LIVINGSTON, NJ — For the fourth year in Livingston, the township raised the Israeli flag in celebration of Israeli Independence Day at Livingston Town Hall, where the Livingston Township Council acknowledged the country’s 73rd birthday in partnership with the Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI) and proclaimed April 15, 2021, as Rabbi Elie Mischel Day in honor of one of the Livingston Celebrates Israel Committee’s founding members.
Mischel, a clergy member from the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston who is moving to Israel with his wife and four children later this year, said he was flattered by the surprise recognition, but urged residents to consider Israel’s teachings now more than ever. Noting that the United States is currently suffering “from an inability to disagree with respect and civility,” Mischel expressed confidence that the Township of Livingston can serve as a leader in bringing love and respect back to the state and country.
“Over the last four years, the Livingston Celebrates Israel Committee has been an incredible example of people with very different religious and political views that come together in mutual respect and love to do great things,” he said. “This community, this incredible town of Livingston, is a town that others in the broader New Jersey community look to for leadership. There aren't many towns like this, and I believe that we here in Livingston can follow Israel's lead and show the rest of the state and the rest of this country how it is possible to disagree with respect and even love.”
As he addressed Israel’s long road to independence, Mischel proclaimed that the State of Israel is “the embodiment of a people that has somehow risen from the ashes of the Holocaust” and has “been reborn in its ancestral homelands against all odds.”
“I understand why the Jewish people celebrate today, but for the rest of the American people, we have to ask the question, ‘Why does this little country in the Middle East matter so much to the United States of America?’” said Mischel, who offered a story about why the State of Israel should matter “to every American of every background and of every religion.”
He explained that during Israel's War of Independence in 1948, when there were only 600,000 Jews living in Israel and the land “was being attacked from all directions,” internal political tensions within Israel “were dangerously hot.” According to Mischel, the right and left wing each had its own militia, and the two sides were “all too often they were at each other's throats.”
In the midst of the war, the right-wing Israeli party purchased a ship named Altalenna that was later bombed by the newly formed Israel Defense Forces “after a series of misunderstandings and bad decisions”—leaving the country “on the brink of civil war while it was being attacked by nations on all side,” Mischel explained. The incident also forced the right-wing leader to make a critical decision, and he ultimately ordered his men not to fight back.
“He understood that a nation that turns on itself—brother against brother, sister against sister—cannot long survive,” said Mischel. “It was this decision to turn away from Civil War, from political hatred and division, that saved the young State of Israel from annihilating itself.
“In the years since 1948, the Israeli people have not lacked for political passion. They’re opinionated, and they're very fiery; they have strong opinions and convictions; and it’s a very diverse country with religious and secular people of every background and color. And yet, in the years since the Altalenna Affair, the Israeli nation has bonded together as one. Right-wingers and left-wingers, they fight together side by side to defend Israel against terrorists. And although they argue with each other endlessly, deep down they know that they are a family, that their bond goes beyond political affiliation.”
Although Mischel acknowledged that “no country wants to face the dangers” of mandatory army service due to constant enemy threats, he also noted that “this type of existence [in Israel] has brought the country together.”
“The mandatory service in the Israeli army means that Israelis of all backgrounds are forced to get to know one another and to appreciate each other despite their differences,” he said.
Now more than ever, Mischel said that America “must learn from Israel and learn to balance political passion with love and respect for those with whom we disagree.”
“We are suffering today in this country from an inability to disagree with respect and civility,” he said. “Cancel culture pervades so many aspects of our lives. If you dare to disagree with a dominant view on any matter, you risk having your reputation destroyed on social media, you risk losing friendships or even your livelihood. It's happened here Livingston—people use words like ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ or ‘Nazi’ to describe people who disagree with them. They throw those words around, planting other people as evil simply because they have different views.
“In our culture today, we assume the worst about those who vote differently than we do; but this is not the America that I grew up in, and I pray that this is only a passing phase and not the future of this great nation. America is a light unto the world. It must continue to be a light unto the world—a place where people can speak their mind and agree to disagree.”
During Thursday’s flag-raising ceremony, Mischel was joined by clergy members from several local places of worship, including Rabbi David Vaisberg of Temple B'nai Abraham, who also spoke during the event, Cantor Perry Fine and Rabbi Simeon Cohen of Temple Beth Shalom, who were among those to perform during the ceremony, and more. The ceremony also featured a live performance by the eighth grade members of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy Daglanut Dancers.
Others who spoke during the event included Deputy Mayor Ed Meinhardt, who filled in for Mayor Shawn Klein due to a conflict; Essex County Commissioner Patricia Sebold, representing Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and the Essex County Board of Commissioners; Jill Hirsch, representing Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill’s Office; LCDI co-chair Alyse Heilpern; and LCDI members Keith Hines and Sheri Goldberg.
In addition to reading proclamations recognizing Israeli Independence Day in Livingston and presenting citations to Mischel in celebration of his achievements, Hirsch and members of the Livingston Township Council also congratulated Goldberg upon her recent appointment to the New Jersey Israeli Commission by Gov. Phil Murphy.
“The mayor and members of the Livingston Township Council are proud and honored to raise the Israeli flag at Livingston Town Hall each year in recognition of Israeli Independence Day, known as Yom Haatzmaut in Hebrew,” said Meinhardt, who was joined by fellow council members Rudy Fernandez, Al Anthony and Michael Vieira. “We also want to recognize Rabbi Mischel in honor of his contributions to the Livingston Celebrates Israel Committee, the LCDI, the town of Livingston and, personally, as a friend to me as well.”
On behalf of Congressman Sherrill, Hirsh read a letter congratulating Mischel for his “leadership in building an inclusive community in Livingston” and extending her “best wishes to Rabbi Mischel and his family in their upcoming move to Israel.”
To view the full event, which was streamed live on the Livingston Celebrates Israel and LTown Lowdown Facebook pages, CLICK HERE.
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