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General, Justice in Israel, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

Is Hope Defensible? Rosh Hashana thoughts 5775 by Rabbi Arik Ascherman

1 Comment 23 September 2014

Is Hope Defensible?
Rosh HaShana Thoughts 5775

Arik2

Rabbi Arik Ascherman
President and Senior Rabbi
Rabbis for Human Rights

Last week members of RHR met with a US Council of Bishops’ peace mission on the last day of their visit. The bishops were quite depressed. When it was my turn to say something, I recounted some of the same stories and verses that many of you who have heard me speak or follow what I write are familiar with. I spoke of the fact that there is a solid majority of Israelis and Palestinians who want a negotiated agreement, but don’t believe the other side wants peace. However, this is the reason that a week before Egyptian President Sadat came to Jerusalem most Israelis were against the very same proposals they overwhelmingly supported when they understood that peace had became real. I quoted Tractate Kiddushin 40b’s teaching that we must see life as two perfectly balanced scales, and that a small, seemingly meaningless action on our part can tip the scales. I explained that, living here, I believe in the basic goodness of my fellow Israelis and of Palestinians, and spoke of the Elul/High Holy Days message that people can change for the better. If I had time, there are so many additional midrashim you know that I love: God sowing the seeds of  the Messiah as Joseph is sold into slavery, jumping into the sea before it parts…

Yet, I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised at how the bishops felt. There are a lot of depressed people in Israel and Palestine today, and with good reason. We are in the aftermath of a war in which the only winner was the Malakh HaMavet (Angel of Death). The war’s expenses are also being used as an additional excuse not to fund the recommendations of the Alaluf Committee on Fighting Poverty, recommendations that RHR fought so hard to achieve. Prime Minister Netanyahu is now the radical left winger of his party, being attacked from within and from without for having not allowed the army to “finish the job” in Gaza. Palestinian support for previously languishing Hamas is soaring as a result of the war. While claiming that the war has opened new possibilities for peace, the government has announced a massive land seizure and avoided talks on a permanent cease fire…

It is not just this year. Over a period of years I have noticed that it is more and more difficult to recruit volunteers, and I believe that is because many have given up hope that an investment of their time makes a difference. I am aware that many of my High Holiday messages and other communications in recent years have been defending hope.

Influenced as I also have been by this summer’s carnage, I didn’t realize that I too had lost sight of our successes this year. When I sat down to write our Rosh HaShana funding appeal, I was surprised to see how much we accomplished this year. We turned around the Alaluf Committee, helped freeze the Begin/Prawer Negev Bedouin Bill, convinced the army to teach a curriculum we wrote, obtained a resounding statement by the Israeli High Court that discriminatory planning leading to the demolition of Palestinian homes is unacceptable, and made public housing one of the most talked about subjects in the Knesset… As I write, I have just received the news that our High Court has ordered that the “open” facility essentially imprisoning asylum seekers must be closed. While RHR wasn’t one of the appellants, the decision allows me a different perspective on the night I was pepper sprayed and attacked simply for standing with the asylum seekers who had fled that accursed facility.

Thinking of the incongruity of celebrating achievements in the shadow of war, I am reminded of the joke, “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” On the other hand, I know that each of these successes points to what is possible.

So, is hope defensible? When I talk about the power for change inherent in the High Holy Days and the promise of a new year, is Ascherman just putting on his rose colored glasses again?

Can we be so audacious, as to hope, and does that hope have anything to do with the High Holy Days?

As already explained above, I believe there are objective reasons and historical precedents that give hope. For that matter, it is no coincidence that our national anthem is HaTikva, The Hope. Without the ability to see beyond the current reality and truly believe in the possibility that a different and better reality was in the offing, the Jewish people would have disappeared after losing independence almost 2000 years ago, and there would be no State of Israel today.

Secondly, I believe in the power of “restart.” When I, and/or people around me, become stuck in a negative pattern, I will ask if we can do a “restart.” This is an artificial concept, but often it works, just like rebooting our computers can sometimes get them working on the right track again. We make a huge change for the better through the very ability to step outside the negative dynamics that have developed in our relationships and say, “Now I am making a conscious choice to recognize that I am caught up in something unhealthy and want to make a clean start”

There needs to be an act of will on our part, and that act of will could take place at any day, at any time. However, it helps when somebody or something outside us gives us a push, and when we are reinforced and supported by the “collective effervescence” (Emile Durkheim) that occurs when everybody around us is engaged in the same process. Rosh HaShana is our reminder that fresh starts are possible, telling us “the restart begins today.” We can break with patterns of the past, just as in the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh HaShana, God teaches Abraham to break with customs of child sacrifice. Recalling the creation of the world reconnects us with the vision of the world as God intended, and to which we aspire. Yom Kippur, just nine days after Rosh HaShana gives us a target date for doing what is necessary to take concrete steps to make the restart more than just words. If we are taught that “Itzumo shel yom,” (the very essence of the day) gives Yom Kippur the power to cleanse and effect pardon, part of that essence is the power of so many people collectively restarting.

For me, a discussion of the historical basis for hope and the psychology of hope is not complete without a discussion of faith. We pray in the High Holy Day Amidah prayer, “Give hope to those who seek you,” and shortly after told that this will come about. In the Haftarah for the second day, Jeremiah tells us in the name of God that, “There is a reward for your work” (Jeremiah 31:16) and, “There is hope for your future.” (Jeremiah 31:17). On the first day there is more than just promises. Hagar and Ishmael are saved, and the prayer of Hannah is answered. All year around we pray “Mi Khamokha,” in which remembering our redemption on the shores of the sea allow us to believe that future redemption is possible.

Faith is the belief that the arc of history is ultimately moving towards God’s dream for the world. Whatever we will merit to see in our lifetime, we are a part of God’s tapestry, “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from doing your part” (Pirkei Avot).

I concluded my remarks to the Catholic bishops by reminding them that we had a special responsibility as religious leaders to do our part. But, responsibility for the world whose birth we celebrate on Rosh HaShana is not limited to religious leaders alone. Faith entails obligation because it reminds us that all the renewal and healing and fresh starts and new possibilities that we believe are possible in the New Year will only happen when we fulfill the roles that God has ordained for us, even though our attempts to know what those roles might be are also a matter of faith.

I admit that I generally do not pray all of the traditional preliminary prayers of the morning service. However, from Rosh Khodesh Elul (the month preceding Rosh HaShana) through Hoshanah Rabah (The seventh day of Sukkot), I recite the prayer, “Not because of our righteousness do we supplicate You.”  The conclusion is “ashreinu,” we are blessed because we are obligated to “thank and praise and bless and sanctify.” It occurs to me that we are also blessed because we are commanded to serve and carry out our task and do our part to bring closer to reality the promise of creation.

It is for that reason that every year I bless our staff with the hope that in the New Year they will enjoy the satisfaction and rewards of long days and nights that bring results. I share that blessing with you.

Wishing You a Blessed and Sweet and truly renewing New Year,

Arik

P.S Those of you who are on our “regular mail” mailing list will shortly receive shortened camera ready versions of RHR’s annual Yom Kippur vidui (confession) and Sukkot assif (celebration of Israel’s spiritual harvest). The full downloadable vidui will be posted on the RHR website on Sunday, September 28th. The assif will be posted on Sunday, October 5th. We will also be posting ushpizin (Sukkah guests) posters with original artwork welcoming those in need of shelter into our sukkas and into our hearts.

P.S.S. Please contact Sara Zur, rhr.sara@gmail.com, about bringing an RHR speaker to your community. I am planning on being in England for Limmud and for the first week of January 2015, and in North America in May 2015

shanatovacard

Shana tova!

 

Education, General, Justice in Israel, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

“Come as Far as you Can”: RHR’s High Holiday Appeal

1 Comment 22 September 2014

An appeal by Rabbis for Human Rights Co-chairs Rabbi Amy Klein, and Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president and senior rabbi for RHR, on the upcoming High Holidays. Continue Reading

Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin

El Arakib in court this Wednesday: The village needs your support!

1 Comment 11 September 2014

This Wednesday, September 17th, the court will finally hear a very important appeal from Al Arakib which could determine the future of the village. There are two ways the villagers are asking for support- one is by attending the weekly vigil on Sunday at 16:30, and the second is by coming to the Ramle Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday,  at 11:30. Details, transportation,  and background below.

Continue Reading

General, Occupied Territories

Watering trees in Anata: A volunteer gives her impressions

No Comments 09 September 2014

On Friday, September 5th, Rabbi Arik Ascherman and Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann took a group of volunteers to assist a farmer in watering his trees in the Palestinian village of Anata. Although the group was concerned that they would be given a hard time by local extremists, it ended up being a quiet morning. One of the volunteers shares her impressions of the day.  Continue Reading

General, Occupied Territories, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

On Rosh Khodesh & the Ceasefire: A meditation to open ourselves to the power of Elul

No Comments 26 August 2014

On Tuesday and Wednesday, August 26th and 27th,  we mark the new Jewish month of Elul, a month set apart from the others as a time of deep soul searching and repentance in preparation for the upcoming Jewish High Holidays. The marking of the new month, referred to as Rosh Khodesh Elul, this year has coincided with the announcing of a new ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, effectively (hopefully) ending  Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.  Continue Reading

General

His memory is most definitely a blessing: Rabbi Ascherman on the passing of Leonard Fein z”l

1 Comment 18 August 2014

Last week, Leonard Fein z”l passed away at eighty years old. Leonard was a great Jewish American thinker, doer and writer whose influence on progressive Judaism will echo for years and years to come.  Rabbi Ascherman, president and senior rabbi of RHR, remembers him as a supportive, insightful and inspiring influence: Continue Reading

Occupied Territories, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

Questioning not if the army is moral, but if the policy is moral

2 Comments 17 August 2014

As part of RHR’s effort to engage in a dialogue with the Israeli settler community, the following opinion piece on the IDF and morality will be published in a local print paper in the Israeli settlement Ariel shortly. Please continue to look  for additional pieces in this series alongside the responses by the settler communities themselves. Continue Reading

General, Occupied Territories

Why we oppose Capital Punishment

No Comments 07 August 2014

Capital punishment during peacetime was abolished by Israel in 1954. However, the use of the death penalty remains an option for particular crimes including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and treason. Military Courts in the territories also have the option of its use. However,  historically the courts are very hesitant to utilize capital punishment and there has not been an execution in Israel since Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi,  in 1962, and before that, there was only one other execution for a man (falsely) accused of treason in 1948. Continue Reading

General, Reflections from RHR Rabbis & Staff

TISHA B’AV THOUGHTS IN A TIME OF WAR, by Rabbi Arik Ascherman

1 Comment 05 August 2014

by: Rabbi Arik Ascherman

“From above God sent a fire

Down into my bones
God spread a net for my feet,
God hurled me backward
God has left me forlorn.
In constant misery” (Lamentations 1:13)

Continue Reading

General, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin, Occupied Territories, Press Releases

Urgent letter: Cellular warning service not available in Bedouin communities

No Comments 30 July 2014

Yesterday (July 29th 2014), Rabbis for Human Rights and other organizations promoting rights for Bedouins in the Negev sent an urgent letter to the Home Front Command, protesting that the cellular rocket fire warning service is not available in unrecognized Bedouin communities.

The disturbing situation in which communities lack both protected areas and sirens  is difficult to remedy in the immediate future, but it seems that the absence of a cellular warning is an easier matter to fix. Therefore,  it’s all the more puzzling to us that the system is not programmed to provide warnings to citizens of these communities. “Disputes over planning issues are no reason to disregard human life,” argue the signatories to the letter: Rabbis for Human Rights, the Forum for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, and AJEEC-NISPED. Continue Reading

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