Marshall T.Meyer, 6/17/2005
In 1980, when you established New Jewish Agenda, I was passing my twenty-first year of life in Argentina. We had heard in Buenos A ires of your Founding Conference in 1980. That was the time of the fascist regime of Videla, Viola and Galtieri. That was the time when I spent practically all of my waking hours in prison trying to find people who were about to disappear. The word 'desaparacido' normally applies to everyday objects to my glasses or my pencil. But what do you say to a woman when she says, "My son has disappeared?" In 1980,1 was listening to that thirty, forty or fifty times a week. The disappeared weren't merely in prison, they were incarcerated in three-hundred and nine concentration camps that the National Presidential Commission on the Disappeared located.
How did it happen that a human being disappeared? This might be the scenario: You dine rather late in Buenos Aires, around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. Your son or daughter or father or mother hasn't shown up. You sit down and you eat. Around 11:30 you get a little uneasy because he should have arrived from the office. Then you hear a knock at the door. You hear a blast of machine-gun fire and the whole door is blown in. Nine or ten soldiers walk in. Your wife gets a crack on the head with a rifle-butt and is smashed against the wall. "Where's your daughter. Where's your son," they demand.
They enter into the room of the person they are looking for. Before you know it, every book in the room is torn apart. They find what they are looking for: a "subversive" volume written by Sigmund Freud or Karl Marx, or that book with no editor called the Bible that was subversive literature in Argentina from 1976-1983.
I could tell you stories that would keep you awake many nights. I could tell you about the silence of the Jewish establishment which advised the Jews not to present a writ of habeas corpus in 1976 because "it would be too dangerous." Our leaders advised that the wisest thing would be to keep a low profile. I would tell you about the fights with the Cardinal and the fights with the Catholic Church, which backed the military regime. I could tell you horror stories of what happened in that home after the child was taken away.
The country was an accomplice and the Church was an accomplice and the Jews were accomplices. Very few people were involved in the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and even fewer were involved with the "mad mothers" as they were called in the North American press, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
In the few days before the Argentine elections in 1983, the Jewish Movement for Human Rights decided to hold a march against thousands of swastikas that had been painted all over the City. The Jewish Movement called for a rally in the middle of the city for the first time in one-hundred years of Argentine Jewish history. We were accused by the Jewish establishment of doing something that might prejudice the elections. Think of how the Jew had swallowed the filth of his culpability were the military to prevent the elections! "How dare you call a demonstration against anti-Semitism a few days before the elections! Jewish blood will run in the streets of Buenos Aires. There will be a pogrom. The elections will be postponed and everything you worked for will go down the drain." They took out $12,000 worth of advertisements in all the major newspapers saying that they would not back this demonstration. We marched. Slowly but surely the "radicals" came. There were 10,000 people at the demonstration. That was the beginning of Argentine democracy!
When the Jew calls out only in the name of anti-Semitism, who will listen when he calls out for anything else? If he only calls out for anti-Semitism why should anyone listen to him at all? He's not a member of the family of nations and has no responsibility to others.
That. my friends, also applies with regard to Sanctuary. Do you remember how many Christians opened their churches to the Polish, Russian and German Jews in 1939? Are you aware that Reinhold Niebuhr toured every large synagogue in 1938 begging American Jewry to get their brothers and sisters out of Europe because there was no hope, so he believed. He was ignored. There was silence in the churches in 1939 also. If we are not to commit this same heinous sin of deafness in the face of those who call out for help, every synagogue in the United States, every Jewish organization in the United States must run the risk of arrest for Sanctuary.
When the mothers came day after day to the Latin American Rabbinical Assembly - in the middle of a statement or tears or hysteria they would say, "You know, rabbi, that I'm not Jewish?" I would reply, "You know, madame, that I don't care. I didn't ask you. You are a human being suffering and I do believe we are called upon to fulfill this partnership with God." I do not belong to an atavistic tribal cult. I belong to a people that taught universalism to the world.
I believe that we need a spiritual revolution. Whether you believe that God is God or that God is Love, whatever you believe you believe in meaning in life and in the sanctity of life. Judaism came into this world to fight against paganism. Paganism means considering the penultimate as ultimate. The world has paid the price of such paganism. We must return to being partners with God in the constant creation of the world. Jewish theology teaches that the world was not created, it is in the process of being created. It is in your hands and my hands to participate in that creation or to participate in its destruction.
We can worship money and power and we can be chauvinistic Jews and think that we are better; or we can be at the service of humanity with a message and a mission. We can no longer afford to mix form and essence. The beauty of the Jewish religion can be multifarious together we must make a harmony, not a cacophony. Each one must be true to his own melody, each one true to the cadence of his soul. Please leave me room for my soul. Let's also leave room for the souls of the Nicaraguans and the Central Americans and the hues of all the nations, because that is what makes for beauty and art.
That is our mission today so that together we can walk out of this convention with what is really the oldest Jewish agenda in the world: our participation and involvement in the Creation.