Nov 16 2010

Peak Experiences

by Rabbi David Zaslow

Just as there are certain times in our lives when we have peak experiences, so there are certain times of the year when nature affords us the opportunity to have exalted spiritual experiences. In Judaism, we think of lifecycle events as turning points that represent a pinnacle in our lives. Brit milah, naming ceremonies, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and memorial services all represent times when our physical existence reaches to the heights of our souls. In our communal history we can think of Mount Sinai as the “peak” experience (pun intended) of the Jewish people.

Last month Debra and I were performing a wedding in Vermont. When we checked into the hotel in Burlington the concierge pointed out that we just missed the peak of the autumn leaves by two days. In New England the change of leaves from the green of summer to the yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn is measured and marked with precision. Autumn foliage, in that region, is a tourist attraction. Scientists can tell you the exact day that the trees in a particular town or forest are at their peak. From Canada to New England, and south into New York and Pennsylvania, the changing of the leaves makes a descending wave, leaving in its wake some of the most gorgeous colors exhibited by nature anywhere in the world.

Although we missed the peak in Burlington by two days, the autumnal scenery was spectacular anyway. The next morning as we drove south to the wedding  on Highway 100 we passed through the very woods where Robert Frost wrote some of his most famous poetry. Later that day as we checked into our hotel in Pittsfield the desk clerk informed us that the peak colors would be arriving on Wednesday. We told her that sadly we were only staying through Monday.

So there we were in Vermont – two days late for the peak in Burlington, and leaving two days early for the peak in Pittsfield. So, I figure that somewhere on the drive from the north to the south we must have driven past the elusive “peak.” Of course we were so busy enjoying the beauty of the ride that we never said “oh, look, this must be the peak.”  No road signs announced, “You are now having a peak experience, don’t take this moment for granted. Soak in the colors in front of you, behind you, to your left, and to your right. You won’t see colors like this again until next year.” No, Debra and I were so busy enjoying the experience that we never knew it was happening.

What a metaphor for life! While traveling from north to south each of us is certain to pass the peak. The concierge in the north might tell us we missed it, and the desk clerk in the south might warn us that if we check out too early we’ll miss it there as well. Yet if we’re living life fully, in joy, with gratitude to God and each other, does it really matter if we’ve marked the peak?

Certainly, rituals are markers help us recall our communal peak experiences, which is part of the beauty and power of our Jewish tradition. But what matters most is our ability to simply be in the moment when the experience is happening, whether we know the exact moment of the peak or not.  Maybe now, even as you are reading these words you are at a peak. No need to capture it or even note it. Enjoy the colors of autumn. But since you’re here, try just saying “barukh Hashem, blessed is G-d!”


Oct 1 2010

Noah’s Ark

by Rabbi David Zaslow

My friend and teacher Avraham Sand cites Tatiana Rona: “Do as Noah did and build an ark. An ‘ark’ in Hebrew is taiva – which means also a ‘word.’ Your ark shall be your words of meditation and prayer. Enter into your ark and let the waters lift you up, rather than drown you with everything else.”

Rebbe Nachman taught that when Noah built the ark, he built the prototype for the Torah. Torah is the “word” of the Holy One, what the Greeks and Christians later understood as the “Logos.” We don’t just read Torah, we enter Torah as we would enter Noah’s ark. Torah keeps us afloat when all else in our lives is being flooded. It rescues us. It holds us above the waters. On the deepest level Torah is our ark. Every word we speak is an ark that we build. It can rescue or keep afloat those around us.

Rebbe Nachman also taught (in the name of his teacher, the Baal Shem Tov) that the “window” Noah was commanded to build atop the ark is from the word which means “light,” and which is related to the word zohar meaning “radiance” and “opportunity.” So as we build our arks out of our words, may our words keep us afloat, and may each word be radiant and travel across all the realms as radiant opportunities.

This week, let us build many radiant arks for one another. When you hear a kind word from a friend he/she is building you a radiant ark. When you speak a kind word you are building a radiant ark. Through this kind of sanctified speech we will help create many opportunities in each other’s lives. The mitzvah this week is for each of us is to build many arks with our words by speaking kindly. Suppress negative speech, critical judgements, and gossip. Join Noah and build your own ark.

Noah’s name means “comfort.” When you build an ark with your words the Holy One will bring out the comfort, the inner Noah, that is already deep within you. Noah’s name is a cognate of the words which mean “rest.” Every Saturday we yearn for what we call Shabbat menucha …Shabbat rest. But at the deepest level this rest is the not just the cessation of work, but the deep “comfort” of knowing that all our work is done – there is nothing more to do but to bask in the light of the arks built this week.

by Rabbi David Zaslow

Good evening and welcome. I was born in 1947, and moved to Ashland to complete my graduate studies in 1970. When I first arrived here, at the height of the hippie movement, new friends would ask me “what’s your sign?” And I would answer “Jackie Robinson with Israel rising.” You see, my birthday is December 23, 1947 which is almost in the exact middle of when Jackie Robinson became the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues on April 15, 1947, and when Israel was reborn as a nation on May 14, 1948. These two events as distinct as they are from each other shaped my childhood, and influenced our nation as well.

This evening I want to speak about how Jackie Robinson changed not just baseball, not just major-league sports, but America itself. I’m not alone in the belief that April 15, 1947 marks the beginning of the civil rights movement that came into its maturity in the 1950s culminating in the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the mid-1960s.

How can a sport like baseball, and a team like the Brooklyn Dodgers, affectionately known as the Bums, be credited with having sparked what soon would be called the civil rights movement? It’s simple really. Social change does not begin in the ivory tower of academia. It does not occur because of postulates, theories, and suppositions made in doctoral dissertations. Rather, good doctoral dissertations and academic studies are reflections and analyses of what is going on in the lives of everyday people.

Often, sports, entertainment, science fiction, and religion are well ahead of the academic curve. Sometimes entertainment is a reflection of the current situation in society, but sometimes entertainment is at the cutting edge of social change. Sports like it’s literary and entertainment counterparts do the same. If segregation is the norm in society, then sports and entertainment will reflect that segregation. But sometimes, just sometimes, the commercial interests of the business of sports intersects with an urgent need for social transformation. That is exactly what happened to major league baseball after World War II. Branch Rickey knew they had to build up attendance at Ebbets Field or the Bums would be doomed to continue playing second fiddle to the great dynasty we know as the New York Yankees. And he knew that the secret to success would come from the untapped talent in the Negro League.

Not coincidentally, Branch Rickey’s personal Christian religious faith gave him an abiding belief in the equality of all people – Black, Asian, Hispanic, and those Anglo- Americans of European descent. So when he met with Jackie Robinson to discuss the possibility of him coming onto the Brooklyn Dodgers he didn’t ask this great athlete if he had the courage to fight for his right to play baseball, but if he had the courage not to fight. Both men knew that every despicable racist epithet imaginable would be hurled at Robinson, and that those first years would be torturous for Robinson. But they knew that he represented not just himself, but all people of color, and that his success and acceptance as a ballplayer would be measured not by a belief in civil rights, or theories of social justice, but by his performance on the field.

Robinson performed brilliantly as an infielder, at-bat, and holding the record for stealing home twenty times in his short ten year career in the Majors. What a metaphor, the first Black player in professional baseball holding the record for “stealing home.” Jackie was truly the catapult that hurled the Brooklyn Dodgers into history when in 1955 they finally defeated the great Roman Empire of baseball, the dynasty of dynasties, the team that gave us both Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio – the despised and fantastic New York Yankees.

Okay, so what is it with me in baseball? Big deal, I was born between when Jackie Robinson came into the major leagues and the birth of Israel. Truth be told, it’s a pretty personal thing to me, as it was to so many kids who were born in the wake of World War II and grew up in one of the boroughs besides the Bronx. Brooklyn hosted a huge immigrant population, a population of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Gypsy, Puerto Rican, and black first and second generation families who themselves identified with the seemingly hopeless struggle of the Dodgers to defeat the Yankees. In a way, identifying the Dodgers as “Dem Bums” was to identify yourself with the struggle to make it in America.

In the mythic decade of 1947 to 1957 the Long Island Expressway hadn’t been built yet, and urban flight to the suburbs hadn’t begun. Brooklyn was home, a city unto itself. Many of its oldest citizens still believed that building the Brooklyn Bridge, linking Brooklyn to Manhattan, was actually a mistake, and that Brooklyn should have never left its status as a separate city in the late eighteenth century.

It wasn’t so much that the Dodgers were bums because they couldn’t beat the Yankees, but that there was a little bit of the bum in every one of us, or should I say in every one of our parents and grandparents. If Brooklyn was our holy land, then Flatbush was Jerusalem and Ebbets Field was our holy Temple. Yeah, we were all monotheists, but rabbis and priests alike who visited this holy shrine worshiped the likes of Robinson, Da Duke, Pee-wee, Campy, Oisk, Gil Hodges, and Johnny Padres. We were not just fans, we were fanatics. True believers. Orthodox, ultra Orthodox. Missionaries. Crusaders!

In 1947 my brother, Jerry Stern, was twelve years older than I was. His new baby brother was like his little monkey, his little parrot, his 10 pounds of clay that he could shape it will. My first words of English, and this is no family legend, were the names of all the players on the Brooklyn Dodgers. My brother would bring me around to his teenage friends and show me off like we would a new iPad today. He would say Peewee and I would respond Reese. He would say Duke and I would respond Snyder. He would say Carl and I would say Erskine. He would say Jackie and I would dutifully respond Robinson. By the summer of 1950 rumor has it that he could do this forwards or backwards with me. He would say Furillo and I would say Carl, he would say Hodges and I would say Gil. He took me to my first games at Ebbett’s FieldI, and ingrained in me the ethos of civil rights. It sounds so naïve today, but in the early 1960s white Americans were asking the question to each other, “do you believe in integration?” We asked the question as if there really could be two possible legitimate answers. I was one of those kids in the 1960s who asked that question, and one of the ones who answered in the affirmative when asked.

Is it a coincidence that when my daughter graduated from college she moved back to Brooklyn after having grown up breathing the rarefied air of Ashland Oregon? And just last month she gave birth to my granddaughter, Amaya Zahar, my first grandchild with a Jewish mom an African American dad. How cool is that? My granddaughter born in Brooklyn, born in the wake of the civil rights movement, born just one mile from Israel Zion Hospital where I was born, and 1 mile in the other direction from Ebbets Field, where my conscience as an American was born and shaped.

So where does G-d come into all of this? The question really is, where is G-d not in all of this? Someone once asked a rabbi, “why do you always answer a question with a question?” The rabbi responded, “why do you ask?” G-d was everywhere in Ebbets Field when Jackie first stepped up to the plate on April 15, 1947. G-d was everywhere in the hearts of every Brooklyn kid, and dad, and big brother who rooted for the Bums, who usually ended the year with a broken heart, who said Hail Mary every time the Duke got up to bat. Even the Jewish kids knew how to say chant Hail Mary in Latin. Gd was in the incredible sense of common unity felt between every fan from every ethnic group imaginable that lived in Brooklyn after the war. The cries of “please Lord” or “Sweet Jesus” or “Ribbono Shel Olam” echoed like the sacred notes of the synagogue choir invoked on the Day of Atonement.

Where was G-d not in Brooklyn in those days? Robert Moses broke our hearts when he wouldn’t let Walter O’Malley build a new stadium for the Dodgers in the late 1950s. We boys wept when the Dodgers won the World Series in 1955. We were stunned into catatonic silence when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958. We never forgave O’Malley, but the truth is we now know they tried to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn.

For years we had no team to root for. Certainly we couldn?t root for the Yankees, or our National League rivals the Giants. We tried St. Louis but that didn’t really fit. The Cubs, the Red Sox – now those teams had some resonance to us (they were also bums), but they were in Chicago in Boston. Who could we root for?

Robert Moses got his dream and saw a stadium built in Queens, Shea Stadium. Many of the Brooklyn ballplayers who didn’t want to move to Los Angeles played for the Mets. They became the people’s team, a team we could root for. And today their new stadium is a veritable tribute in stone to number 42, Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Ebbets Field. I haven’t seen the new stadium yet. I’m going back to meet my granddaughter for the first time in two weeks. So, don?t dare tell my daughter, but maybe I’ll take my granddaughter there this coming Memorial Day. Maybe I’ll teach her her first words in English. I’ll say Jackie and she’ll say Robinson. I’ll say Pee-wee and she’ll say Reese. I’ll say Roy she’ll say Campanella.

by Rabbi David Zaslow

Rev. Martin Luther King used to teach that the liberation from racism was not just for Black Americans, but for white people as well. The religious leaders in the Civil Rights movement had the vision to understand that redemption is not just for the victim, but for the victimizer as well; not just for the oppressed, but for the oppressor too. This level of wisdom can help us understand the Purim and Passover stories as well as current events in our troubled world. In classical rabbinic commentary, Pharaoh was portrayed a stubborn despot whose heart was redeemable. Haman, on the other hand, is the archetype unredeemable evil whose name must be drowned out with shouts of protest. Why was Pharaoh redeemable and Haman not? Because as Pharaoh kept changing his mind between each plague he displayed doubt – an expression of humility. Haman (like Hilter, Stalin, Mao, Osama, and Sadaam) never even doubted his right to order genocide.

The job of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam was to liberate the Jews – this is obvious. But a closer reading of the Torah reveals that God wanted to be worshipped by the Egyptians too. God proclaims in Exodus 14:4 that “I will be honored over Pharaoh, and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.” There is a Midrash that postulates that Pharaoh repented in Exodus 15:11 after he saw his army drowning in the sea. He cried aloud “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?” Judaism teaches that world redemption does not mean that everyone will be Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Rather, everyone will follow the same high standards of ethical behavior: no murder, no terrorism, no suppression of minority rights, no lies about another’s history, no theft of truth. As God says in Exodus 9:16 “I have raised you up, to show in you my power that my Name may be proclaimed throughout the earth.”

This was a difficult notion for Christians to come to grips with, beginning in the eleventh century when they crusaded through Europe destroying Jewish and Muslim communities on their march to “liberate” the Holy Land from the infidels. They believed, as some still do, that the whole world must convert or be damned. At that time Islam was in a golden age of moderation, intellectualism, and tolerance for its minority subjects. Sadly, today Muslim extremists believe exactly what the Christian crusaders used to believe – that the whole world will eventually submit to Islamic law. They believe in their own form of violent, totalitarian exclusivity, and teach a twisted, anti-Semitic version of Jewish history in their schools. For example, they teach that Joseph was really a Muslim.

They have rewritten Torah stories and teach that Abraham brought Ishmael to Mt. Moriah, and not Isaac. A Muslim friend of mine actually was taught that our Torah is a “distortion” of an original Torah. These fundamentalists teach that their never was a Jewish Temple built by Soloman, and that if there was one it was a mosque. Finally, many people in the Muslim world are actually taught that the Holocaust was a hoax. Moderate Muslims, of course, reject this kind of twisted history, but too many citizens in Muslim lands believe it.

I heard this kind of distortion first hand just a few weeks ago from two wonderful Muslim students on my son’s tennis team. One nineteen year old girl from Bangladesh told me Jews were really Muslims at a lower level of spirituality. Another exchange student, who never met a Jew before he met Ari, told me that all of Israel (not just Gaza and the West Bank) is “really” Muslim land. Tragically, just coming to agreement about simple facts has become an obstacle to peace. Nevertheless, the goal of the Passover story is to liberate both the Jews and the Egyptians, and this should not be forgotten. I was honored to speak gently but clearly to the kids on the tennis team about a Judaism and a history they were never told about.

The world is at a tipping point: Will more nations move toward freedom and pluralism, or hold onto antiquated systems of governance, xenophobia, and sexism? As Americans we can hardly imagine what it must be like for a great people like the Iranians to live without the right to protest. We can hardly imagine what it must be like for Tibetans to realize that they are now a minority in their own homeland. We can hardly imagine what it must be like for Kurds and moderate Muslims who want democracy in Iraq to live with the fact that the insurgency is not just against the Americans, but against pluralism. We can hardly imagine what it is like for a Palestinian worker to be stopped at Israeli checkpoints everyday – checkpoints that were never needed before the terrorists became so active after Rabin made peace with Arafat. Pharaoh is the archetype of dogmatism, stubbornness, and short sightedness. But he is also the archetype of negativity that can be transformed. The prophet foresees the day when their will be a highway connecting Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. It is written in Isaiah 19:25 “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.” May we each blessed in our work of drowning out the name of Hamen, redeeming Pharaoh, and preserving Israel’s pluralism, security, and gratitude to God.

Sep 1 2009

Highway of Holiness

Sermon delivered to Trinity Episcopal Church
by Rabbi David Zaslow
September 10, 2006

In one of your prophetic readings this week (Isaiah 35:4) the prophet Isaiah instructs us on how to walk on what he calls the Highway of Holiness where “…the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like deer, and the tongue of the voiceless ones shall sing…..” Compare this to what Jesus’ brother James is saying in one of this week’s readings: “Pure religion, undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).” He doesn’t offer us a creed to profess, or a series of theological ideas to memorize – but, rather actions, moral directives: take care of people in need.

The whole idea that James’ expresses is a perfect example of classic Jewish thinking – beliefs are fine, but they must be rooted in moral behavior. This is reinforced in another of your weekly readings. In Psalm 146: 1-9 King David invites his own soul to praise the Lord? How? By taking care of the hungry and freeing the oppressed. Listen to his words: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul…Happy is he who has the God of Jacob…Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down….” The connection is clear between Isaiah, James, King David, and Jesus – if religion is to be authentic it must be rooted in action.

Today, on the Jewish calendar, we are on the 17th. day in the month of Elul. Elul in Judaism is a 30 day period of deep, introspective reflection parallel in function to Lent in the Christian tradition. It is almost as if Judaism is a witness to the transformative beginnings of Autumn when the leaves fall, everything turns inward and a very special miracle occurs – the trees let go of their seeds. As the trees let go of their leaves and seeds, so we let go of our own. We shed those inner leaves which are no longer providing nourishment to our beings, and we cast our seeds that allow us to move into the next phase of our lives.

Christianity is a witness to emergence – the visible emergence of those very seeds dropped by each of us in the Fall. But now they have spent their season in the dank, darkness of the rainy season, and only in springtime are they able to open, sprout, and grow. Advent and Lent transform grief through the promise of the upcoming resurrection. Elul, and what we call the Days of Awe, transform grief through the promise of forgiveness and new beginnings. Elul culminates in the Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashannah, which this year will fall on September 22. Some would say that Judaism and Christianity have opposite theologies. I suggest that we have balancing theologies – we need each other to stay centered and steady. We are witness to the transformative power of the Autumnal equinox, you are witness to the rebirth and resurrective powers of the vernal equinox. This morning I am honored to share with you some key concepts from Jewish theology about the nature and process of repentance – a process that religious Jews throughout the world are engaged in right now. This is the precise historic “action directive” that Isaiah, King David, James, and Jesus were involved with in their day at this time of year. After all, what holds us back from walking on that Highway of Holiness everyday of our lives? Sin – the sense of separation from God. What gets us back on that Highway? Teshuvah, repentance.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was the Chief Rabbi of what would later become the nation of Israel until his death in 1935. A brilliant scholar and mystic, Rav Kook struggled valiantly to bring together religious and secular Jews who were returning to the Holy Land from all parts of the world. Rav Kook wrote a book that was published by Paulist Press called “The Lights of Penitence” one of the most remarkable and beautifully written books I have ever read on the process of repentance, what we call Teshuvah in Hebrew. Rav Kook removes from the idea of penitence all negative connotations and makes it something desirous to experience. He does not use metaphor to decorate language, but to reveal deep spiritual truths and principles based on the Torah. His words and teachings are exquisite:

“The currents of penitence rush along. They are like the streams of flame on the surface of the sun, which in an unceasing struggle to break out and ascend endow life to countless worlds and numberless creatures. One is powerless to absorb the multitude of varying colors that emanate from this great sun that shines on all the worlds, the sun of penitence. They are so many, they come with such a mighty sweep, with such wondrous speed. They come from the Source of Life itself…the individual and collective soul, the world soul, each soul…cries out like a fierce lioness in anguish for total perfection, for an ideal form of existence, and we feel the pain, and it purges us….”

The Rebbe makes us want to repent and return to God as he describes how natural the process of Teshuvah really is, rather than something to be avoided: “At once the person senses negativity and…he/she is converted into a new being. Already he experiences…a complete transformation for the better….The higher expression of penitence comes about as a result of a flash of illumination of the All-Good, the Divine…Who abides in eternity.”

Rav Kook is so careful to emphasize that the act of penitence is not just some chore to accomplish during the Days of Awe, but actually has the most beneficial impact on the body. He makes the Hebraic link between soul, mind, and body when he writes, “Penitence is the healthiest feeling of the person. A healthy soul in a healthy body must necessarily bring about the great happiness afforded by penitents, and the soul experiences therein the greatest natural delight. The elimination of damaging elements has beneficent and invigorating effects on the body when it is in a state of health….How we need penitence, how vital it is to illumine the horizon of life!”

Finally, the desire to return and to permit God to transform our lives may come after years of practice, self-discipline, therapy, and spiritual practice – or it may come in a flash. Rav Kook teaches, “Sudden penitence comes about as a result of a certain spiritual flash that enters the soul. At once the person senses evil and the ugliness of sin and he is converted into a new being; already he experiences inside himself a complete transformation for the better…the higher expression of penitence comes about as a result of a flash of illumination of the All- good, the Divine, delight of Him who abides in eternity. The universal soul, the spiritual essence, is revealed to us in all its majesty and holiness, to the extent that the human heart can absorb it.”

Let’s take a deeper look at the process of repentance. The word “repent” comes from a Latin word that means “to feel pain.” When we make a mistake there is no way to obtain forgiveness and reconciliation with God without feeling the pain that we brought upon others and to ourselves. However, revisiting the pain is just the beginning of Teshuvah – a transformative process leading to the feeling of regeneration, renewal, and spiritual rebirth. The word teshuvah in Hebrew means both “return” and “answer.”

Teshuvah comprises of a “return” to who we really are, and to what we really are at our godly essence. But teshuvah is also is our “answer” to God’s call for each of us to come home to the land of the soul. Following is a simple, four-stage description of the teshuvah process:

1) Confession: From the thought that we are sinning we acknowledge our mistakes and errors beginning with words charged with regret, heartbreak, grief and sorrow.

2) Repentance: We take an nonest inventory of our soul, what we call heshbon ha-nefesh, and make a plan of action for change of destructive behavioral patterns.

3) Forgiveness: This is the Divine response to our confession and acts of repentance. The sense of God’s forgiveness gives us the courage to carry out the program of change we established in our lives, and to be on guard that our behavioral patterns are forever changed.

4) Atonement: This is the final stage in the Teshuvah process. Atonement, from the Anglo Saxon word meaning at-one-ment is parallel to state of sublime, joyous, ecstatic unity that we experience after completing our inner work. The Holy One blesses each of us with after we are forgiven…we feel at one with the Creator and creation.

What makes us human is that when given free will we make mistakes. So, the Creator has given us this profound process to rectify errors. After making a wrong choice, we repent, get “washed clean,” and begin again. According to Jewish tradition with every mitzvah we fulfill, the world gets a little closer to the days of Messiah. So, why on earth, would G-d have even permitted us to sin? Created in His image why are we not simply born to be sinless?” To make us human, the rabbis respond. To give us the true sense that we are not robots, but fully human, full partners with G-d in creation. We are born good, we sin, we do teshuvah, and we end up being better for the experience – even though it hurts.

May we all have the courage to improve and enhance the good that is within us during the Days of Awe and every day of the year. May we each recognize the spark of God that is the soul itself. May we wake up tomorrow morning and really recognize our true selves, our godly selves. The Kingdom of G-d is, indeed, at hand. But it will not happen by G-d’s actions alone. It is up to us to reach the heights of our human potential by taking the first step on that Highway of Holiness. So, what is a church or a synagogue? Simply a rest stop along the way.

by Rabbi David Zaslow and Rabbi Victor Gross
Spring, 2009

As the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel assures its citizens (Jewish and non-Jewish) the same rights and protection under the law. The question is not about Israel’s obligations to Arabs – that is clear. Under its constitution, Israel is obliged to treat its citizens fairly – which it valiantly tries to do under extraordinary circumstances.

In the Torah G-d commands us to treat strangers the same way we treat ourselves. We’re commanded to love our neighbors. In Torah the intimate link between brothers is clear – between Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and even Moses and Pharaoh. Each has a unique covenantal relationship.

Einstein said, “no problem can be solved with the same consciousness that caused it.” The relational problems between Arabs and Jews cannot be solved from the same level of consciousness that has existed for centuries. Both Arab and Jew must recognize their collective history and awaken to G-d’s promises as outlined by the prophets. Until people recognize, as Pogo did, that “they have met the enemy and they are us” they will continue to exist at the level that bred the problem.

We await the day when our cousins, the children of Ishmael, welcome us to our ancient homeland so we can coexist in peace. We look forward to the day when all shall live in peace, each under his/her own vine and fig tree, when none shall be afraid.

by Rabbi David Zaslow

In the past year and a half I have approved of the insertion of a series of full-color brochures for our synagogue newsletter which are produced and paid for by AIPAC. AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is the leading lobby organization in Washington, D.C., and its mission is to foster support for Israel by American elected officials. It is a non-partisan lobby group, and it’s supporters include liberal and conservative elected officials (e.g. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, John McCain, and everyone in between). Identical inserts have gone into hundreds of synagogue newsletters throughout the nation.

Why is such a lobby group respected by both Left and Right? Because it provides highly accurate, objective facts without partisan spin. AIPAC has a mission to support any elected Israeli government: left or right, Likud, Kadima, Labor, etcetera. When our elected representatives ask for “just the facts” about Israel, AIPAC has a reputation of delivering accurate and unbiased data.

A few members of our wonderful synagogue have expressed concern about the perception that our synagogue is supporting a Washington lobby group. I want to make clear as a shul we officially support no lobby group. As the most recent insert stated, “the views of AIPAC do not represent any official position of the Havurah.” But AIPAC’s unconditional support for Israel does represent my personal viewpoint, and that’s is why I have been honored to authorize the inserts for our readers.

In a perfect world I wish we didn’t need lobby groups at all, but our elected officials have become dependent (for better or worse) on lobbyists to provide them with information. Like it or not, that’s our system. There is a feminist lobby and a tobacco lobby; a pro-life lobby and a prochoice lobby. There is a Wisconsin cheese lobby and there may even be a “bring the Dodger’s back to Brooklyn” lobby – which I would also support!

Israel, as we are all aware, is under many kinds of attack. Kassam rockets have been fired into Israel on a regular basis from Gaza since 2000 (more than 500 in the past year alone killing innocent Israeli civilians in cities like Sederot and Ashkelon). Large quantities of arms are continually smuggled into Gaza from Iran through the Egyptian border with Gaza. There is a new buildup of short range missiles in southern Lebanon. Plus, verbal rockets of slander get fired against the very existence of Israel every day in much of the Arab press. Israel, like any nation, is imperfect and deserves appropriate criticism for aspects of its policies. Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism, but criticism of Israel using standards that are not applied to any other nation on earth need to be carefully reviewed for prejudice…and that’s the job of AIPAC.

When the United Nations declared that “Zionism is racism” under Resolution 2279 in 1975 AIPAC stood up and explained that if Zionism is racism then any nation’s independence must also be considered racist. If France or Jordan has the right to exist then so does Israel. After sixteen years he U.N. finally revoked its absurd resolution – but the damage had already been done.

In recent years Jimmy Carter wrote a book with the inflammatory title “Palestine – Peace Not Apartheid.” Profs. Walt and Mearsheimer wrote a frightful book which distorts the reality of the Israel lobby. A teacher’s union in England tried to get away with boycotting of Israeli scholars when no other scholars are boycotted from terrorist-sponsoring nations like Syria or Iran. Mainstream American denominations (e.g., Presbyterian) divest themselves of stocks from companies that do business with Israel but not from companies who do business with regimes like those ruling China or Egypt. Other denominations (Episcopal and Methodist) are currently debating whether to adopt this kind of Israel-only divestment scheme.

AIPAC is not a partisan political organization. It is simply an effective lobbying group that stands up for Israel on behalf of all of us who want to see peace in the Middle East. It answers the Carters, Walts, and Mearsheimers of our country with cool, factual data. It’s okay to wish we didn’t need lobbying groups (I certainly wish that), but it’s not okay to say Israel should not be represented by lobbyists when there are foreign lobbies for most every other nation on the planet. If there is going to be a strong Egyptian and Saudi lobby surely there should be a strong Israeli lobby as well. If we are going to criticize and exaggerate the power of the Israeli lobby without a word about other powerful lobbies then we are coming very close to anti-Semitism. I am thankful to G-d that AIPAC exists to defend the spiritual homeland that we, as American Jews, so dearly cherish, and that most Americans cherish as a dear ally. In the spirit of education I hope you appreciate the value of the AIPAC newsletter inserts. To learn more about AIPAC.

Jan 1 2008

Moral Equivalency

by Rabbi David Zaslow

I recently responded to an internet posting where a well known, peace activist, rabbi, and colleague of mine made a case for morally equivalency between the actions of Hamas and those of the Israeli military in Lebanon last summer. Many of us hear fallacious comparisons (Zionism is racism, Israel practices of apartheid, etc.) in discussions about Israel these days, especially in progressive circles, and learning the facts is important if we are to engage in civil and productive debates and discussions.

The rabbi made a series of crucial flaws in his argument. In any civil and criminal judicial rulings there is never equivalent comparison between the actions of the perpetrator of a crime and the self-defense of the victim. This, of course, does not get the victim totally off the hook for any defensive action he/she takes, but it places the defensive actions under a completely different lens. Let’s say that the victim of a robbery clobbers the robber with a stick to protect his/herself. His/her level of culpability is not the same as the robber, and a district attorney could not prosecute as long as reasonable restraint within the definition of self-defense was shown.

In acts of war the response of the victim to aggression and/or invasion is judged on an even more lenient scale. Last year Hezbollah violated the basic rights of a sovereign nation through terrorizing and invasive acts of war. The Israeli response was, by all mainstream news sources, reasonable and moderate. Israeli soldiers stood in front of its population to protect them from aggressive acts while the Hezbollah aggressors hid behind its civilians as a shield. This was a no-win situation for Israel whose military held back, leafleted civilian areas before bombing, made mistakes (as tragically happens in war), and by most accounts was not able to prevail against Hezbollah because it was not willing to be even more aggressive.

No one wants an end to war in the Middle East more than Israel. I do not believe for a second that all things are equal in the Middle East. There is no cycle of violence there. Rather, there is a cause and an effect. Hezbollah, Hamas and company (those who refuse Israel’s existence and/or a two-state solution) are the root CAUSE of the ongoing bloodshed while Israel has to constantly adjust its strategy in SELF DEFENSIVE responses. Has Israel made errors along the way? Yes, of course. So did the Allies during World War II, but mostly the Allies were RIGHT and mostly the German and Japanese governments were wrong. There was no moral equivalency between the actions of the Allies and the actions of the Germans and Japanese even though by today’s standards of military engagement we decry acts like the bombing of civilian centers like Dresden. The same is true today between Israel and its neighbors. There is absolutely no moral equivalency between what Hamas and terrorists do offensively and what Israel does defensively. Let us not apply a double standard against Israel that we are unwilling to apply to any other nation in equal measure.

Do most Jews and most Israelis all want a peaceful, two-state solution? Yes! So, let us put the pressure on those CAUSING the violence and not invent a false equivalency between the perpetrators (Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.) and those trying to defend themselves (Israel). The facts are so clear to 80% of Americans (liberal and conservative) and to 96% of Israelis – there is a primary aggressor and a primary victim in this whole mess. Comparing the situation to European victimization of the Native Americans – Israelis are the Indians in the Middle East. Ironically, so are the Palestinians, but they are victims of their own leadership and of other Arab countries, not of Israel’s existence.

Any nation not willing to recognize Israel as a nation after sixty years is a part of the problem. Any Palestinian sheikh or political leader still holding onto an absurd notion of a literal right of return of Palestinians into Israel (not to the future Palestinian state) is a part of the problem. Many of us may not be aware of the new far left-wing call for a single, binational state (instead of a two-state solution) which is now adding to the problem since it would certainly mean the end to the Jewish state of Israel. Fuzzy thinking and inaccurate accusations of moral equivalency only adds to the problem. Indignation against Israel’s faults while ignoring the far more grievous faults of the Palestinian leadership only adds to the problem. Certainly some of Israel’s more foolish policies (home demolition, certain settlement policies, cultural prejudices, missing opportunities for interfaith dialogue, etc.) have added to the problem but is clearly not the root CAUSE of the problem.

Just as Israel generally (and quite imperfectly) affords equal rights for its Muslim, Druze, non-religious, and Christian citizens, so we would expect that a viable Palestinian state would assure security for it’s future Jewish and Christian citizens. If some of the settlements end up in a future Palestine will the Jewish settlers be permitted to live in their homes? Would Jews even be permitted to live in Palestine? At this point it seems unlikely. Muslim extremists are triumphalists as well as historical revisionists. Today Christian Palestinians are being subjected to a slow ethnic cleansing from their homes by Muslim Palestinian extremists (look at what has happened in Bethlehem in the last four decades). Sadly, that is hardly reported. Almost every Arab nation is now almost completely Yudenrein (Jew-free) as they used to say in Europe. There is no moral equivalent for that kind of bigoted, criminal behavior in Israel. Israel is an imperfect society where prejudice against Arabs (Arab Jews as well) is all too real. But the level of prejudice in Israel, as obnoxious as it is, is not equivalent to what is happening to minorities in the Palestinian territories.

A number of years ago I had the honor of staying in the home of Rabbi Dovid Zeller z”l for Shabbat. As many of you know he lived in the settlement of Efrat, and he was the quintessential model of what a real settler stands for in the territories – he loved the land of his ancestors (Judea and Sumaria) AND he worked so hard to bring all the people (Jews, Muslims, Druze, and Christian) who love the same land together toward a lasting and dignified peace for everyone. He was a Zionist AND a pluralist. I learned the following from one of his wonderful neighbors that Shabbat. Trading land for peace is trading a tangible (land) for an intangible (peace). Once land is traded then who is to say the intangible (peace) will be given in return. First we have to see evidence of peace (the intangible commodity) or at least a series of sincere peaceful gestures from the Palestinian leadership. In the case of Anwar Sadat z”l it was clear to every Israeli that his gestures of peace were deep-seated and sincere.

Israel is correct to be cautious when it comes to trading the one tangible commodity they are in control of (land) for something as intangible as peace. It’s been said many times before – if Hamas laid down its weapons there would likely be a chance for peace. If Israel laid down its arms there would likely be no Israel. In 1978 Abba Eban said that Arafat “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The same can be said this past year about the Palestinian leadership concerning the unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza. This was a perfect opportunity for Palestinians to come together and demonstrate their willingness for form a just and civil government willing to live at peace with its neighbor. Sadly, the factions within the Palestinian world (those willing to make peace with Israel and those unwilling to make peace with Israel) are now at war with each other.

Israel and America are the scapegoats for both the internal religious reformation and the culture clashes that are going on within the Islamic world. Israel is the victim of a terrible form of xenophobia, scapegoating, and anti-Semitism that exists within many Middle Eastern nations. The irony is that the Palestinian people are equally victimized by these other nations, but this is rarely the focus of many peace groups. Just compare the way Lebanon treats Palestinians in its nation (no voting rights, no land ownership, restricted work policy, etc.) to Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. Israel is a convenient scapegoat for the following myths: if there were no Israel there would be peace in the Middle East. If there no Israel the Palestinian people who have a safe and secure nation of their own. If extremists on both sides would only stop being violent there would be peace. The actions of the terrorists and the responses of the Israeli armed forces are morally equivalent and has led to a cycle of violence.

Missiles fired on S’derot do not help the Palestinian cause. The inability of Fatah to control the extremists is not helping the Palestinian cause. Palestinians electing Hamas to its government is a signal for war, not for peace. Blaming Israel for the bankrupt Palestinian economy does not help the Palestinian cause. Blaming Israel for erecting a security wall and fence when the CAUSE of the barrier is terrorism, does not help the cause of peace. Unlike the Berlin wall which was created to keep the citizens virtual prisoners in East Germany, the security barrier in Israel was created to keep terrorists out, and to protect Israeli citizens – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim alike.

Some powerful groups within the American peace community (e.g. ANSWER which has been in control of most of the larger anti-war protests in America) are clearly anti-Semitic and unwilling to condemn Palestinian terrorism, and this adds to the problem. Blaming Israel for checkpoints when the CAUSE of the checkpoints is terrorism does not help the cause of peace. America has terribly frustrating and inconvenient checkpoints at every airport, yet we would never accuse the American government of harassment. No, we realize that our airport checkpoints are a response to terrorism, and NOT the cause of terrorism. The same is true in Israel.

If Israel trades land for peace in the future, that is their right as a sovereign nation. But let us not think for a moment that Judea and Samaria were not the homeland of our people, or we fall prey to the replacement theology that is inherent to Wahhabist and extremist Shiite theology today (e.g., Isaac was not the son on the altar at the Akeidah, Moses and King David were Muslims,, there never was a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was a Palestinian, etc.). I know all to well from my firsthand connection to Saudi funded Wahabists that this form of replacement theology is widespread in much of the Muslim world. Just as I do not accept replacement theology from the Christians I may respect and work with, I am not going to accept it from Muslims either. It is historical revisionism, and it is dangerous for us to let statements of Christian or Islamic replacement theology be spoken with no response. The “old” Testament is not replaced by the “new” Testament, Isaac was not replaced by Ishmael, and there really was Solomon’s “Jewish” Temple where the Dome of the Rock now stands. There is plenty of land in G-d’s kingdom for all of us to live together – Elder and Younger Testaments, Isaac and Ishmael, Israel and Palestine, the Dome of the Rock AND Solomon’s Temple.

In summary: it is incorrect to say that the self-defensive measures that Israel took last summer against an illegal terrorist militia (Hezbollah) rises to a level even comparable to the homicidal, xenophobic, and Islamofacism of Hamas…a group that named itself honestly for what it stands for – violence. Look at what the Muslim extremists are doing to themselves in Gaza, in Lebanon, and Iraq. Islamic extremism is the root CAUSE of the problems in the Middle east and in almost every single conflict around the globe. This is the sad fact that too many good folks in progressive circles are slow to comprehend. Let us face this fact quickly and try to come up with visionary, creative, messianic, and realistic solutions instead of blaming Israel for its measures of self-defense.

Once we deal with the ROOT CAUSE of violence in the Middle East (Islamic extremism) then the effect (Israel’s defensive military actions) go away. If we all stand as one against terrorism, Islamic extremism, and recognize that this is the primary cause of violence in the Middle East we will be building a foundation upon which real peace, real shalom/saalam can stand.

Critics of Israel often point to the unequal military might between the Israelis and the Palestinians. From a micro-viewpoint this certainly true. However, take a look at Israel from a macro-viewpoint and you can see what a small nation Israel is compared to twenty-one Arab nations (and a dozen more non-Arab Muslim nations not even on this map) geographically, militarily, and economically. The Middle East is roughly the size of the United States and Israel is roughly the size of Kentucky. The economic might of oil rich nations cannot be underestimated, and the military might and threat to Israel by nations like Syria and Iran certainly cannot be underestimated. It is incorrect to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outside of its full geopolitical and historic context.

by Rabbi David Zaslow

Recently I posted the following response to two esteemed colleagues of mine…teacher’s whose Torah insights I study and often quote. Yet, regarding the dangers of Islamic extremism to Jews, Christians, and to mainstream, peace-loving Muslims, we have important disagreements.

One colleague wrote, “Are there some Muslims who claim the authority of God to kill and destroy? Yes. Are there some Jews who claim this? Yes. And Christians? Yes. What do we do about this?” A second colleague wrote in a separate posting, “Yes, there is obviously a grave and dangerously threatening element in the Islamic world, just as there are a number of other extremely dangerous “isms” and powers threatening us in the world today.”

1) DISPROPORTIONATE COMPARISONS: The above statements are prime examples of why I disagree with my colleagues on the question of Islamic extremism. I believe that the good rabbis are repeating a popular mistake of making implied comparisons that are disproportionate to the facts. I plead with my esteemed colleagues to consider that all things are not equal concerning all “isms” or when comparing the extreme wings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For example, when we think of “Jewish terrorists” we have to dig back more than a decade to name criminally insane individuals like Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, both of whom acted alone. They certainly emerged from extremist religious environments where hatred was tolerated and spread, but certainly not where murder, terrorism, or assassination was ever preached from the bimah. I know of a very small number of religious Jews in Israel and America whose bigotry appalls me. Yet, I know of no Jews who claim “God’s authority” to “kill and destroy.” Israeli self-defense, properly or even improperly executed is something completely different from carrying out the demands of Islamic extremists who openly and publicly call for the destruction of an entire nation (Israel) and the conversion of the world to their brand of Islam. Further, we cannot forget that the vast majority of victims of Islamic-extremism are moderate, normative Muslims from every branch of Islam.

I have heard the preaching of Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah where he calls for the death, murder, assassination of Israeli civilians. I have heard first hand the late spiritual leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin, justify suicide murder against Israeli children – while teaching his own children how to strap bombs on their bodies to carry out Hamas’ evil deeds. Whether we approve of Jewish settlements or not in the disputed territories there simply are no Jewish or Christian militias who preach and demand the kind of sociopathic, homicidal behavior we hear from Hamas and Hezbollah. Am I preaching prejudice against Islam here? G-d forbid! Am I preaching fear of Hamas and Hezbollah? I certainly am! They are to be both feared and militarily defended against.

When we compare two insane, psychopathic Jewish criminals (Goldstein and Amir) who acted more than ten years ago to the literally tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands? a few million?) of Muslim terrorists commanded to be violent by literally dozens of well funded and well armed militias (e.g., Hamas and Hezbollah) we can hardly make a proportional comparison to Jewish extremists with any degree of intellectual integrity. Fact: there is a massive amount of worldwide terrorism sponsored and/or condoned by Jihadists that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians (mostly Muslim) in the last fifty years.

Fact: there are NO Jewish terrorists sponsored by well funded militias or nations. And if there are Jewish terrorists, G-d forbid, they are almost definitely criminally sociopathic individuals acting under no denominational, sect, or leader’s command. Fact: there are Muslim nations (e.g. Iran) who officially sponsor and fund terrorism and/or military jihad in the name of Islam. Fact: there is no Jewish nation or even synagogue that sponsors or funds violence of any kind against Muslim, Christian, or Bahai civilians in the name of Judaism. When we go to airports and get our bodies and possessions searched and scanned it is not because of the threat posed by Jewish or Christian extremists. It is, however, because of the ever-present threats of war and violence made by Islamic extremists.

2) TERMINOLOGY: When scholars and Christians speak of the far right wing of Christianity (e.g., David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan, etc.) they often use the term “Christian Identity Movement.” There is not an iota of disparagement to liberal, mainstream, or conservative Christianity intended by the use of this term. It is simply a term that describes how a series of cults are trying to hijack Christianity for their own evil intentions. That is the context in which terms like Islamic extremism, Islamism, Jihadism, or even Islamo-Fascism arise from. I’m less concerned with the politically correct terminology than I am with the impact of Muslim extremists preaching death and murder in their mosques against other Muslims, gays, Jews, and anyone they perceive to be agents of Satan.

I would however, be quite concerned if these terms led people to believe that all of Islam or Arab culture condoned extremist hatred. I don’t see that happening in our nation or in Isreal. To our shame, many Americans were prejudiced against German-Americans and Italian-Americans during World War II. To our greater shame we rounded up Japanese-Americans and put them in internment camps during World War II. Since 9/11 I have been satisfied to see a somewhat “eager to learn” attitude by most Americans concerning Islam and Muslim-Americans. I live in a fairly conservative, Anglo, fundamentalist Christian region of the country, and yet most people get the difference between Muslims and Muslim extremists, and they generally go out of their way to distinguish Islam from Islamic extremism in their public statements.

3) WORDS MATTER: Certainly words matter. But because the term “Islamo-Fascism” is not a term directed at normative Islam, or most of Islam – this doesn’t mean the phenomenon does not exist. I have personally not heard the term misused to apply to Islam in general, and neither have I heard the term “Christian Identity Movement” misused to apply to all of Christianity. If I used the term “German fascism” it certainly does not mean that most German people are fascists But it would foolish not to use such a term for fear of its misuse.

Over the past decade many of us have had to learn many “terms of art” to describe both the brilliance and the shadow side that exist within the Islamic world. In our world today it is incumbent on all of us to learn the unique differences within that world, and to be able to distinguish their normative denominations (e.g. Suni, Shia, Sufi) from the armed extremist militias (e.g. Hamas, Hezbollah) from the extremist philosophical schools (e.g. Wahabism, Salafism on the Suni extremist side, and the Shiite extremism that arose from the Ayatollah Khomeni’s revolution in Iran in 1979).

4) THE FILM “OBSESSION:’ I have studied and fact-checked many of the major points made in the film “Obsession.” I have not found factual errors. The film interviews a moderate Muslim, a former Palestinian terrorist, the daughter of a Palestinian martyr, and other pundits – none of whom seem to have an ax to grind with Islam. The film begins by clearly stating that the subject is Islamic extremism and NOT Islam.

Did the film “scare the hell out of me” as one of my colleagues suggested in his posting? Yes, and I am as thankful for the wake up call. If, in the late 30’s, a “shockumentary” like “Obsession” woke people up to the world that was ahead of them many lives might have been saved in the 40’s. The good rabbi wrote that the film “…has no intention of presenting a balanced portrait of Muslims and Islamic culture….” He is correct since that was not the aim of the film. The rabbi then goes on to write that the film “…is meant to terrify Jews and Americans to such a degree that they will be more likely to support the Cheney-Bush program, including bombing and invading Iran (and possibly other Muslim countries as well).”

Wow! Where did he come up with that conclusion? The version of “Obsession” that our synagogue presented had no such explicit of implied meaning. There is not even a hint of getting Jews to support the bombing or invasion of Iran in the film. The Muslims who attended the presentation of the film in our synagogue were just as stunned by the facts and video clips of Jihadist clerics shown in the film as were the Jews, Christians, and members of the peace community who came.

5) ALL EVILS ARE NOT EQUAL: My colleague writes that there are other “isms” and “powers” that threaten the world. Of course there are, but not to violent degree that Islamic extremism threatens us in this day and age. I am a philo-Christian and yet do not hold back criticism of Replacement Theology within the Church (the Church is the true Israel) where it exists. I am also a philo-Muslim and do not hold back criticism of the Replacement Theology (e.g., the Jews never had a Temple in Jerusalem, Joseph was really a Muslim, there was no binding of Isaac, etc.) within Islam either. And I certainly do not hold back criticism of any religion where violence is preached from the pulpit. Today the pulpits where most of the violence is being preached comes from a significant minority (some estimate at between 15-25%) of mosques worldwide where radical Islamic theology (Wahabist, Salafist, Ayatollist, etc.) is promoted or at least tolerated. The Crusades ended hundreds of years ago. The genocide against Native Americans ended more than a hundred years ago. Colonialism ended eighty years ago. Racism, sexism, corporate greed, and consumerism are all too present in our society, but none of this compares to the immediate danger posed to all humanity by Islamic extremism. The greatest danger to the world today is no longer European colonialism. Corporate greed fed by consumerism is clearly a “power” to be tamed, but Islamism is a “power” that has declared violent and aggressive war on us. It cannot be negotiated with or tamed, but must be defeated and transformed as happened with Nazi Germany and Shinto Japan sixty years ago. In these two cases, America proved that is was not acting out of corporate greed, or ethnocentric and racist motives – our greatest enemies (Japan and Germany) became our greatest allies within a decade after the War. The same will be true, G-d willing, with all the Arab and Muslim nations. But first, the forces and groups behind the hatred and scapegoating of Israel, the West, moderate Muslims, and women must be soundly defeated.

The technologies used by the Jihadists include child abuse and forms of terrorism that have changed the very definition of war. Am I using scare tactics here? I don’t think so. Many of us are simply as scared as our fathers and mothers were before World War II. In 1938 the well intended Chamberlain naively declared “peace in our time” because of his pact trading “land for peace” with Heir Hitler. Mein Kamf literally means “My Struggle” and is the German equivalent of the word “Jihad” which literally means “struggle.” For G-d’s sake, let us not be fooled into inaction again as we were before World War II.

Jihadist theology, from whichever Shiite or Sunni extremist sect it comes from, is especially cruel to peace-loving Muslims. The greatest number of victims of Islamo-Fascism (call it what you want) are Muslims. In Gaza, in Syria, in Saadam’s Iraq, in Lebanon, in Iran, in Indonesia, in Sudan, in Chechnyia, in the Philippines, in Somalia the aberrant versions of true Islam are at war with moderate Muslims and the rest of the non-Muslim world. Their ideology is rooted in the most vile form of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and homophobia that has arisen since the Nazi era. There is a moderate, decent, quiet majority within Islam that is courageously working toward a pluralistic reformation within their faith. They deserve our full support. Confused and misguided (even when well intended) outside analysis of the ever-present danger of Islamic extremism only slows down that reformation from fully taking shape from within the Islamic world so that military intervention from Western nations will not be seen as necessary.

My synagogue produces programs on an ongoing bases that aims at demonstrating the innate brotherhood and sisterhood of Sarah and Hagar’s children. I wish I could believe in the potential for pacts with Hamas and Hezbollah, but I do not. In Torah it is just as much a mitzvah to hate evil as it is to love our neighbors. We can, and must, do both at the same time.

Please, Hashem, may the Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah last year be returned to their families today! May the words of your prophets that give us so much hope for the reunion of Isaac and Ishamael, Jacob and Easu be fulfilled speedily in our time!

Martin Luther King Day Invocation
Delivered by Rabbi David Zaslow at South Medford High School Sunday, January 14. 2007

“Mee Kamokha b’ayleem Adonai.” This was the song that Moses sang to the children of Israel after they had crossed the Sea. The people thought that they were free – they didn’t realize they would have to wander in the desert forty years before they could enter the Promised Land. And even before the wandering began they were tested at the Sea which in Hebrew is called “The Sea Which is the End.” By faith alone they crossed, and the waters parted – not by might and not by power, but by the Spirit of the Holy One.

We shall overcome. How? With the technology of non-violence that Rev. King taught us to use. With the knowledge that it is by the Spirit of G-d alone that peace and justice can be achieved. Rev. King taught us all how to never let despair rule over hope. We shall overcome. Why? Because we refuse to be ruled by that which divides us. We give ourselves wholeheartedly to that which unites us: Black and Latino. Asian and White, Jews and Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu, Native peoples, peoples of all faiths, and people of uncertain faith.

We shall overcome. Overcome what? We shall overcome war, poverty, the ongoing racism that is endemic throughout the world. We shall overcome the reemergence of anti-Semitism that is once again scapegoating the Jews in the disguise of anti-Zionism. We shall overcome the unbalanced criticism and targeting the nation of Israel. We shall overcome sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and the destruction of our planet. We shall overcome religious extremism and secular extremism as well.

We shall overcome that within ourselves that creates enemies where there needs to be dialogue – between Suni and Shia, between liberals and conservatives, between people of good faith on both sides of difficult issues, between ourselves and ourselves.

G-d, Adonai, Allah, Great Spirit, Divine Knowing of the Universe, Melekh HaOlam bless us today as one, bless us as we honor the prophet of our generation who taught us the real meaning of shalom – wholeness and how we need each other…who understood the deep meaning of the Biblical story of Moses and Pharaoh, of Israel and Egypt – that by liberating Black Americans from their oppression White Americans would be liberated as well from their racism as well. Bless us today as we honor the Moses of our time who is still taking us to the Promised Land of hope, justice, liberty, and freedom. Let us cross the sea together now and sing together the words of Moses: “Mee Kamokha b’ayleem Adonai….Who is like you Lord among all that which is worshipped?”

Coming soon– Reimagining Exodus: A Story of Freedom