20 years since Rabin’s Assassination:  Challenges and hope

November 1st at 7:00pm at the Jewish Community Centre of Victoria (3636 Shelbourne Street)

The United Jewish Appeal Campaign Speaker Event, featuring our special guest from Israel, Gilad Perry (Dror Israel, Kibbutz Eshbal)

Gilad Perry was present at the peace rally at which Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and it became a turning point in his life. As a co-founder of Dror Israel, Gilad Perry has sought a deeper understanding of the steps Israel needs to take towards becoming Theodor Herzl’s “exemplary society”. But some problematic symptoms have grown in Israel: hatred between different groups in society, a crumbling social safety net, increasing inequality between rich and poor…

Join us to hear Gilad speak about Yizhak Rabin’s legacy, the challenges facing Israel today and to hear about this exciting new movement and the partnership that the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island is entering into with Dror Israel, to help at-risk youth through an inclusive after-school program in Haifa.

There is no charge for this event, although donations gratefully accepted.

Refreshments will be served.

Call for engagement in Canadian political process

Tuesday, March 31st, 7pm, at Congregation Emanu-El (1461 Blanshard St.)

The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) presents:

“Get Engaged!  How British Columbia’s Jewish Community
Can Volunteer and Be Active in the Canadian Political Process”

The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) is a national, independent and multi-partisan organization. Our mandate is to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians in the democratic process and to foster active political participation.

Over the course of our discussion you will learn why it is important for our community to volunteer in the democratic process and what you can do to get engaged – politically!
We look forward to meeting you for an interactive and thought-provoking discussion to learn tips and tricks directly from the campaign trail to help you feel more confident about engaging in Election 2015!
There is no cost for this event.  All are welcome!
CLICK HERE for more information about CJPAC,
Kara Mintzberg (CJPAC’s BC Regional Director, Vancouver)
Zane Colt (CJPAC’s Small Communities Coordinator, Toronto)
Tel. 778-903-1854

Former Israel Ambassador to UN to Speak instead of Prosor

Wednesday, Feb. 4, 7:30pm

We would like to share with you that, due to the current situation in Israel, Ambassador Ron Prosor will unfortunately be unable to join us on February 4th as planned, as his duties require him to remain at the United Nations. However, we are delighted to confirm that former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman has agreed to take his place, at 7:30 pm at Congregation Emanu-El.
Ambassador Gillerman served as Israel’s 13th Permanent Representive to the United Nations in the years 2003–2008. Ambassador Gillerman was elected in 2005 to the position of Vice-President of the 60th UN General Assembly, and played a central role during the initial negotiation stages of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.

Revenge is never Jewish

I feel let down by my people’s leaders in Israel. 

It boils down to this: We are not allowed as humans to seek revenge.  Revenge does not belong in the realm of humans.  Torah is the core and root of our identity as Jews.  Our collective consciousness is linked directly to Torah.  We learn that kol netivoteikha shalom—all pathways of Torah are Shalom.  When a Jewish leader calls for revenge, or uses rhetoric that escalates tensions and violence, it is in in opposition to Jewish values and Torah. 

We are all feeling pain, anguish, fear, sorrow and frustration from the horrendous killing of three innocent boys; Eyal, Naftali and Gil-ad.  It feels at times unbearable to me- all the more so to their closest loved ones.  I believe our response is to hold our own children as tightly as we can to let them know how much we love them and what they mean to the future of our people.   We now need affirm life and to continue, no matter how difficult, to pursue peace.  When Jewish leaders use rhetoric that advocates an “us and them”consciousness they have lost their way, and no longer merit leadership in the Jewish people.  When our leaders teach that “We sanctify life and they sanctify death,”  when we see the Palestinians as our enemy and when we seek out revenge we are eclipsing our tzelem Elokim, our Divine image and we are extinguishing our Jewish soul spark from within.  We are desecrating God’s holy name and we are diminishing the holiness of our people.  In the Shema we declare God’s unity. We call God Eḥad—The One.  Is it possible to understand God’s unity on one hand while turning the Palestinians into an Other? 

There is a kabbalistic teaching that the right side of the tree of life connects to ḥesed, to free flowing love, to mercy, to kindness.  The left side of the Tree of Life connects to gvurah, containment, to judgment, to discernment.  The Ben Ish-Ḥai—a 19th century Baghdadi rabbi, mystic and Jewish leader—has a teaching that for me resonates deeply.  There are times in prayer when we are to turn and bow to the left, and there are times when we are to turn and bow to the right.  When we are imitating angelic and Divine beings, we turn first to the left.  When we are being our human selves—we turn to the right first.  The Ben Ish-Ḥai stresses this when teaching about the Birkat Kohanim, the blessing we receive from Kohanim (Jews from the clan within the tribe of Levi who served as priests, healers and connectors in the Temple) on Festivals in Diaspora or when the prayer leader—sh’liaḥ tzibbur—chants this prayer during the repetition of the Amidah, the leader first turns to the right because the Kohen is clearly human.  When the prayer leader is chanting and leading the Kedushah prayer when we are invoking Isaiah’s angelic vision the shliaḥ tzibbur turns first to the left.  There is a powerful teaching at the core of these prayer movements.  The core teaching is that we humans must always begin from a place of ḥesed, of free flowing love.  Only beings that are extensions of Divine Source can begin from a place of gvurah, a place of judgment. 

We humans cannot allow for pure judgment because our consciousness is too narrow our minds too small for us to hold The Truth, we are only capable of holding truths.  The Truth, which often manifests as a paradox, is reserved only for the Holy One.  The big Truth only exists in the realm of God.  For us humans the place of absolute justice is void of Shalom, simply because we lack the capacity to understand absolute justice.  This is why we are obligated to judge others b’kaf z’khut, with the benefit of doubt.

As Jews we begin with ḥesed, love and kindness and from there we turn to judgment and discernment because love like water without a container is useless.  As Jews we also know that we need to take care of our selves. We must in this world at this juncture of history be vigilant, be strong and be wise to ensure the safety of our families and our communities.  We are not pacifists.  We intimately understand absolute need for security and why we may not let down our guard, What I feel we need to remember is that the Jewish way is to begin with ḥesedand from that foundation we can move to gvurah.  The process of combining ḥesed and gvurah will bring us compassion.  Compassion allows for strength and power that is tempered with love and yields righteousness.  Revenge is a sign of weakness.  Revenge is a trap and an obstacle to justice and an obstacle to Shalom.   Revenge will not comfort the parents of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-ad.  Revenge teaches our children that we are faithless.  That all we have left is lashing out.   For a little while when there was still a glimmer of hope that the boys will return home, there was a sense of unity and solidarity within our nation.  We must remember that unity, we must invoke new hope and allow our ancient wisdom to be our guide towards compassion, righteousness and—God willing—peace. 

Reflections on my recent trip to Israel

I came of age in the United Sates during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. The leaders I admire from that era are people like Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk. My involvement in the anti-war movement and support for the civil rights struggle contributed to forming my core values. 

In many ways my conversion to Judaism is an imponderable. I cannot articulate very coherent reasons for taking that step in my fifties, but I can identify certain things that attracted me to Jewish culture. In every liberal cause I was ever involved in, Jews were disproportionally represented. True, they were secular, not religious, Jews, but I believe their consistently siding with the oppressed against the powerful has something to do with the foundation story of the Jewish people. The Exodus from Egypt is a story of triumph over oppression. Maybe as a minority almost everywhere, Jews have a vested interest in liberal policies. The Holocaust, a tragedy of unspeakable evil, sometimes threatens to replace the Exodus as our foundation story, but it too is ultimately a story of triumph over oppression, and the modern state of Israel stands as a monument to that triumph.

But the modern state of Israel is just that—a modern political state. As a Jew, of course, I can identify with Israel as a Jewish state, but unless I check my core values at the airport, once in Israel, I confront realities that run counter to those core values.  What do I do with Israel’s nearly fifty-year-old occupation of the West Bank? What should my attitude be toward relentlessly expanding settlements in the West Bank and the resulting expropriation of Palestinian land? What responsibility do I have as a Jew for the fanatical Jewish settlers who attack mosques and churches and uproot Palestinian olive trees?

I was fortunate to travel to Israel with my friend Francis Landy, a religious studies professor and a Jew with deep Zionist roots and many friends and family in Israel. Within days of landing in Israel, Francis and I were in a car with activists from Ta’ayush headed for the south Hebron hills in the West Bank. The Israeli human rights organization Ta’ayush monitors the settlements in the West Bank by sending activists to stand with Palestinian shepherds and farmers in their confrontations with the settlers and the IDF. We spent the day with an extended Palestinian family whose land had been expropriated by settlers.


The disputed ownership is in the courts, and the family shows up once a week to assert their claim to the land. About twenty IDF soldiers and border police were there to make sure no one ventured on to the plot. The settlers didn’t show up, but they had in previous weeks with violent consequences.


In the two weeks we were in Israel, I met friends of Francis who are involved in such organizations as Ta’ayush, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Yesh Gvul, which urges soldiers not to serve in the occupied territories. Many of them are religious. They have been in Israel long enough to have experienced both intifadas and the terror of suicide bombings. Yet they have not become bitter or hateful (as I fear I might have in such circumstances) but have remained faithful to their core values. I greatly admire their moral courage.

Israel is an incredible achievement—a modern, vibrant culture and an economy that is among the most innovative in the world. No Jew could possibly go there without feeling proud. Among the sources of pride for me are the fellow Jews who stand with the oppressed against the powerful as Jews have always done.

– Alan Rutkowski