True Leaders Speak Vision

November 19, 2014
Rabbi Blank

Rabbi Stacey Blank blesses a bar mitzvah boy.

Rabbi Stacey Blank, the rabbi serving Kehillat Tzur Hadassah, a Reform synagogue near Jerusalem, posted words yesterday that were the wisest I’d seen about the current matsav [situation] in Israel:

Today a great tragedy occurred — a terrorist attack. An attack that killed four innocent people in the middle of their prayers. Terror because now everyone is locking their doors and glancing suspiciously at everyone else who they are passing on the street, and perhaps even those they work with side by side. We all lose in this game – the victims and also those who encourage terror. True leaders act to end the cycle of killing. True leaders speak vision and not intimidating slogans.

I am going to remember her words as I navigate the aftermath of this crime: the grief, the anger, the politics, and the rhetoric. There are people on both sides who will use this tragedy to manufacture more misery. I can use Rabbi Blank’s wisdom to discern the difference between a “leader” who is using the tension for profit, and a true leader, who points the way out of this terrible wilderness.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Be very careful about buying anyone’s rhetoric. And should someone offer a clear path to justice and peace, may we recognize him or her and put our support behind them.

I am proud to have been a classmate of Rabbi Blank’s at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and in Los Angeles. I am overjoyed to see a colleague shine so bright as a teacher of Torah and a leader of our people.


Full of Grief and Dread

November 18, 2014
Har Nof

The Har Nof neighborhood, seen from nearby Yad Vashem, by JuanDev

I worked late last night, and I was typing away at my table when the news came: during morning prayers at a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem, two young Palestinian men (allegedly, men who worked in the neighborhood) entered and wounded several people, murdering four. The police arrived and had a gun battle with the attackers in the synagogue. The attackers died, and at least one policeman was severely wounded.

Photos from the synagogue show pools of blood on the floor, slowly soaking into prayer books, tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin.

As the news went out, celebrations began in Palestinian neighborhoods. Hamas put a cartoon on its website, celebrating the murders. Prime Minister Abbas condemned the killings but wrapped his condemnation in generalities that suggested Israelis were to blame for incitements at the Temple Mount and elsewhere.

Things readers who have not lived in Israel may want to know, to understand the news reports:

  • Har Nof is a neighborhood in West Jerusalem. It is well to the west of the so-called Green Line, the 1947 boundary established by the United Nations. In other words, in no way, shape or form is it a “settlement,” or in an area occupied by Israel since 1967. It is one of the last places I would have expected such a terror attack.
  • The synagogue on Agasi St. is like many other such places around the city. About thirty people gathered there at 7am for the morning prayers. Most were men who are devoted enough that they make it there every morning to pray, who shared the kinship of that particular minyan. Perhaps someone slightly less religious was there to fulfill the mitzvah of saying kaddish for a close relative.
  • Prayer was underway. The participants were deep into the service, eyes lowered over the prayer books, swaying gently, murmuring the words, concentrating on saying the prayers. Their left arms were wrapped in tefillin, their shawls were wrapped around their shoulders or over their heads. Those deepest in prayer were likely completely unaware of their surroundings, wrapped tightly in their prayer garb, all senses occupied with the service.
  • Two men entered the synagogue with meat cleavers and a gun. They hacked at the group of people who were deep in prayer. The attack was so savage that five people are dead now, not counting the attackers themselves, and many others are in the hospital. The synagogue floor runs with blood.
  • PM Netanyahu and his cabinet are looking into ways to defend against more such attacks. This attack will not accomplish anything other than to make matters worse.  Life in Israel is about to get more difficult for everyone.
I am full of grief and dread. The grief is for the deaths of Torah scholars, and for one more step away from anything that might be peace. The dread is that it doesn’t matter what Israel is willing to offer, nothing but the annihilation of Israel will satisfy those on the other side. I want to shriek at the people celebrating, “Don’t you realize this is just as bad for you as it is for us?”
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Remembering Rabin

November 6, 2014
Probably the most famous photo of PM Rabin, taken on Sept 13, 1993.

Probably the most famous photo of Prime Minister Rabin, taken on Sept 13, 1993.

This week we observed the 19th yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. I have read several remembrances of him, which I would like to share with you:

“Remembering Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin” on ReformJudaism.org

“Remembering Yitzhak Rabin, 19 Years Later” by Times of Israel blogger Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh.

“For the sake of Zion I will not remain silent,” Remembering Yitzhak Rabin on Food for Mind, Body and Spirit, Rabbi Sharon Sobel’s blog. This post includes a remarkable poem by Rabbi Zoe Klein.

“Choosing Life over Land in Genesis 13 and in Peace Politics: Following Abraham and Remembering Rabin” by Ayala Emmett, in The Jewish Pluralist

 

Also, if there are readers who are thinking, “Who was Yitzhak Rabin?” here is the official biographical material from the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Israel.

 

 


Who Saves a Life, Saves a World

October 22, 2014

Bad news from Jerusalem today: a man in a car mowed down passengers exiting a light rail train. Some were Israeli, some American. A three month old infant is dead. Video makes it clear that this was a deliberate act, not an accident.

Hamas is celebrating, although reports conflict as to whether it has taken credit or not. I do not understand people who celebrate the death of an infant.

On October 1, Ibtisam Rashid was at a checkpoint in Israel, trying to take her 5 year old grandson to a chemotherapy appointment. She had a fatal heart attack and died after being denied crossing.

I lived in Israel before they built the infamous security wall. Buses were bombed regularly. My grammar teacher came to school once after helping to pick up the bodies of schoolchildren whose bus blew up in front of his car.

I do not know the answer to the matzav, the situation. I cannot fathom the pain of the parent whose child was smashed by that car. I cannot fathom the pain of the little boy whose grandmother collapsed at the checkpoint.

This week we read the story of a man named Noach. He received word from God that his family alone was to be saved from the Flood, his family alone out of all those on earth. He followed the directions he received from God: he built the ark, he put the animals on it, he shut the door when it began to rain.

Noach (whose name is related to the word for comfort)  was comfortable with the idea that God had singled out his family for survival. He did not question the idea that others would suffer and perish. He did not ask if innocents might die along with sinners. He shut the door.

Some of our sages point out the contrast between Noach and Abraham. Noach had concern only for God’s command and his family’s well being. Abraham was concerned about the suffering of theoretical innocents, the people he thought might be in Sodom.

Let us not become Noach, concerned only for ourselves. Let none of us, on any side of this conflict, be callous to the suffering of the other. Let us be like our common patriarch Abraham, concerned for more than his own. Let us remember that every death is a tragedy, a whole world lost.

May the day come when all people on all sides can see the humanity of the other.


Reading about Israel and Gaza

August 11, 2014

gaza

Two pieces came across my computer screen yesterday that I think worth sharing with readers who want to understand the situation in Gaza and Israel. One is by an expert on Middle East politics, and it gives a broad view and some background. The other is a first-person, very personal account, a voice that I haven’t heard in all the noise, and that I think should be heard.

First, the broad piece by the expert: this  article in the Washington Post is worth reading if you want to get a handle on the background of the current situation. The author is Dennis Ross, who was chief negotiator for the Clinton Administration and who has worked for the Obama Administration. Pay no attention to the headline; Ross didn’t write it and the person who wrote it apparently didn’t read his article. Ross gives background to the current mess and a fair description of the parties involved. Then he suggests a path towards peace. I am not qualified to judge the latter, but the first part of that article is as reality based as anything I’ve seen.

The second item came my way this week via my colleague Rabbi Mark Hurvitz. I’m sharing it here on my blog because it offers a point of view on this war that has thus far not gotten much attention. It’s not polished, but it is eloquent.

First, I’ll let Rabbi Hurvitz introduce the piece:

While I have never met Mette Hvid Hansen. She lives in Denmark, but also spent some time on Kibbutz Hulda. Mette recently posted this to the Hulda Facebook page. You might want to share it with those who think that all Israelis are “bloodthirsty” and care nothing about their adversaries. She has given me permission to repost it. (Forgive the spelling errors, English is not her 1st language.)
Now, the post by Mette Hvid Hansen:

Yet another weekend ahead of me where I will send my thoughts and prayers to people at war.

My heart breaks whenever I read the horrorfying stories from Gaza – children and civilians trying to escape the bombardments but being held back by hamas – hospitals, mosques and schools are being used as weaponstocks and ramps for firing rockets bringing death and wounds to my friends and their children who must spend most of their time in bombshelters – even when a truce is called.

The “bloodthirsty” Israeli soldiers who are sons and husbands of my girlfriends – some of the soldiers I have known since they were born and all of them are soft,wonderfull young boys – with all the same kind of dreams and hopes that my own son have.

Boys who will protect their families against monsters that appear through tunnels build for some of my taxmoney – tunnels used to kill, maim and kidnap from the kindergartens where the tunnels end

Boys who feel surprice and despair against the society that condems their every step and for whom we almost do not dare show our worry, sorry and pain in public since they are officially named “the bad gys” – Who understands this? – Well I really dont!

I KNOW that these boys will stay scarred forever for what they have to go through and what they have to do – hamas knows this too and use the fact that these boys have the same way to see life as you and I – every life counts – not as dead people on horrifying pictures but as living people who can help build a society where peace and calm rules…

Those boys have a very short time – seconds to decide weather they can help the old wounded man on their parth or if he is just another dirty trick to collect as many people around him as possible before he push the botton on the explosivebelt
Those boys must decide if they can help the two children standing crying out for help – on a balcony – and when they decide to help they all get killed instantly when they step into the boobytrapped house.


Those boys have all but a few seconds to decide – boys at the age of 18-20 years – who would prefer sitting at the beach, play the computer – watch girls (or other boys – in israel homoseksuality is allowed..) or have a drink.

Im grieving for all the dead children i Gaza – but Im also grieving for the sons and husbands of my girlfriends – and Im impressed that they are able to stay focused.


I think of all my friends that miss their husband and sons and the fact that their whole life can be changed by a tekst or phonecall.

I think of all my friends who spend most of their time in bombshelters.

I think of my friends who have children and grandchildren who never slept in their own bed becourse of the risk of rockets and where the alarm can make the difference between life or death – within maybe 30 seconds – same amount of time if you are 6 or 90 years old 


I think of how they all must feel when they see how they are judged from the fact that their country decided to spend millions of dollars to protect its people – and now have to read that it would be more “fair” if more of them would die – who of my friends would have to die to make all this more fair so that all of us – here in Europe could feel better about my friends sons and husbands wiping out hamas? 

The hamas that wont recognize Israel and actively work on the destruction of Israel?
The hamas where proof have shown that they use civilians and children as human shields in front of the schools,hospitals and mosques where they hide and use their weapons ?
The hamas that do not recognize basic womans rights?
The hamas who executes people on the street without any kind of trial and many time just on a suspicion?
The hamas who spend my taxmoney to build huge and long tunnels – each tunnel could have finansed maybe 19 medical clinics?
The hamas who wants to kill so bad that they dont care if their rockets backfire and hit their own hospitals, schools and powerstations and thereby kill they own people(this is also proven) ?

The sons and husbands of my friends fight against all that – they DONT fight the children that are used by hamas OR the civilians who are theatend by hamas – all they want is to return to my girlfriends and their families and work for peace and calm..

Hoping for a shabbat shalom for all
Mette/Tikva

—————–
You’re welcome to discuss these articles in the comments – that would be great. Disagree and/or discuss all you want, but please remember that there are other human beings behind your computer screen. Please choose both your words and their tone accordingly.

The Mitzvah of Rebuke

August 2, 2014

"Hatred" by Ben Slow, photographed by MsSaraKelly

“Hatred” by Ben Slow, photographed by MsSaraKelly

If someone is misbehaving, it is a mitzvah (a commandment) to rebuke them. We get this from the Holiness Code in Leviticus:

.לֹא-תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ; הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ, וְלֹא-תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, and you will surely rebuke him, and you will not bear a sin because of him.  (Leviticus 19:17)

There are three parts to the commandment: (1) don’t hate other people (2) definitely tell them if they are doing wrong and (3) don’t bring sin upon yourself in the process.

We Jews excel at part (2) of that commandment. We love to tell other people when we think they are in error. However, lately we in the Diaspora been doing a lousy job of (1) and (3).

For the past three weeks on various social media, Diaspora Jews have melted down into a frenzy of rebuke. Pro-Israel, anti-Israel, anti-Israel but anti-Hamas, pro-Palestinian but anti-Hamas, seeking one state, seeking two states, words flying like shrapnel. The name-calling is out of hand, with Jews hurling words like “Nazi” and “traitor” at one another. In some cases, these are educated Jews, too: people who should know how to conduct an argument for the sake of heaven. Our tone has too often grown hateful. If we do not yet actually hate other Jews, we are paving the way there with these words that dehumanize the other. 

And then there is the matter of “don’t bear a sin because of him.” Rebuking another person in public, causing them shame (or hoping to shame them) is a sin. In Bava Metzia 58b, the rabbis liken public shaming to murder. Immediately after that passage, they tell the story of Akhnai’s Oven, in which the rabbis cause Rabbi Eliezer shame, with tragic results.

Talking about others is lashon haraevil speech, another sin. It is not simply gossip (rechilut) or spreading lies, but also speech that damages another’s reputation. Saying about another person, “She is a traitor to the Jewish people” or “He is a bloodthirsty murderer” when your talk about it does not have an important purpose (to save a life, for instance) is lashon hara. One may say, “well, that’s my opinion” but the point is, we are forbidden to spread around opinions like that. If you have a problem with a person, talk to him directly and privately.

With the backdrop of the dreadful situation in Israel and Gaza, emotions run high. However, we can and must control our tongues and our keyboards. Hateful speech does not help Israel, and it does not help the innocent victims of violence. Statement of the facts, pointing to sources, giving tzedakah: those things can help. Organizing peaceful demonstrations can help. Letters, emails and phone calls to powerful people can help. And yes, some situations may call for proper rebuke: rebuke that happens quietly, without name-calling, that asks for specific changes in behavior.

This week, when we observe Tisha B’Av and remember the great disasters in our history, our teachers will remind us that the Temple was lost because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred.  

My brothers and sisters, we in the Diaspora cannot afford to scream at one another on Twitter and facebook. We cannot afford to hurl hateful speech at one another. We have seen in the past what comes of this behavior. 

Our Israeli cousins are running for shelters, IDF soldiers are dying and wounded, and civilians are dying in Gaza (never mind for a moment whose fault, people are dying.) Around the world, we are seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism that smells sickeningly like the 1930′s in Europe. Mobs are marching in Europe, chanting “Death to the Jews.” Jews were beaten in the street in Canada. Canada! 

Now is a time for purposeful action and purposeful speech. There is indeed much that must be done. It can be done without name-calling and without public screaming matches. No matter what your opinion, those are wastes of valuable time and energy, and they carry the seeds of tragedy.

Ribbono shel olam, You who know our inmost hearts, help us to act and to speak with holy purpose. 


Weather and the Jewish Year

July 31, 2014

 

A map of the world, centered on Jerusalem, c. 1260 CE.

A map of the world, centered on Jerusalem, c. 1260 CE.

Queentimely wrote in response to a recent post:

I don’t know how many readers you have in the southern hemisphere, but it might interest those in the north to be reminded that it’s actually winter here — cold (in Melbourne terms), blowy and dark early.

Excellent point!

One of the quirks of living in California is that the climate and the seasons match that of Israel pretty closely. That’s very handy for us, because the Jewish calendar is rooted in the seasons of the Land of Israel. I am prone to forget that for most of the world, it isn’t so tidy.

For instance, Jews worldwide begin praying for rain on Shemini Atzeret, the day after the close of Sukkot. In both Israel and California, that day falls at about the earliest date one might reasonably expect some rain. Therefore the weather is perfect for eating and sleeping in the sukkah: not too hot, not too cold, and certainly not too wet. However, if one is celebrating in Minnesota or in Sweden, the sukkah is apt to be downright soggy and cold, because autumn had already arrived weeks before.

The same goes for Passover: it’s a spring holiday, hence the parsley and the egg on the seder plate. However, the 14th of Nisan may be a bit early for spring in some northern climes. In the southern hemisphere, Jews sit around the seder table in the fall.

So why not simply attune the holidays to the local climate? Long ago, when Jews were forced into Diaspora, outside the Land of Israel, we decided to keep our calendars aligned with that of our homeland. So Jews in Spain, Jews in South America, Jews in Australia, and Jews in Finland keep the same calendar, no matter what the weather is doing in their local neighborhoods. Just as we face towards Jerusalem for prayer, we align the Jewish year with that of the Land of Israel, because it is, and always has been, home.

So, readers: if your climate or seasons are radically different from that of Israel, how does it affect your observance of the calendar? If you have celebrated the Jewish Year in the far North or south of the equator, I hope to hear from you.


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