Sunday, November 23, 2014

A New Hope

The government of the State of Israel has dealt another blow to its Palestinian citizens: added to the existing legal, institutional and social discrimination against non-Jews, it approved a bill to declare the State of Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish People." The Israeli contradiction: "Jewish and democratic" continues to be resolved as: "democratic for the Jews; Jewish for everyone else."

The bill is deeply troubling to the 20% of Israeli citizens who are registered by the State of Israel as "non-Jews." It is also troubling to Jews around the world who Israel relentlessly claims it represents, thus implicating Jews in its actions. These Jews have not been asked if Israel represents them and have no right to change its policies. The bill is embarrassing to the United States which has weighed in,  pressing Israel not to pass this bill.

One symbolic part of the problem is Israel's national anthem, Hatikva. The lyrics are written from the perspective of the first Zionists, the anti-clerical Eastern European Jews. Many of these Jews immigrated to Palestine 100 years ago, in the so-called "Second Aliya". They created modern Hebrew (and not as the myth goes, the eccentric maverick Eliezer Ben -Yehuda!) and they went on to found the institutions that formed the nucleus of the State of Israel.

There are several problems with Hatikva:
* it doesn't represent the millions of Israeli Jews who didn't aspire to move to the "ends of the east".  Firstly, they had to fly west to get to Israel: Iraqis, Iranians, Soviet Asians and so on. Secondly, those communities were not at that time - and likely not later either "Zionist" in a European nationalist sense.
* Hatikva (written: 1878)  anachronistically attributes post-dates 19th century secular nationalism  to two millennia earlier!
* The style of music (famously a close replica of Smetana's Die Moldau an) is representative of a certain type of European Jew. It hardly speaks to the soul of North African or Hassidic Jews.

But the most egregious distortion of Hatikva is erasing any mention  of a Palestinian presence and precluding any Palestinian "hope."

So, I am offering a new version of Hatikva. I don't expect it to catch on. Actually, I wouldn't want it to. Let the Israelis and Palestinians work the anthem issue between them. I am offering this to demonstrate what is missing in the original.

Anybody who is stuck in a tight spot and has to sing Hatikva could use this as another option. Here is the recording.

(The practice of rewriting canonical, even sacred text, to convey contemporary values is ancient and current. One of these days, I will do a post on that practice.)

The "Old" Hatikva:

In the Jewish heart
A Jewish spirit still sings,

And the eyes look east
Toward Zion.

Our hope is not lost,
Our hope of two thousand years,

To be a free nation in our land,
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem
Kol od balevav P'nimah - 
Nefesh Yehudi homiyah

Ulfa'atey mizrach kadimah
Ayin l'tzion tzofiyah.

Od lo avdah tikvatenu
Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim:

L'hiyot am chofshi b'artzenu
Eretz Tzion v'Yerushalayim

 Suggestion for a "New" Hatikva":

כל עוֹד בלבב פנימה
נפשׁ האדם הוֹמיה
וּלפאתי תבל קדימה
עין בעין צוֹפיה

עוֹד לא אבדה תקותינוּ
התקוה הנוֹשׁנה
להיוֹת בני חוֹרין אישׁ בארצוֹ
החפשׁ השׁויוֹן לכל בני האדם

להיוֹת בני חוֹרין אישׁה בארצה
החפשׁ השׁויוֹן לכל בני האדם

Kol od balevav p’nimah
nefesh ha’adam homiyah
ulfa’atei tevel kadima
ayin b’ayin tzofiya

od lo avda tikvateinu
hatikva hanoshana
lihyot b’nei chorin eesh b’artzo
hachofesh hashivyon l’chol b’nei ha’adam

lihyot b’nei chorin eeshah b’artzah
hachofesh hashivyon l’chol b’nei ha’adam

So long as deep in in the heart 
still lives a human spirit
let us look across the globe
hand in hand moving forward

Our hope is not lost - 
that aspiration from time immemorial -
to live freely every human being in their land
liberty and equality for all humanity!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Israel's Vision of Peace with Gaza - 1955-2014

My reading during these last few weeks of horror in Gaza has been a travelogue, by the rabbi behind the establishment of my synagogue in 1955. Rabbi Elmer Berger was executive president of the American Council of Judaism from its founding in 1942, in the wake of the Zionist Biltmore Conference. He wrote the travelogue, actually a series of long letters, to a founder of my synagogue, Buddy Coleman.

In April 1955, Rabbi Berger and his wife Ruth left for a two month visit to Middle East capitals, Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and Jordanian and Israeli Jerusalem. He was treated by a VIP throughout the region. His schedule was filled with meetings with Jewish and top political leaders. He met with Chief Rabbis and leaders of the large Jewish communities. Foreign ministers and presidents welcomed him. Only in Israel was he treated differently.

"Who Knows Better Must Say So!" is full of prescient wisdom rooted in eyewitness reports, meetings with policy  makers and a clear worldview. Whole passages about Gaza and Israel leap off the page. I am working on a review of the book.

In light of reports today that Israel is planning to end the Gaza warfare unilaterally, here are excerpts from Rabbi Berger's reflections on his trip written from the boat on the way home, June 5, 1955.

The first is from an acquaintance of Berger's:

"Israel would like to have peace now - but not a very firm peace. That is, he believes the border raids [Berger is referring to Gaza, MD] and constant military tension maintained under the "retaliation" policy are designed to the hopes...[of] a kind of settlement. Then...Israel would be able to say it had won the peace with its own power and was under no international obligation, involving any of the great powers, to respect the peace at a time when it might be advantageous for Israel to forget such a peace....above all, Israel wants to avoid a Middle East peace which is internationally guaranteed...."

(italics in the original)
(Who Knows Better Must Say So! p. 106, by Rabbi Elmer Berger, American Council for Judaism 1955)

On who pays the price for what he saw as Israeli aggression, Berger has this to say:

"...the real, tragic victims of this are the Arab refugees and the man on the street in Israel...If present trends continue, we may see these unhappy people again the objects of suffering and homelessness."
                                                                                                                                            (p. 107)

Finally, a theme which is central to Berger's book, which I will write more about later:

"Another victim...will be the American Jews. One can plead innocence for so long; and one can ask indulgence for excesses for so long because of extenuating circumstances. But the shape of Israel is now a palpable, responsible sovereignty which makes no bones about its "partnership" with all Jews. If the "partnership" is caught engaging in unethical practices however, it will be difficult for one of the partners to be free of guilt on the grounds that he did not know how the business was being run."

Rabbi Berger's analysis could have been written this week.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

When a Jewish Child Believes Jews are Bad

Since the beginning of Israel's military onslaught on Gaza, I have participated in two rallies and one prayer service. At all three events, I was treated with respect and welcomed warmly by many Palestinians. I wore my kippa and Jewish Voice for Peace T-shirt. People came up to me constantly, saying hello and asking to have their picture taken with me. People thanked me. They said they know that not all Jews are against Palestinians. They were eager to make a connection.

This is a picture (from behind, that's where the text on our T-shirts was)  of me with two Palestinian protesters at a rally in downtown Chicago on Monday.

When I was growing up, we were taught to act in a way that was a Kiddush Hashem (literally: sanctifying God's name). This meant acting in public that brings non-Jews to relate positively to Jews.
I had to have a conversation with a young child today, a member of my family, who was beginning to see Jews as bad people because "they are killing people and hurting people." I told her that those doing the killing are not "the Jews". I asked her to look at all the members of her family and the congregation and see if they kill or hurt people.We went through a list of family members and other Jews. At the end, we were able to agree that Jews are good.

Amidst all the carnage and destruction in Gaza, this moment also brings a twinge to my heart. What a mirror, a young child holds up for us. In a Jewish child's eyes, Israel's war on Gaza means "Jews are bad people". Oy.
O what has become of us (Refrain of traditional lament of Tisha B'av)