Temple Adat Elohim
You are here:Home > About Us > Our Clergy > High Holiday Sermon Archive > Kol Nidre 2010/5771

Israel Fatigue

By Rabbi Ted Riter, Kol Nidre 2010/5771
Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace This week, Time Magazine arrived in our mail boxes and grocery stores with this front cover. From where you are sitting, it probably looks very lovely (and for some of you in the back probably looks like a blur). It is a Jewish star made of daisies. What a nice welcome for Yom Kippur. Then, inside the star, it reads, “Why Israel doesn’t care about peace.” In the first few lines of the article, we read that Israelis are more interested in making money than in making peace. Wow, some High Holy Day present! The ADL, is up in arms about Time Magazine stirring up what they term, “ . . .(the) age-old anti-Semitic canard that Jews prize money above any other interest, in this case peace with the Palestinians.”1
Reading the whole article, however, I pulled out something else. The Israelis interviewed in this story are not more interested in making money than in making peace. It is just that they are tired. They are tired of more than 62 years of fighting. They are tired of peace talks that do not result in real peace. They are tired of not knowing what tomorrow will bring. And, so instead, they are choosing to celebrate life today.
I get it. I’m tired too and I do not even live there. I grew up with all of these great notions of Israel. It is our homeland. It is the only place we can go if we need safety. It is a living laboratory for Judaism. I have visited Israel, I have led trips to Israel, I have lived in Israel. I have marched for Israel, I have advocated for Israel, I have even worked professionally for the Israeli peace movement. And yet, in 2010, with talks in progress just yesterday, I’m tired. I have “Israel fatigue”.
A few days ago, one of you asked what I would be speaking about tonight and I said, “Israel”. He jokingly responded: “Israel, you always talk about Israel. What about Pacoima?” Truth be told, I know nothing more about Pacoima than what I can find on Wikipedia. And, though I admit to having Israel fatigue today, I have no attachment to Pacoima. Conversely there is something very real, though sometimes elusive, that draws me to Israel. There is something that begs me to check out the Israeli newspapers every morning, that keeps me interested in the ups and downs of Israeli life. There is some kind of historical DNA that ties me like a blue thread back to the ancient Jerusalem of 3500 years ago and the modern Jerusalem of today. Though I sometimes have a hard time explaining why, I have an unbreakable bond with Israel.
There have certainly been strains on this relationship this year. The flotilla that tried to break through Israel’s blockade of Gaza is the first that comes to mind. It is pretty clear that those on the Mavi Mamara were not intent on getting goods to Gaza.2 In fact, the medicines they were bringing were already expired and the other goods did not seem to be needed. Instead, they were hoping to win public opinion. They knew that if the ships made it to Gaza they would be able to declare a victory. And, if they were boarded and prevented from docking, they would score an even bigger victory. And they were right. The difficult thing from my perspective is that the Israelis knew this and still flew right into this trap. Their own internal investigation shows that they misjudged what they were contending with and bungled the operation.
The threatened resumption of settlement building, the mess Israel made in Dubai in the assassination of a Hamas leader, the destruction of Palestinian orchards and house demolitions. All of these things leave me exhausted.
Internally, it is just as messy. This year a woman was severely beaten at a bus station by an ultra Orthodox man because she had an imprint on her arm from wrapping tefillin in the morning -- a practice that the Orthodox establishment vehemently opposes. Anat Hoffman, a leader of Women of the Wall was arrested in July for carrying a Torah at the Western Wall. The Orthodox Ashkenazi community demonstrated in the streets following a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court that would not allow them to have ethnically segregated schools. The Orthodox are demanding gender segregated bussing and bus stops. They rioted when the mayor of Jerusalem allowed a parking garage to remain open during Shabbat. Elected officials are being investigated for corruption on a regular basis. Organized crime is growing. And this week, Orthodox legislators demanded that computers be refigured so that they would not accept online payments at the offices of the Interior Ministry and the Health Ministry. Ever-stricter religious law is being dictated to the entire country.
All of these things -- both external and internal struggles -- give me Israel fatigue. And, I do not think I am alone. Though studies differ a bit, anecdotally I see declining interest in Israel. It is more and more difficult to gather a group to visit Israel. Some of this is financially based, but much of it is a lack of interest. Israel, it seems, is moving further and further down our list of priorities.
This summer, Peter Beinart, former editor of The New Republic, wrote a scathing article in the New York Review of Books. The article, entitled, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,”3 takes to task today’s leadership for stifling descent on Israel and therefore driving the younger generations of Jews away from Zionism. I think this argument is a bit narrowly focused, but it does make some sense. If we are told we can only think a certain way about anything, it is likely to drive some away. If we are only supposed to support Israel’s government when it is made up of hard-liners, it can certainly cause dissension.
I believe that other issues are also in play. We have a relentless 24 hour news cycle, through which we are bombarded with images, videos, interviews, commentaries and stories. This overdose of news, especially when it seems to be propaganda from one side or another, tends to leave a bad taste in our mouths. Sometimes it may seem easier to spit it out all together rather than brush our teeth.
Studies show an increasing distance from Judaism. And, some have surmised that this also could lead to a distancing from Israel.
Though I do not hide my own liberalism, I am the first to admit that bashing Israel at every turn has disappointingly become sport for loud segments of the liberal community in the US and around the world. We can only listen to this for so long until we either embrace it or consciously make a break on this issue with the community.
For all these reasons and more, it seems that Israel is moving further and further from our field of vision.
But like it or not, we are inextricably linked. I get voice mails and letters on a somewhat regular basis from people screaming at me for actions that Israel is taking! Our college students are accosted on campus in reaction to Israel issues. There are violent attacks on Jews throughout Europe because of Israel’s policies. We may be a half a world away, but we are breathing the same air as our brothers and sisters in Israel.
For me personally, when my passion for Israel wanes, something always seems to appear. For instance, the new movie, “Precious Life”. In this documentary, a filmmaker follows a little Palestinian boy who is born without a properly functioning immune system and is in need of a bone marrow transplant. He documents the Israeli health care workers who shuttle this child Mohammed to an Israeli hospital. We learn about the outpouring of support from the Israeli community and medical staff; the nurses who sing the little boy to sleep. We learn about an anonymous Israeli donor who underwrites the $55,000 medical bill. And then, we hear this little boy’s mother say how pleased she would be if her little boy, still recovering in an Israeli hospital bed, would someday be a martyr, blowing up buses in Jerusalem. The mother tells the filmmaker, “From the smallest infant, even smaller than Mohammed, to the oldest person, we will all sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Jerusalem. We feel we have the right to it. You’re free to be angry, so be angry.”
It’s these times that jar me out of my fatigue. I realize that I have no right to feel this way. It’s so easy to be an armchair activist here in the United States. Crime might be up or down in our cities, but we have no real ongoing threats to our safety. We do not have hundreds of thousands of people living only a few miles from our home intent on our destruction. On the other hand, Israelis are dealing with life and death issues. When I see things like this movie, I feel something in my historical DNA pulling me again back to the desert, back to Jerusalem. And so I dig in again and I look for the spark of light.
Here is what I am finding. As the Time Magazine article states, Israelis in their everyday lives are doing ok. The separation wall has been successful in deterring terrorist attacks. This wall, which is 90% fencing and 10% concrete slabs, has helped create a 2 year space of no attacks within Israel proper. The economy is booming in Israel. Israel is 2nd only to the US in the number of companies on the Nasdaq. Creativity in the sciences and arts is astounding. Just check out Youtube for some of the performance art in Israel today.
This summer, when the religious right wing in Israel wanted to define who is a Jew and how one can become a Jew, Jews from around the world spoke directly with Members of Knesset and convinced them that such moves were not healthy for world Jewry. In other words, Israelis may finally be realizing that what they do has an affect on us, thousands of miles away.
The Supreme Court in Israel continues to uphold the rights of non-Orthodox Jews to practice Judaism the way they see fit. Israel continues to be one of the countries, if not the only country, in the Middle East with freedom of the press. Israel has long held that gay and lesbian couples should have full rights.
Israel continues to demand morality, even in times of duress. Though the flotilla boarding was a public relations disaster and an unnecessary loss of life, Israel immediately launched its own investigations. They are always under international scrutiny, but they hold themselves accountable as well.
Polls regularly indicate a real desire amongst Israelis for a peace based upon a two state solution. Talks brokered by the US are in process. An Israeli-based centrist peace movement sprung up over night recently, gathering 300 international supporters within a matter of weeks.4 These are all such hopeful signs.
It is these success stories and more that give me renewed energy. It is also the recognition that we are bound to one another. Whether we like it or not, what Israel does or does not do has ripples in our community. I think we have less of an impact on Israeli society, but we are now being recognized more and more for our voice and not just our pocketbooks or sway on Capitol Hill.
How about you? How about each of us? Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves: “What is it that might have us so detached, complacent and fatigued?” What is in the way of us recognizing that we are Jews, and they are Jews, and that it is not only impossible for us to be disentangled from one another, but that we should not want such a disentanglement? What is it going to take for us to open our eyes and open our hearts toward our brothers and compatriots half a world away, but who represent a full half of the world Jewish population?
There is a functional piece of art hanging near our Israeli flag. Created by our own very talented Helene Oppenheimer, it says mizrach. In the western world, a mizrach is traditionally hung on the Eastern wall of a home so that family members will know which way to face for prayer. Most synagogues in North America also face toward the east – toward Jerusalem. We, however, are a bit skewed because of the nature of our lot and our buildings footprint. We hung this mizrach here, however, so that even if we were facing the ark with our bodies, we could turn our thoughts toward Jerusalem. And then, perhaps, hopefully our hearts will turn in that direction as well.
In a moment, the choir will sing the prayer for Israel that is printed in the middle of our handouts. As they do, I hope you will join me in praying that we are able to shake off our fatigue, embrace our fellow Jews in Israel, and celebrate the flowers of life.
G’mar Hatima Tovah – may we all be sealed in the book of life for the new year.
Shaalu Sh’lom Y’rushalayim, yishlayu ohavayich. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you prosper. Bless the State of Israel which marks the dawning of hope for all who seek peace. Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it the canopy of Your peace; send Your light and truth to all who lead and advise, guiding them with Your good counsel. Establish peace in the land and fullness of joy for all who dwell there.5
1 http://www.adl.org/media_watch/magazines/Time_090310.htm
2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00thr24
3 http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/10/failure-american-jewish-establishment/
4 http://weareforisrael.org/
(Your shopping cart is empty)