From Alan Haber, Eliyahu
Since Spring I have been in France with Odile, learning and doing “permaculture,” cleaning an old house, and having some distance from the immediate urgencies of the moment and movement. Here now already at full moon into Elul’s time to search my heart and draw as close as i can to the breath of life, i am anticipating being back in Ann Arbor in time again for Yom Kippur.
In this month of reflection and preparation, i have been compelled to examine again, and now to share again, my anguish and lament concerning myself as a Jew, and as a human being, 77 years old, not dead yet, and still an activist for justice and peace. And strange as it sometimes seems, i feel i have obligations as a Levite son of a father, ha-Levi, and a mother, the daughter of a Kohen, agnostic and atheist though they respectively were.
Last year at Yom Kippur, in our Havarah afternoon discussion period, i posted and hosted a conversation on Israel, titled, “Israel, the ecstasy and the agony: Is Israel a Jewish state?” It seemed to me, on that holy day, probing the deepest questions, a spirited engagement would ensue. Yet, everyone, but one, of the entire congregation and assembly exercised their free choice to go elsewhere.
The questions i raised involved how can our communal service be so silent, and our congregation so inactive, relatively speaking, about the transgressions of Jewish law, ethics and morality that are tragically commonplace in the State of Israel, which proclaims itself a “Jewish State,” representing the Jewish people, of which we each are, with varying degrees of identification.
I speak of such imperatives as: Do not injure the fruit trees even in times of war; Do not covet your neighbor’s house nor anything that is your neighbor’s; Do not steal; Do not kill; Do not move your neighbor’s boundary post, it is a great sin; Be good to the stranger, remembering we were strangers in a strange land; One law for ourselves and those with whom we live; Do not bear false witness; Make restitution for that which you injure; Do not oppress, etc. These laws have been transgressed since the beginning of Israel, and are today. The impending dispossession of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the expropriation law uprooting 40 Bedouin villages, involuntarily relocating 30,000+ individuals and confiscating 270 square miles of settled land, and the new development plans over the ruins of historic Lifta can serve as current reminders, as well as the tens of thousands of trees destroyed and homes demolished. This is not all right with me.
What i could call a rabbinic sophist might say, for instance, as i was once told, “Yes, but! There might be a terrorist hiding behind that olive tree, so compelled by a higher law, to protect life, we must destroy the tree.” i am not a scholar, but this is not the Torah i read, and have through its cycles, on and off, for the last 40 years. There is no excuse to make that right.
As a Jewish carpenter, I make arks for the Torah, to give Torah love and honor, I helped make the reading table for our congregation, so Torah can be opened and read, and unrolled and rerolled without being torn or warped. Warped readings and readings which are rote, empty letters, without comprehension, and without application, offend the soul. They do mine.
The Torah words cry out to me, do they not to you? Are they not “close before our eyes,” as Avram Burg said when he was in Ann Arbor last year and shared his book of a title like that, giving contemporary reflections on each parsha?
My friend Yusif, a Palestinian brother and soul mate, has sometimes said, as i like to quote, “De Nile is not only a River in Egypt”.
“Denial,” like the Shadow, can cloud people’s minds so they cannot see. (For those who remember the old weekly radio detective serial called “The Shadow,” who had the strange ability “to cloud men’s minds so they could not see him.”)
Why is it so many seem not to see? And why are those who seem to see, so ineffective, and, dare i say, timid, in action? Even me?
Of course, there are many other things to look at and do, and other urgencies and agonies of the world. There is family to tend, service here at home, children’s needs and daily life, climate change, poverty and the homeless, sickness to nurse and our own communities to maintain. And Israel is so far away, and what can we do anyhow? And there is also the fear and disquiet of what might be seen, if the eyes opened and really looked. And as i discovered, once one sees, one cannot then, “un-see.”
Still, all that said (and true), I like to point to that pesky, not so little, Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long on the land” Elsewhere it says, “Do not uncover their nakedness.” Basically, we are enjoined: Do not make trouble in the family.
But what if there is trouble already? What if our fathers and our mothers, speaking now of the fathers and mothers of Israel, were not all so honorable? What if, metaphorically, the nakedness of their deeds needs to be uncovered? What if they and their deeds have become as graven images to which we are called to bow down? What if, indeed, our jealous God is, even now, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation,” which, of course are the generations of us, and will be of the children of now.
Is it not the higher honor to uncover the deeds of the past, to look, indeed with love, and to summon the goodness of a thousand generations, and seek to know and understand. And most centrally, do we not need to correct? for the thief to give back? for the injurer to compensate? for true witness to be told? for the imprisoned to be released?
Do i know? Hardly. Such is my lament. In the mission of my namesake, Eliyahu, i would “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the elders, lest there come the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Without a turning of hearts there seems no hope. The fathers of our Israel are mostly long dead, the children of now seem to live mostly in the shadows of denial. i have been part of many high efforts of “tikkum olam” for years now, with the most wonderful people, and yet, the sickness has gotten worse, not healed, and the breakage more broken, not repaired. I do not know what to do, but i think we have to go back to basics, recalibrate, as they say, our moral compass and measures of reality. We need, as a community, to get out of the river and look around.
In this view, i suggest, and recommend, and even plead, as an opening of the eyes, in this month of Elul and over the High Holy Days, to read, and reflect and discuss the Story of Zionism. Zionism is the political movement responsible for the creation of Israel and guides ,to this day, its policies. The Z word has been mostly exempt from critical conversation in polite Jewish society, and elsewhere too. I have been called (and treated by some) “persona non-grata” for venturing on these waters. Recently I was sent a very researched historical paper on “The History of US-Israeli Relations,” which i . . . read . . . and i found it most illuminating. I consider it a proper action to share this writing.
I hope you each read it, and will each forward it as widely as you can to your friends to encourage their reading, and to promote discussion also. It has a rare depth and breadth, and shows the situation in Israel as intimately connected with the situation in America. We are all involved, not far away. It is from “If Americans Knew,” written by Alison Weir. It is fairly long, requiring attention. It will, i believe, be eye opening for many: 13 pages, nearly 400 paragraphs, 16,000+ words, with 277 documenting footnotes and references adding 16 more pages, 15,000 more words and 600 more paragraphs. This is serious, worthy of Elul and Yom Kippur.
This story is not the whole story. No one rendering can be. This is a story embedded in a collective trauma and post traumatic stress disorder. i am now in a little village near the city of Chalon sur Saone in France. There is a memorial plaque in the Chalon railway station, witnessing the more than 11,000 individual Jewish people from this small Burgundy area of France who were deported from that station between August and October 1942, in 17 separate “shipments” to Nazi concentration and death camps, one small part of the collective trauma. i was 11 and 12 years old in Germany in 1948, when my father was Advisor on Jewish Affairs to the Supreme Allied Command, responsible for the survivors and displaced persons and their camps, when the State of Israel was being founded. From my father’s, and later my own experience, i can testify to accuracy of the accounts about the DPs in this narrative. I have followed elements of this story through my years as “peace activist.” There are parts i did not know. History cannot be undone, but without being understood, it repeats itself. There is a reservoir of inconvenient truths that feeds the River of Denial . . .
The answer seems not so much any particular political “peace” formula negotiated among contending powers: 2 states, 1 democratic secular state guaranteeing minority rights, 2 sectarian states and 1 civil state, confederations and cantons, this border or that, this land swap or that. More, it seems to me, and very appropriate to this season for we Jews, what we need actually is a “turning and returning” to the basic laws and morality and ethics of the Torah. If israel, we, and our elders and our communities had properly practiced basic Jewish law, (such as referenced above) we would not have the troubles of now. When we pray, “Return to the One,” consider what that might really mean. To return to the one: To become law abiding? Are we not called upon: to commit ourselves in the year ahead, and likewise, for Israel, the state of our people, to become law-abiding?
In the global village, there is no necessary contradiction between the basic lines of Jewish Law and international law and its conventions.
“Living together” requires human recognition of the others around us. We would do well to add a big dose of generosity, for a change, and sharing, especially water, and imagining a coming Jubilee to set things more right. Needed as well is enough humility to allow apologies. “I don’t care” is not a Jewish option.
Notable is the recent film, “Gatekeepers,” featuring the last many heads of Israeli Secret Service, confessing their lawless pursuit of “terrorism” and the enemy, admitting it was a wrong policy for all these years. Even the doers of the deeds call for change.
Long ingrained and unexamined patterns require a social reconstruction, in Israel, and in America too. Freedom requires justice and equality for everyone. Trauma recovery is part of the peacemaking, in which all question, and everyone has to have their place at the peace table … and also on the doctor’s couch, in the music halls and artists studios. Whatever the “political agreement,” there is no quick fix. Without doubt “truth and reconciliation” needs to be in the mix, also “unlearning racism” for more than a few on every side, and a better teaching of history recognizing the multiple narratives, so everyone’s story is told.
I hope this “If Americans Knew” writing might, also, add perspective to the recent (in our own local Ann Arbor community) “Dis-Invitation” to Alice Walker, a world-esteemed writer and citizen. Alice Walker had been previously invited and had accepted to “Keynote” the Jubilee Anniversary Celebration of a major local institution, The University of Michigan Center for the Education of Women. Then she was Dis-invited. Why? because (before it was denied), a major money donor threatened withdrawal of funds, if this celebrity woman was allowed to speak: Why? — because of her critical views on Israeli politics and advocacy for Palestine. Perhaps it was all a bad misunderstanding and sloppy protocol, having nothing to do with middle east opinions, which was not at all her topic. But after reading this article, one might come to believe otherwise, denials notwithstanding.
Our Shabbat and Holiday services regularly repeat in the Prayer for Healing: “…Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing….” Courage is required. Israel now, for all its wonders, beauties, and achievements, sadly, is not a blessing to the Palestinians, nor to its own poor, or to its neighbors or to the United States, it is far from a “Nation of Priests.” Jewish Community officialdom, from the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, on down, would keep us in the shadows of denial. It is an act of courage to open the eyes; and more so, to say what you see. Help is needed.
The article ends with a quote from George Orwell: ” ‘Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’  Perhaps by rediscovering the past, we’ll gain control of the present, and save the future.”
i would be gratified, and challenged, to hear comments and replies. i would welcome another Yom Kippur discussion on “Israel: the ecstasy and the agony, Is Israel a Jewish State?” Perhaps a different title would better express what needs to be discussed. I hope, this year, more than one person would desire to participate.
alan haber, eliyahu
The History of US-Israel Relations
Against Our Better Judgment
The hidden history of how the United States was used to create Israel
[ photo omitted of Louis Brandeis, Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise, founding secretary of the American Federation of Zionists, and Nathan Straus, co-owner of Macy’s ]
by Alison Weir
April 18, 2013
Alison Weir is Executive Director If Americans Knew and President of the Council for the National Interest. She is available to give presentations on this topic and can be reached at contact@ ifamericansknew.org.
Th[e above link is to] an uncorrected proof of an upcoming book; in addition to finalizing footnotes, additional information is still being added. We feel the information is so important that we are distributing this version ahead of time.
The History of US-Israel Relations
Against Our Better Judgment
The hidden history of how the United States was used to create Israel