Peace Parsha - Missed Opportunities

from APN activist Barbara Green

Genesis (Bereshit) is filled with episodes which raise profound questions. Yesterday’s parsha told the story of Noah and the near-destruction of the world, followed by the tale of the Tower of Babel. If I chose to write about Noah I would title it, “Missed Opportunities” and I would start by describing my favorite New Yorker cartoon which shows two dinosaurs sitting atop a small rock, the waters rising all around them. In the far distance a large wooden ship sails away. One of the dinosaurs says to the other, “Oh crap, was that today?” A major missed opportunity, no? (No wonder dinosaurs went extinct.)

Or – I could write about the current electoral impasse in Israel and describe it the same way. Is the system so broken a clean, decisive election is impossible? Does the rightward tilt of the Israeli Jewish public make an alliance with the combined Arab parties an impossibility? Whatever the cause, the Palestinian issue wasn’t raised in the two recent campaigns – and isn’t likely to be dealt with in the foreseeable future. Another monstrous missed opportunity…….

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Rosh Hashana: A Holiday of Hope

Barbara Green is a long-time activist and volunteer with Americans for Peace Now

I groaned when asked to write a peace parsha for Rosh Hashana this year.  It gets harder each time. The reasons for optimism fade almost daily. With a critical election looming in Israel and an American president who calls Jewish Democrats disloyal, it's tempting to just walk away from the Israel issue and our longstanding struggle for an end to the Occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state.  Every once in a while, I remember the feeling of euphoria after the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in 1993. We used to make a gesture -- thumb and forefinger a scant millimeter apart -- and say to ourselves, "Peace is this close. It can never go back to the way it was." Didn't really happen that way, right?

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Tisha B'Av 2019: "Have We Not Learned" - by APN Intern Scott Boxer

Tisha B'av, which commemorates the destruction of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem and other tragedies in Jewish history, begins on sundown Saturday, August 10, and ends on sundown Sunday, August 11. 


On Tisha B’av, many Jews around the world will sit in synagogues to read Eicha, the Book of Lamentations recited on this solemn day. The first words they will hear will warn: “Alas! Lonely sits the city once great with people! She that was great among nations has become like a widow” (Eicha 1:1). The city the verse refers to is Jerusalem, and more generally the Jews of the Holy Land in the year 70 CE. It is the beginning of the story of almost 2 millennia of Jewish exile, a period replete with significant episodes of horror and Jewish victimhood. How did the tragic scene in this verse, and the subsequent 2000 years of exile, come to be? It was the result of senseless hatred, tit-for-tat acts of revenge, allies turning against one another, and leaders acting for personal power without regard for the consequences society would bear. 

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Shavuot: Let’s be mindful of the need to live in a just and humane society

D'var Torah from Barbara Green. long-time activist with Americans for Peace Now.

Shavuot is a joyous holiday representing the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The event itself is thought of as the moment when the ragtag group of Hebrews who had been wandering in the desert truly became a people -- the Jewish people.

A reading of the law, or the mitzvot as they are known in Hebrew, gives one the impression of a moral and ethical society. We are directed to remember the widow and orphan and stranger among us. One law is to serve both citizen and non-citizen alike. Wages must be paid before the sun goes down. And my favorite: If you see your enemy's ass lying in the road, you are to help it get up. Imagine: not only concern for an animal but for the enemy's animal.

And yet, selective reading of each of the major religions' holy books can be deceptive. Some of the laws are in conflict with others. Emphasizing some at the expense of others has created grave injustices.

And subverting the law by using it for crass political purposes, as the settler movement and its allies have done, tears at the basic precepts found in the Torah.

In Israel today, there is tension between those who believe strongly that man is made in the image of God (b'tselem Adonai) and those who privilege the land of Israel (the "Greater Israel" movement) above all else. Rabbi Michael Melchior has written: "I believe that those who censor the Torah of such concepts as the natural morality of man, as the belief that God has created every human being in His image, and as the basic human right to respect and dignity which stems from this belief, are desecrating the holy name of God." He continues: "Torah, Judaism, Zionism, and at times even God himself have been hijacked."

Those of us who have worked for decades for the establishment of Palestine next to Israel watch in horror now as that idea seems to be disappearing over the horizon. The Greater Israel folks are in the ascendancy with Benjamin Netanyahu as their leader and the U.S. as their enabler. But the struggle now is for more than the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own, or for the relief of the Gazans who suffer a humanitarian crisis of indescribable proportions. It is increasingly about the soul of the Israeli people. Are we still the people of justice and compassion set forth in the law? Have we foregone the ability -- or even the desire -- to help uplift our enemy's ass if it is lying in the road?

As we prepare for the holiday of Shavuot with its festive air, let’s be mindful of the need to live in a just and humane society -- and to extend those concepts to the citizen and stranger alike. The Torah the Jews received at Sinai still holds precepts we can all embrace.  

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Tisha B'Av: Are we victims?

Barbara Green has been a volunteer for Americans for Peace Now for many years. She lives in Washington, DC.

Commemorating as it does the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem, Tisha b'Av is problematic for secular American Jews. The destruction of the central institution of pre-rabbinic Judaism, first by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, and then by the Romans in 70 CE, both followed by exile from the land, were indeed terrible events in our history. Among observant Jews, Tisha B’Av has also been, and remains, a Jewish day of mourning, not only for these events, but also for a number of other historic tragedies which happened to fall during the late summer.

But it does make me wonder, what does the recitation of this litany do to our sense of self? Does it tell us we're victims and must always stay strong? We must behave toward our enemies the way they treated us? 

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Peace Parsha: If Not News, Then What?

Peace_Parsha_LogoRabbi Jonah Rank is the Maskil ("Teacher of tradition") at Shaar Shalom Synagogue in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Rabbi Rank was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2015.

When the humorist Dave Barry released his book Dave Barry’s Bad Habits: A 100% Fact-Free Book in 1987, he might not have foreseen that, just three decades later, the United States would have become such a major player in promoting fact-free political discourse. The low bar of entry that permits most Americans access to the internet and the only slightly higher bar that permits most Americans to create web content of any kind have helped bring us to where we are today. When reading articles shared on digital media, if the facts don’t sound like the facts we’ve previously heard, we might ask if this news is real or not: Was it perhaps created from a fake-news website? Is this article actually based on found facts? Is this publication the eloquence of a gullible writer mistaking The Onion for news? Is this piece of journalism simply a collection of conspiracy theories all rooted in a series of truth-contorting tweets?

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#SukkahStrong

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By APN Intern Naomi Tamura

Naomi_Tamura250x445Every Shabbat, Jews around the world ask God to “spread over us a sukkat shalom – a sukkah of Your peace.” We express our hope for the protection of our dignity and our rights, and to live in a just and peaceful world with our neighbors. As the Jewish festival of Sukkot begins just days after Yom Kippur, Jewish communities come together to celebrate, among other things, the freedom of the people of Israel – and to build their individual and communal sukkahs as physical representations of this peace and protection that we seek.  Unfortunately, there are other homes being built that only serve to prevent both peace and freedom.

Naomi_Tamura_Israel_SukkahThree years ago, I lived on Kibbutz Ein-Dor in the north of Israel as part of my gap year program. There, I and 37 others helped build a sukkah (pictured).  Although it was little more than a simple, open-roofed structure with only one permanent wall, we rejoiced in our sukkah’s vulnerability. Our collective efforts to hang pictures of our families, lace colorful streamers around the few tree branches that served as our roof, and stake PVC piping into the ground as the sukkah’s base all brought us closer together as a community. Yet, it was the way that we ate, sang, joked, and dreamed together that allowed us to understand the true meaning of community filled with members who are at peace with one another.

This Sunday evening, as we prepare to celebrate Sukkot in a new year, we should be reminded of the connections between the sukkah and peace. The openness of the sukkah not only reminds us to share our homes with others, but asks us to open our hearts and minds towards building inclusivity and tolerance. In doing so, the sukkah becomes a communal structure sustained only by the shared commitment and vigilance of all its guests.

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Rosh Hashana Thoughts

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Barbara Green has been a volunteer for Americans for Peace Now for many years. She lives in Washington, DC.

This is an awkward time of the year for some secular Jews like me. We know it’s a time of renewal and perhaps even symbolic rebirth, but what does that mean if you don’t really think the supreme ruler is sitting in judgment and deciding your fate for the coming year? Well, it could mean a lot of things. For me it’s a time to take stock: to look back on the past year and own up to things done which shouldn’t have been, or not done which should have been, and everything in between. What could I do to put those things to right? And what do I hope to change in the coming year? A small aspiration of mine is the intention in the coming year to dial back my propensity for righteous indignation. Hardly a day passes when I’m not upset – if not downright angry – about events in the world but I’m learning that indignation no matter how righteous sometimes may be counter-productive.

Maimonides teaches the blowing of the shofar is intended to waken us from our mindless slumber, our symbolic sleep which allows us to turn away from blatant injustice. He admonishes us to “….look to our souls and better our ways and actions.” For me this means doubling down on my efforts to pursue an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state. We Jews weren’t meant to be occupiers. Forty-nine years of holding another people under occupation is more than enough. Israeli security professionals have weighed in on this issue and concluded that the occupation does not provide security. It is a national security liability. The occupation is hurting not only Palestinians but Israelis as well – not equally but significantly.

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The Jewish People’s Dual Narrative: Parshat Ki Tavo

Peace_Parsha_Logo185Rabbi Susan P. Fendrick is an editor, writer, teacher, and spiritual director. A graduate of Brown University, she received rabbinic ordination in 1995 from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship program. Her writing appears in numerous books and publications.

 

There is very little language of personal prayer recorded in the Torah, and even less prescribed liturgy for future Jews to recite. But one rare example of a liturgical text appears in this week’s Torah reading—a prayer that supports the pursuit of conflict resolution and peace-seeking.

The entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ swan song, his last chance to convey everything he must to the Israelite nation before they enter the land of Israel without him. In Parshat Ki Tavo, he offers a formula that each Israelite should recite when bringing the “first fruits” offering on the holiday of Shavuot.  That recitation was discussed in the APN Peace Parsha last June, and I want to offer a further reading of its opening words, which speaks to all that we have to bear in mind as we work for a peaceful and secure future for the state of Israel.

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Pinchas: When the head is unworthy, the people are punished

Peace_Parsha_Logo185Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, LCSW serves as Rabbinic Director of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York City, working with individuals who are ill,  bereaved, or survivors of trauma, through Jewish spiritual counseling, support groups, workshops and printed materials.  He has been deeply involved in human rights advocacy, Jewish-Muslim relations, interfaith exchanges, and the nexus of spiritual resources and mental health for over thirty years.

 

This week’s  Torah portion is named for a man –Pinhas-  who represents both heroism and horror in our tradition. It is, to say the least, complicated in terms of role models for leadership. In contrast, Moshe,  recognized as the greatest of the Jewish people’s leaders, and who in this week’s portion is engaged in the search for his impending replacement,  ‘advises’ the Almighty regarding his successor and in so doing, offers a prescription for a good leader. 

And Moshe spoke to God, saying, Let the God of the spirits of all flesh set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in; that the congregation of God be not as sheep that have no shepherd. (Numbers 27:15-17)

Moshe’s counsel as set out in these three verses and elucidated by a number of Torah commentaries, points to the leadership challenges the state of Israel faces at present, with a current leadership that has  failed to take the actions that would result in the much desired goal of security and peace for Israel, and for the Palestinians as well.

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