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Grieving the children of Palestine and the dream of Zionism

Through all the turmoil of these last weeks and months I have been tortured by thoughts of children, Jewish children, Palestinian children, Syrian, Iraqi children – all those who most innocently of all, and most grievously of all, are the victims of the Middle East Madness.

Rachel mebaka et baneha, Rachel mourns her children. With her I weep for the children knowing that they are all her children, our children, every one of them.

The shameful apologies trying to justify the death of Arab children with trite explanations of ‘collateral damage’ and ‘use children as shields and they will die’ fill me with anger. Yes, a Jewish child’s life if precious to me but how dare anyone suggest that another child’s life is less precious, less deserving of a future? What is most frustrating is that those who place lesser values on non-Jews are supposed stalwarts of a community that I can no longer rightfully call mine. Where is the commitment to open dialogue, the respect to hear out opposing ideas, where is the dictum that commands us to listen, to debate, to agonize with each other rather than hurl epithets of disloyalty?

People see suffering and unless it is Jewish suffering they are silent. How dare they? Many years ago, at the famous March on Washington, Rabbi Joachim Prinz declared that the crime of the century was silence, silence in the face of injustice. I say it now to my own community; Jewish silence in the face of injustice is intolerable because Jews are commanded to live by a moral code that calls such silence not only wrong but makes it a crime.

My father has been gone for many years now but he left me to be the guardian of his dream, a dream of a Zionism whose engine to fulfillment would be the socialism of the kibbutz movement. Both have now been corrupted and made irrelevant in a land that practices capitalist consumerism and allows children to go to bed hungry.  In my mind I have been offering my father apologies that his dream has been thwarted and that both he and I are left with the sadness of frustrated hope.

I am an old man now but I know how to grieve over a boyhood dream that has gone.


Theodore Bikel, 90, is the chairman of Partners For A Progressive Israel. He has served as national vice president of the American Jewish Congress and as president of Actor's Equity and the 4A's. His latest film, “Theodore Bikel in the Shoes of Shalom Aleichem” recently premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; his updated autobiography “Theo” has been published early this summer, and his recording on Elektra records are now available for download on iTunes. 

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