We enter Hanukkah from a place of deep darkness. I write this as the remains of the city of Aleppo are reduced to rubble. The people are trapped inside, with death raining down on them from above. The similarity to the gas chambers of the Shoah is unmistakable.
We have watched as this modern mass murder unfolds. I reluctantly refrain from the word Genocide, as it would ignite a conversation about the word rather than cold look at the harsh reality of the death and destruction that is occurring, where innocent civilians are being systematically destroyed. But the word resonates for me nonetheless. What are the lessons of the Shoah?
We must ask ourselves what is our role in the world. This question is for us as Americans and for us as Jews. It is too late for the remnant of Syria however. The United States provided some support to the political opposition of the Regime and we have provided limited aid to those who have escaped. But we have failed to protect the innocents, permitting the most brutal weapons of mass murder to exterminate. Hundreds of thousands have been killed; the savage death machine indiscriminate, women, children, and aid workers are victims as well as political opponents. The United States’ opportunities to assert itself as a provider of sanctuary either here or there have been squandered. A modern holocaust has occurred as we watched.
What did we learn from the Shoah? Was it merely a particular tragedy to befall the Jewish people? Wasn’t the Shoah also supposed to be a lesson to the world that “Never Again” was a cry to universal humanity? Sadly in the face of the Syrian crisis, we turned away, as the world turned away from the Jewish people in our time of greatest despair. I am overcome by the realization of all that we did not do, of all that I did not do.
Hanukkah is supposed to celebrate the light of freedom and God’s miracles. But they came in that order. The Jews wondrously won the improbable victory, and then the lights of the Menorah miraculously lasted for eight days. The miracle of the oil could only have happened after the people fought to overcome the injustice of the world where they lived. Sadly I think we did not merit God’s miracle this time. Let us use this coming year to commit ourselves to that most basic Jewish value; that we will no longer stand idly by while our neighbor’s blood is being shed.
This Shabbat, rather than a musical selection, I want to offer a moment to reflect on the recent tragedies and acts of horrible violence we have experienced.
Tonight the words Shamor v’Zachor will dance in my mind as the light from the flickering flames of the Shabbat candles fill the room. It will not be a joyful beautiful dance this evening. Tonight I will somberly reflect on what it means to remember and preserve Shabbat. So much violence, so many lives needlessly taken by fear and violence. How will I react?
I hope to rise above my own anger and frustration. Instead of hate, I want to resolve to be part of something better. I will look to my community and join with them as my community joins with others. I hope to become part of something greater that aligns with the message of hope instead of despair, of love instead of hate, of joy instead of pain.
Join me in committing to something better. Find your caring community and become part of it. Embrace and share the values that will transform our communities, our nation, and our world the place it ought to be. On this Shabbat let us dedicate that we will be an active part of bringing peace and wholeness to the world. May it begin with this Shabbat.
Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirkei Avot 2:16).
The Executive Orders signed by President Obama is such an example of Rabbi Tarfon’s teaching. We cannot eliminate all acts of gun violence, but we must do what we can to advance the cause. Regardless of one’s stance on the Second Amendment or the effectiveness of these Executive Orders, we cannot turn a blind eye to the horrifying levels of violence and death that occur in our country. These limited executive actions seek to better enforce existing laws. The idea that criminals and emotionally disturbed people will find it harder to gain access to weapons of death is a good one.
I wish we could do more, but that is not a reason to do nothing. Progress comes in small steps, an incremental march toward what should be from what is. We measure a great civilization not by its great monuments but by its ability to protect the weak within its society. The victims of mass shootings, the victims of urban gun violence, the victims of suicide are all testimony to how much more we have to do to protect ourselves and lift everyone to a better place.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” says the Chinese philosopher Laozi (Tao Te Ching). We have a long way to go before the work is complete, but at least we are started on the path.
Yet again a terror attack claimed the lives of 14 this time in San Bernadino California. We enter another Shabbat bloodied and battered seeking solace. But unfortunately this respite in our sanctuary cannot shield us any longer and Shabbat is buckling under the pressure.
Each time there is a horrific mass shooting and we do not demand action to curb gun violence in this country, we abet the violation of Shabbat. We cannot retreat into a passive wish for peace, rest and the restorative nature of Shabbat when we know that the new week will likely contain another ghastly act of violence, which might have been prevented if our society took thoughtful deliberate action to stem the tide. It is in our hands. Only we can create a climate where inaction is unacceptable and we demand better laws and enforcement to protect ourselves.
I listened with great sadness the interviews of members of Congress who carefully parsed words lauding the 1930s ban on automatic weapons, but claiming restrictions on semi-automatic assault weapons would take away the right to own handguns and shotguns. Our illustrious Senate opposed the elimination of gun law loopholes that permit people on a Terrorist Watch list to buy guns ostensibly because the watch list itself may not be carefully enough defined. They tell us that exemptions and loopholes in the laws to buy weapons and ammunition remain in force because any more control becomes a defacto revocation of the Second Amendment. These arguments say that routine carnage is the price we need to be willing to pay to live in the United States. That is unacceptable. We must require change including:
-Action to create a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence through
– Enforcing existing laws
– Educating gun buyers how to use firearms
-Adding new regulations to keep guns from those identified as unstable or a threat
-Closing loopholes in laws to prevent criminals from purchasing guns and ammunition
-Fully funding the enforcement programs and more robust mental health programs
We cannot sit idly by when the blood of our neighbor is spilled (Lev 19:16). For those who do not believe we are responsible for each other, think about the random nature of this violence (in centers for the developmentally disabled, schools, the streets, movie theaters, etc.) and pause to consider that the next bullet could well be aimed at you. This Shabbat, let us emerge into the new week committed to doing our part to eliminate gun violence.
Our prayers are with the victims of the horrible terrorist attacks across Paris. Now is the time to grieve. The natural reaction is to strike back and avenge the carnage. But before we do, let’s pause and consider our actions, making them deliberate and thoughtful, to do more than lash out and punish. Who is the enemy and how do we best work to defeat them in the long-term war of ideologies in which we are engaged?
It is enticing to react and retaliate, but violence untargeted or mistargeted will serve to create more victims and foment more hatred. The threats are real, but we need to know who the adversary is and the most effective ways to combat the enemy. Precipitous action will do far more harm than good.
Sadly, there are those who are struggle to support the French, seeing this tragedy as an opportunity to say “turnabout is fair play” due to perceived and real anti-Semitism in France. We are better than that. The Jewish values of Chesed and Rachamim compel us to reach out and provide comfort and support. Our compassion helps us to rise above all kinds of hatred and Judaism becomes a beacon of light to the Nations.
So much of the angst between Israeli and Palestinian sides has been centered around finger pointing. We find it easier to tell the other side what it must do before peace can come. We put the onus on them, we remain ready to go, with no hard decisions to make. So Netanyahu digs his heels in. And Abbas likewise takes an intractable stand.
Those of us who advocate for a two state solution speak of our ability to control only what happens on our side. We talk about the things that we can do to create space for peace or even unilateral moves to achieve peace. We continually call upon the Israeli government to take proactive steps regarding restarting peace talks and settlements. But realistically that is not enough.
The truth remains that peace can only come when both sides are prepared to make the difficult and courageous choices which include concessions neither want to make. But they both are compelled to make these compromises in order to create the greater good of peace for all. Leadership must be prepared to truly be visionaries and take bold steps.
So Mr. Abbas, your people, the world and your potential ally Israel are watching current events and your responses very closely. We hear your silence when youngsters brutally attack with knives and deliberately place themselves in harms way in a futile and desperate attempt to incite and murder. We hear your voice fanning the flames of hate with falsehoods playing on the emotions of the Moslem faithful regarding the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sarif/Har Habayit and the purposeful false report of the death of a 13-year-old. Through these things, you clearly tell us where you stand as the leader of the Palestinians and on the opportunity for peace. You appear to have turned your back on your people. You are willing to make them a nation of perpetual martyrs, permanently disenfranchised with no hope of a homeland, only the fantasy of victorious war over Israel.
It is time to make Israel your ally. She is both legitimate and permanent. So the choice is yours. A never-ending battle using your people as pawns or the creation of a viable peace between two nations living cooperatively. Ultimately perhaps your goal might be to someday stand like Ronald Reagan and declare it is the time for the Security wall to come down. And in an era of peace, your Israeli counterpart will be all too likely to comply.