During a time when many rabbis refuse to speak publicly about Israel, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue’s Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch is urging progressive Jews to reclaim the central principles of liberalism from those who have distorted liberal values.
Hirsch, who for twelve years led the Association of Reform Zionists of America, urged the congregation to renew their bonds with Israel in his Rosh Hashanah sermon on Monday, October 3.
“Suddenly we are subjected to a litmus test of liberalism,” Rabbi Hirsch said. “You can’t be a true liberal if you are supportive of Israel in any way. There is nothing in liberal thought that suggests that of all the nationalisms in the world, the only illegitimate one is Jewish nationalism.”
“What business do liberals have supporting those who oppress women, gays, minorities and Christians; turning a blind eye to the suppression of free speech; and giving aid and comfort to anti-democratic religious fundamentalist extremists? Such so-called liberals poison the chalice of liberty, draining the concepts of human rights and social justice of their wholesome meaning.”
“At the same time, we need to be a powerful voice for Jewish universal values. We need to keep fighting for a just compromise with the Palestinian people. Hatred and intimidation of Palestinian villagers, uprooting olive trees, violence against civilians are abhorrent and un-Jewish.”
Stephen Wise Free Synagogue’s ties to Zionism date back to the synagogue’s founder, Rabbi Stephen Wise (1874–1949), who — unlike most Reform Jews of the early twentieth century — was committed to the establishment of a Jewish state.
“Avoiding discussion because ‘too many people get angry’ is not our style,” Rabbi Hirsch said. “The only way to address controversy is to address it — head-on.”