Portion of Tetzaveh: Preserving Our Uniqueness


L-R: Ireland’s Consul General Ciaran Madden, colleague from NY Board of Rabbis (NYBR), Rabbi Michael Klayman, another colleague from NYBR, Brian O’Dwyer – Grand Marshall of this year’s St. Patrick’s parade, NYBR Executive Vice President Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, and NYBR President Rabbi Lester B. Bronstein. Feb. 11, 2019.

This past Monday I joined four colleagues at Ireland’s Consulate in New York. We met with Ciaran Madden, Consul General of Ireland, to discuss his government’s impending vote supporting BDS. As we fortunately learned, the administration which Ciaran represents is opposed to any BDS legislation. However, Ireland’s legislature includes some powerful opposition forces supporting the BDS movement.

During our meeting, I re-iterated facts which the Consul General understood:

-Israel is a democracy, whose legislature includes Jews, Christians and Arabs.

-Israelis freely demonstrate in the streets of Tel Aviv against their government.

-More central to the BDS discussion is the fact that only Israel is singled out for condemnation in nations like Ireland. There are no national or global actions against Syria for chemical warfare against its people; or against China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela, North Korea or Myanmar for their egregious violations of human rights. When nations like Ireland focus exclusively on Israel, the attack is not about human rights, but-more specially and emphatically- about Israel and Jews.

From the recent Carnegie Hall protests against the Israel Philharmonic, we know that anti-Israel and anti-Jewish fervor is not just expressed across the Pond in Ireland. We experience the hatred in our own backyard.

One of our most effective and unifying responses to anti-Israel and anti-Jewish fervor is also the most basic response: No matter who and what the opposition we must never abandon or deny our uniqueness as Jews. As Deborah Lipstadt has written, we affirm our Jewishness not because of Antisemitism but because we proudly embrace our cultural and ritual heritage.

The Torah portion of Tetzaveh calls upon us to always keep Jewish tradition close to our hearts. Tetzaveh details the vestments worn by a Priest in the course of his sacred responsibilities on behalf of Am Yisrael. For example, on his headpiece was engraved the expression HOLY TO GOD. Those words were a constant reminder about the Priest’s spiritual and ethical obligations to the nation he serves. They also reminded him to always be proud of his identity. Also, on his vestments were the names of each Tribe; calling further attention to the uniqueness of his service and of the nation he represents. All inscriptions were to be a source of pride; not only to the Priest but to the nation at large.

Whether confronting BDS, responding to anti-Israel/anti-Jewish demonstrations here and abroad, or combating Jewish attrition, we have responsibility to preserve our uniqueness. No condemnations, demonstrations, resolutions or legislation should ever discourage us from being who we are: A proud Jewish people, resolved to stand physically and spiritually tall without reservation or regret.

Shabbat Shalom,