By Alan Elsner
Like many American Jews, I have been watching recent events in Israel with consternation, wondering what might be an appropriate way to respond. I was thinking about this a few weeks ago while attending the Shabbat service at Kol Shalom, my Conservative congregation in Rockville.
After the Torah reading, we came to the Prayer for Israel. Sometimes, this is one of the moments in the service when I switch off a little. But on that particular Shabbat I really wanted — and not just wanted but needed — to pray for Israel. I guess we pray with greatest fervor when we sense that Israel is in danger, and I feel very strongly that Israel is in immense danger right now. But reading the words we recite every week, I realized they didn’t really reflect my hopes and fears at this time. They were more concerned with the external military threats that Israel has traditionally faced than the internal moral threats that it is facing right now.
What is it that I wish for Israel? Of course, I want Israel and Israelis, including my family and many dear friends to be safe. I want Israel to be successful and to prosper. I also want Israel to live up to our values — Jewish values, democratic values, its own values as stated in its own Declaration of Independence. I want Israel to be strong and I want Israel to be good.
At that moment, I decided to write a new prayer and offer it to my congregation. With the support of our interim rabbi, Eric Rosin, and lay leadership, my text was accepted and had its first public reading. The reception from congregants has been overwhelmingly positive.
What did I wish to accomplish with this prayer? It was not my intention to replace the prayer we have — merely to offer an alternative. I think it’s important that we continue to pray for Israel but I want our prayer to be meaningful and relevant. So my text seeks support for those defending Israeli democracy as well as those defending its borders. It calls for the rule of law and moral accountability. It asks Israel to share the land with all those who live there in peace and to promote worldwide Jewish unity while acknowledging and accepting the growing diversity within our people. It calls for Israel to wield the power it has accumulated with wisdom and restraint.
I see this prayer as a message we send to our brothers and sisters in Israel. “Od lo abda tikvatenu.” — We still hope. We still pray. The words may change as circumstances evolve and the threats facing Israel change — but the love we feel remains the same.
Alternative Prayer for the State of Israel
We pray for our beloved Israel, invoking these words from its Declaration of Independence:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Let us pray that these words will continue to guide Israel’s leaders and its people; that the Jewish state will be inclusive, promoting the unity and embracing the full, glorious diversity of the Jewish people. Let us never forget that our history teaches us to stand with the oppressed around the world. Strengthen the hands of those who defend Israel’s borders, its security and its democracy and uphold a government which enshrines the principles of equal justice and moral accountability. Let Israel foster the generosity of spirit to share the land in peace with others whose home it is. May Israel remain a place where the still, small voice is heard. Let its leaders resist the temptation to believe that might makes right.
Rather, let us recall the lesson of Zechariah: “Not by might and not by power but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” ■
Alan Elsner is a congregant of Kol Shalom in Rockville.