Tag Archives: Yitzhak Rabin

Like Dreamers

11 Oct

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It was June 30, 1976. An Air France Jet that took off from Ben Gurion Airport was hijacked in Athens and taken to Entebbe in Uganda. The hijackers separated the Jews from other passengers. The hijackers were demanding that Israel free terrorists by 2:00 pm the next day. Tension filled the Israeli cabinet meeting. IDF Chief of Staff Motta Gur examined options, but none looked good. Many in the cabinet, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, were ready to consider giving in to the demands. Rabin said: “I feel it might end up being a lot like the ‘Bay of Pigs.’

But Shimon Peres, the Defense Minister, raised the concern that a surrender would set a precedent that would endanger lives in the future. Recognizing the risks involved, he insisted: “If there is a military operation, it’s preferable. Until now, I admit that there’s no concrete proposal, only ideas and imagination.”

Imagination. Sitting in that cabinet meeting, that was all they had. For Shimon Peres, that was enough. The Defense Minister prevailed in that debate and helped to orchestrate the historic raid on Entebbe on July 4 that saved the hostages. The action sent a clarion call to the world that Israel would not negotiate with terrorists nor sit idly by when Israelis or Jews were in harm’s way.

Shimon Peres had the gift of imagination. He employed it in war, and he also employed it in peace. Saeb Erakat, one of the chief negotiators for the Palestinian Authority, once recalled meeting Peres for the first time many years ago. “When I met him…, I was a young professor. I was angry about something, and he looked at me and he said, ‘Saeb, negotiation in pain and frustration for five years is cheaper than exchanging bullets for five minutes.’”

These two stories combine to share an important aspect of Shimon Peres’s legacy. He was a dreamer who dared to challenge conventional wisdom. When it came to saving the lives of Jews at Entebbe, conventional wisdom said, “impossible.” Peres dared to dream that it was possible. When it came to achieving a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians, he dared to challenge both Israeli and Palestinian naysayers there too. The Oslo peace process, his vision, offered a glimmer of hope that peace was possible.

Alas, despite his tireless efforts, a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not yet come to fruition. Just this week, we mourn the murders of two Israelis on at a Jerusalem light rail stop, a stark reminder that there would be no peace without security. Peres believed this. He also believed there would be no security without peace. This was his dream. In 2012, Peres was interviewed by Charlie Rose who asked him, “What do you want your legacy to be?”

Peres, who was then ONLY 89, quipped, “It’s too early for me to think about it.” Then, he said, “I’m more concerned about tomorrow than I am about yesterday.”

Shimon Peres was not satisfied with the status quo. He made mistakes along the way, and he lost his share of political battles. Through all the hardships, he never lost integrity. He continued to challenge. He continued to question. To his dying day he continued to dream.

To dream is at the heart of the Zionist ethos.

Psalm 126 recalls the first great return to Zion after the destruction of the first Temple.
שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּֽ֫עֲל֥וֹת בְּשׁ֣וּב ה’ אֶת־שִׁיבַ֣ת צִיּ֑וֹן הָ֝יִ֗ינוּ כְּחֹלְמִֽים
A song of ascents. When the LORD restored Zion —we were like dreamers.

The Psalmist then describes the great joy of the people in returning to Jerusalem:
אָ֤ז יִמָּלֵ֢א שְׂח֡וֹק פִּינוּ֘ וּלְשׁוֹנֵ֢נוּ רִ֫נָּ֥ה אָ֭ז יֹאמְר֣וּ בַגּוֹיִ֑ם הִגְדִּ֥יל ה’ לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִם־אֵֽלֶּה

Our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues, with songs of joy. Then shall they say among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them!”
הִגְדִּ֣יל ה’ לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִמָּ֗נוּ הָ֘יִ֥ינוּ שְׂמֵחִֽים

The LORD will do great things for us and we shall rejoice.

After waking up from the dream and the experience of unbridled joy, a dose of reality sets in:

הַזֹּרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ
They who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.
Yes, there will be joy at the end of the road, but great challenges must be overcome.

הָ֘ל֤וֹךְ יֵלֵ֨ךְ ׀ וּבָכֹה֘ נֹשֵׂ֢א מֶֽשֶׁךְ־הַ֫זָּ֥רַע בֹּֽ֬א־יָב֥וֹא בְרִנָּ֑ה נֹ֝שֵׂ֗א אֲלֻמֹּתָֽיו

One who goes along weeping, carrying the seed-bag, shall come back with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves.

This psalm was once considered the Zionist anthem before Hatikvah won out. The return to Zion in modern times is a joyous event for the Jewish people, but one that has required more than its fair share of tears, sweat, and, far too often, blood.

Nearly seven decades after Israel’s founding, we have much reason to rejoice. Israel is a strong nation that boasts a thriving economy and strong democratic institutions. Israel is a fountain of Jewish religious and cultural inspiration. Hebrew, the language of the Bible, is the language of the people. At the same time, Israel continues to face great challenges. Shimon Peres championed the dream of a Jewish democratic state with secure and recognized borders. This dream has not yet been fully realized. For 2000 years the Jewish diaspora prevented our people from controlling our destiny; but it also freed us of the responsibility of governance. In 1948, that radically changed.

The late religious philosopher Rabbi David Hartman grappled with the religious and moral implications of Jewish power.

He writes (A Living Covenant):
“I live with the guarded hope that out of this complex and vibrant new Jewish reality [the State of Israel] will emerge new spiritual directions for the way Judaism will be lived in the modern world.”

In other words, no longer is Judaism confined to the home and synagogue. In a Jewish state, Jewish values are engrained in the national ethos.

Rabbi Hartman writes further: “Jews in Israel are given the opportunity to bring economic, social, and political issues into the center of their religious consciousness. …[T]he fact that Israel enables us to make the whole of life the carrier of the covenant is in itself sufficient to ascribe profound religious significance to the secular revolt that led to Israel’s rebirth. I celebrate Israel’s Independence Day with the recitation of the Hallel psalms, thus expressing gratitude to God for having been given the opportunity to renew the full scope of the covenantal spirit of Judaism.”

For Rabbi Hartman, the dream of shivat tzion, return to Zion, has not yet been fully realized, but he rejoices that the Jewish people are in a position to shape the dream. Israelis, joined by Jews around the world, have the responsibility to grapple with the meaning of Jewish power and to wrestle with the moral implications of power in ways we had not been able to do prior to 1948. Rabbi Hartman created the Shalom Hartman Institute, an important center of learning in Jerusalem that engages Jews in Israel and around the world across the religious and ideological spectrum in thoughtful study of Zionism and its future.

Therefore, I am pleased to introduce to Temple Torat Emet the Shalom Hartman Institute’s program iEngage: Jewish Values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The goal of iEngage is to provide tools to engage with and discuss the wide spectrum of views on this complex topic. Through video presentations by Hartman scholars and my facilitation of interactive discussions of Jewish texts selected by Hartman, we will deepen our understanding of the present conflict and figure out how better to grapple with it in our community. The course does not aim to shape or change politics on Israel. It does aim to change and shape the way we think about politics and the way you and I talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will learn together nuances of the conflict and become more engaged in the issues for the sake of strengthening our own community, strengthening love for Israel and creating an atmosphere in which an eventual peace can succeed.

The iEngage series will meet for nine sessions on Sundays, 9:30-11:30 AM starting November 20. The course is open to all. I particularly encourage parents of Religious School students to join me for these vital discussions that affect the future of our children and the world they will face.

Shimon Peres was the last great leader from Israel’s founding generation. Our community joins Israelis and Jews around the world in mourning his loss. At the same time, we must honor his memory by ensuring that his dreams do not die with him. Peres’s legacy is that he was more concerned about tomorrow than yesterday. He dared to dream. We cannot solve Israel’s problems, but we can honor Shimon Peres’s legacy. We can dream. We can challenge others to dream. We can challenge ourselves to listen to others with care and respect. My prayer is that the memory of Shimon Peres will inspire us to dream, to learn and to grow and thus help us bring peace and healing to us, the Jewish people and the world.

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Remembering Rabin 20 years later

30 Oct

 

 

 

On Yom Kippur, I reflected on my experience in Israel 20 years ago when the country went through the trauma of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. While Rabin’s yahrzeit already passed several days ago, this week marks the secular anniversary on November 4. Furthermore, President Bill Clinton in his eulogy of Rabin cited the very Torah portion that we read today, Parashat Vayera. President Clinton said:

This week, Jews all around the world are studying the Torah portion in which God tests the faith of Abraham, patriarch of the Jews and the Arabs. He commands Abraham to sacrifice Yitzhak. “Take your son, the one you love, Yitzhak.” As we all know, as Abraham, in loyalty to God, was about to kill his son, God spared Yitzhak.

Now God tests our faith even more terribly, for he has taken our Yitzhak. But Israel’s covenant with God for freedom, for tolerance, for security, for peace — that covenant must hold. That covenant was Prime Minister Rabin’s life’s work. Now we must make it his lasting legacy. His spirit must live on in us.

The Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for mourning, never speaks of death, but often speaks of peace. In its closing words, may our hearts find a measure of comfort and our souls, the eternal touch of hope.

“Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’ase shalom aleinu, ve-al kol Israel, ve-imru, amen.”

Shalom, haver.

On this twentieth anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, official memorials are taking place, including one tomorrow in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv at which Bill Clinton will be present. Yet, it seems that reflections on the Rabin assassination is rather subdued in the Jewish public square. Yehudah Kurtzer of the Hartman Institute  suggests in an op-ed three reasons for the muted commemorations:

  1. If Rabin’s assassination was a cautionary tale on the dangers of Jewish fundamentalism, its message has not been sufficiently heeded, particularly in the last year in which Jews have carried out horrific acts of violence.
  2. Rabin’s political legacy is complex. We will never know what would have happened if he had lived. Given where we are now, it seems Pollyannaish that he would have completed a peace deal and brought about the elusive two-state solution.
  3. The biggest obstacle to Rabin’s memory is that many Jews very reasonably have little appetite right now for the self-flagellation involved with a commemoration of Rabin. As Israel’s citizens are under attack, many of the country’s supporters feel that Israel’s primary enemies are from without and not from within. They argue that empathy with a society under attack dictates solidarity with the people rather than the bitter surfacing of a memory that signaled that society’s failure. If remembering Rabin is about signaling that we can be our own worst enemies, that message is hard for us to hear today. Rabin’s legacy, in other words, is hijacked both by the complicated political reality he left behind, and by the dominant lesson of his death as a warning about Jew-on-Jew violence. Rabin’s memory may be lost because it arises at an inconvenient time, or because it is thought to be a failure.

 

Just as Bill Clinton framed Rabin’s legacy 20 years ago through the lenses of  Parashat Vayera, we can do the same. The portion continues the story of Abraham and the dramatic accounts of how the father of our nation welcomed angels into his tent, argued with God over the justice of destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, the birth of Isaac in his and Sarah’s old age, the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael and the binding of Isaac. We see Abraham as a great hero, yet one with human flaws. He and the other patriarchs and matriarchs are at once larger than life and very approachable. For centuries, people have attempted to get inside the minds of our ancestors and speculate on the details of their experiences and what they must have thought at the time. The art of Midrash is the attempt to have a conversation with the Biblical narrative and to imagine ourselves in the situations described.

Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet who died in 2000, completed his last collection of poetry shortly before he died in a book titled “Open Closed Open.” Though he identified as a secular Israeli, much of his poetry, particularly in this volume, discusses Biblical figures and religious issues. Abraham and the story of the Binding of Isaac appear multiple times. The following poem is an example of the poet’s attempt to enter the minds of our ancestors and imagine them reflecting with nostalgia on the traumatic events of the Akeidah.

Taken from “Open Closed Open” by Yehuda Amichai

Page 119

Every year our father Abraham takes his sons to Mount Moriah, the same way that I take my children to the Negev hills where my war took place.

Abraham walks with his sons: this is where I left the servants, that’s where I tied the ass to the tree at the foot of the hill, and here, right at this spot, you asked me, Isaac my son: Here is the fire and the wood but where is the lamb for the sacrifice? A little further up you asked me again.

When they reached the top of the mountain they rested awhile and ate

And drank, and he showed them the thicket where the ram was caught by its horns.

And when Abraham died, Isaac took his sons to the same spot.

“Here I lifted up the wood and that’s where I stopped for breath, this is where I asked my father and he replied, God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, and that’s where I knew that it was me.”

And when Isaac became blind his sons brought him to that same Mount Moriah and described to him in words

All those things that he may already have forgotten.

 

In this poem, Abraham behaves like we might behave visiting a historic site while on vacation, particularly while visiting places of battle. The poet likens Abraham to generations of Israelis who would often visit battle sites with a sense of nostalgia. We also see the contrast between generations. Abraham has his set of memories when he revisits the site with Isaac. But when Isaac takes his sons there, he remembers things differently. He acknowledges that while Abraham did not fully answer his question about where was the sacrifice, he understood that he was the intended sacrifice. Then, Isaac revisits the site years later when he is blind, perhaps a symbol of blocking out a memory that was too painful for him.

Amichai’s interpretation of the Akeidah is told from different perspectives. Similarly, this week we approach the memory of Yitzhak Rabin from different perspectives: what was, what is and what might have been. I believe many of us hold all three of these thoughts and memories of Rabin simultaneously. Abraham and Isaac were not perfect, and neither was Rabin.

On this 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, I yearn for religious and political leaders who, like Rabin, are willing to take risks for positive change and who continue to envision a better future with both sincerity and pragmatism. This is how I choose to remember Rabin twenty years later.

To conclude, the Psalmist says (122:6):

 

ו   שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָם יִשְׁלָיוּ אֹהֲבָיִךְ: ז   … ח   לְמַעַן־אַחַי וְרֵעָי אֲדַבְּרָה־נָּא שָׁלוֹם בָּךְ: ט   לְמַעַן בֵּית־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֲבַקְשָׁה טוֹב לָךְ:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they who love the Lord shall prosper…For the sake of my brothers and sisters, I will now say Peace be within you. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your goodness.

Amen.