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A Message About Israel

United Synagogue's Israel Commission is pleased to send you a link to a new emagazine, Today's Israel. The magazine gives us a wonderful opportunity to
publicize some of what our movement does in Israel and to show many of the
wonderful aspects of life in Israel, the kinds of stories that mainstream media
often omit.

The publisher is providing Today's Israel to us free, but he will continue to do so only
if we can provide him with readers. You can make a difference. Please reach out to
your synagogues's members. Please share this magazine with them:

Click here for a list of issues:
Instead of focusing on the politics and conflicts, Today’s Israel Magazine represents
the other side – it shows the world that despite all else that goes on, the Israeli
mentality of "enjoying life to its fullest" prevails in every which way you can imagine.
Experience the music, arts, food, health, and the Israeli communities. Explore the
Sabra (Israeli) within.

       Please take the time to go through the magazine.  Each page has a comment link.
Click it and you will be able to post your thoughts and suggestions on what you have
just read.  If you have any suggestions for future stories, if you are interested in writing
for Today's Israel, or if you have pictures you'd like to send, send an email to


Are trees of the field human? The Bible (Deut. 20.19) asks this question with
regards to laying a siege on an enemy city and whether it is permissible to cut
down trees to facilitate the building of the siege wall.

But the question about whether trees are like humans can also be asked on a
personal level: do we identify with trees in general or with specific trees? For
example, in Israel, it is common for parents to use names of trees for their
children: Alon, Erez, Ilan, Eshel, Dekel, Rotem, Shaked, Tomer.

On a national level, the question of identifying with trees is also relevant. Many
countries have trees as the symbol of their country, like the maple tree for Canada
or the cedar for Lebanon. We Jews might even say that the Torah is our tree of life,
based on Proverbs 3:18, as we sing when we return the Torah Scroll to the Ark.

Before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese asked each country to
send a tree and flower to represent them at an exhibit. Israel did not yet have a
national flower or tree, so the Nature and Parks Authority of Israel asked the public
to vote and decide which tree and which flower would represent Israel.

How do you choose the tree that would represent Israel? What kind of nation are we? What kind of nation do we want to be? What does the tree say about our character?

Here are some of the kinds of trees that got to the final round of the competition:

ALON – Oak:

Represents rootedness. The Alon grows in the Galilee and in the mountains
around Jerusalem. It is a very rooted tree and can live for many years.

SH’KEDIYA – Almond :

Represents renewal. The leaves of the Sh’kediya fall in the autumn, but it is the
first tree that wakes up in the winter just before Tu Bishvat.

SHITA – Acacia :

Represents toughness and persistence. The Shita grows in the Negev where ot
many trees can survive.

ZAIT – Olive :

Represent peace, as with the olive leaf that the dove brought back to Noah. The
Zait tree grows in the Middle East, oneof the “Sheva Minim" – (seven species)
with which Israel was blessed.

TAMAR – Date :

Represents ecology, since unlike other trees, every part of the Tamar is used, as
noted in the Midrash: the trunk, the branches and the fruit. Like the Zait, it is one
of the “Sheva Minim”.

I encourage you to discuss this question at home during the coming weeks as we
look forward to spring here in New England.

October 15, 2009

    Due to pending legal issues, Kiryat Bialik's only state-salaried rabbi, appointed
by the Chief Rabbinate, temporarily suspended himself recently while he launched
his legal defense (see http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/Krispin_Mahluf.html). In his absence, Rabbi Maurricio Balter has become the town's unofficial chief rabbi. On Yom Kippur, around 600 people attended the Kol Nidre prayer at his synagogue, and even more came for the concluding Ne'ila prayer.

    He regularly teaches Judaism to kids at 10 different schools in the Kiryat Bealik area.  Balter is also a deeply committed Zionist. He travels periodically to South America to encourage Jews to make aliya. Over the past 12 years, since he immigrated to Israel from Uruguay, Balter has personally overseen the arrival of
over 500 families from South America, a quarter of whom have settled in Kiryat
Bialik. Balter trains boys and girls for bar and bat mitzva, answers halachic
questions, gives classes in both Hebrew and Spanish, gives sermons in his synagogue, comforts the sick and euogizes the deceased. In fact, Balter does everything that a rabbi employed be the state does, and more.

    Unlike rabbis representing the chief rabbinate, who receive their salaries from
the state, Balter is supported by his community and by donors abroad. His
community reularly provides about 25 poor families with food. There is a storage
room full of clothes for the needy. And there is even a special project that provides
85 IDF soldiers from the area with equipment not provided by the military.

    However, unlike rabbis from the Chief Rabbinate, who are all Orthodox, Balter belongs to the Conservative (Masorti) Movement. He is one of a handful of Reform
and Conservative rabbis who are building communities and providing an
alternative to the Orthodox monopoly ofer religious services. Without a
functioning chief rabbi and boasting a prodominantly secular population, Kiryat
Bialik has become a testing ground for the success of non-Orthodox Judaism in a country the officially recognizes and funds only Ortholoxy and its representatives.

    Balter's tremondous success in Kiryat Bialik raises questions about the
justification of such an Orthodox monopoly. Why should a rabbi like Balter be provented from receiving state funds just because he belongs to a non-Orthodox stream? Religious Affairs Minister Ya'acov Margi, a member of the Sephardi haredi Shas party, rejects the possibility that a Conservative rabbi, no matter how poplar,
will receive state support.

Stand Together with Conservative Judaism in Israel!

You may remember that I was honored to represent our movement at the
World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in 2006. At that time the
Conservative Movement (known as “Masorti” in Israel and elsewhere in the
world) made major strides in achieving both recognition and in financial support
for programs and institutions within Israel. Much of the monies that are
raised overseas for use in Israel are distributed by the Jewish Agency and
these distributions reflect the work done at these Congresses.

The 36th World Zionist Congress is now scheduled to take place in the spring
of 2010 in Jerusalem. It is likely that delegations to the Congress will be
allocated on the basis of membership in the Zionist organizations that attend.
For the Conservative movement, the Zionist organization is called

I know that at this time of year, in the weeks in advance of Rosh Hashanah, we
all get inundated with requests for donations to a number of worthy causes. 
As your neighbor and fellow synagogue member, I am going to add to this list
and ask you to (re)join MERCAZ USA, the Zionist arm of the Conservative
Movement, for this new fiscal year of 5770 – 2009/2010.  Membership is important
for MERCAZ because provides the moral justification for our ability,
as the representatives of the Conservative Movement, to demand changes in
Israeli society.

Currently, there are 9,500 households, out of more than 200,000 Conservative
Jewish households throughout the United States that are current paid-up
MERCAZ USA members.  For a movement that has always prided itself
on its support for Israel and Zionism, that’s a poor showing.  With your help,
we can give Israel and Zionism the kind of public support from our movement
that they deserve.

Please join or renew on-line at www.mercazusa.org.

This summer as part of the Tisha B’Av liturgy, we prayed for the comfort of Zion
and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Let us do our part by strengthening the Zionist
arm of the Conservative Movement!

Bob Braitman

A Salute To Israel

Written by Gershon Levine

                  After seeing the powerful film “Waltz with Bashir”, which focused on
Israeli army veterans dealing with their experiences during Operation Peace for
the Galilee (the official name for Israel’s war in Lebanon), I had a strong
reaction about my own time in the Israel Defense Force.  I served as an
infantryman from 1982-1987 in compulsory service and later as a reserve
soldier during the time period spoken about in the film and beyond.  We trained
for this war running through mock villages and up and down hills along goat trails,
the exact terrain we would find in Lebanon.  Unfortunately, I developed bad
ankles, which sidelined me from going into Lebanon with my comrades.  I feel
guilty about this – why was I lucky enough to be kept out of harm’s way, while they
bled and died on the battlefield?

            In 1998, the Rhode Island Jewish community celebrated Israel’s
50th anniversary with a wonderful concert spearheaded by Cantor Mayer called
“The Three Cantors” which featured Cantor Mayer, Cantor Ida Rae Cahana
and Cantor Robert Lieberman.  This concert was a celebration of Israel, in music
and words.  I had the honor of writing the narration which was read by Oskar
Eustis, the former artistic director of Trinity Repertory Theater.  The selection
below was my attempt to honor my comrades in the IDF with whom I served
in the early 1980’s.  Looking back today on this semi-hopeful piece, I find myself
more cynical about the chances for peace in my lifetime.  Eleven years later though,
it helps me deal with my survivor’s guilt.

         “A short time after I started basic training, I met Areleh.  Remember the
name -  ts short for little Aryeh, little lion.  Areleh wasn't little and he certainly
wasn't what you'd expect from a lion.  In fact he reminded me of some big
goofy bear character from a Warner Brothers Cartoon.He was tall, gangly -
his socks  were always falling down into his combat boots and he always
smiled a twisted smile.

Oh, and his hair would never stay combed, stood straight up. He always had a
kind encouraging word for everyone.  No matter how rotten, miserable or tired we
felt - we could be wading in mud up to our butts and operating on one hour of
sleep - there was Areleh cracking a joke to lift our spirits.  Areleh could run
farther, shoot straighter, carry more weight and instinctively knew what to do,
when the sergeants were trying to confuse us.   Luckily he took me under his
wing, and made sure that this Brooklyn Jew became an Israeli warrior.

As luck would have it, in June 1982, one week before Operation Peace for
the Galilee, I stepped into a rut during night maneuvers and fractured my ankle. 
As I was recuperating in an army hospital, word came through that we were at
war.  All of us wounded warriors hobbled to the recreation room to watch it live
on TV.   We argued late into the night, planning and finally winning the
war sometime after 3 AM.   Little did we know that the war in Lebanon and
its aftermath would drag  on.  And on.  And on.

I found out that my unit cut through Southern Lebanon and made it to
Beirut somewhat unscathed.  Near the airport however, Itzik took shrapnel in
the arm, Kobi  lost a foot, and Rafi later told me that as he crossed a field, a burst
of machine gun fire skimmed   off his helmet.   Everyone else from my squad
made it through the early part of war safe and relatively sound.

  All except one.
Areleh fell victim to an RPG blast. The big goofy guy whose socks wouldn’t stay
up, the one person who could run farther, shoot straighter, carry more weight and instinctively knew what to
do, was silenced. That twisted smile would never again grace his face.

The nurses would always make sure his unruly hair stayed combed. I supposed
it would have been better if he would have been killed outright, instead of
wasting away the best years of his life in a coma. When I finally lost touch with Areleh, two years later, machines were still keeping his body alive.

I wonder if he passed away peacefully----

---- I hope he woke up. 1993 would have been a good year for him to witness.
I'm sure he would have been shocked to see Rabin and Arafat shaking hands,
but he would have held his breath like all of us. He was a typical Israeli,
cautious, yet willing to take chances for peace. I hope he woke up to see what
he fought for. Who knows, the peace negotiators could use a little of Areleh's
spirit. When they find themselves up to their butts in mud operating on an
hour's worth of sleep, a joke or two wouldn't hurt.

May God Who grants Peace in the Heavens,

Grant Peace to us all,

To all Israel

And Everyone

And let us say Amen.”

- Gershon Levine

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