The book rack, not the gun rack

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This terrible  war has brought those of us who love the State of Israel and believe completely in the right of our people to live in our historical homeland face to face with the awful reality of what protecting a nation from harm can mean. Hamas terrorists began this conflict, and Israel must protect herself.   Let’s put aside, for one moment, the incredible mind boggling hypocrisy of the world which ignores the suffering of tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims in Syria, in Libya, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Jordan,  because that gruesome suffering does not involve any Jews.  Let’s put aside the hypocrisy of a United Nations which hides rockets for terrorists, returns them to Hamas when “discovered”  and yet condemns Israel for crimes.   Let’s admit that defending the State of Israel requires not only the blood of our people, but the blood of a lot of innocents on the enemy side as well.  That is the price of power.  That is the price that is paid as a result of the Jewish people choosing to re-enter history in the 19th century with the Zionist Movement and her choice to live out the fate of all nations.

There are Jews who are simply uncomfortable with this conflict, creating an alternative fantasy for themselves, preferring to exist in a state of self-righteous vague concern for justice-The “Jewish Voice for Peace” group is one such assortment of Jews who exaggerate the  moral good of  the Palestinians and amplify the cruelty of the Jews. The world they live is not real.   But there are a few, very few, serious Jews who question the entire notion of power as a Jewish concept.  The most prominent is Daniel Boyarin, a New Jersey native who made aliyah and holds dual Israeli-American citizenship.  Boyarin is now a professor of Talmud at UC Berkeley and a brilliant scholar.  Essentially, his view is that as Judaism developed, it rejected the ancient Roman idea of “manliness” and embraced the ideal of the passive scholar as the “ideal man”.   The book rack over the gun rack, so to speak.  For Boyarin, Zionism is incompatible with authentic Judaism (he considers himself an Orthodox Jew) and therefore he has been an implacable critic of Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians.  For Boyarin, Jews were meant to be passive participants in history, and not  to hold power over other peoples.  I disagree completely with Boyarin,  but at least he forces us to face the unpleasant reality that to create, build, and protect a State, and a homeland, difficult decisions must be made, and the result is not always pretty, or tidy.

Eid al-Fitr Mubarak

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Today marks Eid al-Fitr, the traditional conclusion of Ramadan.  A traditional greeting is Eid Mubarak- “A blessed Eid”.  As Ramadan began, I was in Israel and this has marked one of the most blood-soaked periods in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I can remember in my lifetime. I personally experienced Hamas missile attacks.   Let me be clear; I stand squarely with my brothers and sisters in Israel, and this completely avoidable war was begun by Hamas in an effort to cause violence and death not only to Jews, but also to the Arab population that they rule with an iron fist.

But we are at war with Hamas and their kindred spirits, such as Islamic Jihad-we are not at war with Muslims and are not at war with Arabs as a whole.  In my experience, we Jews share quite a bit with Muslims in terms of culture and beliefs, and were it not for this age-old conflict we would probably find much common ground.  The day after I returned from Israel I met up with an American Muslim friend, and we agreed that Islam and Judaism share many principles, including the importance of tzedakah, prayer, penitence, and study (the word Quran is identical to the Hebrew word Qura’, which means “scripture”). 

My people are at war with an enemy that seeks our destruction-Hamas and all those who support Hamas.  I refuse to be at war with Islam, or with all Muslims.  Eid Mubarak.

 

Fallujah and Forgetting

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The front page picture in today’s New York Times is heart wrenching.  It depicts two dead Gazan children, killed by Israeli rockets.  What kind of person could fail to be moved by this horrific sight?

Do you remember Fallujah?  Probably not.  It took place ten years ago, during the Iraq War.  American forces bombed the city of Fallujah from the skies for weeks, and then sent in ground troops.  It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war.  However, what we did there, particularly during the weeks of heavy bombing, will never be fully known.  During the Iraq War, the  Administration heavily censored and worked to control the news, and a compliant media was all too happy to play along, in the name of keeping their “access”.  Want good guests on the Sunday shows?  Don’t ask too many questions.  Want to get the invite to the White House Press Party so you can disco dance with Karl Rove?  Don’t ask too many questions.    As the late Rabbi David Forman, a combat veteran of the 1982 Lebanon War told us in 2004 in a speech at Temple Emanu-El-“You have been deliberately sheltered by your government from the actions that you took in Iraq.  Those of us who live in the Middle East know exactly what you did”.

Which brings me back to the picture on the front page of the Times.  Hamas gives reporters full access to the carnage on the ground, because they want to emphasize the casualties caused by the Israelis.  The fact that Israel pleaded with Hamas not to escalate the conflict, that Netanyahu had to fight right wing ministers in his own government to behave in a restrained manner, that Hamas intentionally places its citizens in jeopardy, that Hamas has fired over a thousand rockets into Israel deliberately targeting civilians, all this pales in comparison to the accepted narrative that Israel is responding brutally in Gaza.

In this particular instance, I have given up caring what ‘the world” thinks.  I have been under Hamas rocket fire, and its not fun.  All I ask is that Americans who point fingers should always remember that when you point your finger at another person, four fingers are pointing at yourself. 

Boxing in a Bomb Shelter

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For the first time, I was able to make my way to my home away from home, the Jerusalem Boxing Gym. To my pleasant surprise, I was recognized and greeted warmly. (although one young man said to me, “Hey I remember you from when I was a little kid”).
The coach began the session today by assembling us together, and announcing that the gym would now be open 24 hours a day. It is an old bomb shelter, you see, and the municipality of Jerusalem has requested that it be opened up to all residents as a shelter once again, given that missiles are falling over the country. The coach continued by saying that in the event that the shelter would be used for refuge, he expected that each fighter would volunteer to take a shift supervising those who take shelter. By the way, for those who went to Jewish summer camp, the coach used the same word that we use to describe being a counselor-on duty, shemira, to describe the taking of a shift in the shelter. The first fighter to volunteer was a young man named Artur, who happens to also be the Israeli National champion in his weight class. (There were three national champions training alongside me today).
The gym remains a wonderful mix of Jerusalem kids- Russians, native born sabras, Ethiopians, and one young Brit covered in Star of David tatoos who looked like someone had broken his nose very recently. The only language spoken is Hebrew, with some Russian mixed in, and Yiddish when the coach gets angry. However, noticeably missing today were any Palestinian fighters-things are tense these days in the Holy City.
As it happens, while we were training, rockets were fired by Hamas at Jerusalem. Apparently two were intercepted, two fell in fields. All the while, we were boxing in the bomb shelter.

Will the Center Hold?

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Life in Israel today is evocative of Yeats’ great poem “The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

While we are still reeling from the shock of the discovery of the bodies of the three yeshiva students, six Jews confess to the slaughter of a young Muslim youth in retaliation,
burning him alive-yes while still alive; and rioting and violence are continuing in East Jerusalem. Rockets are falling on parts of Israel, and the Israeli army is responding with military action in Gaza. The ceremony of innocence has long drowned, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and for sure, the worst are full of passionate intensity.
The call today in Israel is for the sane amongst us, Jew and Arab together, to unite against “the worst” amongst us-and if there is any hope it is in that call being heeded. Even some ultra-orthodox rabbis have condemned the murder of Muhammed Abu-Khadeir, the young boy slaughtered by Jewish zealots and the better of our political leaders are trying to press for calm and not confrontation. There are still too many voices, both here and sadly in America, who care not that their careless and cruel words will loose anarchy upon the innocent, but to be a Jew is to hope, and on this day, we cling to hope that things yet will not “fall apart”.

No Zealots

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This morning, I discovered this graffiti scrawled fifty yards from the school in which I study. For those who don’t read Hebrew, it says “Jews! Vengeance!” It is a call by Jewish extremists to attack Arabs in the wake of the murder of the three yeshiva students. As is well known by now, one Arab youth was burned to death, allegedly by such extremists.

There is no place in Judaism for such sick and profane individuals who call for death and retribution against Arabs. To the credit of Prime Minister Netanyahu he has acted swiftly to condemn such behavior and vows to punish Jewish criminals who injure Arabs. Incredibly, I have read comments by some who say, “Well, it’s not like we are ISIS in Iraq-how come the media always picks on us”? Is that now our standard for moral behavior-that at least we are not as bad as those depraved murderers?
The Torah portion for this Shabbat tells the story of Pinchas, a zealot who murders in the name of religion. Our rabbis made it clear that Pinchas is no role model for us. However, it is clear that some misguided Jews did not get the rabbinic message.

Where the edges meet

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When I studied geology in college, I learned that earthquakes are caused by two tectonic plates that rub together, causing unbearable friction.
In Israel, the fluid border between east and west Jerusalem is like those tectonic plates, rubbing against each other and occasionally rumbling into violence. There have been clashes in east Jerusalem in recent days, as Palestinians protest not only the murder of an Arab youth by (perhaps) Jewish extremists, but two weeks of increased pressure during the search for the murdered three Israeli boys.
Ramadan adds to the friction as heightened religious sensitivity coupled with all day fasting in the hot sun brings tempers to a boil.
Today is also Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, and to his credit President Netanyahu is working hard to maintain calm.
He has taken the unprecedented step of saying publicly to Hamas that if they remain quiet (despite the dozens of rockets they have fired into Israel) the Israeli army will take no escalating action.
But the friction remains. I visited part of east Jerusalem, primarily to pray at the Western Wall (which can be accessed through the Muslim Quarter) but also to personally see what was up.
The border police had closed the popular Jaffa Gate and maintained a small entrance that allowed only a single person to enter at a time. Young Arab men were questioned and often turned away as prayer time approached. Older Arab men were welcomed through the barrier. In fairness, all of us were scrutinized as we entered, but it was clear that the younger Arab men were given more of a once over. The hope is that by barring younger men, rioting might be prevented on the Temple Mount. I had heard on the news that only older Arab men and women were to be permitted access to the Temple Mount area. To their credit, the young female border guards were polite and helpful, their male commanding officer was clearly anxious and was shouting constantly.
The Arab shouk was very quiet and many shops were shuttered. The Western Wall itself was not very crowded and while I was there soldiers were deploying to prepare security for the hour of Muslim prayer.
All in all, there was an odd feeling of emptiness and mild tension in the air.
However, Jerusalem is a city of wild contrasts. As I was leaving the Arab shouk on the way home, near the Jaffa gate, I passed a large group of Christian American tourists posing with two photogenic young Israeli female border police officers. These two young blonde Israeli women, except for their uniforms and assault rifles, would have been at home at some sorority gathering in Dallas or Atlanta, and they clearly were charming the American group. As I walked by, I glanced back, and a nice American grandmother was encouraging her clearly embarrassed teenage grandson to snuggle closer to the two young women in order to take a picture. The heavily armed girls giggled, the tourists laughed, and life goes on in Israel.

Update-Unfortunately, it appears that rioting has in fact broken out in heavily Arab areas of East Jerusalem. The Boxing Rabbi prays for the peace of Jerusalem, for all its inhabitants- and wishes to assure everyone that in fact, despite the incidents of conflict, things remain quite safe.