This being the season of teshuvah, of repentance, we take time to apologize to one another for wrong doing and sins that should never have been committed, and we pray that the second party be as forgiving as we are courageous in apologizing. But I�d like to propose that as important as it is to apologize and grant forgiveness, it is equally important to speak the words that we so often neglect�the expressions of appreciation, and gratitude, and hakarat tov, recognition for the blessings we are to one another. With this Rosh Hashanah, I�m beginning my 12th year at Midway, and I want to tell you how much I love this congregation, and how much you have taught me over the years. One of the Talmudic rabbis once said: I have learned from all my teachers, but from my students, even more! (Ta'anit 7a).
And I have learned a tremendous amount from you. I want to thank you for challenging me for these many years and I hope that I have challenged you too. Midway is a special group of people; we are evolving Jewishly, humanly, in very positive ways. It�s been a great journey and I hope that it continues for years to come, so thank you all�you�re the best!
A young technician and his rather overbearing general manager board a train for Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the train, crowded by the time they boarded, afforded them seats only across from a very attractive young lady and her elderly grandmother. The trip was going to be about two hours in duration so the four travelers�facing one another as you sometimes do on trains, made some small talk, and it soon became clear that there was a bit of chemistry developing between the young lady and the technician. As chance would have it, the train entered a long tunnel and soon was traveling in total darkness.
And in the midst of this darkness there is the sound of a very loud kiss followed by the sound of a slap. The train exits the other end of the tunnel, all is lit, and our four passengers sit, still facing one another, but now in total silence. The grandmother thinks to herself: That fresh and cheeky young man took advantage of my granddaughter when the train was engulfed in darkness, but thank God she had the presence of mind to slap him in the face. The young woman thinks to herself: I�m so glad that young man kissed me, but why did my overprotective grandmother have to slap him?! The general manager thinks to himself: I can�t believe that green techy of mine had the audacity to kiss the young lady and annoy her so, but she�s a lousy aim since instead of slapping him, she missed, and hit me. And finally, the young techy thinks to himself-What a great day-how often does a guy have a chance to kiss a beautiful woman and slap his boss all at the same time.
One of the common names for Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaDin or Judgment Day. This is the day that in the sacred mythology of our people, we imagine God to judge us for the kind of people we are and for how we have behaved during the past year. The whole concept of judgment in Jewish tradition is of major importance because the Torah is particularly concerned with justice, with fairness, with honesty, in short, with all those elements that, from the Jewish perspective, create civilization and therefore, the Torah and Jewish legal codes overflow with mandates on judgment - Don�t skew judgment (Deuteronomy 16:19);
Do not favor the poor (Leviticus 19:15);
Do not show deference to the rich (Leviticus 19:15);
Don�t take a bribe (Deuteronomy 16:19);
And most importantly -
Don�t capitalize off the blood of your fellow (Leviticus 19:16);
Before we write these rules off as personally irrelevant�we aren�t all lawyers or judges�let�s remember that for many of us, we live as if it�s Yom HaDin, Judgment Day, everyday, except in this case, it�s not God judging us, but it�s us judging everyone else. Human beings in general�and I refer now to all of us, myself included�we tend to be judgmental. We judge others for their taste in clothing, or how they spend their money, or the generosity of gifts given or in some cases withheld, or their parenting style, or their makeup, or their friendliness, or their intelligence, or their front yards� And the list, you must understand, is virtually infinite, for there is no end to the ways which we can find to pass gratuitous judgment on others.
And all of this judging is, in the final analysis, obnoxious, because half the time it�s none of our business and the other half we are passing distorted judgments for none of us really know what�s going on in other people�s lives. We don�t really know who is hurting financially, or mentally, or the psychic capital people gain by making the decisions they do. We end up judging others as if in a long, dark tunnel, drawing incorrect assumptions and jumping to false conclusions.
Justice, justice shall you pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20);
The Torah teaches us that if we are serious about truth and honesty and justice, we better pursue justice thoroughly, comprehensively, passionately, zealously because the price of an unfair verdict or a flippant assessment is steep. Justice delayed may be justice denied but rash judgment is trash judgment.
On May 31 of this year, Israel seized a flotilla of six ships intent on breaking the Israeli blockade of Gaza, a blockade which substantially reduces the flow of contraband, namely weaponry, rockets, bombs, into a hostile Gaza. The crew and passengers on five of those ships willingly and peacefully acceded to Israeli demands. The sixth ship was less cooperative. The resistance of the passengers and crew of the sixth ship, the Mavi Marmara, ended with the death of nine activists. The condemnation of Israel around the world was fairly swift. The United Nations Security Council condemned those acts resulting in civilian deaths and then called for an impartial investigation into the raid. But here�s the problem: you can�t first condemn and then call for an impartial investigation into the raid. You can express regret over civilian deaths, you can express sorrow over conflicts that end in violence, but as soon as a so-called judicial body has condemned a particular action, it is no longer in a position to conduct an impartial investigation. The bias of the system has been exposed. The Torah teaches, as we mentioned earlier:
Don�t skew judgment (Deuteronomy 16:19);
But when it comes to the United Nations, Judgment gets skewed:
When it comes to Israel, the United Nations and so many other countries seem to follow the principle of "Your guilty, until we prove you guilty, whether we can actually prove you guilty or not." There is no place for innocence in the equation.
That same month as the flotilla raid, Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York , wrote an article in The New York Review of Books entitled, "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment" (May 12, 2010). In it, he charged the establishment with having failed the young Jews on campus who resist group think. These young people want an open and frank discussion about Israel�s flaws; they crave peace, and they sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians.
Beinart identifies these characteristics of the Jewish campus crowd as the reason for the establishment�s failure because, he writes, "For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism�s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead." What I find so bizarre about Beinart�s views is that he could suggest that our kids on campus have, in some way failed us, or we them, by resisting group think, or demanding truth, or wanting peace, or being sympathetic to people less fortunate than us. If that is the way our kids on campus or the American Jewish establishment has failed up until this point, I can only hope and pray that we continue to fail as miserably in the future. Professor Beinart forgets that Moshe did not lead a group of yes men in the dessert for 40 years. Ours is a tradition of self-reflection, self-criticism, and vocal opposition to wrongs, real or imagined. Our kids ask the right questions because we have taught them to be bold and independent. If they challenge us then Barukh HaShem, thank God that they challenge us. That�s good. We should never fear discussing the truth for in order to live a just and ethical life, one must always stick to truth.
So the truth of the matter is that nine activists were killed on the Mavi Marmar. Let�s make the truth even messier. Operation Oferet Yetzukah, Cast Lead, the incursion into Gaza of some two years ago, ended with the deaths of some 1300 Palestinians versus only 13 Israelis. But both these military operations, the flotilla and Operation Cast Lead, were the result of direct provocations. Regarding Operation Cast Lead, insurgents in Gaza had terrorized southern Israel for some six years shooting approximately 6000 rockets into southern Israel before Israel responded. Deaths from these rockets were rare because of an outstanding alarm system that Israel devised for the area, giving people 15 seconds - that�s it, 15 seconds! - to run for cover in a bomb shelter. The psychological damage to Israelis trying to lead normal workday lives was tremendous. And Israel practiced restraint - one year, two years, three years, four years, five years, six hears, and finally, Israel responded. And guess what - the rocket fire was reduced to almost zero. Do we celebrate the deaths of 1300 Palestinians?
Absolutely not. But the mission to stop the rockets from terrorizing the civilian population was ethical. The suggestion that Israel, or any civilized country for that matter, should have simply absorbed the rocket fire day after day without some military response�that is what is unethical, untenable and insane.
Let�s talk truth. On top of the deaths of 1300 Palestinians, over the past few decades, Israel has introduced new medical technologies and pharmacological therapies that has saved tens of thousands of lives throughout the world. Among the innovations that Israel has blessed us with are state-of-the-art surgical lasers, breast cancer diagnostic instrumentation that are radiation-free; smart medical sensors that can direct tiny instruments to specific locations in the body, like one�s heart; pain relieving devises that fit just under the skin, and so much more. Israel is not a nation that takes lives; Israel is a nation that saves lives.
Let�s talk truth. Israel has probably saved more Palestinian lives than they have ever taken because of one simple military strategy that earned her the condemnation of so many countries around the world: Israel built a geder hahafradah, a barrier between itself and problem Arab neighborhoods. You might recall that earlier in this decade, Israel was faced with a Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada (Intifada actually means a "shaking off" or as it is typically translated, "uprising"). By July of 2003, when the first segment of the wall had been erected, Israel had suffered some 73 homicide bombings resulting in the deaths of 293 Israelis and injuring over 1900.
But just for a moment, let�s not focus on the Israelis who lost their lives in coffee shops, and pizzarias, and discos. Let me ask a question: What manner of humanity goes to a young person (and these homicide bombers were generally young people) and convinces that young person to strap a series of bombs around their waist, hide those bombs, take their own life as well as the lives of others around them, in order to achieve some nebulous and ill-defined political goal?
These so-called religious clerics who engage in this insidious recruitment have kidnapped religion in the service of politics, they deal in that pernicious combination of politics and religion, and will leave this world with blood on their hands having convinced young people to die in the pursuit of a political goal that cannot be achieved. With the erection of the geder, that fence, the number of attacks declined by 90% and today, they are all but eradicated. That geder not only saved Israeli lives, it saved Palestinian lives. In 2004, the International Court of Justice determined that the construction of the barrier was a violation of international law. That�s too bad. Israel ignores decisions of that nature, because decisions of that nature create the grounds for further deaths, on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, and that�s unacceptable.
Let�s talk truth and this time, ask a real tough question. What have the Palestinians done to improve the lot of their own people, let alone the people of the world? We don�t hear much about that. Let�s think of some reasons why. Maybe they�re dumb. But I don�t believe that�do you? Maybe their lives have just been too hard to think of anything but survival? But I don�t really believe that�look at what Israel has accomplished in spite of the toxicity of their Middle Eastern neighborhood. Well, but the Israelis have rich American relatives, unlike the Palestinians whose Arabic siblings live in dire poverty. Do you believe that? I don�t�those poor Arab siblings pumping oil out of the desert day and night. I�ll tell you what I think the difference is.
When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and burnt the Temple to the ground, when our people were exiled from our land and the Jewish religion as well as our people seemed to have come to a tragic ending, do you know what the liturgical response to that tragedy was: Because of our sins, we were exiled from our land (Musaf);
Because of our sins - not the Romans� sins. It was sort of a bizarre way of looking at history but it placed responsibility for one�s lot in life not in the hands of our enemy, but in our own hands. You want to change your life? Good�you are personally responsible for changing your life. That is a cultural mindset that is part of the Jewish consciousness. But when people live their lives judging everyone else, damning everyone else, condemning everyone else, and blaming everyone else for their own misery, they dig themselves deeper and deeper into a pit from which it becomes all but impossible to emerge.
You know what I want for the Palestinians? I want them to have their own state. I want them to have strong businesses. I want them to go to university. I want them to do research and discover things that improve the world. I want them to be happy, to have food and clothing and shelter and above all, I want them to have a leadership bold enough to say that our predicament is not of Israel�s making, but of our own. In short, I really want them to accomplish their every goal - except one: and that is the destruction of the Jewish state. That is not acceptable and that is the truth.
I want the truth. When we hear arguments to the effect that Jews are Europeans, imports from the west who have no place in the Middle East, we cannot remain silent. To claim that a people who dare return to their ancestral home are invasive foreigners is to deny the history of the Jewish people. Arab scholars argue that a Jewish nation never existed in Palestine, or that there was never a temple in Jerusalem, or that the Jewish yearning to return to Palestine was some theological blooper. These are arguments with the integrity of the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad�s claim that there was never any Holocaust. We shouldn�t honor these arguments for they are intellectually dishonest.
Then there is the charge that Israel is an apartheid state, something akin to South Africa, only in the Israeli version, the Jews are the whites and the Arabs are the blacks, and never the twain shall meet. Because there is separation between Arabs and Jews in Israel, some people may buy into this argument. But I have to tell you that Jerusalem is the most beautiful city in the world, next to Syosset, of course, and yet there are parts of Jerusalem that I would not feel comfortable entering nor would I recommend any Jew enter those parts.
But let�s also acknowledge the ways in which the apartheid analogy simply fails. The two official languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. 14 of the 120 members of the Knesset are Arab. No public building or bus in Israel has separate entrances for Arabs. Israel exempts Arabs from service in the military but welcomes those who choose to serve as some do. Hospitals offer services to Jew and Arab alike. In short, the apartheid charge is inflammatory rhetoric designed to delegitimize the State of Israel. The truth: the apartheid analogy doesn�t stand up to the facts.
The maligning of Israel is perpetrated by people who live their lives in a dark tunnel. Their judgments are distorted because they refuse to see the full picture. May this year be the One in which God destroys the hands that wreak havoc and violence, and strengthen the hands that reach across a table for peace. God will be the judge of that process, and do so honestly and fairly.