Torah Fund Stands With Israel:  Another Fascinating Discussion  

Posted on Feb 22, 2023

What I didn’t expect, at the fifth program in the virtual series that took place January 30, was to learn about Vatican II during Rabbi Ariel Stofenmacher’s most unusual d’var Torah. I was hoping for an “up close and personal” view of the life and work of Ambassador of Israel Itai Bardov. What I didn’t expect was the strong United States component in his talk and his willingness to frankly discuss the Palestinian situation.  

A Torah Fund Stands with Israel program is always worth the watch! 

Vatican II, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and what’s reconciliation got to do with it? 

Rabbi Ariel Stofenmacher, president and rector of Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Argentina, a Torah Fund–supported institution, prefaced his remarks by saying this would be a most unusual d’var Torah, and indeed it was! He began by telling us it was the 60th anniversary of Vatican II, the Catholic Church’s attempt to modernize and look at itself honestly. It was a lengthy process and began with Pope John XXIII, and was completed by Pope Paul VI. Before Vatican II, the Catholic view of Jews was that G-d chose us as his people in preparation for the coming of their Lord. Once Christianity was formed, however, all that was valuable in Judaism was transferred to Christianity and Jews were no longer the chosen people, with the goal to convert Jews to Christianity. Vatican II, in the tractate known as Nostra Aetate dealing with relationships between other religions, provided that since we are all part of the human family, an open dialogue between different faiths should be established, embracing common beliefs and visions. The Catholic Church would now reject any discrimination.  

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was influential in Vatican II, as a champion of interfaith dialogue and in challenging the church to overcome the legacy of antisemitism. Rabbi Heschel espoused the themes of reconciliation, love, cooperation, and leaving hatred behind. We all know of the wonderful civil rights legacy of Rabbi Heschel, in marching with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Did you know of his influence with Vatican II?  

Rabbi Stofenmacher submits that the creation of Israel shows the strong love of G-d for the Jewish people and that Rabbi Heschel believed that coming back to Israel was part of our story. 

Rabbi Stofenmacher ended with the thought of using Rabbi Heschels’s lessons of love, cooperation, reconciliation, and rejecting hate as a model for Israeli/Palestinian relations today. 

A strong, vibrant, unusual, thought-provoking d’var Torah, wouldn’t you agree? 

What a coup for us! An Israeli Ambassador talks to Torah Fund! 

For the first time, we were so fortunate to have an Israeli Ambassador, Itai Bardov, appointed to Panama, Caribbean countries, and CARICOM, speak to Torah Fund about a wide range of topics. We learned about Panama-Israel relations, United States–Panama history and associations, the current uptick in Palestinian terrorism and deaths, and how we, as North American women, should reach out and cultivate relationships with our Panamanian-Jewish counterparts. 

Ambassador Bardov started out by giving us some history. Panama voted to establish Israel as a Jewish state, and only two Latin American countries don’t recognize a Palestinian state: Mexico and Panama. 

In Panama, there is an orthodox Sephardic Jewish community, an Ashkenazic one, and a Conservative/Reform community, which all work together as a cohesive political unit. 

Panama is not very concerned about the Middle East. The Muslim community is moderate, without a lot of activism. Evangelicals in Panama are very supportive of the Jewish community. Panama has strong Judeo-Christian roots. Israel works with Panama in technology and water projects in an attempt to strengthen relations, and trains Panamanian physicians in Israel. The focus on the relationship between Israel and Panama is the economy and trade.  

As for the United States, Ambassador Bardov believes Panamanians feel close to us. However, there is a troubled history with the canal, which was turned over to Panama during the Carter administration. Many in Panama believe the canal was used for profit by the United States, though there is recognition it benefited Panama as well. In 1989, the United States invaded Panama during the Noriega regime. Though there is appreciation for our help in getting rid of this tyrant dictator, a day of mourning is set aside on December 20, recognizing the invasion. The United States is culturally and historically embedded in Panama, and we are a very strong part of Panama’s history even with its negative feelings about us. We need to understand more about Panama, and Ambassador Bardov suggests we connect with the Conservative/Reform Jewish women there. 

As part of his diplomatic role, Ambassador Bardov also is in contact with other Caribbean countries. He told us about progress in Suriname, which consistently voted against Israel at the United Nations but which now appears as a “no-show,” representing a positive shift for Israel.  In Suriname, there is a small but rich Jewish culture, with a beautiful synagogue, complete with a sand floor. In Barbados, it has been challenging to deliver his diplomatic credentials. His main focus is Panama, and he acknowledged that between assimilation and moving away from Latin America, the Jewish population is diminishing. 

After the presentation, Ambassador Bardov took questions, and the increase in Palestinian terrorism was discussed. Recognizing that as an ambassador he must choose his words carefully, he opined that the new attacks are based on many factors, not just the current policies of Israel. Others can provide the analysis, he told us, but he gave us examples of the brainwashing of Palestinian children through textbooks and TV. He told us of the dancing in the streets by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank after a recent terrorist attack at a synagogue where seven attendees were killed, and he cautioned us not to equate the Israeli actions of trying to prevent terrorist acts by known parties with the death of Israeli innocents. 

I appreciated Ambassador Bardov’s comprehensive and thoughtful presentation. It was an eye-opening view into the complexities of life as an ambassador, even in a relatively stable situation. Our Torah Fund Stands With Israel series provides a nuanced view of Israeli life and challenges, and I look forward to our next presentation!