the weight of a 2,000-year-old inferiority complex. There is no real need for a European passport; the only significant difference between a Spanish and Israeli passport is the required visas for 20 or so Arab and Muslim countries that are hostile to Israel.
And this is not an exclusively Israeli phenomenon. It is the same lack of pride that leads Jews of the exile, Jews of Dallas even, to flock to racist institutions like the Dallas Country Club, that for decades refused to admit Jewish members out of disgusting American anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
The children of Israel have forgotten themselves. We are the eternal nation, a people of priests, scholars, and warriors. We’ve given the world so much but we still behave like a hunted minority; our bodies are free but are minds remain in the ghettos. It is beneath us to beg for goyish approval and acceptance, for as Jabotinsky wrote, “Even in poverty a Jew is a prince, crowned with the diadem of David.”
The gates of our prison cell have been unlocked and our freedom has been returned to us. Let us return to Israel and let our people hold our heads high. Reject the offers of our oppressors, stomp on the passports they throw at us, boycott the country clubs, take pride in who we are and in what we have made for ourselves.
From Lecha Dodi, “Why are you downcast, why do you groan? Do not be embarrassed or ashamed! Arise! Go forth from the ruins! Too long you have dwelt in the vale of tears. Shake yourself free, rise from the dust! Your light is coming, the glory of the Lord is revealed upon you!”

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Living faith: apply old practices in new ways

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

I’ve always loved fast days. Maybe because feeling the dedication and mourning in my empty stomach makes my abstract faith feel suddenly very tangible, or maybe because I love breaking the fast at the end. Probably a little of both. And with two major and four minor fast days throughout the year, I’m given ample opportunity to practice this tradition. But several years ago I decided I was hungry for more fasting and I added to my calendar two new fast days, Holocaust Memorial Day and what I’ve termed the “Fast of Rabin,” based on the Fast of Gedaliah, when we commemorate the devastating sixth-century BCE political assassination of one Jewish leader by another zealous Jew.
Friends of mine, especially those who’ve seen me down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting, sometimes dismiss my new fasts as just another eccentricity. However, for me, dealing with these modern atrocities through ancient mourning practices is one of the ways that I keep my Judaism alive.
For of the many things I was blessed to learn at Levine Academy (Go Stallions), one of the most important lessons was that Judaism is not an artifact on the shelf to be dusted off and looked at once a year during the High Holy Days. Rather, Judaism is a way of life; it informs what we wear and what we eat, where we live and how we treat one another. And like any other “lifestyle,” Judaism must adapt to the needs of the era.
Many progressive Jews are indeed quick to praise Judaism for its capacity to change with the times. And as a young, gay, religious man I certainly agree with the praise. However, a lot of the change that has been made to Judaism by our modern movements is “negative change” — or rather, the removal of practices, commandments, and texts that are deemed incompatible with modern life. And while negative change, when done with correct intentions and through proper channels, is important, it must be accompanied by even greater “positive change” — the addition of practices, commandments and texts that will keep Judaism compatible in the 21st century.
Luckily, our ancient faith is so complex and generative that rather than re-inventing the wheel, positive change can come about simply by applying Judaism is new ways.
Among its endless blessings, including ones for seeing the wonders of nature and for every type of food and drink, is the “Shehecheyanu” prayer. Traditionally recited on holidays, it’s meant for any and all momentous occasions in our lives. It’s one of my favorite prayers and I’ve said it upon graduating from high school, making aliyah, drafting to the army, and when my best friend Mitch finished — for the first time in his life — watching all 10 seasons of “Friends,” a masterpiece of American culture.
On Sukkot, as we gather in our decorated huts and commemorate our ancestors’ wandering through the desert, we are presented with an opportunity to also tell the stories of the millions of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers who live without shelter every day. And it’s an opportunity to collect vital funds for those on our southern border who have fled violence in their countries of origin only to find that the gates of America are instead the bars of a prison. For what good is our sacred heritage if it does not inform our policy, if we do not live it every day of our lives?
Luckily, there is great evidence of positive change within mainstream Judaism. A favorite of mine is, rather than removing references to our forefathers thereby stripping Judaism of its essential familial character, we’ve added our matriarchs and their stories to our daily prayers. And in the wake of the modern re-establishment of the State of Israel, a blessing for it was written and added, too.
Calling for the institution of two new fast days might seem like a lot. But by using the same ritual to mourn the Holocaust and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin as we do the destruction of the Temple, we affirm these tragedies and ensure that their commemoration lasts for eternity.
As a citizen in the modern State of Israel, I’m blessed to see Judaism come to life before my very eyes on a daily basis. This coming year, may the ways of our people enliven us and give us purpose. Shanah Tovah.
Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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Particularism & universalism: Outlook divides us

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

I’ve lived my life between the two largest Jewish communities of our time, those of Israel and the United States. And over the past several decades, drastically different levels of religious observance and opposing positions on the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians have both been described as some of the driving factors behind a growing divide between these two communities. However, at its core, this divide is about more than simple policy; it’s about the opposing ways that our communities view the world. By and large, the Jewish community of Israel is particularist and American Jewry is universalist. 

Particularism is usually defined as attachment to one’s own group, party or nation, whereas universalism is loyalty to or concern for all of humanity. Though Judaism has always fostered elements of both, modernity has seen individual Jews and even entire Jewish communities adopting only one exclusive lens through which to view the world. 

Yossi Klein Halevi, eminent Zionist author, writes of these differing ideologies as various interpretations of Jewish history.

 “Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two biblical commands to remember,” he explains. “The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: Don’t be brutal. The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: Don’t be naive. 

“The first command is the voice of Passover, of liberation; the second is the voice of Purim, commemorating our victory over the genocidal threat of Haman, a descendant of Amalek. ‘Passover Jews’ are motivated by empathy with the oppressed; ‘Purim Jews’ are motivated by alertness to threat.”

The Jewish community of Israel, though not without its fierce universalist progressives, is largely made up of “Purim Jews.” Zionism at heart has always been a particularist endeavor, it deals with the fate of the Jewish people, not the entire world. And after decades of war and terrorism, surrounded by enemies who claim to seek their destruction, Israeli Jews have come to identify strongly with particularism, a worldview normally adopted by ethnic communities that feel unsafe and insecure about their place in the world. American Jews are often seen as naive, assimilationist, and more concerned with social justice everywhere than with Jews anywhere.

For their part, American Jews, even those proud Zionists, live their lives as “Passover Jews.” After centuries of successfully integrating into American society and climbing up the socio-economic hierarchy, American Jews feel secure enough to reach out to disenfranchised communities. Commitment to broad social justice and political causes including immigration reform and religious tolerance are seen as the essential values that Jewish history seeks to teach us. They find Israeli Jews nationalist, provincial, conservative, and out of touch with “true” Jewish values.

What these communities lack is the understanding that each of these approaches are authentically Jewish; they’re each an expression of different lessons of our history. Halevi writes, “both are essential; one without the other creates an unbalanced Jewish personality, a distortion of Jewish history and values.”

Particularist Israeli Jews are spearheading the first sovereign Jewish state since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 136 CE. If anything, we should feel more secure in our identity and more free in our expression than any diaspora community. In true Zionist fashion, we must be able to escape the ghetto mentality and extend a hand to others. And though throughout the short history of our state we’ve extended aid all over the world in times of natural disasters, in the wake of another national election, it’s time for us to acknowledge the stranger that lives and struggles right beside us. To see so fully our own identity and heritage that we are blind to the narratives of others is a violation of the Jewish sense of justice.

American Jewry, the most prosperous Jewish community that has ever existed, has spearheaded Jewish universalism and solidified it into a distinct political agenda. But with staggering rates of intermarriage, plummeting rates of synagogue attendance, and widespread estrangement from the Jewish state, American Jews would do well to take the lessons of particularism in their hearts. Jewish tradition, the Hebrew language, our sacred texts, and our attachment to the Land of Israel are all particular and essential parts of Jewish identity. American Jews cannot forge forth as citizens of a multicultural world without first having a deep love and appreciation for their own rich heritage.

Rav Kook, the intellectual father of Religious Zionism, wrote that modernity has whirled the three central dimensions of Jewish identity — what he terms “the holy, the nation and humanity” — away from each other and that “the sacred, then, is the energy that synthesizes all three elements — religious commitment, national identity and ethical universalism.” Inspired by our love for God, we must challenge ourselves to see both the world in our people and our people in the world.

Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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Sectarian conflict requires constitutional amendment

Sectarian conflict requires constitutional amendment

Posted on 07 August 2019 by admin

By Matan Rudner

While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is disproportionately covered by Western media outlets, Americans are far less acquainted with the nonviolent, internal conflicts between opposing social groups in Israel. Perhaps most prominent, waged through the media and the halls of the Knesset, is the decades-long tension between secular and religious Israelis.
These two groups co-exist without any major problems. And the lines between them are often blurred, with a majority of self-identified secular Israelis observing Jewish rituals that, to American Jews, often indicate traditional religiosity. However, there are significant divides between the two communities. Secular Israeli Jews often live in different cities and neighborhoods, study in different education systems and serve in the army in larger numbers than their ultra-Orthodox/haredi compatriots.
One of the main reasons that a deep friction exists between these communities is that seven decades after Israel’s founding, these communities are still unsure of their respective places in this country.
Although Israel was re-established in 1948 explicitly as a Jewish and democratic state, the lack of a constitutional policy that delineates this dual identity means that for 71 years, the different tribes have attempted to impose their own interpretations of this identity on the rest of the country.
The result is a patchwork of conflicting policies on the local and national levels with each administration, city council and political party interpreting Israel’s core identity in drastically different ways.
The issues at stake affect each Israeli in every facet of their lives. Public transportation, conversion, marriage and divorce, the education system and the mandatory draft to the military are all issues in the constant tug-of-war between opposing sects of Israeli society.
What’s necessary is the introduction of a basic law that explicitly defines what “Jewish and democratic” means. And this definition cannot cater to the vision of just one community or narrative — it must be in keeping with the principles of freedom and historical justice that Zionism embodies.
There are those, mostly secular Israelis on the left of the political spectrum, who believe that Israel must, like the United States, adopt a policy of complete separation of synagogue and state. They believe that Israel maintains its identity as a Jewish and democratic state simply by virtue of being a democracy with a demographic Jewish majority.
Though not without its merits, implementation of this vision would violate one of the main principles of Zionism — that Israel be, not just a state of Jews, but a Jewish state. One of the great blessings of Israel is that it gives the Jewish people the opportunity to express their values and customs on a national level, publicly and through state institutions.
The contrasting argument, as advocated usually by haredim, is that Israel become something of a halachic theocracy. For decades those on the right in Israel have proposed scaling back some of Israel’s most fundamental democratic institutions (which is to say nothing of the all-out haredi assault on women’s rights in the past decade, including the attempted segregation of intercity buses by gender and the removal of women’s voices from the radio).
Perhaps the most glaring example of a religious institution that encroaches on individual rights in Israel is the Rabbinate. Created in its modern form in 1947 by David Ben-Gurion in an attempt to create a sense of unity and ensure haredi loyalty to what would soon become the fledgling state of Israel, the Rabbinate is in control of kashrut policy and all issues of personal status like marriage, divorce, and conversion. Each religious community has its own religious courts, with halachic courts for Israeli Jews and Sharia courts for Israeli Muslims. At their core, these state-sanctioned religious courts are in fundamental violation of democracy.
The true solution, therefore, is the adoption of a Basic Law that mandates and restricts Israeli democracy’s Jewish character to the public sphere.
Such a Basic Law would strip the Rabbinate of its undemocratic control of issues of personal status. It’s a law that prevents any further infringements on individual rights, like an Israeli version of Iran’s morality police to regulate the length of women’s skirts or to check for nonkosher products in private homes. Though these policies might seem far-fetched, the haredi assault on personal freedoms is ongoing and must be stopped on a constitutional level before Israeli democracy is weakened further.
Alternatively, such a Basic Law would encourage and mandate public Judaism as an essential facet of Israel’s identity. Prevention of public transportation on Shabbat, construction of synagogues on all army bases, the school year revolving around Jewish holidays and even the annual sale of all the state institutions’ chametz to an Israeli Arab are all expressions of Jewish life on the national level.
The Jewish nature of Israel’s public square, not its demographic Jewish majority, is what makes it a Jewish state, not just a state of the Jews.
Implementation of a Basic Law that defines Israel’s Jewish character as a public expression and not as the arbiter of individual rights, will keep Israel from descending into true sectarian conflict and enshrine its Jewish and democratic identity forever.
Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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A July 4th reflection: the American in me

A July 4th reflection: the American in me

Posted on 03 July 2019 by admin

By Matan Rudner

I have a complicated relationship with America. It’s the place where I was born and raised, where as an impressionable youth I first began to understand the world, and it’s the country I left for good just months after graduating high school. Since making aliyah, I’ve worked hard to become a full-fledged Israeli and to leave the United States behind.
As a result of my purist Zionism, I tend to operate in a binary system. I live proudly as a Jew in the Land of Israel, and I’ve always believed that Hebrew culture and American culture are mutually exclusive. I adopted my Hebrew name as my legal name and listen to nothing but Hebrew music, all in an attempt to counteract the impact that 2,000 years of exile have had on our people.
My remaining ties to the United States felt even more thoroughly severed after the 2016 presidential election: The country chose hatred and regression over compassion and progress, it rejected the values I hold dear and it felt like the final nail in the coffin of my identity as an American. I was horrified, and still am, by the direction the United States has taken these past three years, so when I left my country of birth for the country of my destiny I was content to leave everything behind.
But despite my best efforts, nearly two years have passed since my aliyah, and like the faint hints of English in my Israeli accent, vestiges of my American past remain. So I’ve decided, this July 4th, to face the facts and try, albeit begrudgingly, to make peace with the American in me.
At first glance, America stays with me most in the memories (and the Whataburger number) that I brought with me over the ocean. America is my constant craving for Tex-Mex and it’s the endless sky on the drive between Dallas and Austin. It’s the walk between my home and my grandparents’ house down the street and watching “Saturday Night Live” with my parents.
The American in me sees diversity of race, religion and nationality as something to be cherished. Though I deeply love Israel’s variety of Jewish experience that I lacked growing up, nothing can compare to the diversity of the checkout lines at Walmart, where you can hear any language at any time of the day. Only in America could I laugh with peers from six continents, and learn from them to be more open, more compassionate and more in touch with who I am and where I come from. On days when Israeli society devolves into sectarian conflict between Arab and Jew, secular and religious, I’m grateful to be have been born in a country where diversity is not a weakness to be overcome but a strength to be celebrated.
Before the re-establishment of our state, our people relied on others to protect us. In the decades before the Holocaust, as pogroms swept Eastern Europe, millions of Jews fled the continent for the safety of America, the goldene medina, before the gates were closed. My family was lucky enough to be let in.
And in the century that’s passed since my great-grandparents got their first glimpse of Lady Liberty, this country has given us everything.
In three generations, America has provided my family with stellar opportunities for education and employment. It’s given us the chance to participate fully in a triumphant democracy, through the ballot box and through protest. It’s embraced us in every sense of the word and granted us the liberty to express our Jewish identity, a liberty that we had been denied for centuries in Europe. It was here in the New World that I attended Jewish summer camps and Jewish day school, that I first learned of my own heritage and of the State of Israel, a country reborn across the sea.
It’s hard for me to admit that I’m not a native Israeli, that I spent 19 years being shaped by the culture and values of the United States. But I am the Jew that I am, the Zionist that I am, the diversity-loving, democracy-defending, Tex-Mex-eating man that I am, because I was born an American. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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State of Israel belongs in the Middle East

State of Israel belongs in the Middle East

Posted on 09 May 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

By Matan Rudner

In the seven decades since the establishment of the third Jewish commonwealth, we have revived our language, made the desert bloom, and ingathered the exiles of our people. Our next goal must be total integration into the greater Middle East.

As is the case with other nations, Israel deserves to live in peace and mutual prosperity with its neighbors.

Though this goal may appear unattainable, and the hatred of our people seems to be an inseparable part of the Arab world, a quick glance at a history book proves otherwise. In the lands of our exile, Jews often prospered more under Arab caliphs than under Christian kings. Under Ottoman rule, the Land of Israel was connected through vast infrastructure to the whole of the Middle East. Jews vacationed in Cairo and Beirut, and Steimatsky (Israel’s largest bookstore chain) had stores in Baghdad and Damascus.

When David Ben-Gurion declared independence, he told the world that Israel would “extend a hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness…the State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”

The great tragedy of 1948 was not, as is the prevalent opinion in most Arab societies, the re-establishment of the State of Israel. Rather, the tragedy was that, in boycotting and battling Israel, her neighbors set back the entire region, and shattered all hopes for immediate regional progress.

When Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed the miraculous peace treaty 40 years ago, the tides began to turn. Since then, not only has Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, it has developed close coordination with Palestinian security forces. There has been a gradual thaw in our relations with Sunni Arab states.

With hope for regional progress renewed, there is much that Israel can and should do. Just as Golda Meir sent thousands of Israeli agronomists to decolonized African states, our current government should send Israeli professionals to our neighbors. Imagine Israeli solar panels in Saudi Arabia and drip irrigation in the Sahara.

We should work with our neighbors to restore and improve the antiquated Ottoman railway system, which would foster personal and economic ties across the region. Those trains could bring exchange students from Cairo to Tel Aviv and tourists from Haifa to Beirut.

Unfortunately, these proposals largely rely on the cooperation of our neighbors, most of whom will not assent until final peace settlements are reached with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians, whose governments have proven less amenable to negotiation than Egypt and Jordan.

There are however, concrete steps that Israel can take unilaterally to try to achieve the same goal.

Israel can, for example, invest heavily in Arabic instruction, which is currently taught in Israeli schools, but should become a graduation requirement. Arab towns in the north, Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and Bedouin villages in the Negev should all receive the financial aid and services that are due to them.

The government should fulfill the commitment made in the Declaration of Independence to “safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” Though Israel certainly protects its citizens’ freedom to worship as they choose, there is more to be done. The relevant ministries should be given the funds to preserve Arab heritage sites, restore abandoned mosques and Muslim cemeteries, and memorialize the roughly 400 Palestinian villages that were either abandoned or destroyed in War of Independence.

These policies would be a significant step forward toward the regional cooperation and good neighborliness to which we, as Israelis, are pledged. However, these policies must accompany a fundamental shift in the Israeli narrative. So long as we think of Israel as an “island of the West in the East,” our neighbors will never truly accept us.

Though we should be proud that our European-educated founders brought Western democracy to the Levant, that does not change the fact that the Jewish state and the Jewish people are fundamentally Eastern.

The vocabulary of Hebrew took shape on the Eastern edge of the Mediterranean, our music found inspiration in the howling winds of the Negev desert, and our worldview — our understanding of God and His mission for us — was formed in the hills of Judea. All Jews, whether Ashkenazi or Mizrahi, are more closely related to Arabs than to any other ethnic group.

Once Israelis stop thinking of ourselves as foreigners, when we finally acknowledge that our heritage is native to this land, regional cooperation will not only foster peace and economic interdependency, it will allow us to express our authentic national identity.

For all its problems, this corner of the world is the one we call home. Once we embrace that — with the help of God — our neighbors will see us not as adversaries, but as partners in pursuit of a common goal.

Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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Service, not simplification, the key to Judaism

Service, not simplification, the key to Judaism

Posted on 04 April 2019 by admin

By Matan Rudner

Amid a rapidly changing world, the Jewish community, like all communities of faith, is trying its hardest to preserve its heritage, and pass it on to the next generation.
In this mission of love and devotion, we get a lot right. We’ve made sure that our humor, our culture, and our cuisine have been deeply embedded in the hearts of our young. However, in the transmission of our religious practices, we’ve fallen short.
Instead of investing in the education of our people’s mother tongue the Hebrew language, we’ve adopted transliteration in its place. Instead of diving into the wondrous depths of the Torah and Talmud, we’ve erased entire sections of Jewish law deemed too antiquated. And, instead of taking pride in the vastness of our religious civilization, we’ve simplified our heritage to “cultural Judaism,” in the hopes that it will won’t be a burden for the next generation.
The idea seems to be that, to ensure our people’s survival, we have to condense Judaism, and prove to increasing numbers of young, unengaged Jews that their faith still has something to offer.
This premise is deeply flawed. The time has come, therefore, for us to re-acquaint ourselves with the purpose of Judaism.
This ancient system of faith which has, alongside our beloved homeland, been the lifeblood of our national life is not, like so many other religions, designed to serve its believers.
Rather, while its adherents certainly have much to gain from the practice of faith, the raison d’être of Judaism is not to serve its believers. Instead, it is to serve God every day, by manifesting our values through action.
To observe the principle that human beings are holy and that we are created b’tzelem Elohim — in God’s image — we are commanded to love ourselves, honor our bodies through cleanliness, and refrain from scarring our bodies with ink.
To observe the ideal that faith should be practiced within the confines of a community, we are commanded to form minyanim, and actively support the weak and the suffering among us.
To observe the Talmud’s declaration that Jews are all responsible for one another, we are commanded to protect our land as soldiers in uniform, to participate in our democracy as citizens of the sovereign State of Israel, and to care for the environment that nurtures us.
To observe the ideal that we must act as a light unto the nations, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, to champion friendship among the peoples of the world and to extend a hand of aid to those who need it.
A Jewish life — a life of service — means spending time studying our sacred texts and taking up arms in defense of the Jewish state. It means exercising restraint in what we eat, what we say and how we dress. It means, in the words of the Conservative movement, spending our lives “proving to the world that in order to be people we must be more than people.” In other words, we differentiate ourselves from creatures with mere animal instincts by striving for holiness through action.
It’s not always the easiest way to live.
But deep within Judaism, this ancient, high-maintenance faith, lies the belief that we reap what we sow.
Through service to our bodies and our community, we find ourselves healthy and comforted in our times of need. Through service to our country and to the world, we find ourselves protected and free. And through service to God, to the highest ideal that we are capable of understanding, we find a life of joy.
Service, not simplification, is the key with which we unlock the gates of our grand heritage and deliver it, in all its complexity, to the next generation.
Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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Judaism is more than just a religion

Judaism is more than just a religion

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

Throughout millennia of our existence, we’ve transformed from family to tribe, and from people to nation. For thousands of years, we’ve retained a distinctly Jewish ethnicity, culture and system of faith. We’ve consistently referred to ourselves either as “Am Israel” or “Bnei Israel,” the People of Israel or the Children of Israel.
But our understanding of ourselves changed when, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Jews facing the beginning of the modern era had to decide how to survive as the world changed around them. Movements such as Bundism, Zionism, ultra-Orthodoxy, and Communism offered unique visions for our people’s future.
Western Europe, however, offered a more lucrative solution. Governments across the continent offered Jews relative physical and financial security, if only they shed their national character. Jews, they said, would be equal in the eyes of the law, if they declared themselves as “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion” or “Frenchmen of the Israelite faith.” “Assimilate into our societies, shed your nationalities,” they said, “and we will accept you.”
Despite the fact that their assimilation did nothing to save these Jews from the gas chambers, and despite the fact that sacrificing identity for the sake of financial opportunities is halachically forbidden, these Jews succeeded in redefining what it meant to be a Jew in the Western world. They were so successful that Abraham Geiger, one of the founders of Reform Judaism, called Jerusalem “a noble memory from the past that holds no hope for the future.” So successful that former American Jewish Committee president Jacob Blaustein “repudiated vigorously the suggestion that American Jews are in exile.” So successful that most Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, consistently refer to Judaism as a religion and nothing more.
Thousands of years of national identity and yearning for Zion were cast aside when they became inconvenient.
And while calling Judaism a religion instead of a religious ethno-national group might seem, at minimum, insignificant and, at maximum, a symbol of assimilation, this difference in terminology has dark consequences. It simultaneously divorces young Jews from their national heritage, and is at the heart of the American understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
American Jews and their political allies often praise Israel as a place of refuge for Jews around the world (at least those Jews who weren’t lucky enough to become American), a country that offers Jews sanctuary amid growing global anti-Semitism.
But this flawed definition of Israel’s purpose, to merely be a place of refuge, easily lends itself to anti-Israel sentiment. Why should Americans support Israel, a place of refuge, if its existence in the Middle East is “unjust” to the Arabs of the region? Why should Americans support Israel, a place of refuge, if Jews can find refuge just as safely in the United States? Why should Americans support the “Jewish state” if Judaism is just a religion? Since when do religions need states of their own?
David Ben-Gurion said once that “the connection between the Land of Israel and the Jewish people is not one of needs and benefits, rather one of destiny and fate.”
This is why Israel exists, not as a place of refuge but as the natural aspiration of our people to live once more in the land that gave us life. Our national history, and our identity as a united people with deep roots in the Levant, are our only legitimate rights to this land.
When American Jews promote this widespread and damaging myth that Judaism is just a religion, they perpetuate falsehoods about Israel’s purpose and lend a hand to those who wish to delegitimize our state.
It’s time for American Jews to reclaim their national identity, for their own benefit and for the security of the State of Israel.
Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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My upbringing told me I belong in Israel

My upbringing told me I belong in Israel

Posted on 24 January 2019 by admin

It’s been a year and a half since my aliyah to Israel, and I’d like to make some things clear.
I didn’t leave Dallas, the city where I was born and raised for 19 years, because of any animus toward Texas or the United States. I didn’t leave in order to rebel against my parents or because I rejected the values of the community that raised me. On the contrary, my aliyah was an affirmation of love for the place from which I came.
My worldview was shaped in the halls of the JCC, Levine Academy and Shearith Israel. In my mind, my childhood is the challah I brought home on Fridays, Points for Peace games at the J, Yom HaAtzmaut parades in the parking lot and bar mitzvah services across the Metroplex. It was in the institutions and among the people of the Dallas Jewish community that the values I hold dear were instilled in me.
And when I was very young, I realized that the only way I could live a life in line with these values was to leave Dallas for a land across the sea, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Because it was in Dallas where I was taught that my story was the story of the Jewish people, that my culture was Jewish culture and that my values were Jewish values. At home, in class and at shul, I was raised to love my G-d and my land. And I was told that my fate was eternally intertwined with our people’s fate.
And while I know that millions of American Jews (including some in my family) disagree strongly with my assessment that Jewish life can and should be lived only in Israel, I don’t know how it’s possible to be brought up like I was and not see aliyah as the only way forward.
People make aliyah for a plethora of reasons, all of them valid. Some come to escape persecution or struggling economies, and some come because they feel halachically obliged. There’s also the increasingly strong argument, backed up by study after study, that non-haredi Jewish life in America will simply disappear in a few generations.
But for me, the most compelling case is that Israel is where we belong. I refuse to sit comfortably in America on the sidelines of Jewish history. Israel is where the next chapter of our story is being told. In this beautiful and complicated land, Jews are free, for the first time in 2,000 years, to live out loud. We are not Jews of the ghetto, cowering before our own shadows; and we are not Jews of America, the 21st-century Babylon, choosing daily between assimilation and isolation.
Every Sunday, as I make my way to my military base, I drive on streets named not for saints but for rabbis and great Zionists. As I wander through the bus station, I pass by restaurants that adhere to my dietary laws and I pay for my bus ticket in the language that reflects my people’s experience and in a currency that was first mentioned in the books that I read at synagogue.
When I strap my gun on in the morning, it is a vow to protect the country that I love and that loves me in return. It is an act of defiance against those who sent my family to the gas chambers and an act of pride that Jews no longer depend on anyone else’s permission to stay alive.
Living in this land, contributing what I can to the people who have given me everything, has been the greatest gift of my life. Because in spite of, or maybe because of, the difficulties and the challenges that I’ve faced here, I’m no longer a Jew of the exile. I’m a Jew from the Land of Israel: proud, confident, and free.
So I hope you’ll join me here, in this land that I love with all my heart. I promise you won’t regret it.
Dallas Native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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