In This Moment
We are honored to have as our guest at this evening's service Guy Fortt, the local NAACP president. See the flyer at the bottom of this email for more information. Over the coming days both Katie Kaplan and Lisa Manheim will officially begin their tenures as leaders of our community - I wish them both the best of luck and look forward to working closely with them over the coming years.
These past 3 1/2 months have been quite a journey for us all. And now, as we enter July, I'm going to step back and gather strength, while assessing our swiftly changing world and preparing for the challenges ahead, including the High Holidays. You won't be hearing from me on a regular basis, though I'm sure I'll have reason to reach out from the bunker from time to time. But the first season of "Coronavirus Update," "From the Rabbi's Bunker" and "In This Moment" officially now ends.
Did you see our little High Holiday trailer video that was sent out yesterday? If not, fear not! You can watch it by clicking on the box below.
You'll be hearing much more about this over the coming weeks, but for now I'll just say these will be the most participatory High Holidays services ever. EVERYONE will get to take part. With that in mind, before I take leave, I'll leave you with two simple assignments that you can complete right away:
- Click here to submit a brief video New Year's greeting from your family. 5-10 seconds ought to do it - ample time to include everyone - the dog, your cousins from Tacoma on Zoom, your grandchildren, your blankie, whatever. We'll integrate all these greetings into our services.
- Click here to submit photos of loved ones who have passed away, to be included in our Yizkor services on Yom Kippur. We will also still have our Book of Remembrance, but this adds a new dimension to the service. Please remember to include the name of the person in the photo, and feel free to include relatives and friends who passed away this year due to the coronavirus and other causes, along with those who have died in years past.
This video, which premiered last night at our Sharing Sacred Spaces program, brings the spirit of TBE to life in the words and experiences of over half a dozen congregants. Many other TBE congregants attended on Zoom as well. The featured video describes key elements of Judaism and TBE's history.
Korah: Protest Movement or Rebellion?
This week's portion of Korah has great relevance to the current conversation about protest and rebellion. depending on your point of view, the ____ (rebellion) (uprising) (protest march) (intifada) (hoodlum mob) of Korah against Moses in the book of Numbers could be seen as a legitimate expression of democratic yearning or a craven, manipulative coup attempt against the greatest leader in world history. Take your pick!
In the words of "Judaism Unbound" podcast host Lex Rofeberg (on Facebook),
"One of the Torah's biggest uprisings, by people calling for an equalization of power, and checks on people in official positions of authority, was bad. The people in positions of authority are heroes, and the people rising up against them were wrong. Even if those rising-up had a point, their tactics were overly hostile and aggressive. I would like the earth to be done swallowing-up people who work toward a more just world. I would like people (whether rabbinic interpreters or others) to stop framing people-who-work-toward-a-more-just-world as aggressive or violent, when others -- in this story and today -- seem to be directing violence toward them."
Interesting perspective on Korah. What do you think? Is the fine line between freedom fighters and terrorists purely subjective? Or is there a clear standard that automatically differentiates between the two. Does it totally depend on who wins - and writes the history?
As if we didn't have enough crises to deal with...
It's hard to believe that Zero Hour has possibly arrived. After 53 years of hemming and hawing, negotiating and fighting, Israel may be on the verge of annexing - or sort of annexing - part of the disputed territories known to most of the world as the West Bank and to others as Judea and Samaria.
Why now? Because Prime Minister Netanyahu has been promising to do this forever, and he knows that the window may be closing on his one chance to do it. The recent American peace plan does not call for unilateral annexation of anything, but America has been sending mixed signals and would be unlikely to react punitively. Netanyahu knows that things could change significantly after November, as many of Israel's staunchest supporters in Washington have made it clear that they do not favor annexation. Bibi also is an expert at reading polls. So the window is potentially closing.
What would be annexed? It's anyone's guess, but those areas talked about the most are the Jordan Valley, for security purposes, and either the core settlement bloc near Jerusalem and a few others or, some have suggested, all the settlements.
"Annexation Lite," a term bandied about this week, would just include a few suburbs of Jerusalem, rather than the freckled map shown above (some might call it acne). These are places that just about everyone assumes would be part of Israel in any permanent peace arrangement.
What are the risks / benefits of doing this now? Enormous risk, and no benefit to speak of, for Israel, and even for President Trump, whose evangelical base does not seem overly concerned about this right now, but whose Saudi and Egyptian friends are very nervous. Most American Jewish groups think this is a bad idea - and even AIPAC gave legislators the green light to criticize the Israeli government about it, something almost unprecedented (and many have).
Why blow up a relatively stable situation, when Israel has complete security control over the West Bank already, and secure peace accords with Jordan and Egypt?
Why would Israel jeopardize an already shaky relationship with Diaspora Jewry, particularly among youth, and bipartisan support in the US that is already fraying? It would just give fodder to those who accuse Israel of heading toward an arrangement perilously similar to apartheid. It makes no sense.
Which is why I have joined nearly 700 Jewish clergy in signing this "Letter calling on the Israeli Government to Abandon Plans for Annexing the West Bank." I take signing letters like this very seriously, but my support for Israel is too strong to ignore the perils of moment. Friends don't let friends drive drunk and do other foolish things like annex the West Bank.
Now don't get me wrong. Ultimately, I envision that Israel will need to negotiate final boundaries not that different from the map on this page. Right now I see the Jordan Valley as strategically essential to Israel's security, and I would never want rockets to be fired at Ben Gurion airport from a frontier just down the street; the 1967 borders would need adjustment. But those land swaps need to be negotiated. There is no reason all of those settlement-freckles need to be annexed. Many do not serve a strategic defensive purpose. Israel is in a much stronger position to do that negotiating now than it was a decade or two ago, and she has more support in the Arab world. Now is the time to leverage that support and not squander it.
If Israel were to step back from the brink, she would endure some internal political turbulence, but a well-conceived diplomatic effort by the Americans, Europeans and Arabs could leverage this "sacrifice" into some momentum that might yield some tangible benefits for Israel. Okay, so the idea of well-conceived diplomacy from those entities might be too much to expect right now; so let's just say that it would not hurt Israel at all to let this moment pass.
The equation is simple.
Annexation = All Risk + No Benefit.
Below are bullet points from a resolution opposing unilateral annexation adopted by the URJ this week, representing the official position of the Reform movement:
Annexation would have a deleterious impact on the Palestinian people. Annexation may place yet more Palestinians under direct Israeli control while denying them full citizenship rights. Israel's moral standing depends on its commitment to ensuring that Palestinians do not live as second-class citizens without the full democratic rights its Jewish citizens enjoy.
Annexation is seen by Palestinians as Israeli repudiation of the two-state solution. As the diplomatic path closes, frustration and despair within the Palestinian community will lead many to abandon faith in the diplomatic approach toward securing their rights, likely enhancing the status of Hamas and other extremist groups who argue that only unilateral Palestinian steps, including the use of violence, can lead to a viable Palestinian state. At the same time, calls will increase for a "one-state solution," which will negate the continuation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Annexation creates significant diplomatic risks for Israel. It risks making Israel a pariah in growing segments of the international community. Annexation also risks undercutting the improved relations between Israel and some of the Arab nations in the region, as evidenced in an unprecedented op-ed by the Emirates' ambassador to the U.S. in one of Israel's leading newspapers.
Annexation would also provide fodder for those who advocate for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) toward Israel. In North America, Zionist college students, as well as Israel's most zealous supporters among members of the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament, will find themselves besieged by BDS activists, having to defend what many will view as an indefensible policy.
Annexation jeopardizes Israel's security. Throughout nearly three decades, cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces has thwarted hundreds of terrorist attacks and made life in Israel safer. In recent years, cooperation has been strained by lack of progress on the peace process, deteriorating trust, and frozen funding. The result has been increased strain on Israeli security. Annexation would significantly weaken the PA, reducing or even ending security cooperation and further stressing Israeli security forces. Israel will be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, not less. As the "Commanders for Israel's Security," a highly respected NGO of former key military and intelligence leaders, has observed:
"Palestinian security officers and troops, along with their relatives and social circles, must have a sense that their work serves the Palestinian national interest and is not solely an act of collaboration with the occupation...It is impossible to state for certain...the point at which Israel's unilateral steps, lead to the termination of security coordination by the PA or its collapse."
Annexation jeopardizes North American strategic interests and political support for Israel. Annexation could undermine Israel's decades long peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt and inflame the majority Palestinian population in Jordan, leading to greater regional instability. Such pressures could also undercut the willingness of Gulf States to continue improving ties and strategic cooperation with Israel. All of these shifts would undermine U.S. and Canadian strategic interests in the region, leaving them less effective in ensuring Israel's well-being and further weakening the U.S.'s and Canada's ability to be a power-broker in the volatile region.
Over time, North American political support for Israel would likely be weakened. We are already seeing shifts toward greater sympathy for the Palestinians among pro-Israel supporters, including younger evangelicals.
The bipartisan and cross-party support that Israel has enjoyed for decades in the United States and Canada would be damaged by divisions over Israel's annexation policy. This shift could seriously jeopardize the eight-decade partnerships between the United States and Israel and Canada and Israel, which have been founded on shared democratic values and shared security interests. Annexation will give ammunition to Israel's opponents in their efforts to restrict aid packages and Memoranda of Understanding so vital for Israeli security and well-being.
Annexation will deepen the divide between Israel and North American Jews. The overwhelming majority of North American Jewry remains committed to a peaceful two-state solution. We share that commitment and are deeply concerned by Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement that unilateral annexation would not include any commitment to the establishment of a future Palestinian state or to a resumption of the peace process; even President Trump's peace plan includes those commitments. The ties between Jews worldwide - particularly younger Jews - and the Jewish state are strained by two decades of policies that have dimmed the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expanded settlements, and rejected the full rights of the non-Orthodox streams in Israel. Because the deep, abiding passion of Zionism is rooted in the dream of Israel as embodied in the democratic values of the Declaration of Independence, the more Israel undercuts those values, the more damage it does to Klal Yisrael and to the urgent need of repairing relations between Israel and world Jewry.
As U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, one of Israel's most effective supporters on Capitol Hill, has said, "A directly negotiated two-state solution is a mainstream position and expressing concern about unilateral annexation isn't extreme at all. It's the position of most of the largest cross-section of the American Jewish community."
We've Been Here Before
Somehow, we are entering territory that feels utterly familiar. While African Americans often reference the year 1619 - and for good reason - as the period when their long American nightmare began, for Jews the reference point for our collective pain might be said to have been the mid 14th century, when the Black Death broke out.
Here's how the website of the Diaspora Museum describes it:
...The plague brought a completely different type of persecution. This was not just economic oppression, unfair taxation, or even marking Jews with a yellow or purple patch. This was real slaughter. The masses ignored Pope Clement VI's bull that the Jews were not to blame, King Carl IV of Germany's explicit policy and even the public statements of a significant number of European municipalities. A purely economic matter was at play here. Jewish property was perceived to belong to royalty or cities. Jews worked under licenses, trading, profiting and earning their daily bread in the only occupations permitted to them. Kingdoms and local authorities were thus empowered to announce when and where Jews could be killed, how their property would be divided and by whom.
But the masses did not obey. Extremist religious groups, local actions, a series of religiously, economically and socially based mass murders, and mainly unbridled hatred and fear of the Other ensued.
Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed. Jews in Basel were burned in a structure created solely for that purpose, walking distance from the casino in which the First Zionist Congress was held 550 years later. More than 1,000 Jews were killed on the night of Valentine's Day, and Jews were forbidden from living in the city for 100 years. A mass suicide of Jews took place in Frankfurt and the Jewish community of Erfurt was completely wiped out. Information regarding the location of a bounty of treasure, buried by the community's sponsors, was also erased when the plague began. That treasure was coincidentally discovered during an archaeological dig in 1998. Beit Hatfutsot's collection includes a wedding ring that was part of that treasure....
...Despite commonly held belief, we cannot say whether Jews died in greater or lesser numbers of the disease than they did of their neighbors. Many historians believe that halacha mandating hygiene practices like netilat yadayim (handwashing), quick burial of the dead, and tahara (ritual purity); and arvut hadadit, mutual responsibility among members of the community protected Jews - at least from death - by reducing the spread of disease. Halacha also contains strict rulings on isolation during an epidemic like "When there is an epidemic in the town keep your feet inside your house (Bava Kamma 60b.)" or the Halacha's command against double-dipping: "One should not bite off a piece [of bread] in front of his fellow and put it into the bowl of food from which he eats (Masechet Derech Eretz)."
Like our African American neighbors, we have experienced scapegoating and systemic oppression first hand. While in the current scenario, Jews might be seen as being beneficiaries of "white privilege," and to a large extent that is true (read this excellent discussion of that question), our collective memory also places us in a position of great empathy with our neighbors.
For in fact, the same scapegoating against Jews that we experienced during the Black Death is still in play to this day with Covid-19.
But more to the point, any pandemic like this one is an incubator for hate. People cooped up in their homes for months are just aching to assign blame. And people who love to foment division and hate are churning out conspiracy theories by the day. And they are aiming their poison darts right at each of us.
So the next time you hear the hate machine whirring, remember that we've heard it all before.
Shabbat Shalom and have a restful, safe summer!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
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