Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tom Friedman Column

In today's New York Times, Tom Friedman writes about the narrative of hate and blame that permeates throughout the Middle East.  I quote from his conclusion in which he addresses himself to Muslims.  "Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, ‘This is not Islam.’ I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn’t. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques. If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us — and to yourselves."  There is of course plenty of blame to go around.  Israel and the United States are certainly not perfect.  (I love them despite their imperfections.)  But the heart of the matter continues to be the issue that Friedman writes about in today's paper.  I would add to his words: "Rise up.  Protest.  Take to the streets — not against something, but for something.  Tell the world no longer what you want to destroy, but what you want to create."  I would advise Muslim leaders with the principle by which I have always tried to live my life.  Whenever there are problems to be addressed and repaired it cannot only be about what others are doing wrong.  It must first be about what I am doing wrong.  I have always believed that repair begins with oneself.  Anger is only useful when it is directed inward.  To read Friedman's entire column follow this link.  To read a somewhat related article about President Obama's handling of foreign policy, read Leon Wieseltier's most recent piece in The New Republic.  In Wieseltier's, and my, view we should have more actively supported those in the Middle East (in particular Iran) who did indeed take to the streets, attempting to create something positive.  How we help to nurture a more positive narrative continues to be the question of the day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Returning Thanks

As always Thanksgiving brings with it the blessings of family and perhaps too much food. Given our blessings I am very proud that our synagogue is organizing a number of projects to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. On December 9, JCB volunteers will help to sort the many toys and food donated to the Interfaith Nutrition Network's Mary Brennan Soup Kitchen in Hempstead. In addition JCB members will donate gift cards so that INN patrons can purchase what they need themselves and thereby redeem a measure of their dignity. At our next confirmation class, on December 16, a former homeless person, now working for the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, will share his story and educate our students and their parents about the problems of hunger and homelessness. This is a rare opportunity to hear a personal story. Far too often we separate ourselves from these difficulties in our suburban bubbles. We think this is not a problem in our neighborhood. This is not our problem. But as Jews we must never distance ourselves from others and their difficulties. We know the feeling of the stranger. Finally, on December 17, our 7th graders and fellow congregants will pack lunch bags and sandwiches to be delivered to the hungry and poor in the Huntington Station area. These items will be delivered through the Saint Hugh's Project Hope. We can never repair all of the world's problems. We can also never say that there are too many problems to fix. We must start somewhere. We must try to repair our world. Let us begin by trying to address the problem of hunger in our very own neighborhood!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Third Intifada | The New Republic

The Third Intifada | The New Republic
Here is a rather depressing article from TNR about the simmering tensions among Palestinians and the worries about a potential third intifada.  The sad and tragic fact is that Palestinian leaders continue to believe that the only way to advance their legitimate aspirations for statehood is through violence.  You cannot build a nation on hatred and violence.  Until Palestinians accommodate their thinking and affirm the legitimacy of the Jewish state in the land of Israel we will only see times of sheket--relative quiet and never shalom--peace.  Israel can withdraw from this territory or that.  Israel can halt the expansion of "settlements" or not.  The fundamental issue is that the majority of Israelis have accepted Palestinian aspirations as legitimate whereas the majority of Palestinians (at least as expressed by their leaders) have yet to come to terms not only with Jewish aspirations but Jewish history and present reality.  I continue to believe that if Palestinian leaders would truly affirm these and say in English, Hebrew and especially Arabic, "The State of  Israel is here to stay.  Its establishment was recognized by the United Nations over sixty years ago.  It is built on the Jewish people's historical connection to this land that we also hold dear..."  the rest of the details could be worked out at the negotiating table.
Addendum: On a more positive note read this TNR post discussing secret talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Serious Man

I just saw the Coen brothers' new film.  "A Serious Man."  It is a must see.  It is as the reviewers have noted a modern midrash on the biblical Job.  It is the story of a math professor who believes that life in general and his life in particular should follow certain understandable and definable formulas.  Of course life does not.  As his life unravels he, unlike his brother and like Job, never curses God and tries to uncover life's hidden meaning and seeks out the advice of three rabbis.  The rabbis all fail, some worse than others.  The below clip contains my favorite scene.  "The rabbi is busy...  He is thinking."  The most senior rabbi actually refuses to meet with the serious man.  The other rabbis either give entirely inadequate answers or tell a story rather than answer the question.  The best answer is of course "He is thinking."  That is the only answer we have.

Some have suggested that the movie is self hating and portrays an unflattering picture of American Judaism, Jews and rabbis.  I disagree.  It is honest, perhaps brutally so.  I feel the inadequacy of sitting at the other side of the table from the serious man.  How can anyone really understand and answer life's mysteries?  That is the essence of the Job story.  Many (especially rabbis) pretend to have it all figured out.  That is what the movie and the biblical Job rejects.  There is more to write about and discuss: the portrayal of the relation between Jews and "goyim," the picture of Hebrew School and bar mitzvahs and of course the prominence of Jefferson Airplane.  The movie is framed by two quotes.  It begins with a quote from Rashi, the great medieval Jewish commentator: "React with simplicity to everything that happens to you." and concludes with Jefferson Airplane: "When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies."  Somewhere, sandwiched in between tradition and modernity, and while tossed around by the whirlwind (here a tornado), we uncover our inadequate answers to life's mysteries. Rabbis can't figure it all out for you!  If you would like to participate in a discussion about the film, go to our synagogue's Facebook fan page.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Springsteen Concert

After yesterday's post I thought I would lighten up the mood. In the above picture, Susie and I, along with fellow JCB members, Randi and Patty, enjoyed the Bruce Springsteen concert on Sunday. I ran into at least a minyan of congregants there, as well as Bill Bradley, incoming governor Chris Christie and Elvis Costello (ok I really only saw him from afar). They expressed only mild interest in joining the congregation, although Senator Bradley and I had an interesting conversation about basketball (his former passion), biking (my current passion--and ok only I would have the chutzpah to place his basketball playing and my biking in the same sentence), his interesting new radio show about everyday unsung heroes (Sirius channel 102) and the rabbi at the Bruce concert (I am pretty sure that was me). We were both taken and amused that we would meet at a Springsteen concert. Music unites. Music elevates. There are no divisions when you are singing and dancing together.  It is a powerful feeling when the lights go on and you see everyone standing and singing along with the Boss.  "Do you like good music? Sweet soul music?" Say it with Bruce, "Oh yeah!" And of course thanks again to Robert for the tickets!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fort Hood

I have been reading with keen interest the stories about the murder of 12 soldiers and one civilian at Fort Hood. I was appalled to learn that a physician would take life rather than fight to preserve it. I was captivated by the heroism of Officer Kimberly Munley. As with similar tales of Columbine and Virginia Tech, the news media is filled with attempts to understand the murderer's motivations. He was opposed to the US wars in Iraq in Afghanistan. He was distraught about his upcoming deployment. He was unable to bear the pain and scars returning soldiers shared with him. He was harassed, ridiculed and perhaps even persecuted because he was a Muslim. Some of these points are no doubt true. I can only imagine the scars soldiers carry with them. I believe that he was the victim of anti-Muslim hate. But shooting at unarmed men and women is never a way to solve grievances, whether real or imagined. Shouting Allah Akhbar--God is great--when taking lives, only diminishes God in this world rather than enlarges religious feelings and passions. If a Jew had done this terrible deed--as Jack Teitel is similarly accused by the Israeli authorities of doing--you would hear me say, "This is not Judaism! This is a defamation of everything we believe in!" I have said this in the past and so I say it again. If a Jew had done this you would not hear statements of let's explore why he is so aggrieved. You would hear instead, "Where have we failed as Jewish teachers?" Where is this debate among Muslim leaders?  I do not excuse the psychiatrist's tormentors. I hold little forgiveness for those who bully others. Part of being Jewish is the attempt to understand the heart of the stranger. If such accusations of discrimination are true, the army should do its part to fight it. The army has in the past led the way in healing the rifts in our society and there is indeed a growing and wrenching divide that must be bridged. I hope and pray that our current armed forces will do its part. I offer this prayer. "Yitgadal v'yitkadash--May God's greatness be sanctified and manifest." May the most recent victims of hate--and despair--rest in peace. May their families be granted healing and consolation. Allah Akhbar--and Baruch HaShem for that matter--must only be said when human life is saved and preserved. May God's greatness be forever praised--in celebration of life!