Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Winds of War

The winds of war are blowing. We can see the storm clouds, once distant and vague, darkening as they begin to color the sky. For years we’ve listened to voices from Iran – hateful, contemptuous, murderous – enunciate a determined policy to destroy the Jewish State and as many Jews as they can get their hands on. According to the ADL, President Ahmadinejad termed Zionists “the most detested people in all humanity” and called the extermination of six million Jews during World War II “a myth,” claiming that Jews have played up Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust in a bid to extort sympathy for Israel from European governments.
Of course we’ve survived all kinds of antisemitic rhetoric for the past 2000 years. Iranian antisemitism is neither more nor less virulent than any other form we’ve encountered. What can anyone say that hasn’t already been said by Haman?
The difference, the frightening new dimension to this ridiculous talk is that Iran is developing the capacity to create a nuclear weapon. This fact is as they call it, a game changer. And when we ask the all-important Jewish litmus test question, “Is it good for the Jews?,” the answer is unambiguously no.
What are we to do? What is the best course of action? These and other questions are no longer on a back burner. In capitals from Jerusalem to Washington to Teheran to Cairo to Moscow to Beijing to Paris and beyond, these questions are researched and evaluated. The answers aren’t going to be simply interesting – they will determine the future and possibly the survival of Israel.
In the upcoming New York Times Magazine, Ronen Bergman muses over 3 questions in a bluntly named article, “Will Israel Attack Iran?”:
1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?
2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?
3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?
These three questions are stark and unavoidable. As Iran gets closer to nuclear weapon capability, and as their rhetoric further encourages the rattling of Iranian sabers, the choices will grow more and more difficult. It’ also worth noting that there is no consensus, here or in Israel, about what to do. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak both seem certain that an Israeli attack is inevitable. Yet a senior official from the Israeli Defense Department itself recently said, “I informed the cabinet we have no ability to hit the Iranian nuclear program in a meaningful way. If I get the order I will do it, but we don’t have the ability to hit in a meaningful way.”
Ronen concludes that, “Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012. Perhaps in the small and ever-diminishing window that is left, the United States will choose to intervene after all, but here, from the Israeli perspective, there is not much hope for that. Instead there is that peculiar Israeli mixture of fear – rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive – and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.”
Matthew Kroenig, in Foreign Affairs, writes “Iran’s rapid nuclear development will ultimately force the United States to choose between a conventional conflict and a possible nuclear war. Faced with that decision, the United States should conduct a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, absorb an inevitable round of retaliation, and then seek to quickly de-escalate the crisis.”
Barry Rubin ( writes, “But here’s what’s most likely going to happen: Iran will get nuclear weapons. Iran is not going to stop its nuclear drive (though it could stop short of actually building bombs or warheads ready to go). Western policies are not so bold or adventurous as to go to war; Israel’s interests and capabilities do not make attacking sensible. An attack would not solve but increase problems.
And no matter how crazy you think Iran’s regime is, the inescapable predicable threat is not high enough to force policymakers to risk getting hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people killed, when the chance of avoiding such an outcome is very high. I am not talking here about Hezbollah firing a few rockets (Hamas might well do nothing) but a long term war that would guarantee the use of Iranian nuclear weapons.”
We all must do what we can to learn more about this issue that so closely affects Israel and the rest of the world too. There are those gung ho to bomb Teheran and others urging restraint and caution. All these voices must be heard.

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I Read the News Today

This past week a teacher from a local grade school pleaded not guilty in a West Roxbury District Court to charges of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 and posing a child in a state of nudity. He also pleaded not guilty to related charges of possession of child pornography in Brighton District Court.  Anyone who reads the news is used to reading/hearing such stories.  The recent Penn State Jerry Sandusky scandal splashed around all kinds of salacious, shocking stories for days.

We may be used to shocking news stories involving inappropriate physical contact between adults and children, but we are hardly inured to them.  The sexual exploitation of children is so heinous that mention of it causes us to recoil in pure revulsion. The betrayal of trust, the psychological and physical injury, the cynical use of power and fear to intimidate the child victim – all these reasons and so many more make us feel sick and angry.

This story has some added dimensions for me.  Since I first heard mention of it on the radio, I’ve been reeling. Because the teacher in question taught one of my daughters at Underwood School for second grade.  Because the teacher in question is a bright, friendly young man.  Because the teacher in question was always the quintessential nice Jewish boy.  Because we had the teacher in question at our home for various Jewish holidays.

I feel utterly torn apart by this turn of events.  As a father, a rabbi – a human being for God’s sake! – I am unequivocally enraged by Mr. E’s conduct, and if he is guilty, I want him to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. [By the way, I’m calling him Mr. E, the name by which he’s been known for years; I won’t use his full name because, quite frankly, it hurts me too much.]

But in addition to my rage and disgust, I have a deep sadness.  I always felt so happy to see Mr. E around town.  My daughter and her classmates had so much affection for him, and their feelings led me and almost all of the parents of his students to also feel positively disposed towards him.  He seemed to be such a good guy…

And there’s the utter paradox.  Mr. E was a good guy.  And at the same time, he engaged in behavior that was both immoral and illegal.  What does this mean?  Well, for one thing it means that we can never really know another person.  The human mind is capable of twisting itself into the darkest of places.  The private obsessions, the dreams and nightmares we live with can destroy us.  The enormous pull of addiction, the emptiness we can feel and what we may use to try to fill it… all of this can plague us endlessly.

My heart aches for Mr. E’s parents.  I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to see your grown child brought down so low.  They believe he’s innocent – I hope he is.  But reading the charges leads me to suspect that Mr. E is guilty.  And if so, that means Mr. E’s parents have to acknowledge how little they know their own flesh and blood.  And of course my heart aches for the victims, the scared, scarred children used and abused by Mr. E and others.

And so on this Shabbat I pray for justice and for mercy.  I pray for openheartedness and forgiveness.  I pray for strength as I continue to walk through this wild maze called Life.

What I Receive from the Black Church Experience

After a recent workout at the JCC, I showered, dressed, and entered the lounge area with my lunch.  I was alone and so had the full run of the television.  That meant I could surf the channels just the way I like to do and I would drive no one crazy.  So I spread out my meal and started clicking.  Within a minute or so I stumbled into the religious channels.  I stopped on one them: it was a black preacher giving a Bible lesson.  I don’t remember his name.  But I do remember that he had on a great suit, and that the church where he was preaching was beautiful.

The preacher’s clothing was nice, but hey, I have some nice suits.  And even though the auditorium sat 1500 people, we can seat a thousand for the High Holy Days.  What drew me in wasn’t even the preacher himself.  And I love the style of black preachers: the drama, the power, the charisma?  It drives me wild, and I could listen and watch all day.  The rhythm and the alternating gentleness and loud declaration remind me of good jazz.  In that regard, the extemporaneous mixed with the written is something I have chosen to emulate over the decades.

What drew me in was the congregation.  A PACKED auditorium of mostly black man and women over 45 (the kids and teens have their own simultaneous service/study in another part of the building; the session I watched was for the grown-ups).  They were exquisitely dressed and of course speaking up regularly, encouraging their preacher with “Amens” and “Yessir”, and “Halleluyahs” and the like.  But here’s the best part: everyone in that auditorium – EVERYONE! – had a Bible.  And they followed along, avidly taking notes.  I was so envious.

As I watched a man came in and sat down.  He looked at the tv and then he looked at me.  He sat quietly for a moment, perhaps scanning the room for the channel changer.  “Uh, Rabbi?  What exactly are you doing?”  “What am I doing?  I’m learning some Torah.”  The guy laughed.  “No, really.  This preacher is amazing!  And look! There must be 2000 adults learning with him.”  I think he got nervous, and being that this was not a tv show with commercials, he got up and left.  At least that’s what I assume.  I wasn’t paying attention to anything but the preacher, his congregation, and the Torah he was teaching.

Now look: I understand that the history of the African American religious experience comes from a very different place than the Jewish experience.  I know that our roots are very European and our worship style has one foot in Hasidism and the other in German Lutheranism, and maybe an arm in Litvak yeshiva formalism.  I know that men and women singing together and even sitting together are relatively new on the timeline of Jewish history.  I’m not advocating that we worship in the manner of the folks I watched on the JCC tv.  What I am saying is that we could learn a lot from that black preacher and his congregation of learners.  What inspires adults who work hard all week to go to church, personal Bible in hand, and really learn some Scripture?  What is the particular call of that community?  Is it the sense of connectedness?  Is it the sense of acceptance and safety?  The joy shared by the preacher?

I don’t really know what it is, but I want to think about this some more.  I want to learn how to bring more passion, more joy, more!

Shabbat Shalom


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