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Israel: Opening our Hearts

10/16/2015 04:23:42 PM


Israel: Opening our Hearts
There is a line in our Torah service that always draws my attention towards Israel. Just before opening the ark we sing the words:
אַב הָרַחֲמִים הֵטִיבָה בִרְצוֹנְךָ אֶת-צִיּוֹן תִּבְנֶה חוֹמוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָיִם:
 Av harachamim hetivah virtzonech et tziyon tivneh chomot yerushalayim.
I translate this line as: “Source of Compassion, may it be your will to act in kindness towards Zion and to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.” The last words of this line, “rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,” particularly because they are repeated, always make me pause. I often struggle with the concept of walls, thinking about them on one hand as metaphors for security and safety, but on the other hand of separation and insecurity. Sometimes I quietly change the second repetition of this line to, tivneh shalom yerushalayim  - rebuild the shalom of Jerusalem, as a balancing prayer for security and safety.
One of the most disturbing things about the current situation, the recent stabbings and violence in Jerusalem and Israel, is that it is indefensible. It cannot be walled off. The very randomness of it makes it nearly impossible to defend against. Such violence is also morally indefensible. I will say this as clearly as I can, I see no justification for the use of violence. I believe that violence always leads us farther from security and peace. It inevitably displaces thoughtfulness, trust and hope, with fear.
Living here, in the safety of New Jersey, where indeed no walls are needed for security, I think we have to be especially careful about building walls of indifference. I believe in our safety we are obligated to remain open-hearted. We have to mirror the God we pray to when we say:
אַב הָרַחֲמִים הֵטִיבָה בִרְצוֹנְךָ אֶת-צִיּוֹן
Source of Compassion, may it be your will to act in kindness towards Zion.
We have to remain willing to feel pain, to be sources of compassion, directing our kind will towards Israel. As before and as in the future, the desire to amplify compassion does not silence the many other feelings that may arise for us about Israel. Still, I believe that there is no path towards peace or security without such compassion.
Many of us have loved ones and friends living in Israel right now. I know full well that the empathy this creates does not necessarily line up directly with feelings of compassion. I encourage us to be especially present for each other, but particularly for those with loved ones in Israel. I would like to remind you that Adam Pollack, Mikaela Itkin-Weinstein and Ilan Ackelsberg, three recent Bnai Keshet High School grads, are spending the year in Israel.  Keeping our hearts compassionately open is its own prayer and support to those who are afraid or suffering in Israel.
With love and blessing, Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Elliott

PS – What to do?
In many ways, our ability to offer more than moral support is limited from this distance, but I want to offer a few options.
First, I continue to believe that the most powerful thing we could do as a congregation is to express our support for Israel by travelling there together. I continue to solicit partners in planning such a venture.
More immediately, I can suggest one unique effort of supporting the businesses that are struggling because of the decreased willingness of Israelis to be out in public in this uncertain and terrifying atmosphere. Eat 4 the Sake of Jerusalem. This website asks you to support restaurants in Jerusalem by buying meals, falafels, etc. that are then distributed freely. The goal is to support these businesses and offer random acts of kindness from afar.
Most importantly, I encourage you to continue to give to the organizations that you believe most effectively protect the security of Israel. For me, this is the New Israel Fund, which I believe has consistently laid down the groundwork for a more stable future.  Use the emotions you feel now as an impetus to give to the organizations in Israel that can represent your hopes for peace and security.
Finally, I strongly encourage you to take the time to get your news about Israel from Israel. I have found my subscription to Haaretz to be invaluable when I want to go beyond the inevitably two-dimensional reporting on this issue available through American media.  Likewise, I recommend to you again The Promised Podcast. The commentators on this weekly podcast could all be your next-door neighbor, but instead have chosen to live in Tel Aviv. I find their commentary thoughtful and they are uniquely positioned to understand the American Jewish perspective and also to challenge it.
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