25 July 2014

Israel - What I Know and Don't Know - with credit to Rabbi Donniel Hartman

Other than from the bimah at services, or when people have asked directly, I have not made any public statements about the current situation in Israel, but I have come to the conclusion that sharing my thoughts may help members of the congregation, who are also concerned, to validate that there are others who are disturbed, concerned, confused, etc., about what is going in Israel, the land that we also call our homeland, for which we carry love and bear some responsibility.

There have been many worthwhile articles and commentary around the regular and social media.  One of the people whose words I often turn to is Rabbi Donniel Hartman, of the Sholom Hartmann Institute (You may remember that I often quote his analysis of Israeli/Diaspora relationships.)  His latest column in the Times of Israel is another attempt to take a step away from the rhetoric and focus on the reality of the situation and the long-term moral effects of the actions that are taken out of necessity.

In commenting on Rabbi Hartman's editorial, I would also like to share what I know, and what I do not.

I know that it is difficult for us as American Jews to connect to what is going on one-third of the way across the planet, even if we mention that tiny nation as our homeland at every religious service.  It is difficult for us to understand what it means to live in a nation long surrounded by enemies pledged to erase it from the map, and yet still strive to have peace, not only with the nascent nation of Palestine, but with the individual Arabs who are neighbors.  I do not know the moral impact of wanting to live in peace, but having to not only train, but to engage in war - both hot and tepid.

I do know some of the frustration felt by Jews in Israel and around the world when Israel is expected to live up to a standard of behavior which no other nation on earth, except occasionally the United States, is expected to achieve.  I know this because I, too, expect Israel, my homeland, the light among the nations, to be a standard bearer for all I believe that Judaism teaches is right and just.  I cringe when I see an image of innnocents killed or wounded and comparison is made to out of context quotations of the Torah.

I know the frustration of listening to the media when the Palestinian spokesman says that all that needs to happen is for Israel to end the occupation, and the BBC reporter does not follow up by pointing out that Israel ended the occupation of Gaza, removed all troops, and every Israeli citizen, and the Palestinians not only failed to give credit but, more tragically, failed to take advantage and begin to build a strong, independent, and viable state.  I do not know what can be done to encourage Palestinians to find cooperative economic solutions, rather than those which are violent and self-destructive.

I know that Israel needs to destroy the tunnels which we have discovered were the result of all the cement that the world insisted Israel allow into Gaza to build schools and hospitals.  I do not know who will step in to build those desperately needed schools and hospitals.

I know there are times when Israel is wrong and there are times when the Palestinians are right.  Those times may not coincide, but no one has a monopoly on good conduct, and no one is correct all the time.  And I believe, strongly, that humanity is not evil, and there is no group that does not have at least the redeeming feature of trying to make a good life for itself and its children.

Finally, I know that it is easiest for us Americans and American Jews to shut our eyes and ears to what happens in Gaza, in Syria, in the Ukraine, in the Sudan, in Kenya, in China, and around the world, because we cannot imagine that we can help.  I know that is not true.  And, even if I don't know what the solution is, I know that our caring and our action might not only make a positive contribution in those places, but that it is necessary for us, if we would call ourselves human beings.

Hillel said, "B'makom she'ein anashim, histader l'hihiyot ish."  This is usually translated as "In a place where no one is acting humanely, try to be humane."  I would rather read this in a way that does not exhort us to be like Noah - only relatively good in our generation, and to dehumanize those who surround us, but rather - "In a place where no one is acting humanely, strive to bring humanity."  Let as act to our ideals not to be better than others, but to help us all better ourselves.

I know this is a difficult time.  I know that in difficult times, we are called to do more. I do not know how else to ask.

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