Library of Gratitude 2016
Dear Members of our KI Family,
We hope you will enjoy this gift, compliments of your KI community. Our annual practice of presenting an exceptional book to our entire membership, what we call our Library of Gratitude, (Sifriat Todah) is designed to enrich the inner lives of our members. This year’s selection of Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn is very timely.
In a world where facts and trust are consistently challenged, Daniel Gordis has written a book of immense importance that honors history by clarifying both what happened and the reasons why it happened.
Today, Israel is a pillar of American Jewish identity. This book helps reacquaint us with her story. Wherever we may reside, place-based Judaism matters. Novelist George Eliot elegantly reminds us why this is so. People need a place “where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection.” Gordis’ book artfully deepens such affection, engendering heart-warming attachment amidst honest confrontation with the unpleasant realities of statecraft.
Even more, Gordis’ book reminds us of Israel’s purpose in our history: to help Jews around the world hold our heads high, striving to be the blessings which God called Abraham and Sarah to be four millennia ago.
Also enclosed is a very gracious personal note to our Congregation by Daniel Gordis in honor of this year’s Library of Gratitude selection.
Kehillath Israel strives to be a different kind of community – one wherein everybody grows. We seek experiences that nurture deeper connections and content in the pursuit of principled cause. We hope this volume will inspire all three of these things. May it help to instill fresh appreciation for our historic return to our ancestral home. And may this, in turn, help the Jewish People elevate to our vocation by striving to generate goodness in today’s world.
Rabbi William Hamilton David Williams
Mara D’atra President
Personal note to Kehillath Israel from Daniel Gordis
When Rabbi Hamilton wrote me to share the news that my new book had been selected as this year’s volume for Kehillath Israel’s Sifriyat Todah, I was deeply honored and flattered. For years, Rabbi Hamilton has represented for me the model of how a rabbi should lead his or her congregation in engagement with Israel. His is a model of love, loyalty and devotion, coupled with deep intellectual commitments and a willingness to look at both Israel’s great accomplishments as well as the areas in which we expect Israel to do better.
In many ways, Rabbi Hamilton’s approach to Israel is that which I sought to capture in this book. With the discourse about Israel having become so vitriolic, I thought that it was time that we had a volume that would tell Israel’s story as being about much more than the conflict that so distresses us all. Imagine that someone asked us what the United States of America stands for. If we answered by telling about the War of Independence, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan (which is to leave out a few), would we have listed important events in America’s history? Yes. Would we have captured the essence of what America stands for? Not at all! For that, we need to read the Federalist Papers, Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address, Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham Jail, and more.
The same is true of Israel. To speak about the conflict is to speak about only one small part of what Israel is and represents, and in my book, I seek to sketch a fuller picture. I look at Israel’s history, the men and woman who shaped the ideas at the core of the Jewish state, the songs and the poems that give expression to Israel’s soul. I seek to portray the miracle that Israel is as including the conflict, but as being about much more than a conflict. Israel is the story, as the title suggests, of a nation reborn, and the book tells the story of how a nation created a state, and the state, in turn, recreated the nation.
What makes a book successful? I suppose that there are many different possible answers. For me, the key lies in conversation. If the conversations you have about Israel after you have read this book are different than they were before, I will be delighted. If this book makes you thirsty to read more about Israel, I will think it a success. If the book is fair enough that people from all places on the religious and political spectra can use it as the source of a fruitful and enjoyable engagement with each other, I will be deeply gratified.
I am grateful to your rabbi and to Kehillath Israel for this wonderful honor, and look forward to hearing your thoughts and reactions once you’ve had a chance to read the book.
With warm regards,