Rethinking The Stories

The death of George Floyd cracked something open in our perception of America and Americans. Derek Chauvin, a police Officer sworn to uphold the law in Minneapolis, MN, calmly and deliberately choked Floyd to death. I’ll never get over the image of officer Chauvin calmly pressing his knee down on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, with his hands in his pockets. Floyd begged to be released, over and over again crying, “I can’t breathe.”  As Floyd pleaded, Officer Chauvin continued to kill him.

The image awakened many Americans. A white man in a blue uniform believed he could get away with killing a Black man in public. Bystanders screamed while Chauvin’s fellow officers did nothing other than keeping the crowd at bay.

This is a time of reckoning. We are beginning to acknowledge the deeper scars of American history and the dimensions of racism. We are daring to pull back the thick curtain of denial to truly look at how we got here. It’s time to learn about so many things we don’t want to know about slavery and racism and implicit bias and redlining and white supremacy.

This is tough stuff. It has so many implications for American society. We are trying to pull down the lies and the injustice and the self-serving hypocrisy that created a false front, an image of America that sought to exclude people of color and alternative religious faiths and gender identification. We are pulling down the false idols.

We are duty-bound to serve up the truth. We are compelled to explore our new American center of gravity, to find meanings in the new dimensions of American life that are being uncovered and shared. This is the only way to move forward in a progressive, multi-ethnic, multi-racial country. If we don’t acknowledge the fuller truth of the past, as painful as it may be, we are doomed to implode. Without telling the full truth, we run the risk of becoming a neo-fascist nation. The stakes are that high.

There are people who fear disturbing the status quo. I understand that. I’ve seen that response to Jews who sought to matriculate at American universities that had quotas to keep us out. I saw the first Jewish hospitals in America constructed because so many hospitals would not hire Jewish doctors, and they had to practice somewhere. They feared us, scared of our perceived foreignness. They hated us with the two-thousand-year-old canard that we were “Christ-killers.” White Anglo-Saxons were not interested in sharing the pie.

I listen to White people railing against enlightenment at school boards all over the country. I wonder how it’s possible to claim that advancing a more nuanced understanding of race in America is a Marxist idea… And I can assure you that 99% of people who use the term Marxist as a xenophobic sledgehammer have no idea what Marxism is. Opposition to historical facts, like opposition to science, is all about a desperate need to uphold an ideology of the past even as the arrow of time points in the opposite direction.

We can – we must – be able to accept the cruel nuances of our history, that the Founders of America were noble – and that some of them were slaveowners and deeply flawed humans. Knowing the fuller truth chastens us; it lights the way to a deeper wisdom. The story of our nation includes unspeakable violence and racism and slavery and atrocities against Native Americans and people of color and Jews. But those are not the only stories.

We are weaving a complex tapestry that is still coming together. I hope that this Thanksgiving we can braid various narratives together rather than rip them apart. It saddens me to learn the extent to which the quintessential Thanksgiving mythos does not bear much resemblance to the facts. The myth is that friendly Indians, unidentified by tribe, welcome the Pilgrims to America, teach them how to live in this new place, sit down to dinner with them and then disappear. They hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity, and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. That’s the story—it’s about Native people conceding to colonialism. It’s bloodless and in many ways an extension of the ideology of Manifest Destiny.

Do we have to get rid of the Pilgrim hats and the head feathers? Is it racist? Or is it aspirational? Is it an image that we have clung to all these years to propose the possibilities inherent in sharing our bounties together? Or is it a cynical dodge for colonialism? I don’t know, but it’s worth talking about.

Hard conversations are necessary for us to move forward. Stonewalling the truth in favor of preserving an idyllic – and imaginary – past will not work. Thanksgiving can take on new meaning. It can underscore the best of our nation: a sincere desire to give all our citizens the opportunity to succeed with grace and dignity and equality. We will create new images. We will tell new stories.

Reform Jews know this so well. We have this ancient history and ancient rituals that we continue to reframe and alter. We abandon that which no longer works, and we adopt a new way of understanding our destiny. It’s hard. And it’s why we are here in 2021, daring to raise up new meanings.

Whatever you do on Thanksgiving, while you feast, give some time to exploring the old stories as you consider what the new chapters will tell us. This must be a time that we recognize just how important it is to braid together the stories that work to unite us, the stories that dare to be truthful.

The Envelope

I’m not what they call an adventurous traveler. I don’t have a particular hankering to hang from a cliff in a harness secured by rope. There is nothing thrilling about a pup tent or a sleeping bag. Sailing on a tramp steamer to Bora Bora does not tickle my fancy.

You might say that I’m overly enamored of my creature comforts, that I prefer a resort to any form of roughing it. Why wouldn’t I? Look up rough in the dictionary. There is not one pleasant or breezy definition. “Something in a crude, unfinished, or preliminary state. Difficult to travel through or penetrate.” Nope. Not for me.

There are many people who delight in facing the harshest challenges imaginable. Cable television offers up a huge smorgasbord of shows that feature such humans. Whether it’s couples walking around in the wilderness naked, looking for water or shelter, or tuna boat crews at sea, getting pounded by huge waves and nasty winds, or people in Alaska doing Alaska stuff (there are so many Alaskans outside in the cold in front of video cameras!), there is clearly a surfeit of folks who love to rough it.

But just because I may not have a taste for the challenge of the outdoors does not mean that I don’t appreciate the call of the wild. I am an explorer. “For all the different forms it takes in different historical periods, for all the worthy and unworthy motives that lie behind it, exploration—travel for the sake of discovery and adventure—is it seems a human compulsion, a human obsession even (as the paleontologist Maeve Leakey says); it is a defining element of a distinctly human identity, and it will never rest at any frontier, whether terrestrial or extra-terrestrial.”

This fact of exploration is in our bones, maybe in our DNA. It drives us not only to enter the woods or get in a space vehicle, but also compels us to delve into the human mind. The exploration of consciousness is a wild ride with so many twists and turns along the way, replete with tremendous implications.

Questions about being and nothingness and infinity and finitude are not imponderable. In fact, they demand we ponder. It’s not a cliché to ask about the meaning of life: it’s mandatory.

I watched a bit of Life Below Zero a few months ago. I don’t know why I did. It’s a hazard when you’re couch surfing. You find something so bizarre, so out of your normal range of interest that you’re drawn to it in all its weirdness. The segment I watched was about a guy who, on his own, was getting ready for winter and building an igloo. And if I tell you that he was in the middle of nowhere, it couldn’t convey just how remote a location he was settling in.

In a million years I would say no. For a million dollars I would say no way. But this man was extending himself way outside his defined box. He was pushing the envelope awfully hard, “for the sake of discovery and adventure”.

Does the show, Life Before Zero change the world? Probably not. But it certainly expanded the consciousness of the igloo builder. And it reminded me that an eagerness to explore is not represented by where you stay: exploration is about where you go. Look at Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norga, the first people to climb Mt Everest. Look at Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the modern age. There’s so much spacetime to cover between Hillary and Hawking. I hope we never stop exploring.

Relics

Who knows how certain artifacts, buried in the ground or a closet, emerge after years or even centuries? Most things are stumbled upon by accident. Someone is moving out of a family home, lived in for generations. A new highway is being built when excavators find relics and sometimes ancient settlements. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 when a young Beduin shepherd, throwing stones into a cave on the outskirts of Qumran, heard the sound of something shattering. He went to look and found large clay pots containing scrolls. He had no idea what they were. Eventually, he traded them to someone in the grey market antiquities business who sold them. It’s a fabulous story, filled with intrigue and hijinks.

Until recently, valuable objects, found by accident, or searched for by archeologists or treasure hunters, belonged to whoever found them – or paid for them. The notion that indigenous peoples were robbed of their sacred objects, family heirlooms, and cultural artifacts, was collateral damage. “To the victor goes the spoils.”

We have recently begun to reimagine to whom these items found in so many museums and private collections genuinely belong. It’s a tough, ongoing conversation, deeply emotional, and filled with issues related to race and culture and the very meaning of ownership.

Right now, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is hearing a case brought against Harvard. For over a decade, Tamara Lanier of Connecticut claimed that the university has photos of her distant relatives photographed while slaves, against their will. The pictures were being taken for a Harvard professor looking to “prove” the inferiority of Black folk. Lanier says the university has no right to keep these images, that they should go to her as a living descendant.

Harvard disagrees and claims that the images, despicable as they may be, will form part of the collection to illuminate how the university, like many in America in the 1850s, was racist and cruel. The lower court agreed with Harvard, saying, “the law, as it currently stands, does not confer a property interest to the subject of a photograph regardless of how objectionable the photograph’s origins may be.”

The MSJC ( MA Supreme Judicial Court) pulled the appeal to this case to the front of the line. They see it as a timely and vital conversation around history, property ownership, and justice. Some justices highlighted cases in which historical crimes have resulted in the eventual repatriation of remains or artifacts left in indigenous reservations, internment, and concentration camps.

This, of course, brings up all kinds of questions about the many Holocaust images taken by Nazi soldiers that we see in textbooks and museums. To whom do those photos belong? In Israel, there is an extensive conversation going on right now around Holocaust artifacts of significant historical meaning. Through an Israeli auctioneer, an anonymous person is attempting to sell eight fingernail-sized steel dies, each lined with pins to form numerals, that were pressed into prisoners’ flesh with ink to brand their serial numbers. Holocaust survivors sought an injunction against the sale, and the regional court in Tel Aviv subsequently put the transaction on hold.

Israel has no law to prevent the sale of Holocaust relics in private hands. But Yad Vashem says it’s utterly preposterous and shameful to allow such auctions. As Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and research center, officials say that such artifacts belong to them.

A spokesman from the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland said photographs of the dies appeared similar to those in its collection. “If they would be authentic, then the very fact that such unique historical items are put up for auction – and not given to an institution that commemorates the victims and educates about the tragedy of Auschwitz – deserves the words of protest and condemnation.”

History is generally not good to the victims and the vanquished. The arrow of time continues to slice through spacetime. The relics of the past, things so dear, symbols so potent, end up eroding under sand or burnt by an ignorant mob or displayed like trophies.  

What about the souls of those African slaves? What about the Jews who died at Auschwitz? Where is the compassion and the dignity they deserve? What is to be done with the pieces of history that are left behind long after the innocent are gone?

I Predict… Absolutely Nothing  



There are professional prognosticators who do their level best to read the future before it happens. They look at trends and past performance and a thousand other indicators to justify guessing what’s next. They encourage certain investments or military build-ups or shifting stock from a warehouse or how many kilowatts of power a particular region will need over 48 hours.

  I’d love to meet a professional prognosticator who focuses on the Jewish people because I have so many questions. What is the trajectory of Jewish life? More involvement or less? More interest in social justice or spirituality? Does the Reform movement’s attitude of inclusiveness and radical hospitality strengthen the Jewish people? How does identity politics change the arc of Jewish involvement in civic life?  

With all due respect to prognosticators, there’s not much logic in trying to predict what’s next. Making predictions is possible. Making accurate predictions isn’t.   But that’s no excuse to dismiss thoughts about the future. It behooves us to ask big questions and to wonder out loud what we may become. We aren’t passive passengers aboard an express train. We have a say in how we get to the destination stage by stage. It becomes too easy to throw up our hands and tumble into victimhood.   This is why to survive as a community, we need to opt-in. We must embrace our commitment to Jewish life, not with respect to what may be in 10 years, but rather what we are and what we want right now.   

Living in the moment has become a cri de coeur during this long, mind-numbing pandemic. It signifies a new commitment to the here-and-now. What’s next? I have no clue. But I know that, right now, there’s a deep need to make meaning by defining what we stand for and what we want to learn. We want to reinforce the traditions of 2000 years, and we want to create new and surprising alternatives to Jewish living.  

There is no going back to the way it was. We are trailblazing, not returning. This is a little scary; it is a significant spin on how Jewish life works, how synagogues have maneuvered over the centuries. It’s a wild time to be alive.  

I’m not predicting anything. That’s a trap, a cul de sac. I have a list of hopes and dreams and how I think they may pan out in the present. As the song goes, “don’t stop believing.” We make it happen.  

Shabbat Shalom, rebhayim 

Dear Sally Rooney

Dear Ms. Rooney,
Let me admit it right away: I haven’t read your work, and I didn’t watch the screen adaptation of Normal People on Netflix. But I know many people did, including some of my own children. The consensus is that you are a fabulous talent.
The word on the street and in social media is that you are the voice of the millennial generation. You’ve created a voice at once unique and simultaneously one that captures the zeitgeist of your generation and your times.
I congratulate you on your enormous success. To become a writer takes hard work. It can be brutal putting yourself out there in print, subject to the slings and arrows of critics. But based on my cursory research, your reception has been very positive. You’re no flash in the pan. At age 30, you are a literary force to be reckoned with.
This open letter has nothing to do with the contents of your fiction or the style of writing you use to such good effect. The issue that motivates me to write this missive concerns your audacious decision regarding a Hebrew translation of your latest best-selling fiction, Beautiful World Where Are You.
You said that you were proud to have “Normal People” and “Conversations With Friends,” published in Hebrew. You also said, “Likewise, it would be an honor for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers. But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house… I do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and supports the U.N.-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people.”
You added that the Hebrew-language translation rights to the novel are still available and that if you can find a way to sell them and adhere to the B.D.S. movement’s guidelines, that you will be very pleased and proud to do so.”
I’m very critical of the Jewish State and the gross inequities that define the Arab-Israel conflict. There are so many egregious social, legal, and moral issues in play. That Israel must commit to peace and cooperation with the Palestinian people is essential. The lack of movement on this front pains me deeply.
However, it’s worth noting that many Israelis and Palestinians are working together to do what they can to bring about change on a grassroots level. It’s slow going, but it’s real. The commitment to ameliorate this decades-long struggle is an admirable dimension of Israeli-Arab dialogue and action.
You seem to admire the B.D.S. (Boycott Defund Sanction) movement. It’s a big deal in the Western world today. I imagine that your refusal to allow your novel to be translated into Hebrew unless you vet the publisher’s political stance is a variation on the B.D.S. theme.
It is so discouraging that a gifted young author would act in this way. You exhibit no sense of the political and cultural nuances of your actions. There are undoubtedly people applauding your bold statement. But let’s face it: pillorying Israel is so easy.
Now you become a hero of the anti-Zionist left. Various Palestinian committees and organizations delight in your taking up the cause. Like Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, your stage provides you the opportunity to take pot shots. I know you’re not an antisemite. And I’m not accusing you of that.
I suggest that by preventing Hebrew-speaking readers from sharing your insights through fiction, you are losing your power to inspire and motivate them. By turning your back on the Hebrew language – the language – you insult a deep Jewish tradition of learning and reading.
I am neither the first nor the last to suggest that this action of yours is easy. After all, how many readers will you lose? A hundred thousand at the most? How much money will you lose? Not too much. What if you refused the Chinese or Russian editions of Beautiful World Where Are You. There’s no lack of nations doing horrible things to their citizens. But that’s big bucks.
In fact, why publish in any language? Why not boycott all forms of expression until the world becomes what you want it to be? Hold back as an act of political defiance.
Ms. Rooney, we need works of art, expressions of conscience. Your singling out Israel from other nations is a cheap trick, a dance for the feckless, ineffective B.D.S. movement. I wish you luck with your writing career. And I hope you’ll mature into a great writer. In the meantime, it would serve you well to reconsider.

Torah

I’ve been around a lot of Torahs. Big Torahs. Little Torahs. Torahs with exquisite covers, with simple crushed velvet covers, or no covers at all. Torahs scribed in the Hasidic style, the Czech style, the Tzfat style, the Lithuanian style, and others I could not identify. Some Torahs were in terrific shape, like our very own commissioned Torah: so bright and clear, the black ink still gleaming whenever the light hits it. Some, like our Holocaust Torah and others, are over a hundred years old, the parchment drying out, the ink chipping away from endlessly rolling forward and backward and forward again.

I’ve never taken a Torah scroll – any of the ones I’ve held and/or read from and/or kissed with my tallit as it passed before me – for granted. I embrace the sacredness of the scroll. I understand its history and the traditions around holding it and honoring it, and reading from it. I cherish the responsibility with which I am charged to teach Torah in all its multitudinous layers.

But I am not in awe of a Torah. It doesn’t scare me to pick it up or to roll it. It’s a regular part of my life, integrated with prayerbooks and blessings.

We brought the kids outside for the opening of our Wednesday Jewish Enrichment Program (ok, I made that name up; I don’t like calling it ‘Hebrew School’ anymore. That appellation is just too fraught with negative connotations) for an inaugural session of prayer and song. Our educators, Heidi and Miryam, wanted to weave Torah learning into the experience. Since Simchat Torah (the end of Sukkot when we roll the Torah from the end back to the beginning) had just passed, we thought it would be a good time for our kids to see the Torah they would one day chant from for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

There, on a table in the middle of the TBA parking lot, I opened our beautiful Torah scroll to the very first verses of Genesis. I then asked the kids to gather around the table in concentric circles to get an up-close view. A few of the kids were nonplussed, but most of them were awestruck.

I gave them some basic facts about the scroll. They stared at the Hebrew intently. They touched the parchment, remarking on its smoothness. I saw wonder and amazement emanating from their eyes. This was very special: even with masks on, their faces were shining.

Then the questions started, lots of questions. “Rabbi! How long is the Torah when you open it all the way?” “Rabbi, what happens if you drop the Torah?” “How long does it take to write a Torah?” The questions were pragmatic, focused on the Torah as an object.

And then one of the kids asked, “Rabbi, is it real?” In all these years, no one had ever asked me that question before. I wasn’t even sure I understood what she was asking me. I asked her, “You mean, is this a real Torah, not a paper copy like the ones we give out to kids when they start their Jewish education?” No, she said, that wasn’t what she meant. “Is it real?”

It was, I supposed, a 4th grader’s invitation to a theological discussion about the origins of the Torah and who the Author – or authors – were. I tried to explain that the Torah was a series of stories written by humans who had experiences about who God is and what it means to be a Jewish person living in a big tribe with other Jewish people. I said the Torah reminds us to be the best humans we can be by showing love and kindness and understanding others.

I’m not sure the extent to which she took this explanation in or if I was answering her question at all. But I do know that it was a lovely moment of encounter and learning. I reveled in the circle of kids and teachers who were all so happy to be so close to the Torah, a real Torah.

Every year, Jews get to the end, and then we start all over again. No matter what else is happening, we follow this tradition. These are the things that define meaning. As the Universe rolls ineluctably to disorder, to have a dependable structure to hold onto until the end of time is a transcendent blessing. It makes us whole.

Shabbat Shalom

Taking the Time

This has been the longest roller coaster ride of my life… The roller coaster metaphor barely approximates this year without equal, this annus horibbilis.  What a ride…

There were many fraught moments when I remembered the Anthony Newley musical title, Stop the World – I want to Get Off. Where is the exit sign? Where is the Instruction Manual? What next?

This year of surgery, plague and anxiety, recovery, vaccination, and redemption is slowing down; the cars are pulling into the station. Finally, I can see faces again. I can hug again. I can take a deep breath.

Before Shabbat is going on hiatus for the summer, and so am I. The Stern Gang will be away seeking R&R during the month of July. I’m going to Cape Cod – again. It is, as so many of you know by now, my place of refuge. It’s where I excel at sitting in the sun and listening to jazz. I get to watch the ocean’s dynamic, ever-changing rhythms.

My Before Shabbat hiatus comes to make room for new thoughts and themes. It’s a way to consolidate my brain’s hard drive. I’ll be doing some reading, some grilling, and some relaxing. I hope to create some quiet time to think new thoughts about where we are right now and how we move in time.

Vacation or not, High Holy Day sermon themes rush through my head. It’s a long-time habit, a reflex. So I’ve been thinking about the things we learned over this past year. How did we alter our behavior? What motivated us to hold on? What were the sources of our resilience? What were the ways we stepped up and became better citizens? What lessons do we hope to adopt into our worldview permanently? But, just as importantly, what did we learn about ourselves that we vow never to repeat?

To help answer some of these questions, I’m waiting patiently for the first comprehensive history of this pandemic. It’ll take a few years for that text to be written. It must be a study of heroes and villains, of scientists and scholars, of fools and scofflaws. It will feature politicians who endeavored to head off the avalanche of preventable deaths.  It will expose other politicians who betrayed the health of their people in service to shameful preening self-interest.

Until that book or books appear, I’ll be compiling my answers and sharing them with you from time to time. I hope to provide some clarity and shed some light from our tradition. I take my inspiration from the rabbinic tradition, a two-thousand-year-old willingness to process history and experience through Jewish eyes and with a Jewish heart. I have always sought to express myself from that same place of engagement with life rather than retreat and pen commentary from a distance.

For now, though, as Nobel laureate Bob Dylan once sang, “This ol’ world/Keeps on and slowly going/ So I’m gonna sit here on this bank of sand/ And watch the river flow.”

Bank of sand or Nauset Beach, river or sea, it’s all about the breathing free and watching life flow.

We Remember

General John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared that “the 30th day of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion [the Civil War], and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet in the land. In this observance, no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.” The holiday would first become known as Decoration Day. Memorial Day became its official title in the 1880s. After World War I, Memorial Day was officially designated to honor Americans who died in all wars.

Wars are vicious. They scar a nation’s soul and the souls of those who fought in them. Like Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who coined the phrase, “War is hell,” those who have fought in war know it better than those who merely write the stories of war and those of us who read or view their analyses. To know war as a soldier is to know that it is horrific. Hell can be defined simply as the furthest away you can get from what is good and right, the furthest away you can get from God; war is hell because whether we succeed or fail in our military objective, everybody finally loses a lot, even those who live through it.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can derail the best efforts of veterans when they get home. Depression, substance abuse, and homelessness are plagues that afflict far too many men and women who chose to serve their country. Since 2006, there has been an 86% increase in the suicide rate among 18-to-34-year-old male veterans. Veterans are at 50% higher risk for suicide than their peers who did not serve in the military.

No one has any cogent theories that adequately explain the shocking, staggering numbers. But we do know that there is something desperately wrong with this picture. These statistics are a signal, a bright red warning flag.

It’s essential on this Shabbat of Memorial Day weekend that we remember the veterans who have died in all wars. They deserve our attention. They deserve to be acknowledged, as do their families.

Those veterans who committed suicide and their families: parents, siblings, partners, kids – all deserve recognition and rachmones [empathy]. On this Memorial Day weekend, filled with sales and races and beer, take a moment. Acknowledge the tremendous loss of life in the wake of war. Consider the pain and the loss. We remember them.

Hoping

It’s all quiet on the western front – for now. Tonight, Israelis had a Shabbat Shalom – a Shabbat of peace. They came out of their safe rooms, hopeful that they will sleep through the night in their beds.

Palestinians in Gaza are taking stock of their situation. Some are seeking temporary shelter, their homes reduced to rubble. They are figuring out how to get water and food.  

There is, at last, a ceasefire, one we hope is durable. History suggests that it will inevitably be breached a few times before it’s accepted as the latest law of the land. But at least, for the time being, the sounds of warfare are not heard.

This latest war, the acting out of chronic political and ideological conflicts between Israel and Palestine, has created an ominous trend. “… We are witnessing a dangerous and drastic surge in anti-Jewish hate right here at home,” says ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement released shortly before the ceasefire was reached. “It’s happening around the world— from London to Los Angeles, from France to Florida, in big cities like New York and in small towns, and across every social media platform.”

It’s always frightening to read of a marked uptick in antisemitic statements and crimes. Whenever we hear a story of a Jew being accosted – or worse, we feel the vulnerability and draw on memories of persecution that are centuries old. The sordid story of antisemitism is a horrible, ongoing tale of ignorance and malevolence. Yet, no matter how many times we’ve heard about it or experienced it ourselves, it still shocks us.  

It’s also shocking that, throughout history, we’ve often found ourselves alone with our anxiety and fear over antisemitism. We didn’t see any immediate indignation in the media over Jews being singled out and attacked at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Had the attackers been neo-Nazis and the victims people of color, would there be more coverage, more outrage?

Is antisemitism just so de rigueur, deeply rooted in Western civilization, that people take it for granted? It just seems so easy to take figurative and literal potshots at Jews.

The hope is that moving forward, the ceasefire will cool things down in the Middle East and here at home, too. But then, what next? Will the end of hostilities drop Palestine back into the stasis of status quo, where it’s been ignored by the world for years now? And won’t that perpetuate this endless cycle of violence? A ceasefire isn’t peace.

Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve dignity and security. A two state solution is  the only way to make this happen. A Jewish and democratic state for Israel, and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza for Palestinians. For those that wish to replace or destroy Israel, it is not going to happen. For those that want to ignore Palestinians hoping they will go away, that will not happen.

I don’t have any answers right now, just a fragile sense of hope that I pray we all can share.

Od Yavo Shalom – Peace May Come Maiyin Yavo Ezri –Where Will It Come From:

When I read about terrible events happening in foreign countries every day, whether caused by war or sickness, or climate catastrophes, we react with empathy and sadness. We may wonder what charity we can click on to send money. But it’s so far away.

I don’t know what it’s like to be in India now, where the air is thick with the ashes from countless funeral pyres. I don’t have any experience being hunted by my government like rebels in Syria. I could add endlessly to all the experiences I have not – and will never have. I don’t know the streets of Kabul or the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or the alleys of Lagos.

But over the past week, I’ve been reading about the current war – and it is a war – in Israel. The fish restaurant that marauding Arab rioters torched? I’ve eaten there. I know the guy who owns it. The loud demonstrations in Yafo? I’ve stayed at my friends’ apartment there and walked in the flea market and bought ice cream at the best ice cream shop in Israel from the Israeli Arab owners. I’ve spent time hanging out on the beach in Bat Yam, where a bunch of Israeli thugs pulled an Arab from his car, beating and kicking him.

I’ve been there. I know the cities and the towns and the people. I have friends whom I love and visit. I’m a Jew. Israel is a part of me, which is why the current situation cuts so close to my soul.

I’m swiping back and forth between the Haaretz website and the Times of Israel. I toss and turn, checking the news at midnight, 4 am, and then all day. I wonder what may happen next. It surely seems that a ceasefire is not at hand. The possibility that the war might expand from Gaza to the streets of Israeli cities feels perilously close.

There is so much fear in my heart: for my dear friends. For the Yad b’Yad schools we’ve visited. For all the innocent adults and children, Arab and Israeli, caught in a cycle of hatred and anger.

Palestinian irridentism, Israeli political ineptitude, feckless leadership in Israel and Palestine, long-simmering Palestinian rage after 50 years of occupation, the blind hatred of Hamas – all of these and so many other factors created the perfect storm of war. But casting blame is never helpful. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past year in our country’s political history, blame needs nowhere. It must be about action and amelioration.

I have a long list of grievances and bitter commentary about the situation. There is so much that is so toxic that just keeps playing out, over and over. When will it stop? “I lift my eyes to the mountains and wonder from where will my help arrive?” While there may or may not be a spiritual answer, there must be a political answer – and I don’t know how that will come to be.

In the meantime, I worry. I read. And then worry some more. And yet… I saw a news piece, easy to lose in the endless barrage of missiles and the rain of bombs. And it touched me. Now maybe this is just another manifestation of my babyboomer antiwar marching days. You can call it naivete or projecting a privileged white guy’s conception of hope. I almost didn’t mention it at all. But I must be hopeful, even while I am not an optimist. There was a gathering at a major traffic junction in Israel today before Shabbat. Hundreds of Israelis and Arabs held signs that said: “Jews and Arabs Together Against Violence.”

I know. A small crowd. A far-fetched motto. A tiny speck of calm amid shocking brutality. But it’s something, some hook upon which to hang a vague sense of possibility. “Od yavo shalom aleinu.” Peace may yet come to all of us.

PS Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to Zoom some conversations with folks in Israel. The first one will be with Yonatan Shimshoni . He knows so much about every aspect of the current conflict. I’ll also be connecting with Adele Raemer, a wonderful woman who lives miles from Gaza. Our temple teens Israel trip visited with her last year. We’ll hear from what it’s like to be in an active war zone. That conversation and some others in the works will be announced soon.

PPS Read this piece to get a sense of all the moving parts in this terrible fight.

Shabbat Shalom