it eventually sinks in
Updated: 6 hours 27 minutes ago
Over one month ago I attempted, in a measured tone, to caution against the rising tensions in the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama--most immediately in connection to Speaker Boehner's invitation to Bibi to address the U.S. Congress.
In the weeks since, this deeply unfortunate episode in the Israel-US alliance has only worsened. Each day there are verbal shots fired across divide that have the only effect of exacerbating a deterioration in relations that, in the grand scheme of things, is fundamentally unhelpful.
I'm of the view that both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are to blame for this ongoing feud which lacks discipline, weakens each of them in the broader public eye, and puts at risk an alliance that is critical to the broader war against extremism and totalitarianism in the region.
And as an American Jewish leader, I am simply embarrassed that both my President and the Prime Minister of the nation that is central to my Jewish life and identity can't exercise the restraint necessary to overcome this moment, sublimate their bruised egos, and carry on their disagreement in a more productive way.
As some of the excellent reporting coming from Left, Center and Right sources reveals, anyone following this closely understands that the complexity of these matters and the vast disagreement among American and Israeli leaders and allies of Barack and Bibi are hardly easily summarized in the sound bites we're subjected to on an hourly basis.
Daily verbal explosions amidst highly sensitive negotiations over Iran's nuclear capability only aid the enemy. It's that basic. And frankly, it's mind-boggling that two very smart men don't get that.
So guys: Knock it off.
Since the speech is set to take place in Congress, I'd recommend that the President issue a statement.
"While I have obviously found the invitation to be a breach of diplomatic protocol--and I have expressed my objection to Speaker Boehner--I will be listening to the Prime Minister from the White House. My attendance at the House or a meeting with Bibi so close to the Israeli elections would not be appropriate. But as we all know, international negotiations with Iran are ongoing and Israel is among America's strongest allies in this process. Despite this recent spasm of public disagreement, we remain united in our goal to prevent a dangerously nuclear Iran."
Someone has to be the grown-up here. And since the talk is on our turf, hospitality requires graciousness, even in the face of insult.
Get over yourselves, guys. It's never as much about you as you think it is.
Tel Aviv Graffiti. Two-State Solution Toward the TardisI'm back from Israel after a ten day trip with more than 30 members of our Brooklyn community and this affords an opportunity to share a few thoughts about the experience. Our group ranged in age from mid-twenties to 80 years old, including first-timers and the well-traveled; Jews and Gentiles; a mix of political opinions.
Our goal was to explore ancient history and contemporary life; Palestinians, Bedouins and Arab Israelis; security; art, culture and food. Always food. A man's got to eat.
We didn't seek to learn it all; we knew we'd never see it all; it was designed to begin the journey for some and pique new interests for others. Our tour provider, Israel Experts, and tour guide, Muki Jankelowitz, were excellent.
The reflections below are mine, not theirs.
1. "Beyond the headlines," Israel remains a dynamic, complex, rich and open society. Full stop. One takes for granted, both in the broader region that is falling apart in real time and in the Jewish historical context of a diaspora existence of nearly 2000 years which ultimately in the late 19th century produced Zionism, just what an extraordinary achievement the Jewish state is. Far from perfect--a quality or character flaw that virtually every Israeli will own up to--there remains a kinetic energy to daily life where change is a constant and the very fact of that equation yields a remarkable and admirable productivity.
2. Israel has problems. Many of them. First, there is the constant threat to security and a war around every corner. 1948. 1953. 1967. 1973. 1982. 1987. 2000. 2006. 2008. 2012. 2014. Terror threats throughout. And this timeline ignores 1880-1945, one of the darkest eras for world Jewry when one considers dislocation and mass death. That the Jewish people has succeeded at building a home in the traumatizing, contextual cloud of the past century ought to be unfathomable. That it has done so without perfection or an as yet realized peace with its neighbors and those with whom it shares a land is, however, understandable. Israel has problems, to be sure. One of them is that there are still active enemies who would deny its very existence. Not realizing that is to live under a dangerous illusion. Behind the smoke and partisan and political machinations of the Washington-Jerusalem rift we are currently embroiled in, a nuclear Iran IS an existential threat. (My personal view is that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ambassador Ron Dermer were wrong to offend the White House at the instigation of Speaker Boehner, who is cravenly trying to wrack up points for Republicans. To me it has clearly backfired.) A destabilized Syria, a gravely concerned Jordan, a devoured Iraq--these only add potential harm to the mix.
Oslo, which is to say the framework of "two states for two people" are words barely spoken. Neither a trained diplomat nor an historian, I can't judge whether or not Oslo is dead. But it sure seems close. While it is unquestionably true that an expanded and permanent settlement enterprise in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria and a decades-in-the-making rightward shift in Israeli society has undermined confidence in the two-state solution (the most recent and clear example being the current Israeli government) so too has the ongoing Palestinian intransigence and the equally unquestionably true damage done by the waves of terror in the 1990s and early 2000s. There is only so much innocent blood a society will tolerate before it builds its fences. And the separation barrier/electrical fence/wall has justifiably saved lives. The daily hardships caused to Palestinians is, in the eyes of most Israelis, the price one pays for refusing to accept Israel's right to exist. Terror and a refusal to compromise in negotiations has proven to be the Palestinians worst political calculations. Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian street bear equal responsibility for the current state of affairs.
We did walks around East Jerusalem with Ir Amim and visited the Gaza border, including the Kerem Shalom junction at the Israel-Egypt-Gaza border, where even during the war last summer, Israel continued to send in food and humanitarian aid. We spent a morning in a deeply impoverished Bedouin development town in the Negev; drove the length of the Gaza Strip with many stops along the way; spent an afternoon in Kiryat Shmona on the Lebanese border and the Gadot lookout in the Golan Heights. Neither fully exhaustive nor comprehensive and obviously from the Israeli perspective, this selection of sites over a ten day trip was an important part of the conversation. We tried to frame issues like water supply and borders and terror and agriculture and industry and the mundane issues of trying to live one's life in a normal way--dealing with basic things like education, economic empowerment, and the relative benefits of freedom.
Beyond Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, Bedouins, Druze, and the broader region, we tried, however cursory, to look at issues like income inequality, affordable housing, education, city planning, organized crime, human trafficking, ecology, desalinization, public health, and the upcoming elections.
Eyes Wide Open.
We also dug deep into Jewish history--from the north to the south with Jerusalem in-between; spent an inspiring morning with the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem, whose coexistence and bilingual framework for Israel and Arab families is nothing short of totally hopeful; heard about a new JDC community development and empowerment program for at-risk youth in Kiryat Shmona; got a personal tour of the Jaffa mosque from a Sufi Muslim married to an Israeli Jew; talked strategy in Ben Gurion's house and the Rabin Museum; read poetry in Bialik's house; sampled Galilean wine and ate greasy schnitzel in a strip mall in Akko. Yes, we went to Yad Vashem and three cemeteries: Har Herzl, Trumpeldor, and the Kinneret Cemetery. Even the dead spoke to us.
And of course, a few broke away and ate the roasted cauliflower sandwich at Miznon.
Two years ago we went to Jericho, but didn't this time. Next time I'd like to include Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron and the Gush block. You can't do it all every time.
I do these trips because in a world of a radically decreasing attention span and very little appreciation and patience for history, it's important to walk people through the beginning parts of their engagement with a remarkable nation that with all its troubles remains exceptional--if only for its mere existence. A few op-eds, some Facebook debates or a Twitter feed does not make an opinion. However humbling oneself, in real time (for ten days) to the ongoing grind and complex parameters of a country's triumphs and tribulations, makes for a deeper and richer engagement.
Early each morning I went on beautiful runs in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and as I saw the sun rise and the weather teetered from calm to cool, I was reminded, as just a man with his feet on the ground, how lucky we are to be alive.
On one such run I thought of my dear friend Sadek, a Palestinian social worker in the Israeli prison system, he is a lifelong East Jerusalem resident, lover of and builder of peace. These days, because of a spate of random and racist assaults on Arabs and Druze in and around the country, he walks with a pepper spray for self-protection. We met over coffee at the Jerusalem Cinemateque, traded family pictures and looked back on our twenty-five year friendship that is always strong, even if our nations are not at peace. Mount Zion was awash in evening light. Cars slowly climbed the hills. His garden in Jericho is lush. He bought a new apartment in Jerusalem. He lives his life with dignity and waits, patiently, if painfully, for the "peace of the brave."
Our last day, on the drive down from north to Tel Aviv, we stopped at the Ghetto Fighter's Kibbutz where we learned about an innovative program in Arab-Jewish co-existence rooted in the lessons of the Holocaust. Our guide that day was a native of Haifa, whose parents came to Israel in 1933 from Wurzberg, Germany. "That's Yehuda Amichai's hometown!" trying to impress. "His mother was my my mother's kindergarten teacher," she told me.
And so, inspired by an encounter at the socialist agricultural settlement established by Holocaust survivors that now specializes in historical memory, education and coexistence, I close with the master himself, Yehuda Amichai, whose "Two Songs of Peace" summarizes well, for now, a certain sentiment that pervaded much of the trip.
"And I am now in the middle of my life.
The time when one begins to collect
Facts, and many details,
And exact maps
Of a country we shall never occupy
And of an enemy and lover
Whose borders we shall never cross."
Of course, never say never. Like the anthem says, one must hope.
Two things disturb me about House Speaker John Boehner's decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress: that he didn't clear the invitation with the White House and that Bibi accepted it.
It should be no surprise to anyone anymore that Mr. Boehner pulled a stunt like this as Washington sinks lower and lower into the great sandbox fights of our most petulantly partisan and child-like civic selves. Since 2008, Republican strategy has been quite clear in its decisions to block the President's path whenever possible and to execute a scorched earth political plan often rooted in mockery, denigration, and on more than one occasion, racism.
And while it is no secret that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have a terrible relationship, fraught with tension and disagreement not only about Iran but about Israeli settlement policy, the Israeli Prime Minister's decision to take the American political bait in the midst of his own election campaign in Israel where numbers show he may actually lose, is a cynical move and frankly, embarrassing.
Imagine if you will the maturity of a nation's leader having the self-discipline to simply say, "Many of you are aware of the differences between President Obama and myself on various matters but it would be inappropriate of me to accept an invitation to speak to Congress without being invited to do so by the President of the United States. Our nations are the deepest of friends and united in our fight against terror and extremism. And though we have our differences, I intend, as I often do, to share them directly with the President and not insert myself into divisive partisan politics. After all, Israel has no shortage of the politics of division itself! I have many friends in the Republican and Democratic parties whose unwavering support for Israel is deeply appreciated by myself and my nation and I would never want to unnecessarily disturb that relationship for temporary political gain."
Alas, that is not the case.
The challenges we are confronting today are enormous and dangerous. Disagreements among allies is not unusual or new--certainly to the America-Israel relationship. Regarding Iran, turmoil and instability in the Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond; the rise of Muslim terror threats in Europe coinciding with Far Right extremism there as well, and the ongoing lack of resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--there is both room for disagreement while remaining united over the general direction of the alliance.
That Mr. Boehner and Mr. Netanyahu would openly ally themselves against the President strikes me as a dangerous precedent and signals both to our other trusted allies and more significant, our enemies, that this division and weakness can only further be exploited by those who would seek to do us maximal damage.
The first time I ever got behind the wheel of a car on the highway was on my way to my grandma's funeral. Grandma had died, six years after her beloved Charlie, the heroic grandfather doctor of my youth, a man (if not known or conjured by John McPhee as one of his "heirs of general practice") true and good. Grandma had despaired after Grandpa died. At his cold, snow covered grave on a February afternoon in 1973, she threw her body to the ground only to be pulled back by her sons, her heirs, and then, haltingly set about to remove herself from the world until she figured out that an assiduously waged campaign of low-grade depression could drain of her of the essentialness, the immediacy, of the will to live.
She died quietly, with others of her generation already gone, with the many mysteries of her life and how it unfolded, from there, in Russia (then still unlocked from the shackles of fascism and communism and anti-Semitism and dislocation and war and migration and settlement and citizenship and the acquisition of an identity necessary yet not quite chosen) to Milwaukee: hospitable--yet foreign in its banal, benign blandness.
Not for me, of course. I loved my childhood. An American boy, I was infatuated with my busty Jewish bubbe; enamored of my dashing, virulent, healing grandpa; enlivened by sport; and aroused by the redolence of our suburban yard, teeming with the arboreal urgency of possibility and renewal.
Grandpa's death both devastated and shaped me. It's when I first saw my father cry. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Bernstein, upon my return to class after his funeral, read his Jewish Chronicle obituary aloud to the class in order to demonstrate Grandpa's mythic greatness and model to my fellow students that we support one another in times of need. The pedagogy of Jewish death and mourning, brought to bear into the public school classroom. We had arrived. Our customs as a people were on the way to being Ever-Present. Grandma, having thrown herself down to that ice cold, cold ground stayed with me like a song, part Yiddish folk tale, party Johnny Cash. She wailed and mourned.
In the six years between their deaths, Mom and Dad got divorced; Dad lost his job; Mom re-married; Dad, too late, expressed regret; and I had found out about books, girls, basketball, politics, weed and Richard Pryor. A lot goes on, I guess.
As it was, we drove divided to the cemetery on the south side and because I needed some road work behind the wheel. I drove Dad's 74 red Chevy Impala convertible (top down, heater blasting) to the Second Home Cemetery which required for this novice in mourning on ramps, off ramps, signaling, merging and, a gesture I would never quite learn to moderate to this very day, acceleration. It seemed like just a moment before I was in the back of that car on a warm summer night, eating custard on the way home from a ballgame, stars flying by overhead like a warp-speed observatory show, luxuriating in the tender innocence of the father-son dyad. A flash-forward to the cold, cracked concrete, salt-covered highway barriers and ugly orange collision cones, signifying fallibility, boundaries and danger.
Death, the ineffable expression of finality, our guide.
But Goddamnit if I didn't want to drive that car. And Dad gave me the keys as much to teach me as a relinquishment of the throne. Unspoken: Not a usurpation but a betrothal. A marriage to the story of our people, he seemed to say, which has eluded me in my quest to escape the mad, red-hot hatred of anti-Semitism, I give to you. I couldn't tell the story, son, he seemed to say, passive, in silence beside me. But you can.
So I did.
And so I have. Merged into family. Identity. History. When I played point guard in grade school and high school, Dad would sit in the stands and shout at me, "Drive, son, drive!"
Ah, it's all metaphor, isn't it? The ancestors; the parents; the keys to the car or the castle.
And who are we but those who ask, who dare to question, who take the risk of peeling back the layers to understand.
There is of course, a danger to the inquiry. "You peel back an onion too far, son," my dad said, "And you're left with nothing."
So you have to eat. To sustain yourself. I get that.
At Benji's in Milwaukee it was corned beef; hopple-popple; chocolate phosphates. I'd sit there with Dad in the early divorce years, the Bucks game on the tv screen above the counter, Benji's goyim slicing meat in the ways of our people, Dad kibbutzing his cousins who were also there, consuming the peculiar culinary identity of our European forbearers.
Today in New York, in the comfort-countered home base of Russ and Daughters, it's mostly fish and eggs. But as equally sustaining as the food is, there is another element: the reification of Jewish migratory narrative; the celebration of hospitality; the humorous, self-reflective, honoring of the past in the present; and the very act of being, the paradox of the permanence of change.
My lunchmate was talking about the Holocaust and DP camps; about Yiddish and German and English; about Lodz and Munich and New York and Israel. And I was talking about Israel and New York, and White and Black, Rich and Poor, and Justice. And underneath the table, my foot was on fire, pedal to the metal, going full speed ahead toward understanding.
Like even in mourning, you can drive to a funeral in a convertible: wind in your face; brisk and cold; and then, in an instant, you can do what you've never done before which is to merge into life.
Merge into life.
I imagine if I had a chance to talk to Edgar this week, he'd be very practical about everything. And brutally honest.
He'd see and say that political constructs aren't necessarily either/or but both/and in the events playing out in the world. From New York to Paris to Jerusalem.
He'd say that the NYPD have a right to be pissed about being targeted by angry citizens but that certain racist and rogue cops and overly excessive stop and frisk policies need to be curtailed. He'd say that for the sake of the city, Mayor deBlasio and the NYPD need to stop fighting NOW, sit down, and make peace. (After all, given the horrific events in Paris of the past few days--the abhorrent attack on Charlie Hebdo followed by the horrifying anti-Semitic outrage on Paris Jews--a unity between City Hall and the One Police Plaza is absolutely essential for the safety of New York.)
He'd say that one of the reasons he served as he did as President of the World Jewish Congress had to do with the undeniable reality that in many parts of the world today, Jews are still in danger. And he'd be fearless in using his considerable power, wealth, incisive wit and pragmatic sensibility to speak out, persuade, and do whatever was in his strength to save Jewish lives. And in the same conversation, he'd say that it actually is possible to find the expansion of Jihadi movements beyond dangerous, necessary to confront; but that didn't mean that one couldn't also be critical of Israeli governments and settlement policy. That the debate about what was right and wrong in the world didn't mean that if you opposed the spread of violent and radical Islam, it meant by necessity that the movement for a greater Israel was correct. You could believe both/and.
But as I stood above his grave on the one year anniversary of his death this week; as a steady snow lightened the weight of the granite stone that bore his name; as I remembered back to burying my friend last year beneath a heavy December rain while a flock of Canada geese flew mercifully overhead, I remembered with pain and sadness that his voice--his moral voice, his playful voice, his fearless voice--could only be as discernible as his very name below, obscured by the light film of frozen condensation, near, approximate, but no longer plainly known.
The evils bastards who try to kill free expression and murder innocent Jews shopping for Shabbat in Paris is categorically evil. Period. And one can justifiably say that the attempt by Jihadists to draw Israel in to their orbit, to triangulate the world against the Jews because, according to their twisted logic, the Jihadists wouldn't be so angry if Israel didn't exist as the exemplar and perpetrator-extraordinaire of Western colonialist values, is the worst kind of reasoning imaginable. Transparent in its pure, unadulterated hatred of the Jew, it can and ought to be rejected. Categorically and with confidence.
And of course, no sooner would one do that than some other partisan, would draw a similar inference and we'd be back at the barricades again, alas, fighting the battle for what is true and just.
We are weary, God. Let us rest.
"God?" I'd hear my friend Edgar say. "By God you mean who exactly?" And he'd be right. There is just too much God wrapped up in all this and it presses against the limits of, if not reason, than what any sane person can tolerate. Jihadists crying out their understanding of God's name spray machine gun fire into newsrooms and onto sidewalks and inside grocery stores where others, seeking to observe their God's Sabbath, buy food to bless and eat. And while being held hostage, others offer prayers in God's name that the hostages should remain safe but no sooner are those prayers uttered than other prayers are necessitated because the first set of prayers didn't work, the murders occurred, and now God's name is called upon to offer comfort. Comfort for the families of Jihadists whose sons lost their way; comfort for the families of innocent writers and innocent Jews who prayers didn't protect.
Perhaps we are not the only ones who are weary, God. Perhaps you are, too.
Our Torah teaches us this week the following: "And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them."
This part of the Torah has always confounded me. It seems to imply that here in Exodus, at the beginning of the narrative of an enslaved people, that only after some of the most intense expressions of human suffering did God hear, remember and then--take cognizance? He didn't immediately throw plagues, or thunder, or cause an earthquake. He didn't even kick anybody's ass. He took cognizance. The passivity inherent in this construct upsets me greatly. It seems to make us God's plaything, an object of reflection until a plan can be put into place to actually save us.
I find that the commentators come up short here. God's taking note of the suffering at this juncture seems to be the activating of an earlier promise to redeem Israel. But it is still Moses' lesson to learn, in the next chapter, that the God of Existence ("I am that I am") is the closest approximation to God's power that Moses will get in order to convince Moses that Israel's redemption relies as much upon Moses as it does on God.
Or, as Edgar used to like to say, "I don't know about God; but I like the term "Godliness."
It will be up to Moses to answer the call; to "go down, way down, in Egypt land;" it will have to be Moses as an agent of freedom; justice; righteousness; compassion--to be, by necessity, the animating and the closest approximation to the manifestations of God's will that we can conjure through the fog of suffering and strife and terror and war.
Cassuto argued that the notion of God "taking note" is exactly similar to God taking note before Sodom and Gomorroh. Thinking aloud in Genesis 18:21, God says of Abraham that he can be counted upon to "do righteousness and justice." And he does, doesn't he? After all, it's Abraham who speaks up, bargains, and makes sure that the innocent don't die in God's path of rageful, Divine destruction.
In other words, pray with all your might but it's still up to us.
I demand that the Mayor and the Police here in New York City make peace--NOW!--before we make ourselves vulnerable to more attacks from those maniacs who would exploit division for an opportunity to do violence.
I am grateful for the Paris police in hunting down the bastards who killed innocent people but they need to do a much better job fighting terror and anti-Semitism in France. This shouldn't have happened! And tonight Paris Jews didn't worship in the Grand Synagogue for Shabbat for the first time since World War Two?! This is outrageous. Truly.
I want reasonable and peace-loving Israelis and Palestinians who know in their hearts that peace is the only way to live together to be strengthened in all that they do.
And in the spirit of my friend, my mentor, my teacher Edgar, on this one year of anniversary of missing your voice, I pray: for the strength to endure; to question my own assumptions and grow; to speak the truth as I see it; and to not only remember the covenant, not only take note of it, but to use all my heart and soul and strength to build a world of justice and peace.
After a year in which peace talks collapsed between Israelis and Palestinians; the Gaza War of the summer further isolated Israel from world opinion while confirming that Hamas and an ever-radicalizing Islamist movement rejects dialogue and favors ongoing terror; the growing rift between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu burst into the open; the continued strengthening of ISIS and its particularly virulent and murderous expression of fundamentalist Islam caused increased concern; an increase in racist attacks against Israeli Arabs brought shame; Israeli settlement policy continued unabated; increased terror incidents and random acts of murder against Israeli civilians enraged; and a general sense in the broader Israeli population that the basic services of the government--the economy, infrastructure, housing, education and health care--were not being met as well as they should be, topped off by the divisive "nation-state" measures encoding Jewishness over democracy in the Jewish state, it seems appropriate that Israel's Knesset dissolved itself and decided to head to new elections.
American Jews, who often sit at a considerable distance and judge Israel without ever having to really live in the shoes of Israelis -- a region unlike anything within North American borders (though in a post-9-11 world those borders are shrinking, aren't they?) -- would do well to roll up their sleeves, follow the news closely, and even better, hop on a plane and go talk to Israelis. See things up close.
One could argue that this is the most critically important election in Israel's history since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Just as Rabin's murder set into motion certain forces that maintain the agenda in Israel to this day, the current dissolution of this year's Knesset is a chance for Israelis, should they dare, to choose a new direction.
I'd like to see them choose democracy. This is actually eminently achievable. It requires a coalition of the Center, the Left, some willing Center-Right members of Knesset, at least one ultra-religious Israeli party (Shas, United Torah Judaism) and the Arab parties.
Impossible, you say? Could it be more "impossible" than the lack of progress we are currently witnessing?
Unworkable, you say? Could it be more "unworkable" than what we now have?
If, as Israel's Declaration of Independence originally stated, the Jewish state is to "ensure complete equality of political and social rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex," than what is the problem? The foundation exists for a Jewish and democratic state, for equal rights before the law, and for the opportunity, for those Israelis of good will--Jewish and Arab Israelis and--to find a way to live together in peace.
It's an election made to call everyone's bluff:
The Left can't govern with strength?
The Right can't tolerate democratic rights?
The Arabs can't accept citizenship with minority rights?
The Ultra-Religious can't accept the reality of the contemporary world with innovations like secular education, equal rights for women, some form of mandatory service beyond the house of study?
If there is not a parliamentary majority of at least 61 Israelis who cannot line up behind the reality that the way forward for a democratic Israel is a majority of diverse Israelis committed to finding a way to live together, now, than these indeed are dark days.
To somehow believe that this is not possible flies in the face of history. Israel remains for me one of the great, unimaginable miracles of the twentieth century. What small, far-flung, persecuted but determined nation builds itself a state, reclaims its national homeland, revives its language, and creates, in less than a century, one of the most vibrant, creative, economies and democracies the world has ever known? Who does that?
This is not apologist writing for all you cynics out there. This is pride in the unparalelled uniqueness of the Jewish people, which, while it has its own terrible, dark forces it is obligated to tame, prosecute and mend, still stands as a state whose good far outweighs the bad.
I don't live in Israel and I don't vote there. But as an American Jew, a Zionist, frequent guest in the country, a man whose heart bleeds for peace and co-existence, and a rabid fan of the good Jews can do, I'm cheering like hell from the sidelines.
It is interesting to think of Jacob wrestling the angel on the banks of the Jabbok River, moments before meeting his sibling rival Esau (from whom he wrangled birthright and blessing) in the context of our nation's coming to terms with issues of race, violence and the law in the era of Ferguson & Michael Brown and Staten Island & Eric Garner.
Jacob, the dweller in tents, as a lad; Esau, the man of the field. The privileged white child of the manor and the slave, the toiler, the real builder of a nation.
Jacob, the kid from a good neighborhood, sound schools, college and workforce bound; Esau, dodging bullets and mired in poverty, suspicious and always suspected.
Jacob behind the invisible gilded walls of power where it's not even necessary to ask for protection; Esau, who in the wrestling, can't breathe. Can't breathe. Can't breathe.
In from the fields in the heat of the day. Exhausted. Spent. In need of a bowl of lentils. The tradition often credits Jacob for his cleverness in discerning that Esau was not of the moral stature to lead the covenanted people of the God of Abraham and Isaac. But turn the narrative on its head and it becomes a tale of exploitation: the starving manual laborer who would be satisfied for a crust of bread, a bowl of soup, and in his haste with the cards stacked against him trades away an unseen future for the immediacy of sustenance and temporary relief.
Yesterday I took a ride around Brooklyn with some friends. We began in the bricked and brownstoned order of Park Slope; rolled into Gowanus, Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg, ending up back in Crown Heights for a beer. The admirably singular growth, creativity, and vibrancy of gentrification were everywhere to be seen and, in real time, were gestating social and economic challenges that ought to occupy our imagination and devotion for a generation.
Education. Health-Care. Housing. Work. Like words of Torah, as the Sages say: Each cried out, "Interpret me!" Meaning: Deal with the issues. Create solutions. Fulfill the covenant of our own national sacred scripture, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
I see my doctor in an office tour across the street from Carnegie Hall. It's a very pleasant experience to go there. We speak the same language; we're of the same world. Yesterday I drove for blocks and for the life of me couldn't figure out where one would go if one needed a doctor except a hospital emergency room. The inherent wrong in that was as discernible as the distinction between, well, black and white.
If you drive into the Gowanus from Third Street, just after Staples and Pep Boys, the new Whole Foods comes into view. Solar powered parking lamps and wind turbines tower over a lot filled with large, new, well-fueled cars. Building and development is churning up earth at a rate that far outpaces the herculean effort to dredge the contaminated canal. Among its many deleterious qualities are PCBs, coal-tar wastes, heavy metal and volatile organics.
Volatile organics indeed. The people are restless. As the sun set and day turned to night, helicopters buzzed overhead. Demonstrators blocked roads throughout the city, their bodies wrestling injustice, monitored by a hovering whir above.
Drive down Bond Street from Whole Foods and you'll see an abandoned factory about to be converted into artists lofts and galleries; luxury housing rises on the now fetid waters, but renderings envision redemption. The Ample Hills Ice Cream factory leans into Royal Palms Shuffleboard. One wonders whether or not Brooklyn's ironic brand has lost its way--they say it's now the most expensive place to buy a home in America. What a bowl of lentils goes for on one side of the Jabbok River is not what it goes for on the other.
Across the street from the NYCHA Gowanus Houses, with 1134 apartments and 2836 residents, there's a C-Town, the dystopic meme of Whole Foods. What is sold in the aisles of both stores we ought to know. Food and Justice bring us back to the elemental fundaments of Torah.
To say that we brothers have our issues is an understatement.
Jacob was terrified the night before he met his brother Esau. We don't know what Esau felt but we discern his anger, the pain and suffering of disappointment, of being on the outside, of having had to sell his fate in anguished hunger, of simply never having been equitably, fairly, brought in.
"And Jacob was left alone and there a man wrestled with him until the break of day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day has broken." And Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
It is the greatest challenge of our generation to realize, yet again, that when we wrestle with black and white in this country, that conflict still too often leads to violence, prison, and most tragically, death.
After receiving his blessing from the angel, from his conscience, from his twin Esau, from God--Jacob awakes and prepares to meet his brother. At this stage, Esau had been left alone long enough to create his own life, accumulate his own wealth, and regain the dignity he had lost in selling off his birthright in a moment of vulnerability and need. He had the self-respect of being his own man, in charge of his own destiny. Expecting confrontation, even war, both brothers fall upon one another's neck and as the Torah indicates, embraced and kissed as brothers. Their hunger not for food but for love, sated.
No wrestling. No chokehold. Just two brothers, by a river, reconciled to the possibilities and blessings of life.
My thoughts on the Eric Garner ruling are published over at Tablet Magazine.
You can read the piece here as well.
The Staten Island grand jury decision to not bring to trial an NYPD officer for the chokehold death of Eric Garner is a tragedy on many levels. First, there is the fundamental tragedy of an unarmed black man dying in police custody. Second, there is the additional outrage of each of us bearing witness to Garner’s death. It’s one thing for most people to read in the abstract about the disproportionate number of black men to white men who die in police custody—whether by gunshot or, in the case of Eric Garner, by a banned chokehold. But with social media, we must bear witness and see with our own eyes, hear with our own ears, the pleas of a man pinned to the ground by police exclaiming, “I can’t breathe,” and then watch him pass into convulsions and death. It is gruesome. And it is wrong. It is also unjust.The specter of injustice haunts the entire African American experience in the United States in ways this country’s Jewish community can only attempt to comprehend. For African Americans, brought to this country against their will as slaves, there would be 200 years of slavery followed by 100 years of endemic racism, lynching, and the denial of equal rights. As a nation we are far from the end of this tragic journey with miles to go. And a black man dying in police custody in Staten Island, or getting shot in Ferguson, or a housing project stairwell, is simply and unacceptably, an all too common event.As Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative continually reminds us, racism and poverty go hand in hand for the African American community. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. One of three black men between ages 18 and 30 in America is either in jail, prison, probation, or on parole. Inequality—in schools, in the workplace, in housing, and before the law—is pervasive. America, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” has a long way to go.When facing off with God over the potential miscarriage of justice—innocent lives being swept away with evil in Sodom and Gomorrah—Abraham famously said to God, “Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do justly?”That is to say: we are all meant to be equal before the law. And the required sacred trust required between the citizenry and law enforcement officers—who, make no mistake about it, put their lives on the line to keep us all safe every day—is essential. We all must be held to the same standard of the law in the execution of the law in order for, to paraphrase Abraham, the law of the land to do justly.The chokehold is an illegal move. Even in an NFL marred by its own despicable scandals these days, an illegal move is penalized. It is a tragic perpetuation of the legacy of injustice for blacks in America that a police officer is at the very least not being put to trial, where, with all evidence weighed in the light of day, he can be found innocent or guilty of taking a man’s life. And as Jews, as a people founded on such notions of a Just God being called to justice—and of a Civil Society founded on the idea of Equality Before the Law—we should find today’s ruling a grave injustice.
As a rabbi, Jewish community leader and board member of the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem, I abhor and condemn the vandalism that has yet again attacked this beloved and valued center of education in Israel.
Tonight's news out of Jerusalem has demonstrated that there are those in the Holy City who are insistent on destroying the will of good people to live together in peace. But in the face of such acts, we simply will not back down. Peace and coexistence are the only true path for all of Jerusalem's residents.
As a rabbinic leader in the American Jewish community, committed Zionist, and strong supporter of Israel, I expect Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to strongly condemn this attack and apprehend the perpetrators, punishing them to the fullest extent of the law.
The Hand in Hand School, Israel's only bilingual school system, is a beacon of hope, light and tolerance in a city that is yet again, tragically embroiled in nationalist fervor, acts of hatred, recrimination, violence and murder.
Long admired and praised for the excellent education it provides for Israel and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and its surrounding communities, the Hand in Hand Schools deserves our ongoing support in the face of these acts of hate.
The teachers, parents and children of this remarkable school should know that they are admired and loved for their simple acts of courage--going to school each day, celebrating one another's difference, and through ongoing encounters with each other, building peace and tolerance in a city loved by Jews, Christians and Muslims the world over.
In the face of such acts of hate, we will not waver in our belief that with children learning together and families supporting these efforts, the citizens of Jerusalem and Israel will be shown the way of coexistence and peace. We Jews are the "People of the Book." Violence against schools is an abomination.
We will extinguish the fires of hatred with the ever-renewing spring of education, tolerance and peace.
--Rabbi Andy Bachman
The Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, an enduring American symbol of religious freedom for those inhabitants who established its existence in Massachusetts nearly 400 years ago, were lofty in their aspirations but far from perfect. The meal of Thanksgiving, which they commemorated in 1621, was meant to offer praise to God for the many blessings of their lives. And as we look back, and know our history with open eyes, to be ever mindful that in each generation, we still have some distance to travel.
Though the early decades of Plymouth Plantation included a number of fortuitous alliances as well as violent skirmishes with Native tribes, the famous meal shared between Natives and Pilgrims became, ultimately, the American institution known as Thanksgiving. That was then and this is now, a considerable distance from crowded, clouded with fossil fuel hazed highways, parades swollen with cartoon floats, nachos drenched in squeeze-cheese and pickled jalapeños consumed during breaks in bone-crushing football games, those early meals had vision. Perhaps then they could even see a reality far beyond what they knew of the prosaic day-to-day: they conjured Jerusalem.
And so it was for the authors of the Plymouth Sabbath School Hymnal, published in Brooklyn in 1858, more than two hundred years removed from Plymouth in 1620, this imagined Jerusalem was, in its own way, far away from the trouble and torture of their (and our) mundane existence. Yet its allure was so dear as to be near and beloved. "Jerusalem! my glorious home. Name ever dear to me! When shall my labors have an end, in joy and peace and thee! When shall these eyes, thy heaven built walls, and pearly gates behold? Thy bulwarks with salvation strong, and streets of shining gold?"
The early Pilgrims were Calvinists, strict in their enduring faith. The first pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn was Henry Ward Beecher, a descendent of Calvinists and fierce abolitionist, who would have found the Pilgrims' yearning toward Jerusalem 200 years earlier to be totally intolerable. Though make no mistake: he yearned himself--just in the language and in the time and in the historical framework that was more suited to his generation. "There happier bowers than Eden's bloom, nor sin nor sorrow know; Blessed seats! Thro' rude and stormy scenes I onward press to you. Why should I shrink at pain and woe? Or feel at death, dismay? I've Canaan's goodly land in view, and realms of endless day."
In this yearning is a lesson. We don't have to accept the world for what it is--even its idealizations. We can always change what we inherit while giving honor to and singing the praises of those who came before us.
Last night while walking to meet a friend for a beer, my own fellow settlers on the sidewalks of Vanderbilt peered heavenward to see helicopters, like flying army jeeps, hovering overhead, tracking the protests of New Yorkers who marched in solidarity with those in Ferguson. A few wealthy enough to own slaves were able to do so in Plymouth; but seeds were planted then for an American enterprise that would capture, enslave, torture and murder countless lives sacrificed on the altar of the idea of religious freedom. It would require war, more death, Reconstruction, lynching, the Civil Rights movement and countless more lives, given up for a greater, ever expansive freedom, but a freedom no less setting its sights upon "Canaan's goodly land in view." Some of Plymouth's early inhabitants held slaves; others killed Native Americans. Still others loved the Other unconditionally. In every generation we get to decide who we want to be.
My friend and I spoke about the helicopters and the protests and the still long road ahead in overcoming the pain and woe of racism. But mostly we talked about earthly Jerusalem.
The summer's war with Gaza. The lives lost. The hardened hatreds. Stabbings. Shootings. Lynchings. Cars running down pedestrians. The total collapse of the peace process. The dreadful, fearful, irretrievable sense of lost hope.
Pilgrims of one God marching on Pilgrims of another God, each seeking to extinguish the other.
We talked and we argued and we talked and we argued; and as the night wore on we heard each other more and more. He in his insistence that the Jewish people remain a "light unto the nations" and me in my insistence that especially when we see our brothers and sisters saying and doing things that we find morally repugnant we never stop trying, never stop believing, that "Canaan's goodly land" is within our grasp. We live in the world we inherit. Where we go and what we do with it is up to us.
This is the Jewish Hymnal. This is how we do it. Words--and the deeds they breed--can break the chains of hopelessness.
Here is my Thanksgiving wish for you:
Where there is hunger, feed it.
Where there is no shelter, build it.
Where there is hatred and bigotry, banish it.
There is too much pain we are causing one another in this world.
And so, where another states his pain, listen. Reach and speak across the divide. Difference need not be mired in stasis but rather should flow, be in a constant state of change in growth: "let justice roll down like water, righteousness as a mighty stream."
Let us all be Pilgrims of Hope. Let's break bread for Peace. Now.
"Jerusalem, my glorious home! My soul still pants for thee; then shall my labors have an end, when I thy joys shall see."
The picture above is a photograph. Taken with an iPhone 4s, it depicts a freeze-frame image of Jerusalem in 1964 as captured by my grandfather on his Super 8 movie camera. The film was transferred to DVD, played on a Samsung HD 32" screen, sent over the ether to an 11 inch MacBook Air and uploaded to you.
Jerusalem: A refraction of a refraction of a refraction of a refraction.
Whose eyes? Whose soul? Whose narrative? Whose God?
And now, to our great shame, whose democracy?
When news came through various outlets late yesterday that the Israeli Cabinet passed its controversial "nation-state" bill, mandating Jewish character over democratic character for an already Jewish democracy, a further fractionalization occurred for Israeli and American Jews, as well as Arab Israeli citizens of Israel who embrace Israel's democracy, however imperfect.
But the bill's content, calling for a two-tiered civic structure, demoting Arabic from an official language of the state and not allowing for equal housing growth and development in the Arab sector, means, in fact, that for the first time in its history, Israel is taking a dangerous step toward unraveling the founding vision of the country as encoded in the Declaration of Independence, ratified in 1948: Israel "will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions."
As political experts debate the finer points of the bill and its harder and softer versions (coalition politics mandating the assuaging of the most extreme voices who yet again win the day in a Netanyahu government) clouds the picture for Israel's future in new and uncertain ways. Make no mistake about it: Prime Minister Netanyahu's Cabinet is now officially less concerned with Israel as a democracy--arguably it's greatest claim and most salient point of self-defense in an ever extreme region--than it is with Israel as a Jewish state. And the very claim of those who built the state with their blood, toil, tears and sweat--that the Jewish people's political redemption in our historic homeland is made real through the unique agency of "freedom, justice and peace"--is, unabashedly under attack.
This is a moment of great potential despair and disillusionment for Jewish communities both here in America and in Israel that in the long run will do great harm to Israel's future. The continued descent into extreme politics; the closing off of any real hope of dialogue and engagement with Arab citizens and Palestinian neighbors; and the trading of a truly democratic Israel for an exclusively Jewish Israel, runs directly against the greatest strengths and aspirations of Zionism's original intent.
When, as Zionists and Jews, we claim to be: a "light unto the nations" in the best prophetic tradition; when others seek Israel's aid in times of crisis; when Israeli ingenuity, technological know-how, surfeit of Nobel prizes and claims as a bulwark against Islamic extremism (in partnership with countless Western governments and moderate Arab allies in an increasingly inflamed Middle East--are we really helping our own cause by creating a legal encoded caste system, one for Jews and one for Arabs? In explaining Israel to young people--the Golden Ticket of Engagement for the future of Zionism--are we winning an argument by encoding Otherness as lower than Jewishness? Was Zionism's original demand, to be a normal people with a normal nation, nothing but a temporary down payment for an ethno-centric, modified democracy of qualified equalities?
I was thinking of those lapel pins that certain supporters in the pro-Israel community like to wear of the Israeli and American flag side-by-side, each a potent symbol for each nation's commitment to a unique vision of freedom and justice, gifts for the privilege of citizenship.
From the Israeli Declaration of Independence: "it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex."
From the American Pledge of Allegiance: "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The shared vision is clear in words pledged and encoded in documents but in our day it is now under attack. It was for my grandparents whose first and only trip to Israel bequeathed to me irrevocable connection between American values and Jewish values; between the shared principles of our two civilizations--that freedom and equality always win the day.
A vision blurred. A future made less clear and more dangerous by the certain alienation that will occur by diluting and cheapening the definition and parameters of Israeli democracy.
War refracts. Extremism refracts. Hatred refracts. Racism refracts.
But the Ur-Image of Jewish existence--that the human being (not the Jew, the human being!) is made in the Divine Image--is the unrefracted, the pure, the foundation value of any society in which we have always, and will always, aspire to live.
A couple years ago, just before Mom died, the girls gave her a call. They wanted to say good-bye before heading off to camp--with the painful awareness that we would lose her during the summer. This awareness of death, unavoidable but carefully managed, is part of what it means to be human and certainly what it means to be a parent.
The home I grew up in did death at a half-time rate. Dad, the Jew, talked about it. Mom, whose father's life was cut short by a murder in 1939, plowed under her grief, buried it out in the yard, as it were, and kept it very much to herself. Like the plants she kept cultivated on the window sill of the kitchen and living room, there was a solitary, lonely and dark, unresolved, tragic beauty to her suffering that burst forth into bloom once a year when I'd catch her crying at the window, a distant gaze in her eyes out into the yard and beyond--to her own childhood, unredeemed. A mysterious gift, this grief; like a present you don't ever really want to open, I carried it with me throughout my own life until Dad died of a heart attack in 1983, leaving me at the crossroads of a road less traveled. I chose to talk about the loss (at times even to him) to express it fully, to go, however haltingly, toward death; and to discover what I wished Mom could have known--that staring it in the face has its own redemptive power.
Anyway, there were the girls, on the phone with their Nana, she in a bed in Milwaukee, at the precipice of the valley of the shadow of death; they, in the full bloom summer of their youth in Brooklyn, saying goodbye, with love.
"What did you have for lunch today, Nana?" one asked.
"Uch," she began. "A bland turkey sandwich and some really shitty pea soup. I don't know how you can screw up pea soup but they did."
Laughter. Thus a memory is born. And along with it a value laden lesson in facing death, in grieving together, in laughing at the absurdities of the time we're allotted in this world.
Last spring I buried a man who had stopped eating for the two weeks before he died but then, to celebrate the resolution of a family conflict over funeral and burial plans, was fed frozen chips of Pinot Grigio--his favorite five o'clock drink--raised his brow in one last mischievous gesture of agency before the Throne of Inevitability, and days later expired.
I shared these stories with a friend who called it "eating into death," a new way of thinking about the desire for dignity at such moments. It made sense immediately. I remembered the back and forth to Wisconsin during those two years of Mom's dying; the plane to the car to the apartment and then to the hospice.
"How you doing, Ma?" I'd ask.
"If I see one more bottle of Ensure I'm going to shoot someone," she'd say. She'd add a big eye roll for effect. And then I'd poach her some eggs, roast some potatoes and asparagus, dole out the medical marijuana to get the appetite started; and she'd eat and wax rhapsodic about pulling up wild asparagus at the roadsides of her youth. Comfort food.
Someone recently told me about how, back in the 80s during the AIDS crisis, he was working in a hospice for homeless men with AIDS which lost its funding and was shut down. In an act of uncommon and unheralded heroism and generosity, the six men were divided among six homes where each man went to die.
"If my guy didn't like what I'd cook for him, he'd really yell at me!" he said. "And when I protested that I was doing the best I could, he'd say, 'This is the last bit of power I have in the world!' It was powerful."
Maybe it was yesterday's cold weather in the City; or the catastrophic snow in Buffalo; or the incessantly disturbing backdrop to our lives of the least fortunate, digging through the trash for food, quietly suffering in hunger in cold apartments on cold nights, losing taste and losing hope. We barely notice them, almost gargoyle-like in the social architecture of our cityscape. You have to really stop and look. And take note.
That's the moment. Terrifying because it's evocative of the death we all avoid but in the engagement, it's reifying, hopeful, even redeeming, if we choose to act.
In families the act of feeding can heal. In communities it can shatter the frozen, glacial anonymity between those who have and those who lack and scatter the darkness of despair with light.
It's a story that doesn't need images.
It's images, after all, we Jews are meant to destroy if true love among neighbors is to reign.
And the early Zionists, fed up with the homelessness and powerlessness of Exile, destroyed the image of the Wandering Jew by forgoing the theological mandate to wait patiently for the Messiah and chose instead to kickstart a new Jewish narrative by redeeming the land themselves--even with their own blood.
But re-entry to the stage of history has not been without its complications. Zionist historiography, for those dispassionate enough to assess it as honestly as they can, has not explained away the sins inherent in the execution of contemporary power--and laudably, faced it head-on. Criticality, self-reflection, taking responsibility for the unfortunate and sometimes abhorrent results of conflict and violence is what ought to differentiate us a species between those who more often choose good than evil and as a Zionist--even one who at times disagrees with the policy or direction of any particular Israeli governmental majority--this ability to allow for open disagreement, opposition, and dissent.
I don't know why I need to say any of this anymore--this Apologia for the Jewish right to live in freedom wherever we are: Belgium, London, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, New York and again, today, horrifically, tragically, bloodily, in Jerusalem.
But here we go: When Baruch Goldstein walked into a mosque in 1994 and killed 29 Palestinian Muslims worshipping God, Jewish and Israeli leaders condemned loudly and forcefully this abhorrent crime. When Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and murdered this summer in Jerusalem, Jewish and Israeli leaders condemned loudly and forcefully this abhorrent crime. So why is it, yet again, so difficult for Palestinian allies to condemn openly and unequivocally, the massacre that took place today in Har Nof? Why the constant moral equivalencies? Why the disgusting celebrations that are not then condemned by moderate Palestinian leaders and their friends?
Why, despite our perceived power and control of banks and media (as the anti-Semites love to say) is Jewish blood still so cheap, even in a city we have rightfully claimed for more than three thousand years?
The hypocrisy is stunning--if ever so briefly--because frankly, we're used to it.
As one such typical leader among so many in the Jewish community, do I really need to temper my condemnation of the murder of praying Jews this morning with an equally forceful condemnation of Israeli settlement policy if, as the record will show for so many of us, we have been demanding a two-state solution, tolerance, and co-existence, for our whole careers?
There is blood hatred in the land. There are Palestinians who hate all Jews and there are Jews who hate all Palestinians. This, to our great shame and ultimate challenge, may never end. Our job, in what brief time we have allotted to us on Earth, is to condemn, resoundingly, when it occurs, the unjust, senseless and brutal murder of innocents whenever it occurs. Full stop.
Just look at this statement by those who dare call themselves the "Jewish Voice for Peace:"
Jewish Voice for Peace is deeply alarmed at the crisis building in Jerusalem over the last several weeks as terrible violence mounts. We mourn all the lives that have been lost, both Palestinian and Israeli. Early this morning, four Jews at prayer were brutally murdered in a Jerusalem synagogue and on Sunday a Palestinian bus driver was likely lynched.It's always one for the other. Four brutal murders equal one likely lynching. It's never enough to simply say that murder is wrong. Period. Everything gets weighed against everything else. Had there not been the lynching, there would not have been the murders. Am I exaggerating?
We call on the Israeli government and its supporters to cease further calls to incitement and collective punishment. The international community must bring pressure to bear on the root causes of ongoing violence. Israel’s continual system of occupation, dispossession, and discrimination against Palestinians by its very nature puts the lives and dignity of all people in Israel and Palestine in jeopardy. The Israeli government continues to escalate state violence against Palestinians, as well as enabling increasingly aggressive actions of settlers. In Abu Dis, Issawiya, and Silwan, to name just three neighborhoods, mobility is severely restricted, and residents are subject to collective punishment as homes and schools are covered in skunk water, which makes them almost unbearable to enter. Last week a mosque and holy Qur’ans were torched in the West Bank village of Al Mughayir by Jewish individuals. The Israeli government continues to declare its intention to build more settlements; the Third Temple Movement, backed by government ministers, continues its provocations at the Temple Mount; laws that mandate 20 year sentences for stone-throwing and to declare Israel a Jewish nation-state, and threats to withdraw the citizenship of Palestinian citizens who protest are being proposed at the highest levels. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s declared intention to further entrench Israeli control over all of Israel/Palestine and pursue the collective punishment of Palestinians will bring neither peace nor quiet. Palestinians, whether inside Israel, in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza, face a future of continued inequality, discrimination, home demolitions, land expropriation, and military violence. A true and just peace for both peoples will only come when Israel is willing to commit to equality, freedom and justice for all people. The logic is clear: Jew-hatred be damned. It's all Israel's fault.
So goes the "Jewish Voice for Peace." Cue the Orwellian laughter.
In the meantime, it won't be long before a kid breaks a tooth on candy being handed out to celebrate the murder of Jews and his dentist says, "Those Jews and their candy!"
It makes me sad to have lost friends on the Left these last few years; but their inability to simply see the hatred of Jews for what it is--even in the face of some Jews behaving badly or doing unjust things--is plain and simple inexcusable. And a damn shame on them.
Our imageless Torah demanded long ago something I still have faith is true: We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. If only this were achievable in our increasingly intolerant world.