When I was growing up as a child in the 1970s, the concern for Israel’s existence was ever-present. The wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 were discussed vigorously  over the dinner table, at Passover Seder, and during Thanksgiving gatherings. The Camp David accord in 1978 was a signature moment not just for the world but for my family. Then, the 1982 Lebanon War seemed to change things. For the first time, Israel was not the victim of an attempt at extermination (the Six-Day War in 1967 was a preemptive strike to stop an imminent invasion) but instead acted proactively to protect Israelis and to ensure their safety.

Keith_2015_Annual_Meeting_CroppedCollege in the 1980s was a time when Israel was seen as being safe, and my first trip to Israel in 1989 after graduating college was an incredible experience. We were able to explore as we wanted, had “free days” on our tour to take bus trips, go for walks, and explore the country. From the late 1990s until today, I have returned to Israel 15 times to explore, search, connect, and enjoy this amazing country.

The current violence that has exploded in Israel, where angry Arabs have taken to the streets with knives, screwdrivers, or anything else they can get their hands on to stab or harm Jews, has impacted me like no other uprising. I’ve been in Israel when violence was close and tension was in the air. I was there days before bombings of discos in Tel Aviv. I was outside Jerusalem when the Syrian people starting pushing through the border and we could hear gunshots. I was in Israel when bombs exploded in Netanya and took multiple trips during the second intifada. I have visited Sderot and seen the rockets shells, and the playgrounds and movie theaters that are bomb shelters.

Yet none of those experiences has affected me the way this violence has. What is particularly upsetting has been the reaction from our country’s and other global leaders – ranging from indifference to their failure to call out the lies being spread about a change in the status of the Temple Mount and demand an end to the incitement.

This morning, I learned of rioters setting fire to Joseph’s Tomb (see video clip below). On my many trips to Israel, I was able to visit the tomb only once. It was quite an impactful experience. Located in Nablus, it’s not easily accessible and I only got to see it because I was going to the West Bank to visit a Jerusalem Stone quarry. On our way back, we stopped so that I could experience this holy site that most tourists don’t get a chance to see.

As we went down into the tomb, I was surprised at the number of Israelis who were in devout prayer over where Joseph’s remains are said to be. It was an incredible experience to pray with them, and there was a special feeling I experienced that those of you who have been to Israel will understJosephs_Tomb_Fire4and and those of you who haven’t, simply can’t.  After leaving the inside of the tomb, we climbed to the rooftop, where Israeli soldiers were stationed, both to protect the tomb and to look for terrorists trying to bring bombs into Israel. As I talked to these brave IDF soldiers, they shared the long, boring shifts they endured, how hard it was to continue to scan the horizon looking for terrorists, but how essential it was as they routinely identified and apprehended people with the intent to harm Israel and Israelisjosephs_Tomb_FIre3. It was an afternoon I will never forget and a conversation I will never forget.

As I looked at the pictures of the tomb on fire, my heart sank. Despite the promises of Israel and Jordan that the status of the Temple Mount will not change, violence is erupting based on the lie that it will. And that violence is now damaging Jewish holy sites without condemnation and without consequences.

Josephs_Tomb_Fire2In our own Puget Sound community, I see more attacks by Jews against Jews online, via email, or within blogs than I do of statements showing care and concern for Jews and for Israel and Israelis. I am concerned for the future of Israel. I am concerned for the future of Jews in the Diaspora. And I am concerned about the future of Jewish America. I have no answers. I have a lot of questions. And as I watched the video of Joseph’s Tomb on fire, I had little hope.

We just celebrated Rosh Hashanah and for the first time in a number of years, my parents joined us. It was their first High Holidays here in Seattle and their first chance to stay with us in our home. Unlike many of my peers, I have lived within a few hours’ drive of my parents most of my life. It has been very common to see my parents at least once a month until moving to Seattle, so it was really nice to have them spend nearly a week with us.

Keith_2015_Annual_Meeting_CroppedWhile at services on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I was struck by Rabbi Adam Rubin’s sermon. The title alone opened my eyes: “My Father Was God and Didn’t Know It.” During his sermon, Rabbi Rubin weaved both parents and God into the mix as metaphors for our need to connect. With my mother and father, I had always related myself to that of the child and as I stood next to my parents, that was my immediate thought and reaction. But I’m not just the child. I am also the parent. And as Rabbi Rubin began talking about abandonment by parents, I thought of my younger cousin, who recently died at age 42, leaving behind three children under the age of 11.

My cousin and I were extremely close. We spoke a few days before he died. He was like another younger brother to me. His death hit me hard – both because of our relationship and because of the three young children he left behind, now fatherless. And as I listened to Rabbi Rubin talk while standing next to my parents, I not only treasured the relationship I have with them, I also treasured the relationship I have with my children.

Any man can father a child. Being a parent to that child brings a rich and lasting dimension to your life that will forever influence your relationships with everyone in your world. As I stood next to my parents and reflected on my own children, Rosh Hashanah took on a different meaning this year. The symbolism of the apple and honey was not just for a sweet new year but for a refreshed year. Apples grow each year and don’t last very long. Honey will last forever. Each year as we mix the new (apple) with the eternal (honey) we are reminded that we get to start over. No matter what challenges we may have in our relationships with our parents, our children, or with God, we can unburden ourselves and create something new, something sweet, something to be treasured.

As I was writing this blog, my younger son texted me for no reason other than he wanted to connect with me. It brings tears to my eyes as I think of the relationship I have with my children, that they want to talk and connect for no reason other than I am their father. And I love the fact that I text my parents for no reason other than to say hi and share something in my day with them.

In Rabbi Rubin’s sermon, he concluded with part of a poem from the great Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai. It inspired me and I want to share it here:

My mother was a prophet and didn’t know it.

 …my own private prophet, silent and stubborn.

I am obliged to fulfill everything she said

and I’m running out of lifetime.

 My mother was a prophet when she taught me

The do’s and don’ts of everyday…

That will do you good, you’ll feel like a new person, you’ll really love it,

you won’t like that, you’ll never manage to close it, I knew you wouldn’t

remember, wouldn’t forget, give take rest, yes you can you can.

And when my mother died, all her little predictions came together

in one big prophecy that will last

until the vision of the end of days.

 

My father was God and didn’t know it. He gave me

the Ten Commandments not in thunder and not in anger,

 not in fire and not in a cloud, but gently

and with love. He added caresses and tender words…

and chanted “remember” and “keep” with the same tune

and pleaded and wept quietly

between one commandment and the next…

And he hugged me tight and whispered in my ear,

Thou shalt not steal, shalt not commit adultery, shalt not kill.

And he lay the palms of his wide-open hands on my head

with the Yom Kippur blessing: Honor, love, that thy days

may be long upon this earth. And the voice of my father –

white as his hair.

Then he turned to face me one last time, as on the

day he died in my arms, and said, I would like to add

two more commandments:

the Eleventh Commandment, “thou shalt not change,”

and the Twelfth Commandment, thou shalt change. You will change.

Thus spoke my father, and he turned and walked away

And disappeared into his strange distances.

As we start this new year, 5776, let us all be inspired to be the child our parents always wanted and to be the parent our children deserve. Let us remember that no matter the time or the distance or what has come before, no matter what our relationships may have been or are with our own parents, children, or with God, we can always mix the new and the eternal to create something sweet.

Ever since the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 17, I have been filled with conflicting emotions. The first emotion was powerful sadness. People who had gathered to pray, worship and connect with God were murdered for no reason other than the color of their skin. Then I felt anger. How could somebody be so filled with baseless hatred that they would commit such an atrocity? Then, I felt empathy for the families of those murdered and for those who were in the church at the time of the shooting. While I wasn’t at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle when we were the victims of a hate crime that took Pamela Waechter, z”l, from us, that act of terror is indelibly seared in our memory. Nine years later, that memory is core to who we are.

Keith_2015_Pix2As the conversation about racism and hatred has continued, the issues of the Confederate battle flag flying on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol made me pause. Having lived in the southern United States for 21 years before moving to Seattle, I was used to seeing the Confederate flag on poles, bumper stickers and even T-shirts. And while I know inherently that it is a flag of hatred and racism, I also understood that it had a different meaning to many others in the South. Yet after this shooting, I couldn’t understand how a state government could still sanction its presence on the grounds of its Capitol, an institution and symbol of democracy where all should feel welcome and respected.

While I was contemplating all of this, I saw an article in The Stranger about a man who wore a Nazi armband at the Ferry Terminal in Seattle. I was angry, nauseous, and upset. And then I got it. No matter what that armband may have meant to that man, it was patently offensive to many people, including me. While it was his right to wear the armband, displaying such a hateful symbol imposed a grievous and painful burden on others. A Facebook post by NFL Tight End Benjamin Watson about the Confederate flag eloquently expressed my thoughts:

 If we remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol for any reason other than a change in the hearts of South Carolinians, we may as well leave it be. This is not the time for political statements and worrying about national perception. But if we, like my friend Frank, finally listen to the cries and concerns of those we say we care about, soften our hearts, and choose to lay our liberties aside to assuage the pain of our brothers, the only suitable option would be a unanimous decision to remove the flag from the public grounds at the Palmetto State Capitol. The past and it’s people, as acclaimed or afflicted as they may be, should always be remembered. But it is difficult to completely “move forward” if painful, divisive icons continue to stand unchallenged.

As Jews, one of our core tenets is tikkun olam, repairing the world. If we are unwilling to take others’ feelings into consideration and understand that we have a larger obligation to challenge painful, divisive icons, we are destined to repeat the past. Whether it’s a Nazi armband or the Confederate flag, we must move beyond insisting on the right to display such fraught symbols and into a place of love, care, and concern for those who see them and, as Benjamin Watson wrote, have their “emotional bucket overflow with anger, trepidation, sorrow, a perverted pride and apathy.”

I pray for those who lost their lives in Charleston. I pray for the families of those who lost their lives in Charleston. I pray for those who were in the church when the shooting and murders took place. In the true essence of tikkun olam, I stand up to say that I will not accept any symbol that brings back the painful images of past generations. If we stand together in love and unity, we can repair the world.

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I am a proud Zionist.

Zionism is not a four-letter word. It often seems, however, that anytime the word “Zionism” or “Zionist” is used, it is used with a hugely negative connotation. That must change. It’s time for us as Jews to take back the words “Zionism” and “Zionist” and restore them to their proper use, to tell our story our way and to inspire our community.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, Zionism is defined as, “Political support for the creation and development of a Jewish homeland in Israel.” It’s important to emphasize that Zionism is entirely about a Jewish homeland in Israel. It’s not about what those who want to redefine Zionism say it is.

We must define our narrative … not let others with negative agendas define it for us.

Keith_2015_Pix2Being a Zionist means I believe in the existence of a Jewish homeland, defined by Jewish values. And while I often struggle with some of the policies of Israel’s government and how they comport with Jewish values, it doesn’t alter my love for the State of Israel. It’s the same as when I disagree with the policies of the United States government and struggle with choices our leaders make. I struggle but I am still unquestionably an American. In America, that’s called being a patriot.

Yet somehow, when it comes to Israel, being a Zionist is purported to mean something else, something with questionable connotations or worse. That’s wrong. It’s up to us as Jews to fix this problem, and restore the rightful meaning to the words “Zionism” and “Zionist.”

While we may struggle both individually and as a community with actions of the Israeli government, I urge all who love Israel to stand up and proudly declare themselves to be Zionists. Let us stop allowing our views about the Israeli government’s policies to color our unconditional love for Israel. Let us stop attacking each other viciously because we differ over the political actions of the Israeli government. As Yossi Klein-Halevi wrote in his recent article in The Jewish Week, “delegitimizing fellow Jews is itself a kind of existential threat.”

Wise words. I urge everyone to not only declare yourselves to be Zionists but also to commit to avoid delegitimizing other Jews whose political views differ from yours. We can disagree about policies, but share a common love for Israel. We can struggle and work together to ensure that Israel is not just our homeland but a place that also lives up to the Jewish values to which we all aspire.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Keith Dvorchik Signature Black

The news is filled with disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches and more. We hear and read about them so often that we become desensitized. These horrific events often happen in places we can identify on a map but where we likely don’t know anyone impacted – Haiti, Nepal, Indonesia, Japan.

And then, there are the tragedies that hit closer to home – the train derailment in New York, tornadoes in the Great Plains, or Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – places we may know from having visited, or because our friends or family live there. But in most instances, we still don’t know anybody who was on the train, or whose home was destroyed by a hurricane or tornado.

Keith_2015_Pix2And then, there are disasters like the flooding happening in Houston this week.

I have only visited Houston once. My cousin lives there and so in February 2014, we traveled there as a family to celebrate my cousin’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. We drove around a bit, sampled Texas food, took in the excitement of the big rodeo that was in town that weekend, and enjoyed being with family. That’s my direct Houston experience. But there is a larger, indirect Houston connection. A former colleague of mine, Rabbi Jonathan Siger, is the Rabbi at Congregation Jewish Community North. A former student of mine, Rabbi Samantha Orshan Kahn, is the Assistant Rabbi of Congregation Emanu El. My current friend and colleague, Rabbi Oren Hayon, is about to become the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Emanu El. And Lee Wunsch, the President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Houston, is both a colleague and friend. So I have my biological family who lives there along with a cohort of friends who are also family.

On Wednesday, when I heard about the flooding in Houston and how it’s affecting the Jewish community, I sat in stunned silence. Hundreds of homes in high-density Jewish neighborhoods have been inundated, and are suffering without municipal services or access to roads or schools. The short-term impact on the Jewish community of Houston is significant. It will take many months to recover and rebuild.

When I think about the mudslide in Oso last year, just 60 miles north of us in Seattle, and what something like that could mean to the Jewish community here, I am filled with both gratitude and with a sense of obligation. I know if we were to experience a devastating earthquake here, our Jewish family across the country would unite to help us to recover and rebuild. The Houston Federation has created a Flood Relief Fund. While there are many important organizations to support, I hope you will consider making a gift to help our Jewish brothers and sisters in Houston dealing with the impact of the devastating flood. You can make your gift here. Any amount helps.

We are lucky to live in a community in which the values of tikkun olam and tzedakah are not just words on a page, but actions we see around us every day. As the President and CEO of the Jewish Federation in Seattle, it’s one of the things that makes me the most proud. We know it’s our job to make a difference. We know that we can repair the world one piece at a time. I’m honored to be a part of that work.

Keith Dvorchik Signature Black

On Wednesday night, I received a shocking Facebook message from a former employee and friend of mine. It said simply, “Just heard that Mike Rosenberg passed away.”

Many of you know that for 15 years, I ran the Hillel at the University of Florida. During that time, I had the pleasure of working with thousands of amazing Jewish students. Perhaps the best part of the job is how these relationships have continued well past the students’ graduation dates. I have been able to share in their joys of getting accepted to graduate school, first jobs, promotions, marriages, children, and to share in their sorrows during divorces or the death of loved ones. While being a campus professional means that you deal with the tragedies of young people dying unexpectedly, somehow, hearing of Mike’s passing was different not just for me but for an entire community of Jewish Gators and those touched by Mike in his far too short life.

Mike was one of those people who changed the feeling of a room just by walking in. With a great, infectious grin, he made everybody around him smile, and feel welcome and important. He would walk into a room and instantly the room brightened for everyone in it.

A few years ago, Mike went to Israel with us on a Birthright trip. The first night there, he had a seizure and went to the hospital, where they diagnosed him with a brain tumor. He was immediately flown back to the U.S., where he began treatment. He went into remission, went back to Israel on Birthright for the full experience, got engaged, and began his dream of attending medical school. Life seemed to be on the upswing and then, out of the blue, I received the message that he had died.

Life brings people into and out of your personal life, both people who are special and those who don’t leave an impact. Sometimes, we fall out of touch with even those who have left an indelible mark. I understand now that Mike’s health deteriorated and his death was expected. Yet it shocked many of us because even though he had left an impact on our lives, we had fallen out of touch. Life gets busy and the next thing you know, a few years have elapsed and you haven’t spoken.

After Mike’s passing, the number of people reaching out to reconnect was astonishing. Somehow, even in death, Mike managed to teach something powerful to many people: The importance of community, of not just connecting, but staying connected. Life is too short to wait until tomorrow to reach out to those you care about to just say hi and stay in touch.

That will be my everlasting gift from Mike Rosenberg z”l. To remember to tell those whom you care about that you care. To send that text saying hi” or “how are you” to those people who have impacted my life. just to keep the connection between us strong.

Mike’s memory will always be a blessing – not just to me but to hundreds of people whom he interacted with and whose lives he made brighter simply by being who he was.

Words are insufficient for conveying the joys Mike brought to the lives of all who knew him. For those of you who didn’t know him, this video offers you a glimpse.

Keith Dvorchik Signature Black

On Wednesday night, I attended the Kline Galland Board of Directors meeting, having been invited to make a presentation on the 2014 Seattle Jewish Community Study. I enjoy going to various agency board meetings, as it’s a way for me to meet those passionate leaders who give their time, talent, and treasure to make Jewish Puget Sound such an incredible place to live. I also like attending these board meetings because it gives me a chance to learn what these dedicated leaders want from their Federation.

Dvorchik_ThumbnailAfter a wonderful dinner, a warm welcome, and my presentation, I was invited to stay to hear the update about the Community Based Services portion of the Kline Galland suite of services. This was particularly interesting to me because the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle has played an integral role in partnering with the Kline Galland to create many of these services.

When Kline Galland talks about Community Based Services, they are particularly focusing on Home Health and Home Care, Palliative Care, and Hospice Care services. In these areas, the Federation and Kline Galland partnered, together enabling the creation of these essential services and their growth for the benefit of the community. The Federation lobbied in Olympia to gain the authorizations necessary to establish a Jewish Hospice and Jewish Home Health and Home Care Agency. We provided bridge funding when needed and start-up funding for the Palliative Care program, enabling it to begin modestly and grow. Our lobbying and seed funding created an opening for the Kline Galland to fill a gap and provide much needed services to our community.

So, as I sat in the board meeting and listened to the report on the growth of the program, I took pride in what we helped to create. While the leadership of the Kline Galland did the hard work in identifying the needs, creating the programs, implementing and then growing the programs, the Federation played an indispensable role at a critical time that enabled the Kline Galland to bring its plans to reality.

As I walked out of the board meeting after the Community Services Presentation, I found myself thinking that our partnership with the Kline Galland on their Community Based Services is exactly what a successful Jewish Federation does and illustrates the value that a Jewish Federation brings to Jewish life. It identifies partners that can have a real impact on the community, filling critical needs that otherwise wouldn’t be filled, and leverages the opportunity with both human and financial resources to help create a sustainable model that benefits the community. I look forward to the Federation doing this more often and collaboratively bringing to fruition more wonderful, sustainable successes throughout our community.

Keith Dvorchik Signature Black

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