Rabbi MICHAEL MELCHIOR:
Do not give up on Peace.
I am sharing with you this message from Jerusalem, just hours before the cessation of yet another cease-fire. We are all living in the twilight zone of uncertainty, not knowing whether we might have some intermission in which people will be able to attempt to put their lives together again and the school classes can open their doors for all the traumatized boys and girls on both sides of the border, or we will see a collapse of the cease-fire. In such a case, this might result in new rounds of violence with possible escalation of suffering and bloodshed, which by now, most people have lost the track of understanding the purpose of.
How can I share with you a message for the High-Holidays after a summer in which my heart and soul has been torn, and so many tears have been shed? How can I, as a Rabbi, a Jewish leader, tell a story of joy and inspiration when there is so much sadness, anxiety and even despair amongst my people?
But then, how can I not?
Isn't this exactly the purpose of the high-holidays, the Days of Awe, days of soul-searching? These are meant to be days when we can pour out our hearts and souls before G-d and our fellow human beings; where we can in truth, even in pain stricken truth, deal with the past not in order to bury ourselves in the past, but in order to begin to rebuild the future.
At the dramatic peak of the Mussaf prayer, on these days, we depict all of human kind standing in judgment before G-d, with the great shofar being sounded and all the forces of nature are trembling. Judgment is being passed; everyone is inscribed to his destiny. And then, at the pinnacle of the peak we declare that there is always hope, that we are not doomed because we can avert and overwrite the judgment by three measures: teshuva- repentance, tefila – prayer and tzedaka-charity.
Teshuvah – Repentance
This is one of the most beautiful concepts of Judaism. We always have the possibility to turn things around, repent, and repair our sins. But this demands looking honestly at our own fears and hatreds, and not only beating on the chests of our neighbors. This is true on a personal level, on a community level and also on a national level.
We are always eager to point out the poisonous hatred of our enemies, (and so we should because it is indeed poisonous), but the red line against racism must always be universal and our first obligation is to clean out our own society, our own political leaders, our own study houses, rabbis and educators.
Can we truly say that we, inside the State of Israel, live up to the values of a multicultural sustainable democracy in our relationship with the Arab-Palestinian minority? This minority is not the only a "stranger" in the land towards whom we, as a majority, have human rights obligations, but is a partner with us in building this country. Do we recognize the attempts to push this minority outside of the Israeli democracy?
The essence of our future is not for the world to define us as a Jewish state, but for us to define for ourselves what we mean by 'Jewish state', and which Judaism we want to prevail. I am convinced that the vast majority of Jews despise the many racist interpretations of Judaism we have heard this summer by public figures, politicians and rabbis. If they are allowed to be considered legitimate in our midst, then we will have to repent for our silence,
because this silence is heard loud and clear.
Tefila – Prayer
We have learned so much about prayer this summer. We started off praying for the safe return of our three missing boys. Every day and night we prayed for them. We all saw ourselves in the place of their parents, and we could not stop crying for them and with them.
Rachel Frankel, the mother of Naftaly, z"l, gave us all, the most profound lesson about prayer when she at one stage approached the kotel. A group of young religious girls surrounded her, telling her that they had just finished saying Psalms for the three boys, and they were sure that G-d had heard their prayers. She just wanted to hug and thank them, but suddenly she was caught by a fear that if their prayers, her prayers, and all of our prayers would not be answered, that these girls might lose their faith in G-d. So she, in the midst of her distress, took time to explain to them that prayers are not like an ATM where you insert a card and get your money. G-d does not work for us. We believe in praying, but can never know the effect of our prayers. That is the essence of faith. The dignity, the modesty, the restraint of the mothers of these three first victims this summer, spread a unique humane message of Judaism, which became so crucial during these difficult months, and created a very special solidarity amongst all segments of the Israeli society.
This message made it possible for us to conduct a joint prayer for the boys with the participation of rabbis and imams at the place where they had been kidnapped. Later we arranged for many of the leading rabbis here to pay a condolence call and send a letter of condolence to the Abu Khadir family, after the brutal murder of their son. And many could participate in joint Jewish – Moslem events which took place at the end of the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which was also one of the days of the fasting of the Ramadan. On this occasion, leading Ulama figures (Ulama - the supreme religious Palestinian authority) wrote to us that we each have our narrative of the conflict, as we each have our own religious beliefs, but that it is important now to write a joint narrative of peace for the future.
All these symbolic gestures are not insignificant when they take place during a period when our children, including my own children, are fighting and risking their lives together with their friends for the safety of the hundreds of thousands of our citizens in the south, who for 14 years have been living in a nightmare of rockets and sirens, together with our Muslim friends who on their television screens have been watching a totally different war, seeing their people being bombed, and calling out in despair from the ruins of Gaza. The prayer has the power also to transform us, to make us understand that we are praying to one and the same G-d, to show humility, to acknowledge that we do not posses all the answers, but have willingness to take the responsibility towards all of G-d's creation.
Tzedaka – Charity, Compassion
Charity, compassion, stems from Tzedek – Justice.
One of our leading politicians wrote on her facebook that we should consider all of the people in Gaza as our enemies. She wrote that the mothers of the Shahids who send them to hell are, of course, just as guilty as their sons, the terrorists, and therefore their blood is on their heads. How far is this from the Judaism I believe in! When we, on Rosh Hashana blow the shofar 100 blasts, it is according to our tradition, to identify with the 100 sobs and tears which were shed by the mother of one of the most bitter of our enemies in our history, Sisra, who for 20 years had oppressed the Israelites, and who we fought on the battlefield. The weeping of a mother whose son will never return home from battle is universal. It teaches us to show compassion even towards the mother of the most bitter of our enemies. And we show this when we blow the shofar in every synagogue around the world, to this day.
Charity begins at home. But in our home there are two peoples living side by side. I am a staunch Zionist. I believe that the Jewish people's return to our homeland is part of the fulfillment of the visions of our prophets and the will of G-d. But then I cannot say that it is an accident that there is another people living here. Just as it is G-d's will that we are back in our homeland, fulfillment of Jewish destiny, then it also part of the Divine plan that there is another people - the Palestinian people - living here together with us.
Just as we rightly demand from the other side, the Palestinian people, to accept our right for self determination, so must we accept the same for them. This is the basic fundament of Judaism, that Hillel taught us "Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you". True. We have a history of 100 years of conflict and bloodshed, and many people are giving up on the hope of reaching peace. However, the surprising truth is that both sides really want peace. They just don't believe that there is a partner on the other side. I think that I have met with more radical Palestinian and Arab religious Islamic and political leaders, including during these past weeks, than any other Israeli. I met with leading figures from Arab countries with who we have no relations, and who all want to put the conflict behind them. I have met with religious leaders who have written the textbooks who have justified the suicide bombers, many of whom today have joined the coalition for religious and political peace. The time of Jihad has passed. It can be left in the bloody hands of the anarchists of the IS. We are ready for Salaam. Isn't that also the urge of the vast majority of the Jewish side?
What is needed today is to restore belief and trust that it is possible to transform our future. True. We had peace attempts that didn't succeed. But isn't that true of all human conflicts in history? They didn't disappear overnight.
It is not Jewish to despair. Do not give up on us. Do not give up on charity. Do not give up on showing compassion. Do not give up on justice. Do not give up on Peace.
It is possible to override the judgment.