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)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gaza Postcard

Frightened children piled on mule-driven cart
looking into camera.
In color.
Memories of black-and-white great-grandparents
That mule. That cart. That look.
grandchildren on elders’ journey. 

Hard G over that rhrholled Arabic
From A to Z and back Again -
the strip that never heals

Clamped, cramped
hardness, hardship
Tunnels with no light.
Tighter and tighter.
No exit.

Nakba, ongoing neverending
infra-red dead, grainy nosehead video, artful New York Times picture.
Cold numbers.
Invisible to the soul, the hole of our identity.

Mowing-the-lawn massacre. 100-0 Senate support.
Even Saddam Hussein and the North Koreans never got those numbers.

No need to talk about Gaza,
(btw, it's not our fault).
Can we ever forgive them for making us kill them
Can we ever forgive them for being killed by us
Can we ever