Month: December 2017
Let’s Talk About Jerusalem
Let’s talk about Jerusalem.
Many have claimed President Trump’s announced intention to recognize Jerusalem, as Israel’s capital is wrong. They claim Jerusalem should be an international city because it is sacred to Muslims and Christians as well as Jews.
It is strange. No one denies Mecca as Islam’s holiest city or that Rome is the center of the Catholic Church. But the fact Jerusalem holds analogous status in the hearts of Jews meets resistance.
One must ask, is it anti-Semitism, political naiveté or something else?
If it is anti-Semitism no explanation will do any good. It is a fact that certain people hate Jews and deny the legitimacy of Jerusalem as the Jewish touchstone on those grounds. I pity them their irrational hatred but will not waste words trying to talk them out of it.
For those unaware, though a review of facts might help. I hope so.
Since the time of King David three thousand years ago, Jews have either lived in or longed for Jerusalem.
In darkest hours of persecution and exile our Sages pined, “Better to live in a hovel on a dung heap in Jerusalem than a palace in the diaspora.”
Today, some call for Jerusalem to be an international city, perhaps under the authority of the United Nations. That is exactly the proposal the UN made on November 29 1947 in a proposal that called for the creation of both an Arab and a Jewish state.
Proponents of the Jewish State rejoiced and embraced the proposal. The Arab world denied the proposal claiming they would not tolerate the existence of any Jewish state. Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League vowed that the ensuing war would be like the Mongolian massacres like the crusades and that the rivers would run with Jewish blood.
In that war an armistice divided Jerusalem leaving Jewish holy sites under Arab control. What did they do?
They made the area of the Western Wall a slum a, they desecrated the sacred Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and they used the tombstones to make latrines for Jordanian soldiers. Most importantly, no Jews were permitted access to the Western Wall of the ancient temple courtyard. For 19 years Jordan prevented any Jew from praying at Judaism’s holiest site.
Then came 1967.
In early June of that year, Egypt and Syria announced an alliance to wipe Israel off the map. They mobilized their troops, ordered UN forces away from the buffer that stood between Egypt and Israel and blockaded the straits of Tiran to ships wishing to bring goods to the Israeli port of Eilat.
In response to these threats Israel launched a preemptive strike against Syria and Egypt. In the midst of the fighting Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol warned Jordan to stay out of the fray. But Jordan ignored the warning and invaded West Jerusalem. In the fiercest hand-to-hand fighting of the war, Israel repulsed Jordan’s invasion and drove her troops across the Jordan River.
Immediately after the war Israel offered peace to the Arab world. The Arab leaders met in a summit at Khartoum in the Sudan and produced at that meeting a declaration known as the “Three No’s.”
- No peace with Israel
- No recognition of Israel
- No negotiation with Israel.
Since 1967, the Holy Sites of Christianity are under Christian control and the holy sites of Islam are under Islamic control. .
The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol by the United States does not change this reality. It also does not change the future possibility—when and if peace comes to the regions—that East Jerusalem will be the capitol of a future Palestinian State.
Israel has proved to the world that it will make sacrifices for peace with Egypt and with Jordan. It will make sacrifices for peace with the Palestinians as well.
There is no doubt that the creation of Israel displaced many Arabs from their homes. Many left at the instruction of their leaders who told them to clear the way for the massacre of the Jews.
But Jews forced many to leave as well.
Jewish tradition demands we take no delight in the suffering of our enemy. One of my favorite Midrashim is one in which the Holy One silence the angels who are rejoicing as the Egyptians drown in the Sea of Reeds. The Bible itself pays sympathy to the tears of the fallen enemy Sisera in the book of Judges. Similarly we should feel the pain of Arab and Palestinian parents who lose their children in wars and skirmishes against Israel.
And I will say that Israel as the country with the power has the responsibility to make sure the doorway to peace through negotiation stays open.
I would love to see a freeze and a rollback of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I would love to see eases on checkpoints and the ability of Palestinians to travel freely in Israel.
But I sit here safe in the USA, and Israel’s population must live with the security risks such decision would entail.
Today, many Israeli descend from refugees of Arab countries who parents and grandparents in 1948 left places like Iraq, Morocco, Algeria and Yemen with the clothes on their back. Their offspring are less likely to advocate Israel take the “risks for peace” that eloquent urbane liberals—both within and outside of Israel—advocate.
My blood chilled when I say a YouTube interview with an Arab mother just after her child successfully underwent a life-saving operation by Israeli doctors. Filmed in the hospital where her child had been saved, she said she would be proud to have that same child become a martyr in a subsequent suicide bombing.
Most Palestinians do not share the mother’s view, of course, but many do, and that is central do the problem today. The Palestinian authorities glorify their martyrs, erect monuments to them and hold them up as examples to emulate.
I would love to see peace come to the region. But before that can happen, the Palestinian people and the leaders of both the PLO and Hamas must be willing to recognize and live in peace with the Jewish State of Israel.
Unlikely? Yes, but I will cling to that sliver of hope that Jerusalem, the “Holy City” will finally live up to its name, “the City of Peace.” I cling to the hope that a Palestinian State with its capitol there can live side by side with Israel in mutual harmony and cooperation. To paraphrase Theodor Herzl famous statement: “If both sides will it, it does not have to be just a dream.”
Trump Be Gone
I have had it.
If real life was like the old Gong Show the late Chuck Barris would have pulled the plug on Trump’s tired act months ago.
I know. I am the guy who said, “Give the guy a chance,” a hundred-day chance, after the election. It did not take me that long to realize I was wrong.
How much should the American people bear?
It is too much: Tax cuts for the wealthiest, health care cuts for the poor, uprooting families, costing Americans outrageous amounts in security so he can vacation and golf to his heart’s content.
But then, when so many of us were sure Trump could do nothing right, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s Capitol, and told he UN to stuff their resolution condemning the action.
It is really bizarre.
Of course Jerusalem is Israel’s capitol.
It has been for 3000 years, and it has been the heart of Jewish souls even when it was not under our physical control.
So where does that leave us?
Trump is right as rain about Jerusalem, but on every other score we should drum him out of office.
It reminds me of 1939. In that year Great Britain led the world’s fight against Nazi Germany. In that same year Great Britain promulgated a White Paper so severely limiting Jewish immigration to then Palestine that it condemned untold numbers of Jews to death at Hitler’s hands.
David Ben Gurion’s advice then illumines our thinking today.
He wrote: We shall fight with the British against the Nazi as if there were no White Paper, and we shall oppose the White Paper as if there were no Nazis.
For Jews and other Americans of good will today we must applaud Trump’s affirmation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol. But we must oppose with all our strength his grinding the faces of the poor into the ground, his callous voiding of health care benefits for so many and his complete lack of personal dignity that has made America an object of ridicule around the world.
And so, here is my wish for Donald Trump in 2018:
Thanks for Jerusalem as you resign in disgrace!
Our Kids Are Coming to Town
This evening Vickie and I sit in Sanibel, just the two of us!
But tomorrow, God willing, at this time, the house will be teeming with our two sons their two spouses and two kids belonging to each of the two couples.
In an instant, two will turn into ten, and we are so excited.
We have looked forward to their visit for months. We purposely rented a house large enough to accommodate our kids and their children whenever they wish to visit. Having our children visit was integral to our vision when we decided to come to Sanibel.
Vickie has stocked up on so much food, that you would think an army platoon was landing. Neighbors and new friends have lent us a crib, an air mattress, a bicycle with a baby carrier in the back, boogie boards for the beach and so much more.
Another friend has offered to take the whole lot of us out on their boat, Vickie and my daughters–in—law have burned holes in the cell phone and text lines planning activities for the visit.
We are super excited! We just can’t wait.
And yet, in the back of our minds, we know: the dynamic of ten people in relatively small space for several days, with four of them ten and under could certainly lead to conflicts.
Vickie and I love our children and grandchildren with all of our hearts, souls and minds. And we are blessed to know that they love each other the same way.
We also both know there is no foolproof formula to insure that “a good time will be had by all,” but there are a couple of things we shall try to do to stack the odds in our favor:
- As the Psalmist wrote: “Appoint, O Eternal One, a guard over my mouth.” (Psalm 141:3) We both know well that a sharp word that we carelessly allow to escape our lips can foul everyone’s mood. We will be vigilant.
- Listen more than we talk. We have grown to love this island and its many opportunities to experience learning, beauty and fun. We have ideas on how to spend our time together, but our activities should be guided by our children’s preferences and their better knowledge than ours of what will be best for their children.
If Vickie and I allow nothing to veer us away from these two goals, then with a healthy dose of prayer and hope, we see the days ahead flying joyfully by at warp speed.
And when next Vickie and I are alone together, may we catch our breath, look at each other and say:
“We cannot wait until the children come again.
Sometimes I Get Angry at God
Sometimes I get angry at God.
One of those times was when I read the biography of Dr. Daniel Sargent.
It was never my privilege to meet Dan, but his father Forrest and I play tennis together. The pain of losing Dan—and the worst emotional pain imaginable is the pain of losing a child–is forever engraved on his soul.
Dr. Sargent was a gifted scientist and Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic. He was doing vital cancer research, but he died at that age of 46.
In my anger I ask, “Why, God, did you allow this?”
Dr. Sargent was pushing back the curtain of human understanding in the search for a cure for cancer. He was the Ralph S. and Beverly E. Caulkins Professor of Cancer Research and the Chair of the Division of Biomedical Statistics and Informatics in the Department of Health Sciences Research at the Mayo Clinic.
His obituary on the web site of the American Society for Clinical Oncology further notes, “Dr. Sargent was the principal investigator for the statistics and data management program at the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology (ALLIANCE), a national clinical trials network sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. He led multiple international groups including ACCENT in adjuvant colon cancer, the prospective IDEA in colon cancer, and the FLASH international consortia in follicular lymphoma. He authored or co-authored more than 300 peer-reviewed manuscripts, book chapters, editorials, and letters.”
It is hard to believe that a man who accomplished so many great things only lived 46 years.
I could cite further accomplishments of Dr. Sargent’s brilliant career, but they would only make me angrier at God for taking away so young a person who did so much good.
Of course I am familiar with many theological theories. Perhaps, as Rabbi Harold Kushner teaches in, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, there is a realm of nature that God does not and cannot control.
I must even consider the possibility that there is no God at all. I am well familiar with the claims that no good God could allow so many tragedies to happen.
As I ponder, “Why,” there are some things I will never say:
- God needed Dr. Sargent in heaven.
What kind of a God could ever need Dan Sargent more than his wife and young children?
- He is in a better place.
Again, what better place could there be for a man, who married and loved his high school sweetheart and had two wonderful children than with them?
Yes there are things I know never to say, but that still leaves me groping for an answer.
Ultimately, I retreat to what God said to Job out of the whirlwind: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … Who has put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who has given understanding to the mind …Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 38:4, 36; 40:8)
In other words, much about God is and always will be, a mystery.
As wise as humans will ever become, there is and always will be an infinite gap between what we can grasp and what God does or does not allow to happen.
That does not mean we have to like or accept these mysteries. We should continue to try to unravel them, but we must accept this reality: our efforts to fully understand the reasons bad things happen will always fall short.
Life is often unfair. It is OK to be angry at God. I believe God can handle our anger. But when we condemn God for what we do not understand, we become victims of our own arrogance.
Indeed, it is arrogant to say that if God does not conform to my moral standards of right and wrong, then either there is no God or God’s power is limited. It is only our understanding that is and will remain limited.
We should answer to God but not expect God to answer to us.
Despite all we shall never know, here are things we can say about God.
We have a good idea of how God wants us to act toward one another. It is clear that God wants us to use our vast power to make a better world on earth.
It is also clear that Dan Sargent used his vast talents in pursuit of that lofty goal.
Let the example of his life inspire us to do the same. That will be his enduring legacy!
What will our legacy be?
If we try to live our lives as Dr. Sargent did for however many days or years we have, then people will remember us as a blessing.
That, I believe is the highest reward life can offer.
Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas?
Many non-Jews think of Chanukah as, “What Jews do at Christmastime.”
Others know the story of “a little cruse of oil” that was supposed to last for one day, but “miraculously” lasted for eight.
In truth the cruse of oil story is as much the reason Jews celebrate Chanukah, as Santa Claus is the reason religious Christians celebrate Christmas.
The real story of Chanukah is long and complex, but here is its essence, and the vital lesson it teaches all of us today.
Long ago in Judaea (about 168 BCE), the Syrian Greeks and their King Antiochus ruled over Judea. They were content to leave the Jews alone as long as they paid their taxes and there was peace in the streets.
At this time there were basically two types of Jews living in Judaea.
- There were Jews who were loyal to their religion and way of life.
- Another group of Jews thought it would be to their advantage if they acted more like the Greeks. They thought their Jewish customs and religious celebrations made it harder to have good relationships and make profitable business relationships with wealthy Greek businessmen.
In order to accomplish their goal, this second group of Jew stopped practicing their religion. They wanted to see Judaea become a Greek city-state. If that happened Judaea could coin its own money, which would be a great advantage in business.
So instead of studying Torah, observing Holy Days, and the Sabbath, they hung out in the Greek gymnasia where they could make lots of good business contacts.
The tension between these two groups of Jews reached the point that a civil war erupted between them.
When he saw that there was violence in the streets of Judaea, Antiochus sent in his troops and outlawed the Jewish religion and all Jewish practice. His forces polluted the Temple in Jerusalem with idols of Greek gods, and offered sacrifice of pigs (a forbidden animal for Jews) to them.
The Jewish forces, known as the Maccabees, fought against the Syrian–Greeks for three years and finally drove the foreign troops out of Judaea. It was the first time in history people fought for religious liberty. And they won!
Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish festival commemorating that victory.
But religious freedom is a value we all should treasure and celebrate.
Three Essentials for Productive Interfaith Dialogue
Interfaith dialogue and cooperation have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
As one of the handful of Jews at Ashland Grammar School in East Orange, NJ, teachers frequently called on me to explain whatever Jewish holiday caused my recent absence from school or were coming up on the calendar. I relished those opportunities though my knowledge, looking back, was limited.
As time has gone by and my knowledge has increased, I have come to see three vital essentials for interfaith dialogue:
I. Diversity is not just something to “tolerate.” Diversity is something to embrace, affirm and respect.
When I was about five, my parents gave me a present that charted the direction of my life. It was a phonograph record called, “Little Songs on Big Subjects,” cute little jingles by Hy Zaret about the importance of mutual respect and understanding. Some of my favorite lyrics that I still recall from memory are:
As the choo choo said to the railroad track, don’t care if the passengers are white or black.
Ho Ho Ho, use your brain; you can learn common sense from a railroad train …
As the peach pit said to the apple core, the color of the skin doesn’t matter no more,
Ho Ho Ho, can’t you see, the color of the skin doesn’t matter to me!
George Washington liked good roast beef; Haym Solomon liked fish.
But when Uncle Sam served liberty, they both enjoyed their dish.
Oh I may not know a lot of things but one thing I can state!
Both native-born and foreign-born have made our country great.
As I began to immerse myself in Jewish learning, I found these wonderful ideals in famous morsels from Midrash (Jewish folklore):
When God fashioned the first human being, the Eternal One used earth from the four corners of the earth, so no one could say, “My country is greater than yours.”
Why in the beginning did God make only one couple in the Garden of Eden? To teach us that we all have the same ancestors and that no one should say my lineage is greater than yours. (B. Sanhedrin 38B)
In 1927, a rabbi, a priest, and a minister in Boston formed the “Tolerance Trio.” They traveled around the country promoting tolerance of faiths other than our own. It was a great idea, but 90 years later, we should strive for more than tolerance. Ninety years later, our goal should be affirmation for and deep respect for religious traditions and diverse cultures.
At bedrock, I like to teach that God created diversity.
In Genesis (ch.11) we read that once people all spoke the same language and thought the same way. All this unity displeased God so the Eternal One scattered people and created diversity. Keep that in mind: Diversity is God’s plan. Affirming it should be our ideal.
II. We must learn to listen (and listen to learn).
It is understandable that we want people to learn about our thoughts and our way of life. But it is our desire and our ability to listen that will make or break dialogue and interfaith cooperation.
It is not an accident that our most important Jewish prayer, which we often call, “The Watchword of our Faith,” is the שמע (Sh’ma), “Hear, (Listen) O, Israel, the Eternal One is our God, the Eternal One alone.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Too often we do not really listen to others. We just wait for our chance to have them listen to us.
We would all do well to take seriously the old saying: “God gave us two ears but only one mouth, so that we would listen (at least) twice as much as we speak.”
III. We must learn to disagree without being disagreeable
Another of my favorite lyrics in, “Little Songs on Big Subjects” is:
I’m proud to be me, but I also see
You’re just as proud to be you!
We might look at things
A bit differently
But lots of good people do …”
The truth is if we get into serious dialogue, some of my Muslim friends and I might view the issues surrounding the Middle East today very differently. Some of my Catholic friends and I may differ over reproductive rights.
Can we discuss the issues on which we do not see eye to eye without anger? The viability of meaningful dialogue hinges on our answer to that question.
There is so much society might gain from adherents of different faith traditions—along with those of no faith tradition—coming together to act as one on issue of agreement and agreeing to act separately on issues we view differently.
- If we embrace diversity as a positive good rather than something to merely tolerate —
- If we really listen to (and engage?) one another –
- And if we can disagree on issues and still remain friends –
Then dialogue can move us, slowly but meaningfully, closer to the ideal world of which the Prophet Micah (4:4) dreamed, when each of us shall sit under our vines and our fig trees with no one to make us afraid.
What is God?
This is what God means to me. I understand God in two specific ways:
- God is the invisible, incorporeal force Who initiated the process that led to the evolution of the world, as we know it. The process was orderly and purposeful. I believe God created humanity to be in charge of and responsible for God’s world.
- God is a Force that lies in potential within each of us that wants each of us to use the talents with which God has blessed us to make the world a more just caring and compassionate place.
We have free will.
In many ways the aspect of God inside of us is like a muscle. We must cultivate and strengthen that muscle if it is to be useful to us.
We humans are not puppets. God wants us to do good, but God does not make us do good.
There is both good and evil in our world. We can choose to incline our thoughts and actions in either of those directions. God wants us to use the minds with which we are blessed, to analyze the ramifications of choices we make, and choose to perform acts of kindness and caring that make a difference in the lives of others.
There is much about God that we cannot understand, that we will never understand. As humanity continues to solve the mysteries of life and gain greater mastery over the forces of nature, the possibilities for both good and evil multiply.
A prime example is the internal combustion engine. The invention allows us to get from point A to B at speeds unimaginable even100 years ago. Yet no one can deny that invention has claimed the lives of millions of people.
Two things are clear to me as we continue to unravel life’s mysteries:
- The gap between what we know about God and what we cannot understand will always be infinite.
- The consequences of our choices for good or for evil will escalate dramatically.
At the end of the day, though, God’s desire for us today and forever is the same as God’s desire for humanity at the time of creation: to use our talents to make a more just caring and compassionate society. Each of us must choose whether and in what ways we wish to work toward that goal.
Who created God? For me God is Eternal. God was and always will be there.