A year has passed since the disturbances in Israel have become the new Intifada. Our lives as Jews have, once again, been transformed. There was a short time (not long after the Intifada began) that it seemed as though Jewish communities around the world would be targeted. That passed, thank goodness. However, the recent United Nations Conference on Racism renewed the world's attention's focus on Israel, Zionism, World Jewry, and even Judaism itself. We read the daily headlines with trepidation, wondering how world events touch us personally and, perhaps feeling uncomfortable with the attention. And, now, even in our collective American grief, we can see people pointing fingers at America's Mideast policies as the cause of the terrorist attacks just two weeks ago. Blaming the victim may have been a reasonable explanation for world events at the time the Babylonians destroyed the first Temple in Jerusalem. It may have even been acceptable when the Romans destroyed the second Temple in Jerusalem. But, since the destruction of European Jewry barely more than a generation ago, it is no longer a theologically acceptable explanation. We may not have another explanation, but the old one does not work.
A few words of clarification are in order, but we need to take a close look at our own actions and what some Jews do and what we can do to make a difference in the world.
The State of Israel is not a precursor of the messianic era!
The State of Israel is the political embodiment of the Jewish people's attempt to live in a world organized along nation-state lines.
However, something is rotten in a form of Judaism I see growing in the Land of Israel. A form of Messianic Zionism masquerading as Judaism is calling shots and controlling too much of Israeli policies.
Ordinarily, I distribute something tangible for us to take with us as a tool to help us focus during the High Holiday period: pebbles, a spring, a grain of rice. I thought of getting small mirrors for each of us. Because this is a time of intense introspection. But, I found a picture of us, not you and me the Jews of Ramona, nor the Jews of America (necessarily) but Jews nonetheless.
There are many powerful pictures from this past year: that of the Palestinian with his hands red with blood. But, now, on Yom Kippur, I cannot affect the behavior of the Palestinian people, as abhorrent as it may be, and often is. I can hardly affect the behavior of a congregation that calls me rabbi. I struggle to modify my own behavior, and that, believe me is difficult. So, I want us to look at ourselves - or, at least, two of our people.
Nine (9) (perhaps more) people (from background to foreground):
- 3 (perhaps more) unidentifiable (male) people (who can see the action?) (from right to left: a boy in a white shirt, a man in a blue plaid short sleeved shirt and khaki pants, a man in a blue short sleeved shirt and blue jeans, and perhaps another two people in the further background)
- 2 Israeli soldiers (who seem to be talking to (or, at least, facing) each other, though their heads are not visible)
- 1 male who appears to have peyot
- 1 Arab woman
- 2 Israeli civilians (one wearing a long denim skirt, the other wearing denim shorts)
The two Israeli civilians (who seem to be what are called "religious" - based on their garb, likely also "settlers" - based on their location) physically taunt a woman.
We do not know what came immediately before, nor immediately after. However, it appears that one of the soldiers (the one on the left edge of the photo) can see what's happening, or, at least, is facing the action. The male with what seem to be peyot looks in the direction of the action.
Who is this Arab woman? From where did she come? To where was she going? She seems to have a satchel in her left hand. Can we see anything about her that might identify her as a threat?
The two Israeli civilians are in motion. The young woman has reached and grabbed the head-cloth of the Arab woman and is balanced on her right foot. The Israeli boy stands on his left foot as he extends his right foot in a kick. These actions take less than a minute, but, more than the fraction of a second needed for the shutter to click open and closed.
There seems to be no response from those who can see what's happening.
But, let's presume (or, at least, hope) that there was a response the moment after the shutter clicked.
Based on what ("Jewish"?) teaching do these youngsters (they seem somewhere between the ages of eight and eighteen) act the way they do?
As I have stated since 1967, to prevent additional acts such as this (and for other good reasons), the occupation must end.
I remember Golda Meir saying that she could forgive the Arabs (she did not believe there were any Palestinians) for killing "our sons". But, she could not forgive them for making our sons kill others.
Some may argue with me "whether something/anything we do will change that equation... whether our unilateral withdrawal will solve the problem." After all, the PLO -- committed by charter to the destruction of the Zionist enterprise -- was founded in 1964, three years before the 6 Day War and the occupation of territories. The clear suggestion from this is that Arab hostility has less "to do with what we do than the fact that we are." Further, some argue "that peace with the Palestinian people can come, and will come, once they have been persuaded that we cannot be driven out."
And, the problem has grown even larger. I learned from Debbie that one of our teachers has written an article called "Islam Hijacked". This article suggests that the bin Ladin group has hijacked "true" Islam.
That the core values of a religious civilization can be hijacked is not unknown to us. Certainly the Crusades do not represent Christianity today (even though they were instigated by the ruling Christian powers of the day and definitely were what generations of Christians, Muslims and Jews knew to be Christianity). Some argue (among them the Neturei Karta and others) that Zionism does not represent Torah True Judaism. So, if Islam is being hijacked by the Taliban, we may be in for a very long, and unpleasant, struggle.
Have you had the opportunity to read Jeffrey Goldberg's articles on militant Islam?
However, this is not a new phenomenon in Islam. I'm sure all of us are familiar with the term "assassin" from which comes a significant group and period in Islam (from the 11th to the 13th centuries - not an insignificant amount of time, and controlled an area stretching from Persia to Syria).
The situation becomes even more complicated when we add to this mix the theological expectations of fundamentalist Christians who await a battle of Good against Evil with the Land of Israel at its center (about which I wrote many years ago).
When a rock gets tossed into a pool of water, we all know there are ripple effects. Add to this the fact that a big enough rock also causes a splash of other water droplets that spread in unknown directions causing additional ripples that intersect with each other.... We've all seen the recent books on Chaos Theory. Needless to say, I would suggest extreme caution before deciding what to do and the less big rocks tossed the better.
All that said, I do not assume that our "unilateral withdrawal will solve the problem" though a variety of unilateral actions may help. I hold no great expectations of, nor warm feelings for the PLO (and it's related organizations), and I've mentioned Arab (and Muslim) hostility runs deep (and far back in history).
What I hope we would do is focus our attention on ending, not extending, the occupation.
Even tacit encouragement (as it appears from the photo) extends the occupation.
Perhaps a bit of brainstorming wouldn't hurt.
I (as I expect many of us) will speak to my congregation this year about Israel - the threats to it and to all Jews (through the attempt to delegitimize Zionism). I will talk to my congregants about the need to personalize Israel. They need to be personally involved because their lives are at stake. I will share with them person-to-person efforts (NGOs) that can (and do) make a difference. Am I disappointed that there are not more (any?) of these that are initiated from the Palestinian side? Yes. Does that matter in the immediate here and now? No. We must do what we can do.
I think a good beginning includes the following:
I remember in the dark days of the war against Vietnam (1971), we circulated a People's Peace Treaty. Perhaps we could work on a similar document that would be signed by individual Israelis and Palestinians who would commit themselves to living in peace together. I've posted the text on my Web Site, if anyone wants to read what was attempted a generation ago in a different context:
I don't harbor any illusions that the People's Peace Treaty all by itself brought peace to Vietnam. However, I know that, in it's own small way, it played a role (and not only by assuaging the guilt of those who proposed it). Every effort of people working with people who share a desire to live in peace will counter the efforts of those who demean others.
An English Jew named Paul Morrison wrote (I just received this late today - just before Kol Nidre):
I was moved by these dark times in the Middle East to write the following piece, an open letter to Palestinians. One Palestinian woman who saw it was touched enough in turn to publish it in an Arab newspaper, together with her response.
I've also had positive feedback from some Israelis who share my belief that it's not a sign of weakness to say sorry.
So, he put it out on the net in the form of a Petition with which I agree with about 85%.
Once again, the World Zionist Organization is ready to hold elections. This is an opportunity for Jews all over the world to make their voices known regarding the shape and future of Jewish life in the Land of Israel. Please go online and register for the election or go directly to the Reform Movement's page to register so that you can vote in the elections.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, with whom I generally don't agree, wrote this summer regarding the decline in tourism (especially on the part of American Jews): "If Israel is like Disneyland, then you only go when there is good weather. If Israel is a motherland, then you go when your mother is in trouble."
So, come with us to Israel.
Debbie and I are leading our next in-depth study/tour of Jerusalem and Israel March 10 - 20 2002, immediately following the CCAR Convention and while (we expect and hope) Noam will be a student on EIE. If you know of people who may want to join us then, you can have them check out highlights of our previous trips.