Wolpe on the murder of teens: Don’t say ‘BUT’


Please, please don’t say ‘but.’  The words after ‘but’ invalidate everything that comes before – 
“He’s a nice person, but he does steal from the company.”  You see?  “But” is a meaning duster, sweeping all that precedes it.

So everyone who has written condemning the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, and then goes on to say “but of course” Palestinian society does not condemn their own murders, or Israel is raising up in anguish, or anything else, is missing the point.  The point is to be ashamed and to grieve, not to use this murder to prove we are nonetheless better, or they are nonetheless guiltier. 

When we beat our chests on Yom Kippur, we do not say before God, “But the man in the seat next to me is far worse.” That is not contrition; it is self-justification disguised as repentance.  At a time of national self soul-searching it is too facile and false to use a Jewish crime as a stick to beat our enemies.  Jews did this.  Blind hatred did this. We should look inside, and be ashamed.


David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings at facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.

World Briefs


Bush Suspends Embassy Move

President Bush again suspended moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Invoking a waiver that cites national security reasons, Bush again resisted complying with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which mandated that the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city. Presidents have invoked waivers every six months since the law was passed. In a memorandum Tuesday to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bush said his administration “remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem,” something he pledged to Jews during his presidential campaign in 2000.

Moscow Bomb Kills Jewish Student

A Jewish student was among the five people killed in Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Moscow. Igor Akimov, 18, was a freshman at Moscow State University’s Center for Jewish Studies and Jewish Civilization. The campus is located near the site of Tuesday’s attack, which injured 14. Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Akimov graduated from a Jewish day school in his native city and moved to Moscow this fall. He was majoring in Jewish history and wanted to become a professor in the subject, friends said.

UNfair?

Israel slammed a U.N. decision to have the International Court of Justice rule on the West Bank security barrier.

“What kind of morality is it that the U.N. does not lift a finger against a wave of offensive operations against Israel but condemns defensive measures? That is moral bankruptcy,” Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday.

Monday’s resolution brought new pressure to bear on Israel, though the sort of advisory opinion sought from the International Court of Justice is not binding. One of Sharon’s Cabinet members, Justice Minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, already has requested that the fence be rerouted to minimize seizure of Palestinian lands.

Gere’d Up for Peace

Actor Richard Gere visited the West Bank on the second day of a private peacemaking visit. A longtime campaigner against the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Gere met with Palestinian intellectuals in Ramallah on Tuesday before touring Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. The actor, on his second round of grass-roots meetings in the Middle East during the Palestinian intifada, also is believed to have held private talks in Israel on Monday.

Report: Israel hyped Iraq threat

Israeli intelligence exaggerated the threat to Israel posed by Iraq, according to a new report written by reserve Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brum for Israel’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. Reacting to the report Dec. 4, Israeli Knesset member Yossi Sarid called for an inquiry into Israeli intelligence leading up to the Iraq war.

Dating Sites Get Hitched

Two of the top Jewish dating Web sites are tying the knot. MatchNet of Los Angeles, which owns JDate.com and other specialized dating sites, is buying JCupid.com, owned by PointMatch of Tel Aviv, in a deal that unites two of the top competing Jewish singles sites, the Jerusalem Post reported. PointMatch’s vice president, Eldad Ben Tora, said the deal was aimed at connecting Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Computer dating is among the few growth areas online and is expected to generate $400 million in revenue overall this year.

UNESCO Condemns ‘Protocols’

A U.N. body condemned the display of a notorious anti-Semitic forgery at an Egyptian library. UNESCO said Dec. 4 that the presence of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” at a display at the Alexandria library would leave the institution “open to accusations of racism in general and anti-Semitism in particular.” The book, described by library director Yousef Ziedan as “as one of the sacred tenets of the Jews” and “more important than the Torah,” had been placed next to an exhibit of Torah scrolls. The UNESCO condemnation comes as the organization is preparing an event called “The Centennial of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: a Paradigm for Contemporary Hate Literature,” to be held in Venice this weekend.

Report: Fewer French Muslims

The number of Muslims in France has been widely exaggerated, according to a new report. According to figures extrapolated from government statistics on the numbers of French citizens with at least one parent born outside France, there probably are less than 3.7 million Muslims in France, the L’Express weekly reported Friday. The figures are considerably lower than various estimates by politicians that have placed the Muslim population as high as 6 million. Slightly more than 1 million Muslims in France are of voting age, the report adds. It is illegal in France to compile government statistics based on religion and ethnic group, but the question asking about parents’ birthplace was added to a recent government-sponsored questionnaire.

Concert to Feature Camp Poems

A concert in Prague will feature music based on poems written by Jewish children held at Terezin. The concert is to be held at the State Opera in Prague on Jan. 27. The event, which will coincide with the 58th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, has been organized by the Prague Jewish community in cooperation with the Mauthausen Committee, based in Austria.

Now, Don’t Get Frothy …

A Canadian researcher is investigating how stressed Montreal Jews get when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kimberly Matheson, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, is checking how much of the hormone cortizol is secreted when Jews read articles about the Middle East, Canada’s National Post newspaper reported. The idea came to her when she saw how red Jewish colleagues’ faces became when they read articles they considered anti-Israel. Matheson conducted a similar study among those born in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s Balkans War.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

No Response at All


A rabbi’s voice must often give expression to the feelings of those with whom he or she worships on Shabbat.

This was my experience recently following the horrific suicide bombing in Jerusalem when we prayed, as always, "Oseh shalom bim-ro-mav, hu ya-a’seh shalom alei-nu v’al kol Yisrael. Maker of peace in God’s universe, may God make peace for us and for all Israel!"

By way of explanation, these words of prayer and song, "Oseh Shalom," point us toward the cosmos, stars and planets of our universe appearing to the naked eye to be orbiting one another in harmony. They suggest that peace is more than safety and security. It is not only the absence of violence or danger. Rather, peace is an arrangement of accord and stability. The respectful coexistence of different people is a Jewish vision of true peace.

Recent attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere might have temporarily shattered current hopes of achieving such a peace. As a result, we discover beyond the painfully obvious that the most disturbing problem with suicide bombings is this: We have no response. We simply have no response. We read in newspapers that these murderous acts are "condemned in the strongest terms possible." What does that mean? What real response is verbal condemnation?

So now what? Military responses? We may see a lot of these. They can be deterrents. Israel’s (or America’s) military actions are more or less successful depending on circumstances, strategies and each particular moment. I think they are absolutely necessary. I do not shy away from a democratic government’s responsibility to protect and defend its citizens. Although I also wonder if essential defense is ultimately an effective response.

Then there are other responses. Withdrawal and separation are advocated by some. Talking, looking for common interests and shared values, searching for moderates with whom truce or resolution might be discussed must certainly be pursued. But, as far as anyone can tell right now, none of these seem to be working either. We are stymied. We have no response. This is the deepest dilemma of this horrendous terror.

How do we conceive of a response to that which is in the first place inconceivable? The father of two children, a man who represents his faith traditions and sacred writ, puts on a belt and blows up children who were traveling home on a bus with their parents following prayers at the Kotel (the Western Wall). They were not military targets, not political targets, (not even Sport Utility Vehicles on a parking lot). They were people praying, studying their own holy book. What’s our response supposed to be? Should a rabbi hold a Torah and a sword because an imam holds a Koran and a sword?

We have no response! That is our problem.

"When you go out as a troop against your enemies, be on your guard against anything untoward" (Deuteronomy 23:10). It is one thing to be forewarned, and quite another to know what to do.

At the conclusion of this week’s Torah portion, Moses offers his generation this instruction: "Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt? How, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear?" (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).

In the law and lore of Jewish tradition, Amalek stands out as the paradigm of an evil enemy. Spanish Rabbi Isaac Arama comments that when an attack is aimed at innocent civilians, there can be no other motive than "pure hatred." The Hatam Sofer — Hungarian Rabbi Moshe Sofer — suggests that anyone whose attack is accompanied by joy and enthusiasm for what they have wrought suffers from an "inner hatred" that no religious tradition can comprehend nor condone.

According to Talmudic tradition, the Amalekites can no longer be identified. Their nature and their evil, however, is found in every generation and must always be opposed.

Reflecting on this unsettling memory, as well as the disturbing news of current events, we stand with Israel against acts that are truly evil. We support Israel’s reluctant, defensive battle to safeguard her borders and her children riding on buses. No one I’ve met seems to have a better idea. Nevertheless, our understanding of Israel’s fight does not exist without the ongoing struggle to find another way out. There has to be another way out.

Our best instinct, of course, is to live as we always should — fully with purpose and integrity. Yet in caring about our people and all innocent people, in cherishing our heritage and our ethical values, we are stumped by this dilemma at the moment. We have no response.


Ron Shulman is rabbi at Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes.

9/11/02


Now a year has passed. We have bombed. We have infiltrated. We have analyzed and rallied and written.

And through it all we have avoided one sad truth: the terrorists have already won. They haven’t won the war, but they have won a crucial battle.

My first memory of terror goes back to the Palestinian terrorist takeover of a school in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot in 1974. It was incomprehensible to me that a man, a fellow human being, could kill children. But that’s what happened in Ma’alot, where the terrorist takeover left more than 20 schoolchildren dead.

The world was horrified. Reaction followed a script that by now is well-rehearsed: Shock, outrage, condemnation and a knee-jerk search for explanations.

What would drive people to do such things, Americans reflexively asked. That question is one of terrorism’s goals: an attack’s success can be measured partly, of course, by how much it spreads terror, but more importantly, by how much it spreads curiosity. Why are these people so angry? Why do they hate us? Who are these guys?

Ma’alot and the 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich — 30 years ago this week — planted the Palestinian cause in the mind of the Western world. Violence perpetrated upon innocents jolted the West into awareness. Evil succeeded.

And if awareness is a goal of terrorism, then Osama bin Laden, too, has already won.

"I’m mad at bin Laden," a Santa Monica physician told me recently. "I didn’t want to know about the rest of the world’s problems, but he forced me to. I liked my ignorance."

The attacks shattered our bliss and shoved the reality of the world’s 1 billion Muslims in our face. Thanks to a newly awakened media, America now has a bachelor’s in Islam and a master’s in Muslim grievance.

All this would be fair and maybe even good were the education equal. The fact is, thanks to bin Laden, we now know more about them than they know about us. The Saudis might have blown enough oil money to buy every Palestinian refugee a Harvard education; Muslims might control nine sovereign states and armies, but somehow too many of them cherish their self-perception as victims of the West. And victims, they figure, need redress, not re-education. Just ask the Arab League.

Bin Laden and his minions don’t care how aware we are, how much we learn about Islam. They only care that we convert to their brand of it. Barring that, we are all targets for annihilation, whether we are Donald Rumsfeld or Noam Chomsky, Arab or Christian or Jew, soldier or infant.

Whenever I look back on Sept. 11, this logic strands me on the same depressing shore. Certainly, as William Safire wrote so forcefully on Sept. 12, 2001, we need to "carry the war to the enemy." We’ve done that. But beyond shooting back, how can we avoid handing victory to the terrorists? I had no answer to that, until I heard Judea Pearl speak.

He was receiving an award in honor of his son, Daniel, who was murdered in Pakistan in the wake of Sept. 11 (see story p. 20). Here was a man whose own pain was immeasurable, whose reasons for bitterness and despair dwarfed my own. "On the surface," he said, "[the terrorists] seem to have won on all fronts — and this thought caused me great pain." But many agonizing weeks later, as people touched by the son’s death reached out to the father, Judea Pearl put into place specific ways to spread the good his son brought into the world. "If Danny’s death can give humanity, or whatever is left of her, the banner that she needs to defend herself, then something good may come out of it," he concluded.

Not long after I heard Judea Pearl speak, I visited an exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center, "Faces of Ground Zero." The larger-than-life-size Polaroid images of men and women who survived the attack — firefighters who rushed to help, stockbrokers who searched for loved ones, steelworkers who tried to rescue the dying — were themselves an attack on the inhumanity of the perpetrators of the crimes. They were, almost literally, the banners humanity needs to defend herself. Visitors to the exhibit waited in line to write their impressions in a guest book — their hands shook and tears rolled down their cheeks. "I feel I am on holy ground," one person wrote.

The High Holidays are traditionally a time for prayer and introspection, a chance to reattach ourselves to what is true and holy and good. Of course, the violent fanatics who continue to plan our demise also pray, they also believe what they are doing is true and holy and good. I know — and you know — they are wrong, but evidently knowing is no longer enough. We must, like Judea Pearl and the heroes of Sept. 11, actively wave the banner of humanity. Wherever we stand and do that, we stand on holy ground.

Shana Tova.