JVP Rabbinical Council Response to Escalating Violence in Jerusalem

As the horrific news of more violence and more death pours in from Jerusalem, the JVP rabbinical council stands in mourning with all those who have lost parents and children, homes and houses of prayer, sisters, brothers, and friends. We renew our efforts to be a voice for justice and peace for all people in Israel and Palestine.

We offer this bundle of poetry as a way to reflect and heal from the reports of mounting violence and to recommit to being part of building a future of which we can all be proud.

1.  A prayer in remembrance
by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

May the memories of those killed in senseless hatred be for a blessing.

May their spirits be lifted up and comforted in the close embrace of God’s motherly presence.

May our precious children be safe from harm.

May all the children be our children.

May we protect all parents from mourning.

May our hearts and the hearts of our people be healed quickly in our day from the wounds of the past and present.

May every grieving parent find comfort.

May we live to see the day when no parent has to grieve.

In Hebrew, translated by Rabbi Lila Vesid:

תפילת זיכרון

מאת הרבה רחל ברנבלט
והרבה לין גוטליב

יהי רצון שזכרם של בנינו
שנהרגו בשל שנאה חסרת פשר
.יהיה לברכה

יהי רצון שרוחם תעלה
ותתנחם בחיבוקה החם
.והאימהי של אלוהים

.יהי רצון שילדינו היקרים יהיו בטוחים מכל צרה

.יהי רצון שכל הילדים יהיו ילדינו

.יהי רצון שנגן על כל ההורים מן השכול

יהי רצון שלבבנו ולבבם של בני עמנו
יירפא במהרה בימינו
.מפצעי העבר וההווה

.יהי רצון שכל הורה אבֵל ימצא ניחומים

יהי רצון שנזכה לראות את היום
שבו לא יהיו עוד הורים אבֵלים

2. Let Us Join Those Who Refuse
by Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz

let me be strong as history
let me join those who refuse
let there be time
let it be possible
let no faction keep me
from those who suffer
let no faction keep me from those who needed a home
and found one
[let no faction keep me from those who had homes
and lost them: stolen, walled off, razed, occupied]
let no faction keep me from those
who need a home now.

3. Revenge
by Taha Muhammad Ali

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!

But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.

Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbours he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.

But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbours or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

4.  Dirge Without Music
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave.
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.


Four Questions for “Women of the Wall” On the 46th Anniversary of the Six Day War

by Cantor Michael Davis

Every Israeli politician knows that, before attending election rallies from Nahariya to Nitzana, she will first have to fly to that other center of Israeli politics: New York. To win an election, the Israeli politician must win the hearts and financial backing of the Jews of New York and other major Jewish centers in North America. Israeli NGOs, too, travel the same American route, campaigning for credibility, viability and dollars in synagogue basements and the living rooms of Jewish supporters  across the United States.

Israeli left wing politician Anat Hoffman, knows this political truth well. Recently,  her organization, “Women of the Wall” achieved a major breakthrough when it was adopted by the mainstream American  Jewish community as its cause célèbre. Several times a week, I get a mass mailing from someone in my professional and personal networks on behalf of Women of the Wall. No other organization cuts through the vague barrage of mass mailings the way  the American campaign for “Women of the Wall” does. Outdoor solidarity prayer services in city centers across the U.S. and a rabbinic mission to support Women of the Wall are signs of the remarkable resonance this campaign enjoys in the American Jewish community.

As an Israeli, back when I was still living in Jerusalem, I supported “Women of the Wall.” I voted for Anat Hoffman’s Meretz party on the Jerusalem City Council. Today, as clergy in a liberal synagogue, of course I am an advocate for the full inclusion of women and girls in Jewish ritual life.  Yet, I have serious reservation about the American campaign for “Women of the Wall.”

Here are four questions for the “Women of the Wall” campaign:

1. “Women of the Wall” wants the Western Wall, the largest Orthodox synagogue in the world, to allow women’s participation in ritual, a deeply held American Jewish value that extends from Reform to the liberal wing of modern Orthodoxy in America. In Israel, this activism is upsetting to mainstream Israeli Orthodox (and irrelevant to the vast majority of non-Orthodox Israelis). But the tone of the campaign’s supports seems to relish taking the battle to the Orthodox. The energy for fighting this battle comes in no small part from a desire to defeat the Orthodox.

Confusingly, back in the U.S., the liberal Jewish community holds the Orthodox in high regard: they are true Jews. Donating money to Jewish Federation is a standard way of expressing one’s Jewish commitment. In my hometown of Chicago, the bulk of the monies that the JUF raises from the liberal Jewish community are given to local gender-segregated Orthodox synagogues and their associated institutions. To be a good Jew is to honor the Orthodox by supporting institutions that bar women from ritual.Why are the Orthodox our friends in the United States but our adversaries in Israel?

2. The official practice in the Jewish community has been to avoid criticizing Israel. This is dictated as the responsibility of non-Israeli Jews. Many – but not all – of the people who are signing on to the Women of the Wall campaign comply with (and therefore, at the very least, implicitly enforce through social approval) this policy. Now, through its advocacy for Women of the Wall, the Jewish community is advertising to the world that Israel discriminates against women. What a shanda!

Why grant this particular campaign the rare exemption from the Jewish imperative to always look out for Israel’s good name?

3. In the densely populated square mile of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall plaza is a new-fangled anomaly. This open space was created immediately after the Israeli army captured the Old City in the 1967 Six Day War, exactly 46 years ago.. Overnight, Israeli bulldozers demolished the Mughrabi Quarter, clearing the way for what we know as the Western Wall plaza. The Israeli army first evicted the (non-Jewish) residents of the Mughrabi Quarter. At least one man was killed when he did not get out of his home in time.

However important the cause of women’s prayer is, isn’t it unseemly to focus the campaign of women’s right to pray at the scene of death and expropriation?

4. Back in the 1970s, the organized American Jewish community provided the essential legal framework and key political backing to launch the State of Israel’s signature national project of the last four decades, namely, the colonization of the West Bank. We created this reality.

The organized Jewish community continues to provide financial support and political backing to Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies. The silent majority of American Jews, through its silence, endorses the community leadership’s backing of Israel’s well-publicized injustices on the West Bank. Through our continued silence, we enable Israel’s ongoing destructive (and, frankly, self-destructive) stance.

How can we own the issue of women at prayer when we ignore our responsibility for the far more serious, ongoing problems that we did help to create, namely, the State of Israel’s violent campaign against its Palestinian population?

Shabbat Shalom to Jerusalem and Gaza

by Cantor Michael Davis

Shabbat Shalom

I just got off the phone with my brother in Jerusalem. Morning in Chicago, Friday afternoon in Israel. This is the time that the family starts preparing for Shabbat with the weekly “Sponja”, sweeping and washing the floors. “The air raid sirens just went off,” he said. Over the phone, an ambulance’s siren got louder, then another ambulance. “Let’s wait and see if there are any more ambulances.”

The conversation took me right back to my last couple of years in Israel, some 15 years ago. On any given morning, at the start of the workday – oddly enough, only during the workweek –  in the quiet air of Jerusalem, suddenly, a loud explosion. Some tense moments waiting. If we could hear multiple ambulance sirens, that meant there had been a suicide bomb attack. If, after a few minutes there were just the usual sounds of the city, we knew everything was fine; the blast was likely a controlled explosion at one of the working quarries in the area.

So, I tried to reassure my brother that this was unlikely to have been a missile attack. After all, Jerusalem was never targeted, not even during the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein sent 39 missiles into Israel.

While he took another call, I opened my laptop and checked Haaretz. Top headlines on the homepage: * First Missile Attack on Jerusalem Since 1970 (this has not happened since before the Yom Kippur War) * Thousands of Reservists Called Up (…it’s going to be another ground war) * picture  of a tank base near Gaza mobilizing  (Cast Lead all over again) * Picture of Egyptian Prime Minister with Gaza PM Hanniye waving and smiling in Gaza! (the Egyptians are committed….what if an Israeli missile kills the Egyptian PM…

My first reaction to the news a couple of days ago was dread. For the people of Gaza. And for the inevitability of the cycle of violence. How did this start? Israel freely admits that its troops violated Gazan territory but claimed this was for “routine repairs to the border fence”. For Gazans, this was just one more infringement on their supposed sovereignty along with actual attacks. The Israeli siege of Gaza is enforced through these attacks and violations. And yet, what good will this escalation do for anybody on either side.

I had a sinking feeling for the ugliness that is beginning to surface in the Jewish community. The recently retired head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, defended the Israeli attacks on Gaza as “progressive values”. Israel invoked an image of divine presence, the Biblical “Pillar of Cloud” (that shielded the ancient Israelites in the wilderness from Egyptian attack) as the military name for the onslaught on Gaza. And, throughout the Jewish community, the response has been to line up behind the Israeli attacks, even in the more progressive parts of the community.

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that former US Middle East negotiator, Aaron David Miller predicted that the President had no choice but to support the Israeli attacks on Gaza. “ If Obama has any hope of promoting an Israeli Palestinian initiative down the road, he’s going to have to remain in lock step with the current Israeli government…and [take] a very, very tough line on Israeli security,” said Miller. “There’ll be latitude in giving the Israelis a lot of leeway in terms of the disproportionality of whatever response they undertake in Gaza.”

The poor people in Gaza. Under siege and now under attack. And what do my family in Israel get in return for these attacks on Gaza? Fear and the possibility of worse. Lockdown in the south and the ugly thrill of going to war “because we have no choice but to respond” spreading throughout Israeli society and into the American Jewish community.

Through all this, I am grateful to Jewish Voice for Peace for standing tall and calling out Israel for its attacks and killings in Gaza and for consistently insisting on an end to violence on both sides of the conflict.

My brother and I went on to chat about family and the breakthrough Israeli invention of a cardboard bicycle – cycling is a passion we share – which has the potential of revolutionizing mass bicycle production and usage in China and around the world. Israelis are famous of shrugging off bad news and just getting on with things. So we moved on.

We ended our call as we wished each other Shabbat shalom, a Sabbath of Peace. Halevai. If only.

There Were Three Trees in the Garden: A Midrash

by Rabbinical Student Alana Alpert

In Al Arakhib, tree planted by JNF

And the Lord God caused to sprout from the ground every tree pleasant to see and good to eat, and the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)

There were three forbidden trees in the garden: the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, and the Tree of Violence. The Tree of Violence is placed just behind the Tree of Knowledge, for it only takes effect after you become aware of right and wrong. When you eat of its fruit, what you have learned to be true will become false and what you have learned to love will turn against you. Were Adam and Eve to eat of this fruit they would not have been banished – remaining in the Garden of Eden, suddenly a scary place, would have been punishment enough.

It’s been hard year in Israel, when things that had once seemed benign, good, or even perfect, slowly become shadowy, even threatening: A Jewish star, a blue box, a flag…

There is a particular pain that comes when my religious and cultural symbols are being disfigured, when violence is being done to and issuing from them. But the sinisterization of the most basic human symbol, a tree, is a crime even harder to digest. The Jewish National Fund in Israel is using trees as tools of displacement, as facts on the ground, as soldiers in the quiet war against the Bedouin in the Negev. I will not easily forgive the JNF for making a tree something to fear.

But this is bigger than the JNF. Here are just a few examples of places around the country I have visited recently where theft is being perpetrated in the name of the environment:

West Bank: Wadi Kana has been declared a nature reserve by the Civil Administration and Palestinian farmers have been told to uproot 2000 trees from their own lands or pay for the cost of the bulldozers themselves. Of course, this designation has not affected over 100 buildings built within the “nature reserve” by Jewish settlements, which by the Civil Administration’s own law are illegal.

East Jerusalem: growth of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Issawiya and A-Tur is being prevented by the designation of parts of their lands as a national park.

Negev: the village of Al Arakhib has been destroyed and is being forested, in an effort to force its residents to move to the recognized Bedouin village of Rahat.

I offer the words of naturalist Enos Mills:

The forests are the flags of nature. They appeal to all and awaken inspiring universal feelings. Enter the forest and the boundaries of nations are forgotten.  It may be that some time an immortal pine will be the flag of a united peaceful world.

Ken yehi ratzon – May it be God’s will.

To read more about the “forestation” Al Arakhib and take action, click here.

To read more about the “Nature Reserve” in Wadi Kana and take action, click here.

To read more about “National Parks” in East Jerusalem, click here.

Unwalling My Heart in the Walled City

by Rabbinical Student Alana Alpert

Yesterday, at one of the many Batei Midrash (“Houses of Study”) in which I study, we looked at Talmud Masechet Brachot 30b. The text includes half a dozen stories of rabbis thinking that other rabbis seem too happy. Some quote biblical verses stressing sadness intended to dampen the rabbis’ joy. Others break expensive objects, to snap the merry rabbis out of their trance and remind them of brokenness.

If I didn’t identify with the parade-raining rabbis before my time living in Jerusalem, I do now. I don’t need to tell the readers of this blog about what is happening ten minutes from my house: the demolitions and evictions in Silwan, the choking of Wallaje by the Separation Barrier, and on and on. I live my life with a near constant awareness of the suffering in this place and punish myself accordingly. By now my friends know not to agree to movie night, because they’ll be subjected to “This is My Land: Hebron” or “The Law in these Parts”. I scowl at the happy people around me: do they not know what is going on? Or do they choose not to know?

I share this not because I am better than anyone else, davka the opposite, as a sort of vidui (“confession”) or maybe a cry for help. I am deeply out of balance, and I am well aware that if I don’t let my sense of urgency give way to a bigger picture, then my days as an activist are numbered. Readers, colleagues, comrades: post your joy practices! Your texts! Share the wisdom that allows you to face injustice with clear-eyes and a joyful heart.

In Jerusalem we celebrate Shushan Purim because it was a walled city. That means the revelry that most Jews indulged in last night will take place here this evening.  I am grateful for this extra day because it has given me more time to meditate on the meaning of joy and open myself up to it. You know how sometimes a weekly Torah reading, or a holiday, gets you right when you need it? Just matches up with your life and pushes you forward? Well, Purim is my holiday this year.

Perhaps my dwelling in such darkness allows me just the opportunity to experience turning things upside down. Rebbe Nachman teaches that true joy comes from sadness transformed. There will be no smashing glasses tonight — I am resisting the urge to dress up as some part of the occupation, as I have in years past (I know, I know). Tonight I am dressing up as an angel, a being with enough distance to know that we silly humans are doing our best. And that we’ll get there…

My dear friend Fedelma offered me her joy meditation from her and my favorite poet, Hafiz:

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.

She likes to picture happiness in this case as a gangly, long armed Muppet with brightly colored fur. Tonight, I will go out to the streets to meet the Muppet.

And since I wrote this blog post instead of taking a disco nap, we’ll see how it goes… wish me luck!