Last week, we marked the 50th anniversary of the Occupation. .
That “50” echoes the Torah’s Yovel -- -- the “Home-bringing,” as Everett Fox translates the word; the Jubilee, as most translations say -- when families and tribes return to the living-space they originally had, when slaves and serfs are freed from their burdens and their masters are freed from the fears that accompany illegitimate power, when the Earth gets to rest, when we “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” All. (Lev. 25)
And the week of this anniversary ended on Saturday night with Havdalah, the ceremony that marks a shift in consciousness from the end of the Holy Shabbat into a week of work to do.
What comes next? The very last word of the Havdalah itself raises that question. The word is chol-- Blessed is the One Who distinguishes between kadosh and chol. Between holiness and – what? My beloved teacher and friend Rabbi Max Ticktin, alav hashalom, taught that chol means not “profane” but “hollow” – chol like the chalil, the hollow flute that can make a melody precisely because it is hollow.
I share with you one imagining toward how to fill with holiness this hollow space of time:
All in the Family
by Herbert J. Levine
We sat, my brother and I, in the back
of the family car and quarreled unceasingly
until our mother, may she rest in peace, would ask,
'How will there be peace in the world if two brothers cannot
live together in peace?' We knew
from the Torah stories she had taught us
,that Cain killed his brother Hevel out of jealousy,
that Jacob was ready to steal and Esau
to murder to receive what he could never get,
the one, indivisible blessing.
Nowadays my brother and I meet for meals
on our birthdays, talk of our cholesterol levels
and sleep apnea, of the jobs that the kids
have taken, and of the Israelis and Palestinians,
he, embarrassed as a Diaspora Jew, and I, shaken
by this quarrel of brothers who rise from their graves like ghosts
to deceive and to fight, to die and to kill, united only
by their family plot, where they
pause for a moment to bury their dead.
The Palestinians commemorate their tragic Naqba,
a holy day of remembering and mourning the loss
of their nation. When the day comes that they celebrate
the beginning of their state, I suggest they also celebrate
a Palestinian Purim, with costumes, masks and hashish
(the Muslims won't be drinking alcohol),
when they'll wipe out the name of Israel
once a year, and they'll say what Jews say
on Hanukah, Passover and Purim: They tried to kill us
but they failed, so let's eat rich food
and tell funny stories
to keep living well and not fall
to the bottom of memory's black hole
of tears and shame and fury.
Let's be like dreamers again. In days to come,
let's say in forty more years,
when the Israelis and Palestinians declare
their mutual state,
they will look back and see its start in their decision
to teach their children both Arabic and Hebrew,
for in the supple and sinuous letters, they saw
the face of the one land that they both love.
[Forthcoming in Words for Blessing the World: Poems in Hebrew and English (2017)]
This wonderful fantasy that begins with brothers and imagines old/new festivals of healing calls out an invitation for a twin – a brother / sister poem that evokes what Israeli Jews might do to heal their own trauma, and what American Jews might do to open the way.
What ceremony, what celebration, what vision of a just and peaceful future, might we imagine and then create, to do this?
Such visions are valuable, because “Where there is No Vision, the People Perish.” (Proverbs 29:18 ). AND – without action, the vision is mere dreamery. So far, there are four main paths through which American Jews can act against the Occupation: Money, Votes, Bodies, and Torah.
Money: One useful way of deploying it is sending money to help the grass-roots organizations in Israel that oppose the Occupation and support democracy (now under considerable reassure from some elements in the Isralei government). That is being best done by the New Israel Fund. See http://www.nif.org
Votes – that is, efforts to change US policy toward Israel and Palestine so as to put real US clout behind convincing the Israeli government to end the Occupation –-- is being best upheld by J Street . See http://jstreet.org
Bodies: that is, the deployment of street demonstrations, especially aimed at American Jewish organizations that blindly support the Occupation. In my judgment, that is being done with most creativity and care by If Now Now. See https://ifnotnowmovement.org/
Torah– that is, study of sacred texts and creation of sacred ceremonies. Decades ago, New Jewish Agenda sponsored a (Passover) Seder for the Children of Abraham, and The Shalom Center followed several years later with The Passover of Peace: A Seder for the Chidren of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah. <https://theshalomcenter.org/node/186
The most recent efforts on this path are by Truah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights <http://www.truah.org/> and by Save Israel Stop the Occupation (SISO), with shared transnational Diaspora and Israeli leadership https://www.siso.org.il/
There are a number of other American Jewish organizations that have organized against the Occupation or more broadly in the struggle for a just Middle East peace.
One of these, Americans for Peace Now, won for itself a membership in the mainstream Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. See http://peacenow.org/
Another, Jewish Voice for Peace, has built a large membership while distancing itself from most conventional Jewish life by supporting BDS -- the movement for Boycotts, Divestment, & Sanctions toward Israel . https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/