by Rabbinical Student Alana Alpert
I’m very lucky to be a part of a prayer group of people committed to and working towards liberation of all people from various systems of oppression. Together we are exploring how activists can use prayer as a space for healing and as a practice that expands our ability to imagine the world we are working towards. This past week, I asked my friend who would be leading the group if we could take a few minutes to pray for my friend Mori. That morning he would be reporting to the draft headquarters of the IDF, after being refused a hearing as a conscientious objector.
Moriel and I met last summer as we were both preparing to spend a year living in Jerusalem where he would be working with Rabbis for Human Rights. I watched in awe as he used his fluent Hebrew and Arabic, as well as his seemingly endless energy and courage, to throw himself into the work. We started organizing together and he became a dear friend and colleague, supporting each other to find balance, going to demonstrations, and passing notes during infuriating panels. I knew this week would come, and that he wouldn’t go quietly, even if that might have meant less time in jail.
When planning this week’s service, my friend tried hard to understand what it was that I needed, but I didn’t know myself. I told her, “I don’t know how to pray about it except cry about it, so I guess I just need some witnesses.” That morning we chanted the verse “v’havieyenu l’shalom m’arbah kanfot haaretz” – “bring us in peace from the four corners of the land.” I wrapped myself tightly in my tallit and wound the four sets of tzitzit, representing the four corners, around my fingers. I was reminded of how often those verses are sung to the melody of Hatikvah, that for many the State of Israel is the fulfillment of this prayer. I felt overwhelmed by a wave of heartbreak and disbelief:
Why should we gather from the four corners?
So that Jews can put each other in jail?
For the crime of not believing in violence?
Weeping, I read the last paragraph of the beautiful piece Mori wrote explaining his decision:
So I refuse. I refuse to serve in the army, to put on a uniform, to pick up a gun. I refuse to contribute to the cycle of violence and dehumanization that plagues this place that I love. I refuse because I love, and because I believe in the possibility of a better reality, and because I believe in God and in humanity and in nonviolence and because, as R. Heschel teaches, to despair is the most selfish thing one can do, to say “this is hard for me,” or “it seems to me that the situation will never change,” and to thus be unable to serve God by serving others. I believe that the situation can change. I believe that my refusal is a tiny, tiny, tiny contribution to a reality in which violence is less normal, less prevalent, less accepted. I seek to refuse with the most humility that I can muster, because I do not know, about this or about anything. I refuse in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation, and in hope that the ripples of my action will reach the hearts of some members of my Israeli Jewish and American Jewish societies. I refuse to hate those who have chosen differently, and I hope that the refusal to hate will be reciprocated by those who disagree with my decision.
Between sobs, rocking back in forth in my tallit, I managed to tell the friends surrounding me that the root of the word for kanfot (corners) was the same as knafaiim (wings), and prayed something like this:
Please God, Source of Life, don’t let them clip Mori’s wings. Bring us into a new world where no person can tie another’s wings, where no person can hold another prisoner for wanting to serve You.
Ken yehi ratzon – May it be Your will.