What Israelis Face as 2016 Winds Down

What Israelis Face as 2016 Winds Down

Guest Column by David Geffen

I woke up Thursday, Dec. 8, to find out that Israel had fired missiles at a military airport near Damascus, Syria. The week before, the first Israeli missiles were fired on the same target, with that information being a secret.

Avigdor Liberman, the defense minister, said the strikes were focused on Hezbollah. A veteran Israeli like myself wonders whether a war on our northern border is imminent.

Rabbi David Geffen
Rabbi David Geffen

A fascinating revelation was based on the results of a survey taken by the Israel Democracy Institute. This is a body that is respected and is known to be quite honest in its collection and analysis of data.

The IDI found that 48 percent of Israeli Jews think that leftists are either “not so loyal” or “not loyal at all” to the state. Almost 55 percent of the Israelis polled said they “strongly agree” or “moderately agree” that voicing criticism of the state at times of tense security situations is “unacceptable.”

The question of leftist loyalty is quite odd because 65 percent of Israel Defense Forces soldiers are not from the West Bank and not religious. We call them “good Israelis” and value their full commitment to Israeli society.

Participating in the survey were a representative sample of 500 Jews and 100 Arabs.

Also according to the survey, 40 percent of Israelis favor annexing the West Bank.

The most exciting news is that there will be funds from outside the country to assist Reform and Conservative rabbis in this country.

“If the state of Israel won’t pay the salaries of certain denominations, then we will,” said a family from Livingston, N.J., Bill and Amy Lipsey and their daughter, Sarah, who want to provide a living wage to rabbis who are not eligible for state funding — a group that includes the vast majority of Reform and Conservative rabbis and liberal Orthodox rabbis today.

The Lipseys believe that they can help build and nurture alternative religious communities in Israel and thereby “push back against the dominance of Orthodoxy.”

Bill Lipsey established the Honey Foundation several years ago after living in Israel for a year. He learned how nearsighted was the population of Israel: Jewish citizens are Orthodox or are secular.

He has put several million dollars of his own money into the foundation, which already supports 30 Conservative rabbis and eight liberal Orthodox rabbis in Israel.

“Our stipend is meant to support not more than half of their salaries, but ideally we’d like it to be no more than a quarter,” Lipsey said. “This extra cushion is meant to help these rabbis remain fully committed to their congregational work and not have to moonlight to get through the month.”

The Jewish Federations of North America are fighting for Kotel rights for Conservative and Reform Jews and for women, and a foundation like the one created by Lipsey is a grassroots project helping on the local level. I believe that Federations should give this project their full support. I hope they know about it.

Lastly, Israel has budgeted $36 million of taxpayer money to finance a four-year program for Jewish Israel educational programs in the Diaspora.

Two of the three groups that will do the work are part of the Chabad movement. Some Israelis believe that they can save world Jewry, and the government is letting them do it.

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