Recognizing the confluence of Jewish preaching and news about Israel, Kenneth Cohen, a Bethesda rabbi, recently wrote a resource guide to help colleagues talk about Israel during the holidays, which begin when Rosh Hashanah starts at sunset Wednesday and end with Yom Kippur next week. The guide was funded by the Israeli Embassy and sent to virtually every rabbi in the country.
Aimed at the most-attended synagogue services of the year, Cohen’s tutorial includes references to Jewish scripture and prayers for peace, love of Israel, compromise and negotiations, among other things. It includes sample sermons from rabbis across the theological spectrum.
In interviews, rabbis around the region reflected on a variety of approaches for dealing with Israel. Some said their job was to stand for an unwavering commitment to the existence and safety of the state of Israel. Others want to help Jews find areas of commonality in attitudes about the state and the biblical idea of a Jewish homeland.
Still others said they planned to preach about Israel from a strictly spiritual perspective — fodder for a lesson about dealing with sadness and despair at a time when relations not only with the Palestinians but with longtime allies Egypt and Turkey are churning.
And some Jewish groups said there would be no preaching about Israel or the U.N. controversy because they had passed “no politics” policies to avoid bringing such divisive subjects into worship time.
Rabbi Shira Stutman, who leads some of the High Holidays services at the Sixth and I synagogue in Chinatown, said she’ll be speaking to about 700 Jews in their 20s and 30s, many of whom don’t have the strong connection to Israel their parents and grandparents did. In addition to that disconnect, every reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict includes disputed words and political language.
She said she plans a special blessing for congregants who have traveled recently to Israel and their responsibility to engage on the subject in some way. She plans to speak about Israel in the context of “the past, present and future of Judaism in our own lives and how time doesn’t move in a linear direction but a more spiral one,” she said. “Every year Rosh Hashanah happens again, the prayers are the same, but we are different.”
Stutman, who doesn’t relish preaching about Israel, says she is impressed by rabbis who have been able to find a proper spiritual vocabulary. But right now, “there is a deep sense of despair for people who love Israel and are concerned about the Middle East,” she said. “I want to speak about the spiritual parts.”