RHR/Truah sign on letter opposing the Prawer/Begin Bill, and other ways to be involved
On the eve of the High Holy Days, you can declare your renewed commitment to human rights and an Israel living up to our highest Jewish values by clicking and contributing to our High Holy Days campaign. On line donations can be made through “Israel Gives” in many currencies. Donations by U.S. and British citizens are tax deductible. For additional information about how to donate to RHR, please click here. U.S. and Canadian supporters should note that, after the January fiscal split with RHR-North America (Renamed “T’ruah”) T’ruah does not accept donations for RHR.
Many of you have been writing to express concern about Alon Tal’s attack on RHR in “Haaretz” on Monday and/or to ask how we respond to his points. Rather than hurry to respond publicly, I have been corresponding with Alon in the hopes that he might himself publish a correction of some of the factual inaccuracies in his article. Very much respecting Alon, we have also suggested setting up a new media forum allowing us and others to dialogue on issues that are a matter of opinion. In the meantime, we have responded to the concerns by creating the following link does give some of our factual corrections. It is wonderful that some of you are planning on speaking about the Bedouin issue during the High Holy Days. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like additional help with factual information, Jewish sources, etc. To see all of our on-line materials on the Begin/Prawer Bill, please click here. I particularly recommend the slightly abbreviated version of the Recognition Forums:
Please Find Included:
1. Link to RHR High Holy Days Fundraising Campaign
2. D’Var Torah for Parashat Ha’azinu/ Shabbat Shuva by Rabbi Yehoyada Amir
3. Link to factual corrections to Alon Tal’s attack on RHR in HaArtetz, links to additional materials on the Negev Bedouin that may be helpful for sermons and teaching opportunities
4. Social Justice U’Netanah Tokef by Rabbi Kobi Weiss
5. A rabbis’ prayer by Rabbi Nava Hefetz and Debbie Shuah-Haim
In Lieu of Organians | Rosh HaShana Thoughts 5774 | Rabbi Arik Ascherman
I, like many of us, find myself in a deep dilemma about Syria. It is almost impossible for me to mouth or write words advocating the use of military force for anything other than direct self defense. However, I was also taught from an early age “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds. (Leviticus 19:16) We are our brother’s keeper (And our sister’s). It is even more impossible to advocate standing by and letting slaughter continue, in any direction. We as Israeli human rights organizations are in an even more difficult dilemma, knowing as Israelis that anything we say or do can be twisted and misrepresented as the designs of the Zionist enemy.
So, I have been fantasizing about Star Trek. (You probably imagine that all of our RHR board and staff meetings are focused exclusively on human rights, Torah and international law, but we actually have a number of trekkies…) “An Errand of Mercy,” first aired on March 23rd, 1967. (Transcript, clip. I am told that I can’t view the entire episode in my region, but you can try)
Watch: Star Trek: TOS Errand of Mercy
The Federation and the Klingon Empire prepare for war. The Organians, a form of life “As far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba,” do not permit them to do so. Responding to protestations that people have a right to determine their own affairs, the Organians ask, “To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you’re defending?”
We don’t have Organians. U.N. peacekeeping forces are supposed to keep warring parties apart, but don’t always seem to manage to do that when one or both parties are determined to fight. Educated in the school of hard knocks, it is hard to imagine any country or coalition of countries today that would willingly put themselves between the forces of the Assad regime and Islamic fundamentalists for the sake of Syrian civilians.
I, and many of you, believe in a Being that is even more beyond us than the Organians were beyond humans and Klingons. However, God, for reasons I am not sure I understand, has given us free will. There may be additional potential disasters that did not happen because of God’s intervention, but both the Torah and human history teach us that God does not physically prevent us from killing millions, or any of the other terrible things we do to each other and to the earth.
As woefully inadequate as it may seem at times, and as incredibly powerful as it proves itself to be at other times, what we have in lieu of Divine Intervention is our own faith that God is even more pained than the Organians when we harm each other and thereby deface God’s Presence in the world. On God’s pain, see Rabbi Meir’s midrash in the Mishna Sanhedrin 6:5. Mekilta d’Rabi Yishmael HaKhodesh 8 teaches that bloodshed actually diminishes God’s presence in this world. Of course, by definition, if our belief is a matter of faith, others may with equal passion hold beliefs contradictory to ours. However, what brings us together in the extended family of Rabbis For Human Rights, our partners and our supporters is our faith is in a God Who passionately commands us to join together in an aguda ekhat l’asot ratzonkha b’levav shalem, to wholeheartedly aid in the creation of a more just world honoring God’s Image in every human being.
The question remains, what makes the difference between faith that seems impotent and faith that moves mountains? We all know of examples of both.
Please don’t expect a definitive answer. I don’t know exactly how it works, only htat it does. However, clearly Judaism, and other faiths and ideologies, try to do strengthen and inspire us to achieve the seemingly impossible. All year long, our rituals and holidays and teachings try to forge such a faith. We reach a crescendo at Rosh HaShanah and throughout the High Holy Days season. If we allow our tradition’s messages of self introspection, teshuvah (Answering God’s still small Voice, turning and returning to our highest selves), rejoicing in creation, renewal and God’s absolute sovereignty to work their magic,
Our tradition employs many ways of imagining God and how God works in the world. On the High Holy days, even those of us who prefer our tradition’s less hierarchical imagery during the rest of the year, are returned to God’s commanding Sovereignty. The very words of the traditional prayers are in some cases literally changed to reflect this. During the year I question Abraham’s seeming willingness to sacrifice his son. On Rosh HaShana Abraham is a role model for absolute and unquestioning faith. Yom Kippur’s Eileh Ezkarah, even contains the story of Rabbi Yehudah Ben Bava, whose faith literally causes him to place himself as an “Immovable rock” between Roman soldiers and his students to prevent violence. Unlike the Organians, he cannot save himself as well.
I have no immediate plans to place myself or send anybody else to stand between Syrian government forces and rebels. It is perhaps one more reason to be thankful that I live and act in Israel/Palestine because here we are often able to physically position ourselves between groups to prevent violence, and do in fact do so. I and many of my colleagues have been injured from time to time, some seriously. In most cases, unlike what would be the case in Syria, we were not endangering our lives. Usually, the intended violence is unidirectional. Security forces and/or settlers threaten Palestinians or Israeli Arabs or Israeli social justice protestors. However, there are times when we must restrain “Our side” as well.
Often intended violence is not directly physical. It takes the form of abusing state power to take over land, to dispossess, manipulate building criteria or eligibility for public housing and other social benefits, or to close our borders to those fleeing for their lives. Sometimes it is even more banal. An individual soldier in the Occupied Territories, or social worker in Hadera decides to abuse the power in his/her hands. Here too, we must be an immovable rock standing between those wielding power and their intended victims. However, when the danger is not as immediate as a physical attack, we must work with the victims as partners, empowering them to become rocks themselves.
We many times find that our efforts often freeze the immediate threat. A combination of faith and hard work sometimes lead to more systematic and permanent change. .,
When he returns to the Enterprise, Captain Kirk is embarrassed that he had argued with the Organians over the right to act violently. In his case, the Organians were also successful educators. RHR runs formal educational programs and engages security forces in conversation at demonstrations out of faith that we are not doomed to endlessly need to stand in the middle. It is not a law of nature that there must always be “Sides” – Not between Israelis and Palestinians, and not between Israelis and Israelis. “Who is the mightiest of the mighty?… There are those who say ‘The one who turns his enemy into a friend.’” (Pirke Avot d’Rabi Natan 23
As I think of the year ahead, it is hard for me to think of a year in which the fate of more people I feel personally and directly responsible for has been in question. This year will likely be the year in which Israel decides whether or not to implement the Begin/Prawer bill, that would likely lead to the destruction of tens of Israeli Bedouin villages, the transfer up to 40,000 citizens from their homes, and dispossessing them of most of their lands. The government is bent on bringing back the Israeli Wisconsin Plan, and both our Housing and Finance ministers want to deliver a final blow to public housing. Our National Insurance Institute estimates that the budget we just passed condemns another 25,000 Israeli children to poverty. Just yesterday the Israeli High Court heard arguments whether or not cave dwellers of the South Hebron Hills will be expelled in the name of an army live fire zone. The judges suggested mediation, and representatives the State said they needed to consult before giving an answer. Even if they are not expelled, we have a pending case to challenge the current draconian restrictions on development practically keeping these cave villages in the dark ages. The court will also hear the petition to demolish Susya, and our petition to return zoning and planning authority for Palestinian communities in Area C to Palestinian hands. Also just yesterday we met with the army about how they will handle the upcoming olive harvest and whether they will fulfill court ordered obligations to protect trees from being cut down in the middle of the night. Will Israel ”Succeed” in oppressing African asylum seekers to “Voluntarily” leave? Will they go to a country that can truly look after them, or be condemned to an uncertain fate? Will we continue to close our gates to those seeking asylum?
We will need a great deal of faith this year, a great deal of strength, and many partners.
On this Rosh HaShana, may we allow our Eternal Rock and Redeemer to implant rocklike faith within us. In turn, may this faith enable us to stand as unmovable rocks, protecting without becoming violent ourselves in deeds or words. May rocklike faith never be rocklike obstinacy. May it nurture the love and flexibility necessary to dissolve hardened opposition, and turn enemies into friends.
Wishing You and Our World a Shana Tova U’Metukah, a Good and Sweet New Year, Filled with Human Rights as the Pomegranate is with Seeds.
President & Senior Rabbi