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.

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.