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
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.
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.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance
for Justice and Peace
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