It is a privilege to be a Jew, my son

Daniel Greyber, Israel, Judaism

Rabbi Daniel Greyber wrote the following letter to his son, Alon, before he went off to college. Voice4Israel is honored to share it with our readers. 

"I wish that I could tell you that Jews are safe in a world without Israel, but I cannot."

Rabbi Daniel Greyber

A Letter to My Son

I wish that I could tell you that Jews are safe in a world without Israel, but I cannot. A few weeks ago, we watched Schindler’s List. Your ima and I have given you a Jewish identity without a lot of focusing on the Shoah (the Hebrew word for the Holocaust). We have given you Shabbat and Jewish prayer and holidays and Hebrew and Torah study and mitzvoth as the foundation to your Jewish identity. While we never hid the Holocaust from you, we waited until you turned 16 to show you Schindler’s list. It is not until this summer, after many previous summers at Ramah, when you will travel to Poland that you will learn more deeply about the crimes that were committed against our people just 75 years ago. We did not hide these things from you, but waited to introduce them to you because there is a downside to sharing this history with you: the darkness of the Shoah can be so powerful that it overwhelms light and hope. I hope that as you learn about the Shoah, you never lose hope in God and hope in the capacity of the world to be redeemed. But I also hope that you learn that Israel must exist if the Jewish people are to be safe from genocide. I wish I could tell you that America will always be safe for Jews; I cannot. Germany was a progressive, enlightened society; people thought it could never happen. It did there. It can here.

Israel is important though, not only as a refuge. Your abba is a rabbi who loves the Jewish tradition of study and prayer but I accept the Zionist critique which the rabbinic Judaism the developed in the diaspora left us with enormous intellectual gifts but deprived us of wisdom that only comes with the responsibilities of self-governance. Rabbi David Hartman wrote: “Israel expands the possible range of halakhic involvement in human affairs beyond the circumscribed frameworks of the home and synagogue. Jews in Israel are given the opportunity to bring economic, social, and political issues into the center of their religious consciousness.” Only because of Israel do we now have modern music, and television, and film and literature in Hebrew. Only because of Israel are the Jewish people able to send help after an earthquake in Haitii or to advise California on how to solve its water crisis. A sovereign Jewish state is the great religious and moral challenge the Jewish people have embarked upon in thousands of years. In 1762, more than a century before Theodor Herzl launched political Zionism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, writing in Emile, said, “I shall never believe I have heard the arguments of the Jews until they have a free state, schools and universities, where they can speak and dispute without risk. Only then will we know what they have to say.” He was right. If Israel disappears, much more will be lost than just a refuge. It is a blow from which I do not know the Jewish people can recover again.

"Judaism’s most audacious idea may be that, in God’s eyes, we are not small. We matter."

Rabbi Daniel Greyber

Of course, this begs the question, why should the Jewish people matter to you? You are a scientist, my son. I believe God blessed you with a great mind, even if, in your mind, you are not sure you believe in God. You, better than I, sense how big the universe is – that we launched a spacecraft to Jupiter in 1989 and, after traveling at a speed equivalent to flying from Los Angeles to New York in 82 seconds and using “planetary gravity assists,” Galileo finally arrived — six years later! Our solar system is one of 100 billion star systems in the Milky Way, and the Milky Way is one of about 30 galaxies in what astronomers call our “local group.” We are small. Judaism’s most audacious idea may be that, in God’s eyes, we are not small. We matter. “The greatest sin of man,” wrote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “is to forget that he is a prince — that he has royal power.” I cannot prove to you your life’s worth, my son; I can only bequeath to you the knowledge that you matter a great deal, that within you is an entire world of potential and goodness. I cannot prove to you that the Jewish people matter; I can only bequeath to you my faith that the people of Israel matter a great deal, that we have brought knowledge and love and faith and light into the world. It is a privilege to be a Jew, my son. We are no better, no worse, than other peoples. We are a small, fragile fragment in a sea of human life. Our task is eternal – to bring God’s light into the world. We matter. You matter. And because these things are true, Israel matters as a place to keep us safe, as a society within which the Torah can be most fully brought to life, as a culture through which our people can most fully know ourselves and the world. She is not perfect. Nothing is. But she is ours, and she matters more than we can know.

Love, Abba.

Daniel Greyber is rabbi at Beth El Synagogue, a Conservative and Orthodox synagogue in Durham, NC that welcomes many intermarried and gay and lesbian families and is home to a politically involved population with widely divergent opinions on everything. Greyber is the author of Faith Unravels: A Rabbi’s Struggle with Grief and God, was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles and received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Communications from Northwestern University. Most importantly, he is married to Jennifer, and is the proud father of their three sons, Alon, Benjamin, and Ranon.

Jewish Values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Series

Thursday, September 27 at 6:00pm at the Levin JCC (Mandatory Introductory Session)

Taught by Rabbi Daniel Greyber

Through the study of Jewish narratives about Israel and the unpacking of the complex meaning of peace in the Jewish tradition, participants are invited to explore the ideas and values that animate different attitudes toward the conflict and how these values shape their own political understanding. This introductory session at the Levin JCC will be followed by 12 course sessions, beginning October 11 at 6:30pm.

Israel Under Fire: From Green to Black, Turning Israel to Ash

Israel under fire, Israel, arson, Voice4Israel, V4I
Israel under fire

Amy Rosenthal shares her memories and pictures of a beautiful Israel landscape with our readers. 

"With 678 fires so far, crops burning and animals burned alive, where is the outrage?"

Amy Rosenthal

Israel Burns from Hamas Attacks

As Israel burns from Hamas attacks, day after day for more than 100 days, why is the world silent? With more than 678 fires so far, crops burning and animals burned alive, where is the outrage?


Josh and I visited Israel near the Gaza border and the town of Sderot when we were on our StandWithUs mission trip, right before the fires started in April. We met families who were working hard to grow precious crops. We saw beautiful greenery in the countryside. We visited greenhouses where delicious tomatoes were grown with great care. The members of the moshav we visited near Sderot took a lot of pride in their hard work, and for good reason. It’s hard hard living to make such land produce for the people as they do. I have included a photo from the roadside, one from a home in Sderot and another of the amazing greenhouse.

Now, these fields are black and dust. All the labor for nothing. It’s time for the world to stand up and say NO to Hamas!

Amy Rosenthal is a Voice4Israel board member and part of our outstanding Farmer Market’s team

Video courtesy of the Israeli Defense Forces 

An American Volunteering In Israel During the Attack

Israel, Gaza, Israel under attack
Photo Credit: Israeli Defense Forces

Mark Werner, an American volunteer on an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) base from Raleigh, North Carolina, reports his experience near Gaza. Writing in The Times of Israel, Werner states:

“Most Americans have never had the experience of being wakened in the middle of the night by a Tzeva Adom (‘Code Red’) siren, rushing to the closest bomb shelter, and hiding in the shelter while listening for the explosion of a Palestinian missile. I recently had this experience and am writing to share it with non-Israelis…At 10:30, the Tzeva Adom sirens jolted us awake. Danielle ran down our corridor, banging on our doors: ‘Code Red Alert! Missile attack! Get to the bomb shelter fast!’”

The IDF Responds By Striking 12 Terror Targets

I Love Israel with Natalie Ecanow

Natalie Ecanow, Tel Aviv, Israel, Voice4Israel, V4I
Natalie Ecanow

This is the sixth post in a series featuring North Carolinians discussing their love of Israel. Thank you Natalie Ecanow!

What is your most memorable moment in Israel?

On my eighth-grade trip to Israel, my class davened the Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Kotel during our time in Jerusalem. Welcoming Shabbat through raucous song and dance with seventy of my peers against the backdrop of the setting Jerusalem sun is something that I will never forget.

Best food you had in Israel?

The best food I had in Israel would, hands down, be frozen yogurt in Tel Aviv. Piled high with fresh fruit and Israeli delicacies, I once drove from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv just for froyo.

Favorite place to visit in Israel?

Nachalat Binyamin Market in Tel Aviv. I could spend hours strolling up and down the street browsing the work of Israeli artists and craftsmen.

Which one is your favorite and why? Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee, The Dead Sea, The Red Sea.

The Dead Sea. Floating in the Dead Sea is an experience like no other!

Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and why?

Tel Aviv. The vibrancy and innovative energy of cosmopolitan Tel Aviv is a testament to the strength and influence of the modern State of Israel.

Natalie Ecanow is from Chicago and is a sophomore at Duke intending to major in political science and minor in Middle Eastern studies. She attended Jewish day school and high school and became actively involved with AIPAC during high school. On campus, she continues to be involved with pro-Israel activity through DIPAC—Duke’s student AIPAC group.

I Love Israel with Leora Fields

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Leora Fields

This is the fifth post in a series featuring North Carolinians discussing their love of Israel. Thank you Leora Fields!

What is your most memorable moment in Israel?

There are so many memorable moments in Israel! I am who I am because of the time I’ve spent in Israel. I can honestly say that I will never forget the first time I saw the Kotel. It literally took my breath away and thirty years later, it still does. I went to a Jewish day school and am the daughter of an Israeli. But seeing the Kotel in person brought to life every lesson and every story, making them a part of me and even more importantly, me a part of them.

Best food you had in Israel?

In eleventh grade I studied in Israel with Alexander Muss High School in Israel. On our little campus in Hod Ha’Sharon, there was a snack bar named Shlomo’s where all the students would hang out and buy food. In my mind, nothing ever tasted better than a Saturday night spent with friends eating Shlomo’s pita stuffed with schnitzel, overflowing with hummus and Israeli salad.

Favorite place to visit in Israel?

The most recent time I was in Israel was two years ago for my oldest son’s bar mitzvah. Our entire family, including all of the grandparents and some uncles and cousins, visited the Ayalon Institute. Every single one of us, age 4 through 78, was mesmerized by this secret, underground ammunition factory disguised as a kibbutz and laundry service. It was run by the Haganah right under the close watch of the British. The incredible planning and detail required to succeed in this mission are examples of the ongoing heroism, bravery, selflessness, and brilliance required to ensure Israel’s statehood.

Which one is your favorite and why? Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee, The Dead Sea, The Red sea.

The Dead Sea. My grandparents emigrated from Poland to pre-Israel Palestine to try to help create the state of Israel. They were both teachers and they lived in the desert and made it their mission to spread Hebrew as a modern spoken language. I have photos of my grandpa reading a newspaper floating in the Dead Sea. It was incredible to replicate the photo with my dad and brothers fifty years later.

Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and why?

How can I choose? Jerusalem is the heart of Israel and should never be taken for granted. Without Jerusalem, Israel is unrecognizable. Tel Aviv will always be dear to me because my Jewish and Zionist identities stem from my experiences studying abroad at Tel Aviv University and AMHSI. To me, Jerusalem is Israel’s heart and Tel Aviv is her soul. You can’t separate the two, as the former is a living reminder of our past and the latter a glimpse of our future.

Leora Fields was born and raised in Rockville, MD, and graduated from University of Maryland where she majored in Journalism and minored in Hebrew. Since first visiting Israel as a teen, Leora has dedicated herself to sharing her love of Israel with her community and her family.

UNC Required Student Reading Peddles Outrageous Holocaust and Cancer Claims

UNC, textbook, holocaust, Voice4Israel
Dr. Stanley Robboy

Update: Shortly after this post was published, UNC announced late today that the book’s offending passages have been removed from the coming 2018 Fall edition about to be released.

An online textbook on health and wellness, 21st Century Wellness, which is one choice among several in a course that UNC-Chapel Hill has mandated its students take, has ignited a major controversy both on the campus and with various groups across the country. Particularly disconcerting to the Jewish community is the proposition that many Jews might have saved themselves or their families from dying in the Holocaust had they called upon their “inner strengths.” The second absurdity to me as a physician is that cancer is a preventable disease.

The authors suggest that Holocaust victims are partially the ones to blame because they failed the self-discipline to use their inner strengths as if this were some form of a mental malaise. I wonder how my relatives who were put onto a train, not knowing where they were going and then prodded by armed guard to hurry and take a “shower,” might have looked to their inner strength to intuit and prevent what was to come. Endowment for Middle East Truth and an Israel education group, StandWithUs, with which Voice4Israel partners, both publicly condemned the book. Jennifer Dekel, EMET’s director of research and communications states: “The book …serves to brainwash our youth into believing a dangerous fallacy that glosses over the horrors of the Holocaust and invokes the twisted ideas of Holocaust deniers.” Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs co-founder, said: “Explain how ‘intrinsic worth’ is supposed to keep someone alive who has been tortured, shot, gassed, or starved.”

Both organizations have asked UNC to immediately drop the textbook from its curriculum and apologize to its Jewish students.

The textbook also claims that cancer is a “disease of choice.” Some of the ways we live today without question increase the chances we might develop cancer. Smoking of cigarettes greatly enhances the development of lung cancer. But the word “cancer” is generic for over a hundred type of neoplasms. Most, like pancreatic cancer, have no known nor suspected cause. Suggesting that cancer is a disease of choice might by analogy be applied equally to driving and dying in an accident. Driving recklessly certainly heightens the chance of accident and death. Driving sensibly lowers the chance, but not completely. Another driver may hit you. Personal responsibility is important for every person to think about, but the authors’ statements far exceed what is judicious and wise.

As others indicate, the University administration should take more responsibility about what it requires of its students. We can all think of many more books that would provide far more complete and accurate information. Hiding behind promoting “academic freedom” disrespects both students and the administration’s oversight role for its coursework.

Bio: Dr. Stanley Robboy is a board member of Voice4Israel and a professor of pathology and also obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center.

NC Hillel denounces offensive UNC textbook

NC Hill responded to blaming the holocaust, in part, on it victims, by stating, “This message defames the memory of those who died at the Nazis’ hands and should not be part of any curriculum on our campus. We are concerned about an academic review process that would allow for this narrative to be included in UNC’s educational materials and are actively working with UNC administrators to ensure this type of defamatory and inflammatory language is not taught at any programs at our university.”

Contact Voice4Israel if you are as student, professor, or someone else with information on this situation.

The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland―Then, Now, Tomorrow

Gil Troy, Voice4Israel, Zionist Ideas
The Zionist Ideas by Gil Troy

A Voice4Israel board member is reading The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland―Then, Now, Tomorrow by Gil Troy. She would like to share this quote from the introduction:

“Sadly, the most frequent question non-Israeli Jews have asked me about this book is ‘Will you include anti-Zionists, too?’ When feminist anthologies include sexists, LGBT anthologies include homophobes, and civil rights anthologies include racists, I will consider anti-Zionists. This Jewish need to include our enemies when telling our own story tells its own story.”

Jewish Journal Review

In the Jewish Journal, Jonathan Kirsch writes:

“Today, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, it is all too easy to forget how long the Jewish people longed for a homeland and how unattainable it seemed, even on the eve of statehood in 1948. To put it another way, the history of modern Israel is measured in decades, but the idea of Zionism is measured in millennia.” Read Kirsch’s full review here.

‘The Zionist Ideas’ Reclaims Women’s Voices

Writing in Hadassah Magazine, Troy shares:

“When the scholar-activist Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg published The Zionist Idea in 1959, it quickly became the Zionist Bible for English speakers. For generations now, that anthology of great Zionist writings has introduced Jews and non-Jews to one of the most extraordinary mass conversations in world history. Starting in the 1880s, marginalized Jewish intellectuals in Eastern Europe, simultaneously entranced by nationalism and traumatized by anti-Semitism, debated their future. By 1948, their words, ideas and debates had produced the State of Israel, which today is home to the world’s largest Jewish community.” Read Troy’s full article here.

The Zionist Ideas’: A Zionist Revival to Reclaim Zionism

In the Jerusalem Post, Troy shares:

“At the JCC Association of North America’s biennial in Memphis, after I pitched the sundaes as sweet launching pads to more substantive Zionist conversations throughout this 70th-anniversary year, one JCC director confessed: ‘I had dreaded this session on Israel.’ She thanked me for reminding her that there’s more to Israel than Netanyahu and Trump, the Western Wall and Palestinians – while showing how to frame the conversation about the deeper meaning of Israel, Jewish peoplehood and Identity Zionism – with texts and without.” Read the full article here.

Have you read Gil Troy’s book The Zionist Ideas?  Contact us to let us know what you think.

I Love Israel with Orna Drawas

Orna Drawas

This is the third post in a series featuring North Carolinians discussing their love of Israel. Thank you Orna Drawas for participating!

What is your most memorable moment in Israel?

In Jerusalem one evening after dark, we happened to arrive at the Kotel as the IDF was holding their swearing-in ceremony. Hundreds of young men and women marched in with their battalion, and the plaza was packed with thousands of spectators – family, friends and visitors – to see the newest graduating soldiers of the IDF. The Israeli flag blew in the night and the eternal flames burned brightly as thousands sang a most beautiful and meaningful rendition of Hatikvah. Many of us were brought to tears by the emotions and significance of the moment.

Best food you had in Israel?

Believe it or not, when I think of mouthwatering foods in Israel, I crave the classic Israeli salad. Let’s face it, you can’t get real Israeli salad anywhere else in the world, because no place has tomatoes and cucumbers as fresh, juicy, sweet and delicious as they are locally grown in Israel. I savor every bite!

Favorite place to visit in Israel?

A hidden Gem known mostly by locals, hiking in the Negev is a great adventure with hidden canyons, cool springs and breathtaking scenery. The weather is great all year long and the night skies are absolutely mind-blowing. I like to hike the Negev, stay in an amazing bed and breakfast and try to capture a glimpse of the Bedouin life.

Which one is your favorite and why? Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee, The Dead Sea, The Red sea.

The Mediterranean Sea represents Israel to me. When I grew up in Tel Aviv in the 1960’s, my family went to the (Mediterranean) beach nearly every Shabbat. We walked from our apartment, just a few blocks away, and spent countless hours with local family and friends eating, kibitzing, playing Matkot and swimming. That was our life.

Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and why?

Jerusalem. There is nothing like the Machane Yehuda Market (shuk) on a Friday afternoon. The amazing smells of fresh baked Challah, sweet cakes and a great variety of spices is nearly overwhelming. The hustle and bustle of orthodox men and women, combined with locals and tourists, adds to the intensity and excitement of the upcoming Shabbat celebration.

Orna Drawas was born in Israel to parents who emigrated to Palestine in the 1920’s and were part of the early Zionist movement. Growing up in the US, her home was Israeli in culture, food and spirit. Author of the book: PERFORM LIKE A ROCK STAR AND STILL HAVE TIME FOR LUNCH, Orna is currently an expert in the field of corporate leadership.

I Love Israel with Jill Madsen

V4I, Voice4Israel, I Love Israel
Jill Madsen

This is the second post in a series featuring North Carolinians discussing their love of Israel.

What is your most memorable moment in Israel?

Hands down this would be my first Shabbat in Jerusalem. Truly having a day of rest and then watching the city come alive after Havdallah was amazing. Walking down the street as the sun was setting and slowly watching lights of the local restaurants turn on and people coming out into the street.

Best food you had in Israel?

Breakfast and for someone that doesn’t care for breakfast food that says a lot! All the fresh fruit and cheese and breads, just make it a great start the day!

Favorite place to visit in Israel?

Beresheet Hotel in Mitzpe Ramon. The most beautiful place in the world. I went segwaying there and I felt like the world could just go on forever.

Which one is your favorite and why? Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee, The Dead Sea, The Red sea.

Dead Sea! I love playing in mud, so being at a place where as an adult it is encouraged to cover yourself in it, is up my alley.

Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and why?

Both! Jerusalem provide a snapshot into history and a pathway to explore and experience Judaism in a way you can’t do anywhere else. Tel Aviv provides a space where you can experience food, nightlife, technology, like no other.

Jill Madsen was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and lived there until she moved to North Carolina three years ago to serve as the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Durham Chapel Hill. She has her Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees in Education. She spent over twenty years working in education – both as a classroom teacher and in leadership roles. Prior to moving to NC, she served as the Director of Education and then the Chief Operating Officer at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in Minneapolis.