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08/18/2019 02:09:54 PM


Rabbi Chaim Strauchler

Parshat Vaetchanan - 16 Av 5779 - August 17 2019

Two years ago, our shul hosted Eli Lebowicz – a New York based Jewish comedian – for a Saturday night comedy evening. Yes, Yes… It was during his routine that our crowd got more enjoyment watching me laugh then laughing themselves – prompting Eli to comment – “Rabbi – they’re not getting the minyan jokes – you’ve got some work to do.”

On Thursday night, Eli posted the following quip to Facebook:

When asked for their thoughts on this Israel thing, all rabbis in America that weren’t on vacation already are definitely wishing they were.

Well – I just got back from vacation in Israel to find the turmoil of this Israel thing. What is this Israel thing? On Thursday, Israel denied entry to US Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Israel had originally indicated that it would accept the Tlaib/Omar delegation, and use their visit as an opportunity to engage with and educate the delegation members with regard to Israel’s vibrant and robust democracy, religious tolerance and ethnic diversity. Israel reversed its decision when the Tlaib/Omar itinerary indicated that the trip would be used as fuel to support BDS and to oppose Israel’s existence. Israel did this at the behest of a tweet by US President Donald Trump – who tweeted:

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds…”

On Friday, news outlets again got another swing at the same story when Israel agreed to allow Tlaib to visit her grandmother – which Tlaib promptly refused.

The whole episode plays poorly for Israel. Israel has been lured into the internal politics of its key ally. Israel has played into the hands of its detractors – giving further ammunition to Tlaib and Omar – making them martyrs and fitting itself neatly into their hateful BDS narrative.

Having just returned from Israel, I’d like to share a different narrative. I’d like to share my Israel thing.

I wrote on Sunday about my experience visiting the shiva for Dvir Sorek – and my message to Dvir’s father Yoav that my colleagues and my community are with his family at its time of sorrow. I shared with you the memories of Dvir, which we received from his grandparents. Dvir reflected a certain purity – a deeply caring soul. Later in the week, Israel newspapers reported on a letter sent by Palestinian young people who had befriended Dvir, as part of an interfaith dialogue in his Yeshiva.

"Over the past two years, he would regularly attend our meetings,” the letter read. “During each meeting, we talked about our daily lives and the future we wanted to build together. We would meet every other week, we were young Palestinians and Israelis.” They continued, “We send our condolences to his family and to our friends in his yeshiva. As a group, we condemn such brutal actions; such violence hurts all of us. We build bridges between the peoples on this land and we hope that this tragedy will be the last.”

Travelling in Israel, my children got to witness some of Dvir’s Israel. When we did a hike through nachal snir – an Arab family walked through the spring just a bit ahead of us – enjoying the same cool water on a hot summer day. When my daughter sprained her ankle, Avital took her to Terem where she received great care from an Arab doctor and an Arab nurse. When we got together with childhood friends at a new park outside the Jerusalem Zoo – our children played beside Arab children in the twilight’s sweet air. I asked my friend, are we witnessing Middle-East peace? He thought so.

These images you will not see on the news – and you would certainly not have heard them from Tlaib and Omar had they been allowed into Israel. Yet, those images are there every day of the year for anyone to witness. Jews and Arabs are living dignified lives in a beautiful prospering state. Is it perfect? No. But it is a beautiful story that must be told. Peace is happening. Slowly and without fanfare – Israel is creating the context for different people to live side by side and to create something lasting together.

In our parsha, Moshe tells the Jewish people about the importance of observing the mitzvoth:

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֮ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם֒ כִּ֣י הִ֤וא חָכְמַתְכֶם֙ וּבִ֣ינַתְכֶ֔ם לְעֵינֵ֖י הָעַמִּ֑ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַחֻקִּ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְאָמְר֗וּ רַ֚ק עַם־חָכָ֣ם וְנָב֔וֹן הַגּ֥וֹי הַגָּד֖וֹל הַזֶּֽה׃

Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, “Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.”

We have nothing to hide. Just the opposite, we have the greatest wisdom. We have a Torah which guides us – and makes us worth watching. We have something to teach the world – something to say about human dignity and about the long hard journey to a lasting if imperfect peace. We can only teach it – if we know it – love it and do it. u’shmartem v’asitem.

If we do not, we risk becoming entangled in a culture of negativity. BDS is symptomatic of an anti-philosophy – it is a philosophy of rejection that has manifestations on all sides of the political spectrum. It fails to see the humanity in the Jew – and the wisdom in what the Jew represents. The Jew is the ultimate other. The anti-philosophy sees the other as the enemy. In speaking about what we do as a shul, I often talk about the experience of every person who touches our synagogue – every person who walks in. We want to leave every person who walk in to walk out feeling better for having walked through our doors. This is true for the culture of synagogue and that of the state – every touch should leave a person better.

The Davidson Archeological Park has a video, which recreates the experience of a Jewish farmer arriving in Jerusalem for the first time to offer a korban. It depicts him changing his coins into a half shekel at the kiosk along the road at the side of Robinson’s arch. It shows him climbing the steps to the Beit Hamikdash and watching his animal being sacrificed. As he leaves, it speaks about what he takes with him – the memories and the feeling of having experienced God’s presence. Israel is this, too. As I left Israel – I felt that special feeling. I had come close to Hashem. One day, may we merit to welcome all peoples to our holy city, may we show them our wisdom – our Torah, and may we allow them to join us in feeling God’s touch, too.


Mon, 30 November 2020 14 Kislev 5781