Remember Rahm Emanuel’s rabbi, Asher Lopatin, from Chicago? He tells Ha’aretz that he doesn’t agree with everything his former congregant and President Obama are doing, but believes their heart is in the right place when it comes to Israel:
"I disagree with many policies of the Obama administration, but I know that President Barack Obama and [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel believe that what they are doing is good for Israel," says Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who for the past 15 years has been the spiritual leader of one of Chicago’s most active Jewish communities, the Anshe Shalom Bnai Israel congregation.
"Rahm is a tough guy – and I’m not sure he’s the best diplomat," he adds, "but I think that ultimately they think what they are doing is good for Israel."
To be clear, Lopatin isn’t exactly cookie-cutter when it comes to being a Modern Orthodox rabbi with views on Israel:
Lopatin lived in Israel as a child and later spent a year studying here as well. His studies focused on Islam and Arabic philosophy of the Middle Ages and he conducted research on the approaches of Islamic fundamentalism toward Judaism. As a result, the rabbi developed some nonconformist ideas, such as "one state, democratic, Jewish and Palestinian."
According to his philosophy, there would first be "a moratorium on the demolition of Arab houses in Jerusalem, in exchange for official U.S. recognition of the right to build for natural Jewish growth in Jewish settlements in the West Bank." This would be followed by "the immediate return of Gilad Shalit; release of Palestinian prisoners; U.S. commuting Jonathan Pollard and sending him to Israel."
Ultimately, he envisages a situation where Jews and Arabs will live anywhere they desire in the Land of Israel – the Jews will be able to live in all quarters of the Old City, and if they wish also in Bethlehem, Nablus and Gaza, while the Palestinians will be able to purchase property, not only in the West Bank but also in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and anywhere else. The Law of Return, he believes, should be applicable not only to Jews but also to Arabs. Israel, he says, would be able to improve its demographic balance "by letting in potentially millions of Africans, Asians and South Americans who self-identify as Jewish even if they cannot prove their Jewish descent."
Lopatin laughs and adds, "Well I don’t want any of my crazy politics to jeopardize this project, but I believe strongly that if someone declares he is Jewish, basically people who want to be Jewish, let them in. Now I want to start bringing American Jews to the Negev and beyond that, there are lots of possibilities."
Speaking of Lopatin, if you’re on the fence about moving to the Negev …
Two weeks ago, community leaders sent a letter to members announcing the rabbi’s intention to leave in the summer of 2011. They also asked for the community’s support for his plans to settle in the Negev.
Some members have expressed an interest in joining the project. At present, the rabbi is traveling around the United States, speaking to various communities and trying to recruit new immigrants – particularly young couples to join him in making the desert flourish. Lopatin plans to establish the community in Carmit, about a 15-minute drive north of Be’er Sheva, where many Americans will live and where he hopes to head a successful community like he did in Chicago.
Read the full story for more details on the community that Lopatin hopes to build in Israel.