Talmud Torah: My Country, Right or Wrong

Israel's Independence Hall, Tel Aviv. (Steve Lubetkin Photography. Used by permission.)

Editor’s note: Jewish Sacred Aging begins a new series of commentaries on Talmud Torah with this contribution by Rabbi Jonathan Kendall.

I started religious school three years after Israel was declared a state. My first memory is that of pasting leaves on the outline of a tree. Once the tree was flush with foliage, we returned the paper to our teacher and were solemnly told that a real tree would be planted in Israel because of our efforts. That insidiously crummy paste never tasted so good. Later would come blue and white boxes – fill it with change, hand it in – and voila! Another tree would sink its roots into sacred soil. It was easy then. It has become far more complex today.

Rabbi Jonathan P. Kendall, D.D.
Rabbi Jonathan P. Kendall, D.D.

In those halcyon days, support of Israel was automatic and autonomic. One of my favorite SNL characters was played by the late, great Gilda Ratner: Roseanne Roseannadana. She would often say, “It’s always something.” Support for Israel within the Jewish Community in 2015 is neither involuntary nor instinctive because it’s always something: the settlements, the Palestinians, Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the obvious friction between the President and the Prime Minister, the meddling in each other’s elections, the creep of theocracy, the racism of some and the hypocrisy or blindness of others. It’s always something. What used to be axiomatic has now become problematic. So, what in heaven’s name does this have to do with Jewish Sacred Aging and adventures in the landscape of boomerdom?

Pirke Avot, that wise and pithy collection of aphorisms in the Mishna, begins with a telling paragraph, an homage to continuity: Moses received the Torah at Sinai and he passed it on to Joshua…the Prophets, Sages, the Sanhedrin – no one was omitted so that the connection would be viewed as both uninterrupted and immutable. Contemporary Orthodox Rabbis and Hasidic Rebbes will comfortably tell you that they are but links in the chain, an effortless correlation – much the same as support for Israel was during the blossoming years of our lives and the nascent life of the nation. Let’s be brutally frank: the cardiac Zionism (I love Israel in my heart) of too many has been an abysmal conduit for the transmission of the sort of support Israel needs today, warts and all.

Yes, there are myriads of reasons for the erosion, but I submit that it is our own ambivalence and comfort that have kept successive generations from feeling the same Zionist fire in their bones as do we – or as we once did. So I put these questions to you, boomers, about-to-be boomers, sacred and aging:

  • When you give gifts to your children or grandchildren, how many of them are distinctively and unmistakably Israeli?
  • When you discuss Israel with children or grandchildren (if you don’t, you should), do you end on a negative or positive note?
  • Do you share your charitable gifts to Israel with children and grandchildren (I never wrote a check to any Israeli or secular cause without inviting my kids to watch, ever telling them that “this is what Jews do”)?
  • Within the culture of your own household, what might you do to underscore that precious continuity, that sacred connection?

Diaspora Jewry is not disengaged or detached from Israel unless we allow it to be. Every generation has a sanctified responsibility to educate, inculcate and energize the next generation’s bond with Israel. Don’t drop the ball.


  1. I would add another bullet:
    When you are critical of Israel, do you say, “I am angry about this because WE should know better than to act that way?” and in so doing own the responsibility that all Jews have not only to support Israel, but to guide its behavior toward fulfilling Jewish principles, as Ben-Gurion said it would in the declaration of statehood?

What are your thoughts?

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