“Jewish Values” on the Front Page:

THREE INCIDENTS In the past week, there have been three occasions when “Jewish values” have been at the heart of major US political acts and events. One of these is the invitation by the powerful Jewish organization AIPAC, which claims to lobby for good Israeli-US relations, to invite Donald Trump to speak  -- and a range of responses in the broader Jewish community to that invitation.. Another was Senator (and Presidential candidate ) Bernie Sanders saying that the memory of the Holocaust has been at the heart of his Jewishness as it has powerfully affected his outlook on public policy throughout his life and in his campaign for President. The third is that President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland,  came to the edge of tears in saying that memories of the Holocaust as an important part of his life as a Jew had deeply affected his outlook on the law and justice. The long-ago rabbis who edited Prophetic passages to read  as the “Haftarahs” in the synagogue each Shabbat began their choices with outcries at troublesome behavior of the people and ended with joyful affirmation. I want to begin with what for me is the most problematic case and end with the ones that give me joy –- and with my own personal response to the entry of “Jewish values” into such public arenas. There have been two major responses from Jews who claim they oppose Trumpery to AIPAC’s decision to invite Mr. Trump to speak at its convention: One is — “NO!”  — on the ground that Trump is utterly contemptuous of all American Jewish values and of the Constitution. Thank God —literally — for the insistence by Rob Eshman, editor of the L.A. Jewish Journal; by the leadership of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; and by the leadership of the Reconstructionist movement, that Jewish values MUST underlie and inform the work of all Jewish institutions, including AIPAC. The Reconstructionists urged AIPAC to rescind the invitation.   T’ruah’s statement ended, “Neither AIPAC nor any other Jewish organization or community should offer a platform to a candidate who spews the same racist and nationalistic language that we have too often seen lead to violent actions.”  The other response is, “Well, AIPAC’s role is to improve relations between the US & Israel.  So it needs to begin cozying up to a politician who is likely to be a leading candidate for President and might even sit in the White House.” But AIPAC, despite its origins and claims, is no longer devoted to improving relations between the US and Israel, nor to making nice to US Presidents merely because they are President. It has, rather, become devoted to unblinking support for whatever an ultra-right-wing government of Israel wishes, up to and including a rejection of  diplomacy with Iran -- a path that would have inexorably led first to the defeat of the Iranian reformist movements that in fact won the recent election there precisely because diplomacy worked, and then would have inexorably led to US involvement in  a war to prevent Iran from making  nuclear weapons  -- a war that would have been far worse for the US than the War Against Iraq. What’s more, AIPAC at the Israeli government’s bidding did its best to thwart President Obama’s diplomacy with Iran — hardly a way to improve Israeli relations with the White House. It had no problem nastily challenging a sitting President when it did not like his policy. Why then treat as a guest an aspirant to the Presidency who pours contempt on American Jewish values and on the Constitution? Some other Jews (including much of the official leadership of the Reform movement) have made clear they think Trump’s proposals and language are utterly contradictory to all Jewish values.  I applaud them for that assertion. But they exempt AIPAC from caring about Jewish values. The Reform statement promises that some Reform Jews at the AIPAC convention will make clear their disapproval of Trump, while “respecting completely” its decision to invite him. Its statement is here. I think that position is an important mistake.  If a leading US Christian or Muslim organization were to invite an extremely prominent speaker who had been calling for sanctions against all American Jews because  some Israeli Jews have been terrorists, would Jews have said they “completely respected” that choice? Is it only because Trump’s propensity to violence, contempt, and hatred is directed so far at Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, and strong-willed women, not (yet?) at Jews, that makes it all right for a Jewish organization to suspend Jewish values? Of course AIPAC’s abandonment of Jewish values is certainly no surprise, since in its relations to Israel and to US policy toward Israel it has already abandoned Jewish values as they were, for example, eloquently expressed in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. And even in the more strictly US context, with no excuse that it is advancing Israel-US relations, it has  already, before this,  invited some notorious Islamophobes to speak -- another violation of Jewish values.  But to welcome a proto-fascist leading candidate for the Presidential nomination to speak is a last nail in the coffin of AIPAC's pretensions about protecting Israel.  And it should be the last nail in the coffin of American Jewish respect for AIPAC. What to do? I hope that many Jews will publicly call for AIPAC to rescind its invitation, and will boycott AIPAC if it won’t.  Short of that, I am glad to hear that hundreds of Jews (some rabbis among them) who feel that their work requires them to be at the AIPAC meeting, plan to walk out of the AIPAC meeting when Trump begins to speak. The plan seems to be to keep silent as they leave. I would suggest they sing one song, a prayer well-known to many Jews, with one phrase added (here in italics) as it is added in one of my own congregations: May the One Who makes harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe, teach us to make peace within ourselves, among each other, and for all the People Israel,  for all the people of our cousin Ishmael, and for all humanity and other life-forms that dwell upon this planet: “Oseh shalom bimromamav, hu ya’aseh shalom alenu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol Yishmael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel.” ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Now the other two cases. My attention was caught by the response of a well-known neocon syndicated newspaper columnist to Bernie Sanders’ assertion that he is proud to be Jewish and to draw on his memory of the murder of much of his father’s family during the Holocaust to empower his “democratic socialist” work in local Vermont politics, in the US Senate, and in his campaign for President. So I wrote a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, my home town paper and one where the column appeared: [Your columnist’s] comment on Senator Bernie Sanders’ reference to the Holocaust as the reference-point of his Jewishness utterly missed the point. Krauthammer writes that he expected Sanders to cite tikkun olam, “repair of the world,” as his Jewish touchstone. What Krauthammer missed is that for Bernie and for many many Jews, the memory of those murdered by the Nazis connects profoundly with the ever-renewed memory of being enslaved in ancient Egypt  — and of winning freedom from Pharaoh. The Prophetic search for justice, repairing the world,  merges with the resistance to Nazism. When in America today there reemerges the impulse to hate the “stranger,”  oppress Blacks or Hispanics, violate the religious freedom of Muslims, break labor unions  — then many Jews  both hear our own Prophets and sniff the stink of early Nazism — from 1922 to 1933.  As for [your columnist’s] fear that young Jews are abandoning Torah wisdom, the profound meaning of the Sabbath, and life-enhancing aspects of Jewish practice: Where these are shrouded in boring rote, he is right — and so are those who abandon them. Where instead they are filled with the energy to heal our planet from our modern Carbon Pharaohs, end the new forms of slavery in disemployment and mass incarceration, and affirm the Image of God in women, Muslims, and Mexicans — Jews young and old are giving life to a Judaism where ritual and practice are imbued with life. The Inquirer published the letter, minus one sentence and an unfortunate change of “disemployment” to “unemployment.” (I deliberately used “disemployment” rather than “unemployment” because the former gives the sense of a deliberate decision by those in power to abolish jobs, while the latter sounds like an accident  -- workers stubbed their toes on the way to their jobs.) And the third case – Judge Garland – also made clear that his Jewish religious life – Bar Mitzvah, marriage by a vigorously social-justice Reform rabbi to a Jewish woman – as well as his commitment to justice as a lawyer and a judge -- was also deeply affected by the Holocaust. For him, too, it is clear that his consciousness of the Holocaust did not turn him inward to protecting Jews alone, but made clear to him that healing the world –- the whole world  -- is a Jewish imperative. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Finally, my own responses to this unexpected series of events: Why is my soul stirred by the vitality of Jewish values among some Jews? Why is my soul wounded by other Jews who turn away from Jewish values? Is it because I think it is “good for the Jews” to call prophetically for healing of the world? No – often it brings such Jews into disrepute or even danger, even inside the ethnically Jewish community. It is rather because I think it is good for the world that Jews, allied with others, work for a world that is healed from exploitation, tyranny, and hatred imposed on other human beings and on Mother Earth herself. Good for the world, for Jews to gather around the Passover Seder table to say, “In every generation, every human being must look upon himself, herself, as if we ourselves must go forth from slavery to freedom.” Good for the world, for Jews to cry out in recollection of the Holocaust, “Never again – for anyone!”

Universal: 

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