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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


Brit Tzedek v'Shalom Dvar Torah
Presented By David Albert

I want to talk to you about the Jewish fears and Jewish hopes. But first I want to note that our conference is subtitled "reclaiming our principles" and in so doing I want to reclaim one of our songs that has often been claimed by our adversaries: Gesher Tsar M'od which translates as "Life is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid."

Last week, I heard Bibi Netanyahu deliver a racist tirade to enthusiastic cheering crowd. Afterwards 700 cheering students greeted him like a rock star with many Jewish religious/Israeli songs - including Gesher Tsar M'od. And that's very ironic to me, because Bibi's whole message is about the fact that Jews today should live in fear and should be afraid of all those in the world who irrationally hate them and seek to destroy them. Bibi and those like him are invoking peoples' fears rather than telling them "not to be afraid."

What I have realized is that Jews all over this country and the world are terrified. They fear for the very survival of Israel. There is a long list of fears and threats to Israel along with the rising fears of anti-Semitism and the constant specter of the Holocaust hanging over Jewish life. Over and over, I heard from Jews that Israel faces an existential threat to its survival. Simply put, millions of Jews out there are really worried about Israeli survival. We can and must tell them that Israel is safe and secure, and the Holocaust won't ever happen again. But that message can't compete with the gruesome images of the Passover bombing in Netanya or the lynching of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. The fear is the dominant emotion.

So as a Jewish activists speaking to other Jews, you need to find away to speak to those fears. We often have difficulty doing that. I have found that many Jewish activists often speak only about Palestinian suffering and Israeli atrocities - in doing so they self-marginalize themselves from other Jews. Like it or not, most Jews care more about their own people, their own tribe, than they do about the other peoples. They advocate the policies that they do, not because they are evil people who want to hurt Palestinians and make other human beings suffer. They advocate them, because they love the Jewish people. They love the Jewish people so much that it makes them blind to the suffering and pain that Jews are inflicting on others. So we need to find a way to harness that love towards constructive policies like ending the Occupation and establishing 2-states rather than for the destructive policies for which they are now being used.

So when you speak to Jews, you need to speak to their fears and address them and empathize with their fears. You need to listen to them. You need to acknowledge their fears. You need to express the extent to which you are also able to share them to the extent that you can. And you need to frame what you are saying to them in the context that the policies we advocate are the real pro-Israel agenda. Our policies are the agenda that will make Israel a safer, more secure place for Jews. It's this simple: AIPAC's agenda is an agenda of fear and violence and destruction, ours agenda is the agenda of hope.

Let me say just a few words about that hope. I am sure everyone knows the Israeli national anthem, HaTikva, the Hope. In the last few months, quite understandably, I have heard a lot of frustration, anger, hopelessness, and, indeed, despair from Jewish activists. As the situation has spiraled out of control, many of us have just wanted to give up. There are times when it seems hopeless as we watch Sharon reinvade the territories and the violence get worse and worse. With no end and sight and no obvious easy paths out of the current morass, there often seems to be nothing that can be done. But I know since you'll are here today that something in your gut tells you, that the situation isn't hopeless and there is something that we can do together.

There is a midrash. It is from the time after the fall of the 2nd Temple. You have to remember that in the Jewish tradition, the destruction of the Temple is seen as the greatest tragedy to ever befall the Jewish people. It was the beginning of Jewish exile from Eretz Israel.

Rabbi Akiva - one of the greatest of Jewish sages - stood at the ruins of the Temple Mount and he watched as the foxes ran through the ruins. And he began to laugh. And one of his students asked him, "How can you watch the foxes running through the ruins of the Temple Mount and laugh." And Rabbi Akiva answered him that, "Now that I see that the Temple Mount has been destroyed I know that it will be rebuilt." Now, I am not suggesting that the Temple should be rebuilt today. The theology of this story is less important to me than the spirit of it. And the spirit is a form of nearly blind optimism. It is a belief, a faith, that we can make a difference.

We must be like Rabbi Akiva. We must find within ourselves, whether it comes from a belief in God, or in the basic goodness of human beings or some other place, that there is faith and there is hope. We must look at the foxes running through the ruins of the shattered peace and find the strength within ourselves to go on with a laugh and a smile. We need to laugh at today's foxes and believe - even when it seems totally irrational - that there is hope. And we must tell ourselves that we can rebuild around hope. And we must laugh at those who scoff at our efforts as hopeless or nave. Because, if we don't have hope there is no way that we can convince all those Jews that are desperately afraid to overcome their fears and share our hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow for Israelis and Palestinians.

So today is Shabbos. We are here to do the things that Jews do on Shabbat. In the morning, some of us prayed while other Jews discussed. Now we will eat and after that we will spend the rest of Shabbat learning from each other. Shabbat Shalom.

[Singing together] Gesher tsar m'od - Life is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.

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