Archive | Dispatch from the Homeland

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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