By Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, Rabbinic Cabinet

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day, fall in the period of the counting the Omer, the holy period between Passover and Shavuot. During these weeks, we ritualistically count each day as it goes past, in a state of semi-mourning for ancient losses, and on Yom Hazikaron, we grieve anew the tragic loss of young Israeli lives in the decades' long Israeli-Arab conflict. Traditionally, Jews do not get married during the Omer -- but an exception is made for Yom Ha'atzmaut, a day too joyful to allow such sorrow.

But we must ask if Israel is truly "atzma'it," "independent," when the entire country still lives in fear of violence, when the very notion of a peaceful existence is seen as fanciful by some -- when the idea of trying to talk to one's enemies is rejected as dangerous? How can our joy not be tempered?

In the search for an answer, I am reminded of the haftorah for the Shabbat of Passover, which speaks of the prophet Ezekiel's vision of "the dry bones." (Ez. 37:1-14). This vision is often cited as a prooftext in a theological discussion on resurrection -- but for the past several years I have understood the text as a sign of hope for the moribund peace process.

Ezekiel has a vision of a valley of dry bones, and wonders if they can live again. He then witnesses God's work of returning flesh and skin to the bones, bringing them back to life. Perhaps God is telling us that while God will provide the energy to return the flesh and skin, we humans must summon forth the "ruach," the "energy, breath or spirit" of the bones in order for them to live -- an understanding that it could be a metaphor for the hard work of making peace in the Middle East.

In each moment, there is a divine inspiration that we can choose to accept or ignore. In the diplomatic process, we have an opportunity to revive the dry bones of peace -- or to let them gain flesh and skin through meaningless talk and empty gestures, but remain without the breath of true commitment, and therefore without life. What will we choose this time?

The valley of dry bones that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains without hope of life as long as we don't seize opportunities to breathe in new energy. As we observe Yom Hazikaron, it would be right to mourn not just the courageous soldiers who lost their lives in service to their country but to also grieve the many lost opportunities to create a lasting peace that would have ended the need for such sacrifice. Let us light a yartzheit  (memorial) candle not just for the lives lost, but also for all the times we failed to save lives by making peace.

And then, let us rise up and celebrate Israel's life and independence, honoring all of the amazing moments in the past 61 years, moments that can make us proud to be Jews. It is crucial that we allow for celebration, that we give credit and honor to what Israel has given to the world and to us, for we cannot and must not remain in the darkness of the yartzheit candle if we are to seek peace and grow hope.

But it is equally crucial that, as we celebrate, we also summon forth our inner will to recommit ourselves, our friends, our family, our neighbors, all people, to the hard work of peace, and to use our celebration to inspire us to breathe new life into this quest. The time is now.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom is proud to be a leadership partner in the American Jewish community's rising call for peace. We know that peace, dialogue, compromise and honest evaluation of reality are the true tools for security; bombs, hatred, intransigence and denial have failed us in the past and will fail us in the future.

In verse 11 of Ezekiel's vision, we read the words, "avda tikvateinu," "the hope is gone," from the House of Israel.  It is these very words, with an added "od lo," meaning "never again" that became the heart of Israel's national anthem, "Hatikvah" -- because we must never lose hope, never lose our breath, our energy for peace.

Will it be easy? Certainly not. Are their major obstacles in our way? Absolutely. However, the United States now has a President who is ready to do the hard work of bringing peace back to the Middle East. Let us stand behind him and with him, and may the dry bones of the years of war grow new flesh, new skin and may we be the breath of life that brings shalom, true and lasting peace.

Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, serves as the National Secretary of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and on the Rabbinic Cabinet. He also is a member of the advisory boards of Just Vision and JStreet.


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