By Rabbi John Friedman and Aliza Becker

What inspired your commitment to work for Israeli-Palestinian peace in 2008?
Please send us stories about individuals and organizations for inclusion in a list of candle dedications at info@btvshalom.org. See our website for updates.   

As American Jews prepare for Hanukkah this year, there is reawakened hope for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Throughout the last 8 years of dwindling faith that such peace was possible, the 8 days of Hanukkah have helped sustain us. Each, night, we watch the candles spread light across great darkness, and are reminded that by joining all of our courageous efforts together, our dreams are achievable.

In the coming year, as we stand behind U.S. efforts to broker a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we will stand on the work of those who are paving the way. May the lights of Hanukkah rekindle our faith in acts of valor, and may that faith fill us with courage to work for peace for the Jewish people, for the Palestinian people, and for all humanity.

Light one candle for President-elect Barack Obama
President-elect Obama has consistently articulated his belief that diplomacy, genuine engagement, and honest discussion are the foundation of a healthy, safe society: "[My administration] ...will make a sustained push -- working with Israelis and Palestinians -- to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security." Dedicate yourself to joining forces with activists across the country in supporting the 44th President as he puts his words into action.

Light one candle for the 921 signers to Brit Tzedek's "Rabbinic Letter to President-elect Obama"
In urging the incoming President "to pledge to make resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority of your Administration," these grassroots spiritual leaders publicly stand up for basic Jewish values, inspiring action from national political leaders and synagogue members alike. Signers such as Rabbis Rachel Cowan, Arthur Green, Sharon Kleinbaum, Peter Knobel, Gordon Tucker, Ismar Schorsch, and Toba Spitzer provide space for the Jewish community to boldly declare that pro-Israel means pro-peace.

Light one candle for U.S. Representatives David Price and Ray LaHood
In May 2008, Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Ray LaHood (R-IL) initiated a groundbreaking effort in Congress as initiators of a letter calling for the exploration of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire and urging a resolution of border issues to meet Israel's security needs while providing relief to beleaguered Gazans. Such bold Congressional leadership provides encouragement, shapes the public discourse, and strengthens the case of peace advocates across the country.

Light one candle for signs of growing honesty in Israeli political leadership
While trailbreaking peace advocate and Meretz MK Yossi Beilin stepped down from politics this year, former leaders of the rightist Likud Party, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, continued to move closer to the principles espoused by Beilin. As she runs for prime minister, Livni has committed herself to establish a Palestinian state because it is in Israel's interest, while Olmert recently stated that  "we will [have to] withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories." In this he included East Jerusalem, adding, "I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth." Such frank talk opens the doors wide in Israel to greater honesty and wise action.

Light one candle for Wasatia
"Wasatia", meaning "moderation" or "balance" in Arabic, is a new Palestinian Islamic party, which aims to reclaim the center neglected by more fundamentalist Islamic groups. Their founding platform extols the virtues of moderation and tolerance and includes, "calls for a negotiated two-state peace with Israel and solutions to the acute economic, social and political crises plaguing Palestinian society." In response to Muslim extremism, Wasatia counters: "Charity and volunteerism -- this is Islam."

Light one candle for the establishment of lobby and advocacy organization, J Street, and its political action committee, J Street PAC
In 2008, J Street launched the country's first lobby and political action committee (PAC) dedicated to secure Israeli and American interests in the Middle East by aggressively working toward peace. J Street endorsed and raised money for 33 successful Senate and House campaigns, thus complementing and building on the grassroots constituent work of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.

Light one candle for Shalom Achshav and Americans for Peace Now
In recent months, Shalom Achshav and APN have sounded the alarm about the dangerous escalation of violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers and the extraordinary Israeli building spree in the West Bank since the signing of the Annapolis accord a year ago. Drawing much-needed attention to the settlement enterprise, Peace Now has urged its supporters to speak out loudly or risk jeopardizing Israel's national security and rule of law.

Light one candle for female leadership for peace
Women have and continue to play a key role in building Israeli-Palestinian peace work, often behind the scenes and with little public fanfare.  Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, while not exclusively a female organization, has been built predominantly by women: founding president Marcia Freedman, Executive Director Diane Balser, Deputy Director Aliza Becker, and many more including Cherie Brown, Molly Freeman, Carinne Luck, Jessica Rosenblum, Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, Donna Spiegelman, and Sue Swartz. These women have supplied the bricks and mortar to build our nationwide grassroots educational, advocacy, and rabbinic infrastructure.

The "Shamash" -- Activists like you
The shamash is the candle that lights all the other candles in the Hanukkah menorah -- and without it, no light can be spread. Without your hard work and the work of people like you in the U.S., Israel and the Palestinian territories, nothing can happen: no Congressional letters, no public campaigns, no policy changes, no one-by-one changing of minds in living rooms and synagogues, meeting halls and universities of a vibrant, secure Israel, living in peace and security alongside a vibrant, secure Palestine.



Rabbi John Friedman, spiritual leader of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina, is the founder and national chair of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet, where he leads the effort to provide the nation's Jewish spiritual leaders with a voice, an outlet, and a source of peer-to-peer guidance as they work to articulate a spiritual, moral, Torah-informed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibility of achieving a peaceful resolution.  He was also the founding chair of Brit Tzedek's Durham/Chapel Hill chapter, and serves on the organization's national board.

Aliza Becker, Deputy Director, is a founding member of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and plays a crucial role in the organization's communications, rabbinic cabinet, popular education, and internal operations.  Her grandfather was a founding member of the Israeli trade union, Histadrut, and she has much Israeli family.  Prior to Brit Tzedek, she worked for 20 years in advocacy and education for immigrants and refugees during which she authored 7 books.


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Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

info@btvshalom.org
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