A fierce attack on J Street wasn’t the only notable element of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s address to the biennial convention of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism earlier in the week.
During the prepared portion of his remarks, Oren issued a surprising proclamation of a personal belief in a divine plan behind the creation of the State of Israel. He said:
A God who fixes laws throughout the physical space can also intercede through the course of human history. Perfectly logical. To believe in the God of history is to believe in the reason why a tiny remnant of [the Jewish] people, rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, returned to [Israel].
… To believe in a God who cares about history leads one to assume that there is a reason why, some 3,00 years ago, this obscure group of nomads, wandering somewhere around the Middle East, came up with these extraordinary notions of a single God, and the extraordinary notion of universal morality. And there’s a reason why that faith enabled that people to survive as a people when so many other peoples have vanished, in spite of expulsions, inquisitions, and massacres. And there’s a reason to believe why this people was given a land in which to realize its national destiny, and to understand why that people, bound by its faith, longed to return to that land, even when that people was exiled.
The remarks seemed well received by the audience. Oren, who says he grew up Conservative but now attends a Modern Orthodox synagogue, is the official representative of the Israeli government in Washington. Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence calls Israel the “birthplace of the Jewish people,” but does not describe the creation of the state as an act of God’s will.
A Tight Squeeze
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. When planning an event, always make sure the room is just big enough or, even better, a little too small for the number of people you are expecting. That way, the room will always be full and you can avoid any embarrassing bald spots in the crowd.
But that was not the case this morning as J Street began its inaugural national conference at a downtown Washington hotel. The rooms were way too crowded to suspect any deliberate underestimation.
Organizers were expecting a little more than thousand participants. They were even very proud of this number. But as the doors opened, the numbers grew. Three hundred walk-ins checked in during the first hours of the day and others showed up the night before. That brought the number of conference participants to 1,500. It was a huge success for J Street, and a big problem for those who actually tried to make it into the breakout sessions that were packed way beyond capacity.