September 22, 2023 – ז׳ תִשְׁרֵי תשפ”ד
אַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם רָאשֵׁיכֶ֣ם שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֗ם זִקְנֵיכֶם֙ וְשֹׁ֣טְרֵיכֶ֔ם כֹּ֖ל אִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ טַפְּכֶ֣ם נְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם וְגֵ֣רְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּקֶ֣רֶב מַחֲנֶ֑יךָ מֵחֹטֵ֣ב עֵצֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד שֹׁאֵ֥ב מֵימֶֽיךָ׃ (דברים כט:ט-י)
“You stand this day, all of you, before your God יהוה —your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, every householder in Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer—” (Deuteronomy 29:9-10)
On Tuesday I had the honor to address a crowd of hundreds of people who poured into Manhattan’s Times Square on the day that Prime Minister Netanyahu landed in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly and to meet with President Biden.
The crowd was a mixed bag of expat Israelis, protest leaders who flew in from Israel to join this protest, and American Jews. We raised our voices and chanted the repetitive mantras of “De-Mo-Kratya” and “Bushah” (shame). We called on PM Netanyahu to end his nearly 9-month-long cascade into the frivolous fracturing of Israeli society and made sure the folks back in Israel know that he was not received here as King Bibi.
Israeli journalists and commentators often ask why it is important for us to be here and show up.
I showed up because, as a Reform Jew and Zionist, I care deeply about Israel. I care about Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People and I am committed to Israel as both Jewish and democratic. Showing up is critically important in demonstrating our support for and solidarity with the protest movement in Israel, especially our movement, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, and especially when they ask us to show up.
It is often said that 80% of life is showing up, but I wish we didn’t have to be there.
As I said at the rally, it does not give me great pleasure to stand in Times Square and speak ill of Israel’s Prime Minister. I want us to be proud of Israel! I want us to celebrate her 75th year of independence and share her accomplishments with the world.
I am incredibly proud of all that Israel has accomplished, and I couldn’t be more proud of those who have neither slept nor slumbered by showing up for 37 weeks (!) in a row to fight for our values – the same values laid out by Israel’s founders and enshrined in its Declaration of Independence – הַחֵרוּת והַצֶּדֶק וְהַשָּׁלוֹם – the values of Freedom, Justice, and Peace! I know that there are those who are not comfortable with showing up to a protest as they might prefer to shy away from perceived public condemnations of Israel.
Let’s be clear. This protesting, whether in newly coined ‘Democracy Square’ in Tel Aviv, outside Tesla headquarters in San Jose, or outside the UN – a venerable hotbed of Israel-bashing on the East River – is not about condemning Israel! It is about standing up for the separation of powers, for independent courts, for inalienable fundamental human rights, for the protection of minorities, and for freedom of expression. In other words, it is about standing up for liberal democracy as an expression of Jewish values.
What does it mean to show up?
Psychologists today explain that showing up is the way in which we present ourselves to the world and a way for us to bring agency to our lives. Two core components to “showing up” are knowing ourselves and engaging in conscious preparation. The more we reflect and prepare, the more our life becomes a nucleus of efficacy and meaning. Truly showing up coalesces our resolve, motivation, attention, behavior, and choices.
What better message could there be in the days leading up to Yom Kippur?
While of course, Yom Kippur is about reflection, consciousness, repentance, introspection, and assessing the points in our lives that provide meaning, it is really about fully showing up.
That is why many in the Reform Movement choose to replace the traditional Torah reading (Leviticus 16) with Parshat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29), with which I began above. Nitzavim means showing up, and as Rabbi Dr. Sue Levi Elwell writes, Nitzavim “grabs us by our lapels and says to all of you, each of you, whether you stand at the top or at the bottom of the food chain, whether you command the attention and admiration of many, or whether your labor goes almost unnoticed, you stand this day, poised to enter into a relationship with God, a relationship that demands your full attention.
This portion reminds us that we are in this together, whatever our roles in life. It reminds us that we are connected not only to those with whom we share time and place but that our circles of responsibility are beyond our own sight.”
This moment calls for us to be “Nitzavim” those who “show up” for one another and show the world who we are and what we stand for.
For many Israelis, the concept of “Nitzavim” carries additional weight. The word להתייצב (L’hityatzev) comes from the same root as נִצָּבִים, but means “to report for duty.” This year, as we mark 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, many Israelis will remember their family members and loved ones who dropped everything and התייצבו – reported for duty. For many, the observance of every Yom Kippur in the last 50 years has been reflected in the somber light of the 1973 war, the trauma of which has faded only partially with time. As Israeli author and translator Hillel Halkin (aka “Philologos”) wrote,
“Although many who lost sons, husbands, fathers, and friends in the fighting are themselves no longer alive, the memory of it lives painfully on in Israeli society. The fact that it ended in a decisive military victory has never compensated in the nation’s consciousness for the price paid for the overconfidence and lack of caution that made possible the near-catastrophic surprise Egyptian-Syrian attack with which the war began.”
We could make a similar assessment of today’s Israel. The over-confidence, lack of caution, and arrogance of PM Netanyahu and his extremist coalition are once again endangering Israel. This time, of course, the threat is coming from within. This time Israelis in the pro-democracy camp are asking all of us להתייצב (L’hityatzev) to show up – whether that means showing up to a protest around the world or in Israel, to a webinar, a salon talk, a class, or even to Yom Kippur services. It means showing up to explain the clear distinction between protesting against the State of Israel and rallying in support of Israeli democracy. It means showing up to say that we embrace Israel and reject this attempt to dismantle democracy.
Join me and our Reform Movement by Showing Up.
Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Hatimah Tovah!