Friday, December 12, 2014

We Can't Breathe

A story:

Shmuel Yankel Isserles was prepared to emigrate to America.  His nephew, Mordy, was much more worldly, and coached Shmuel Yankel on the things he would need to know when he arrived on the shores of the Goldene Medine.  They had determined that Shmuel Yankel would Anglicize his name and become Sam Israel, and so Mordy had carefully instructed his uncle, “When the clerk says, ‘Name?’, you will reply, ‘Sam Israel.’”
 Throughout the week of the steamship voyage, Shmuel Yankel rehearsed the exchange in his head.  But as the passengers disembarked, he grew flustered at the enormity of the crowd and the ensuing chaos.  And so it was that when the clerk asked him his name, he found that he had completely forgotten what to say.  Thus, Shmuel Yankel Issereles began his life in this country as “Sean Ferguson.”
 To understand the joke, you need to understand that in Yiddish, the phrase for "I've forgotten" is "shon fergessen," which, of course, sounds much like "Sean Ferguson."

These past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about that little joke (told in a slightly different form in The Big Book of Jewish Humor, edited by William Novak and Moshe Waldoks).  With the failure of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, to hand down an indictment in the death of Michael Brown, the country is once again polarized around the issue of race.  And we all run the risk of being Sean Fergusons…we all run the risk of forgetting what Ferguson, or Staten Island,  or any of the other racially tinged cases that continue to make news around our country, really mean.

There's a Hebrew phrase that comes to mind when I think about such issues: Noge'a ba-davar.  Literally, it means "touched by the matter," but colloquially it's usually used to state that one is not impartial when it comes to an issue.  One might say, "I think my children are the most brilliant and beautiful in the world, but I am noge'a ba-davar," or, "I can't offer an opinion on this argument between my friend and my spouse, because I am noge'a ba-davar."  I think the phrase also applies to us as Americans.  When black people are dying at a far greater rate than whites, when different standards of justice are applied for a person with dark skin than for a person with light skin, our nation has a race problem.  And we are all culpable.  We are all noge'a ba-davar.

As a Jewish man, it's part of my upbringing (or even part of my innate makeup) to be hyper-vigilant against acts that discriminate against someone on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  After all, at multiple junctures in our people's history, there have been those who have feared us because of our differences, and who have sought to destroy us.  Having felt the sting of persecution, how can we sit idle as our neighbors bleed?

And yet our Jewish experience does not directly correlate to that of our African-American brothers and sisters.  With few exceptions, we as Jews do not bear external clues that proclaim our identity to others.  Though I have on occasion been subject to epithets or other injustices, no one has ever crossed the street to get away from me, or refused to board an elevator with me, or made assumptions about my motives when I walk into a store, simply because of my religious identity.  But our friends and neighbors of color face such indignities as part of their daily reality.  And since we are all noge'a ba-davar, we must stand in solidarity with them to ensure that this reality changes.

Since the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice came at the hands of police officers, many have expressed a growing distrust in law enforcement personnel.  While that sentiment is understandable as we grieve over such losses, I believe it is wrong.  There are many compassionate men and women working under very stressful conditions to ensure the public safety.  At the end of the day, they are still human, relying on split-second instincts to help them determine whether an individual is a threat.  And like all humans, at times their judgment will fail them, and they will be wrong.  Some may act in a manner that is willfully malicious; others will make mistakes in the pressure of the moment.  Certainly there are reasons to seek improved training, and to advocate for reforms of our justice system.  But to paint every officer of the law as inherently biased or unjust is narrow-minded and unfair.  Rather, I believe that we must work together within our communities to create an atmosphere of love AND justice for all.

In this week's Torah portion, VaYeshev, we find the interesting tale of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar.   If you're interested in the full story, you can read it in Genesis 38, or here.  Tamar finds that she must resort to trickery in order to make Judah grant her what is rightfully hers.  When she proves her claim in court, Judah is left to admit, tzadkah mimeni, "She is more righteous than me."

But what works in the Torah does not always work in real life.  For no one of us is more righteous, more deserving of justice and liberty than another.  Until we make that realization and until we each embody that principle in each and every one of our interactions with one another, true justice cannot be served.

We can't breathe.  Our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends cannot breathe.  And we are all noge'a ba-davar.  It is incumbent upon us to demand change.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Embracing the Subjunctive

Embracing the Subjunctive
Yom Kippur 5775
October 4, 2014
Rabbi Alan Cook
Sinai Temple, Champaign, IL

I recently watched a TED talk by a teacher of classic languages named Phuc Tran, titled “Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive.”  While the topic sounds dry, Tran made a fascinating argument about how grammar shapes our perspective of the world.  Tran, who emigrated with his family from Vietnam in the 1970s, explains that the subjunctive mood, while prevalent in English expression, is not present in Vietnamese.  This gives Tran access to a worldview and a means of expressing himself that is not available to his other family members who never fully assimilated into English language and culture.

         As Tran describes the subjunctive (and I don’t claim to be conversant enough in the technical intricacies of English or Vietnamese grammar to affirm whether his premise is entirely accurate), it is the mood that expresses a possibility, or the conditional nature of an action.  The indicative mood in English is the one that describes an actual action: “I am giving a sermon right now.”  The imperative is one that makes a command or request: “Sit back, relax, and pay attention.”  And the subjunctive wavers in-between, used in statements that do not describe known, objective facts: “I fear this might take a while.”  Tran confesses that at times he has found the subjunctive to be dangerously disheartening, as it can lead one to dwell on “what might have been.”  He makes reference to a Gallup poll that was conducted in 2011 that found that residents of Vietnam were among the most content in the world, and posits that this might be because their language shields them from grappling with the subjunctive.

         But I think that it is the subjunctive that gives purpose and meaning to our lives.  Particularly during these High Holy Days, when we are challenged to engage in introspection, we need the subjunctive to help us envision opportunities for the future.  The process of teshuvah requires us to live in the subjunctive world of possibility: May we keep far from evil in the coming year, may we resist the temptation to do things that we know are wrong or hurtful.  Were we to ignore this potential for change, were we to eliminate the subjunctive from our liturgy and from our personal atonement, we would lose the depth and nuance that make these High Holidays so essential to our spiritual growth, we would deny ourselves the opportunity to see the world as it might be, rather than settling for the status quo.

We are commanded on this Day of Atonement to afflict ourselves; the Torah states: “V’anitem et nafshoteichem; you shall afflict your souls.”[1]  .  For most, this means engaging in the fasting that has become so closely associated with this day.  But the rabbis defined other forms of “affliction”: abstaining from sexual relations, avoiding washing or bathing, not wearing perfume or ointments, and shunning leather shoes and garments.  By refraining from these items and activities, they theorized, we could focus more acutely on our needs and the needs of those around us.  We could live for a moment in the land of the subjunctive, our eyes opened to the chances for change within ourselves, and to the possibility of helping to make the world a better place.

Isaiah, whose prophecy we read from as our Haftarah for this morning, recognized that in his day, people were following the letter of the law by engaging in the prescribed fast.  However, they were ignoring the spirit of the mitzvah.  They were failing to live in the subjunctive moment, failing to imagine how their affliction could awaken them toward empathy for their fellow Israelites.  Isaiah declares, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”[2]

When we permit our imaginations to take us into the realm of the subjunctive, to imagine things as they might be, we may be inspired to heed Isaiah’s call.  We may come to believe that we can truly make a difference in the life of others, and improve the world in the process.

In November of last year, my friend and colleague Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr posted a Facebook message that was as intriguing as it was cryptic: “Looking for 36 brave rabbis.”  I messaged her back, asking if she was looking for nominations or volunteers, and quickly was drawn in to the scheme she had devised: 36 rabbis would agree to shave their heads for the sake of raising funds and awareness for pediatric cancer.  The project was conceived in honor of Sammy Sommer, the eight-year-old son of my dear friends and classmates Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, who was then battling leukemia.  Those of us who signed up for the project—which eventually grew to more than 75 participants—were moved not only by our love for the Sommer family, but also by our belief that our minor sacrifice could have a major impact.

Shaving a head, of course, does not directly lead to a cure for cancer.  If it did, I’m sure that all barbers would have lines out the door.  Sammy died in December, and our endeavor was transformed from being in his honor to being in his memory. 

After Sammy’s death, any one of us could have pulled out of the venture.  To be honest, my own family wasn’t thrilled with the idea of my impending baldness. They understood and embraced the cause, but weren’t so happy with the shave itself.   But, as one of my colleagues noted, hair grows back; children don’t.  My belief in the world of the subjunctive was one of the things that cemented my involvement—my conviction that our efforts could create a world of possibility so that other families would not have to endure the pain and heartbreak that the Sommers had felt.

On April 1, when I stood on stage with my colleagues and the shave began, a flood of emotions washed over me.   I felt a mixture of love, sadness, and pride.  I knew that I had just been involved in something very important, possibly world changing, because we had dared to wander into the world of the subjunctive, the world of potential.  We were able to project what might happen if drug therapies were developed that were designed specifically for pediatric cancers, rather than relying on toxic cocktails developed for and tested on adults.  We were able to envision that the 43 children who are diagnosed daily with pediatric cancer could have hope of growing into healthy adults, without residual side effects from their childhood treatments.  We had no way of knowing whether the money we raised would be sufficient to fund the research toward finding a cure, but that did not prevent us from dreaming big.  To date, our campaign has raised over $650,000 through the St. Baldrick’s fundraising community, and we continue to accept donations at least through the close of this calendar year.

Money, prayer, outpourings of love—none of these could bring Sammy back, no matter how fervently we wished it were possible.  But through my involvement with St. Baldrick’s and with this project, I learned the stories of other children battling cancer.  Through my work with all of you, I have learned additional stories of loss, of struggle, of suffering, and of survival.  And I am strengthened in my resolve that we must continue to work toward a cure for cancer, for Alzheimer’s, for Parkinson’s and for the myriad of other ailments that are so devastating to our families and our communities.  I am emboldened in my belief that we can change the world for the better, and I find encouragement within the realm of the subjunctive.

The Hebrew term Tikkun Olam—literally, “repair of the world,” is often used to describe such deeds of social action.  As Jews, we believe that we have both the opportunity and the obligation to perfect the world, to help fulfill God’s original vision for creation.  It’s not an easy task, but it’s a rewarding one.

On Thursday, I met with a group of clergy, laypeople, and social service professionals as part of an interfaith alliance that we are attempting to put together in Champaign-Urbana.  Our plan is to utilize the collective strength of our congregations and institutions to bring about positive changes in our communities.  We hope to address issues such as poverty and homelessness, sustainability and the environment, and children and family issues in order to work for the common good.  Among our first undertakings will be exploring how we can help to ensure that emergency shelter spaces are sufficient to meet the needs of the homeless during the cold winter months.  As our group evolves, I hope that many from Sinai Temple will embrace our undertakings.  We believe that our various faiths have the common goal of helping the less fortunate in our midst, and we believe in our ability to make a difference.  That’s the power of the subjunctive.

Here at Sinai Temple, there are many opportunities to engage in Social Action.  Of course we have our annual High Holiday food drive today, benefitting the Eastern Illinois Food Bank.  Through your generosity, we donated over $5,000 and 500 pounds of food last year; we hope to meet or exceed that amount this year.  Hunger and poverty continue to plague our community, with more than 22% of children in Champaign County living below the poverty line.

Our ongoing partnership with the Atlanta Bread Company allows us to share their extra baked goods every Monday with the residents of the TIMES Center.  When you leave Temple today, you may wish to take with you either “Mitzvah Bags” or “Comfort Bags,” which are found by the front door.  Mitzvah Bags contain non-perishable snacks; Comfort bags contain toiletries.  Our Religious School students packed these bags last spring as part of the Jewish community’s Good Deeds Day.  The intent is that you keep them in your car; when you encounter an individual who is in need of assistance, you may distribute the bags instead of cash, and help to brighten his or her day.

We are gearing up for our next Mitzvah Day, which will take place on Sunday morning, November 2.  Our Social Action committee is hard at work lining up Tikkun Olam opportunities; watch for a link to the sign-up website in Monday’s email blast.  There you will be able to register for great projects, including donating blood with Community Blood Services, or getting your cheek swabbed so that you may be added to the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry.  There are options for people of all ages.  Join with us to make a difference; help us to transform the world as it is into the world as it should be.

There will be a number of other Social Action projects throughout the year. On Thanksgiving, your generous donations will help us provide full turkey dinners to clients of Family Services.  During the winter holidays, we’ll again deliver Meals on Wheels.  In January, we’ll collect funds to support local scholarships in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; last year Sinai Temple raised nearly $3500 for this worthy cause, which is a congregational record.  Our Social Action committee is always welcoming new participants and new ideas for engagement with the community as we strive to make a difference.

Making a difference is, I believe, our highest calling.  If we spend our lives focused only on our own needs and desires, and don’t interact with this world, then we are not, in my opinion, living up to our fullest potential.

There is a story- a folktale claimed simultaneously by many cultures.  It tells of a wise sage who was approached by a boy seeking to test his wisdom.  The boy stood with his hands behind his back and said, “In my hands, I hold a bird.  Tell me, sir, is the bird alive or dead?”

The sage pondered the question for quite some time.  He realized that the boy was trying to trap him.  He knew that if he said the bird was alive, the boy would crush the creature in his hands and reveal that it was dead.  If he answered that the bird was dead, the boy would open his hands and release the bird to the winds. 

At last the sage spoke. “My son,” he said, “I do not know the condition of the bird.  But I do know this.  You hold the answer in your hands, in your hands.”

In this New Year, we hold in our hands a world of possibility, an opportunity to truly make a difference.  May we each have the courage to respond to the challenge, to enter the realm of the subjunctive, and in so doing, may we change the world for the better.

[1] Leviticus 32:23
[2] Isaiah 58:6-7

Erev Yom Kippur 5775

Erev Yom Kippur 5775
October 3, 2014
Rabbi Alan Cook
Sinai Temple, Champaign, IL

In early August, as rockets from Gaza were being fired steadily into Israel, I saw a post on Facebook.  A friend of a friend, living in Tel Aviv, had been forced to go into his apartment building’s bomb shelter in the middle of the night.  The man’s wife and daughter had been mortified that he had worn a flimsy t-shirt and ratty black boxer shorts when he knew they might encounter friends and neighbors, and so he was inquiring (after-the-fact) about appropriate miklat-wear.  Was his chosen outfit, he asked, appropriate in the given situation?

The post was clearly only half-serious, intended to bring a bit of levity to an extremely upsetting and tense situation.   The man’s friends egged him on, urging him to wear even skimpier clothing were he to find himself in a similar situation in the future.  Though I would not comment myself, I did find myself getting more and more upset as I continued thinking about the situation.  No, I determined, the outfit was not acceptable; no outfit is acceptable, for no Israeli citizen should be expected to tolerate these ongoing attacks engineered by the terrorists of Hamas who will not rest until they see Israel destroyed.

It’s unacceptable that in her 66 years of existence, Israel has continually been drawn into defensive campaigns against its enemies at such a great price that there is hardly a family among her eight million citizens that has not been impacted in some way by a wartime casualty.

It’s unacceptable that when preschoolers and kindergartners in Israel hear the words tzeva adom they think not of the color red in their crayon boxes but of cowering with their classmates in reinforced bunkers.

It’s unacceptable that the so-called “leadership” in Gaza has spent money and energy stockpiling weapons, building underground tunnels designed solely to facilitate deadly terror attacks on the civilian population of a sovereign nation, leaving the citizens of Gaza to live in squalor and insecurity while they rule by proxy from the comfort of a luxury suite in Qatar.

It’s unacceptable that the media and the court of public opinion deride Israel’s every move, trotting out anti-Semitic canards and misplaced buzzwords like “genocide” and “apartheid.”

It’s unacceptable that the United Nations, established in the hopes of creating a level playing field for all peoples and nations, continues to isolate, marginalize, and condemn Israel, including twenty-one anti-Israel resolutions during 2013, while countries such as China, Syria, and Iraq- rife with violations of human rights and personal liberties- garner no such attention.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  Israel’s enemies and critics have become more vociferous, and instead of reasoned critiques that might stem from disagreement over the policies of the Netanyahu government, the legitimacy of her very existence is being called into question.

Let me be clear: my heart breaks for the citizens of Gaza who have been caught in the crossfire of this conflict.  I feel great pain for their situation, and mourn the innocent civilians who have been killed or injured.  But unlike those who have chosen to be public faces of the pro-Palestinian movement, such as Roger Waters and Desmond Tutu and Javier Bardem; and those who have chosen to embrace the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, I know that I can feel compassion toward Gazans without finding it necessary to tear down Israel. 

This spring, when I began to decide on my sermon topics for the High Holidays, I knew that I wanted to give a sermon about Israel.  I hoped that I would tell you about the country’s beauty and its importance to our people throughout our history.  I planned to invite you to come with me and my family on our congregational trip this summer- a trip which I still strongly encourage you to join.  Perhaps I would have touted the many technological innovations that Israel has introduced to the world, or spoken about Israeli contributions in the fine arts.  If I’d wanted to confront more difficult issues, maybe I would have mentioned the struggle for Jewish pluralism and women’s religious rights.  Yet while I am thankful that the truce seems to be holding and the rockets have stopped, at least for the time being, I know I cannot give the Israel sermon I initially sat down to write.

The purpose of a sermon or other public speech is to inform, to educate, and perhaps to be persuasive enough to win over a listener to the speaker’s point of view.  In this case, however, I know that the battle is not likely to be won through skilled rhetoric. People are pretty steadfast in their positions and have already chosen sides.

So the vast majority of you have already formulated your opinions on Israel, and the information I offer here in the next few moments probably will not garner converts to a different point of view.  Perhaps some of you will be upset with me for choosing to speak about Israel this evening.  Perhaps you question the connection between Yom Kippur and Israel; perhaps you feel that American Jewry has its own issues without coming involved in Israeli affairs; perhaps you have other reasons why the mention of Israel elicits an uncomfortable response.  After all, according to the Pew study on Judaism, released last year, 30% of American Jews do not feel an attachment to Israel, and up to 57% disagreed with the statement that Israel is an essential part of Jewish life.[1] 

But wherever your personal feelings on Israel may lie, I hope that you will hear me out.  For I believe that Israel remains vitally important to the Jewish people, and that there is much that the world can learn from her.

Much of the media, particularly during this summer’s escalation, has tended to portray Israel as the primary aggressor.  But throughout Israel’s existence, this has rarely- if ever- been the case.  In 1948, Arab armies attacked just after Israel’s declaration of independence, with the belief that they could destroy the new state before it could ever gain a foothold.  In 1967’s Six Day War, Israel did launch the first formal strike, but that came only after Egypt’s President Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran and Iraqi and Jordanian forces had amassed along the Jordanian border.  And on Yom Kippur 41 years ago, the Arab states launched attacks on Israel purposely timed to coincide with the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.  Similarly, this summer, Israel felt compelled to respond when its citizens came under a constant barrage of rocket fire.  Surely, we in C-U would not sit idle while under constant attack from Gifford or Cerro Gordo.

Still, many writers and pundits argue that Israel responded inappropriately.  They use terms such as “disproportionate force,” and point to the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian casualties.  Yair Lapid, Israel’s Finance Minister, noted in a speech given in Germany back in August that Israel’s “moral test … is to continue to distinguish between enemies and innocents…People sit in their comfortable homes, watching the evening news, and tell us that we are failing the test.  Why?  Because in Gaza, people suffer more.  They don’t understand – or don’t want to understand – that the suffering of Gaza is the main tool of evil.  When we explain to them, time after time, that Hamas uses the children of Gaza as human shields, that Hamas intentionally places them in the firing line to ensure that they die, that Hamas sacrifices the lives of the young to win its propaganda war, people refuse to believe it. Why? Because they cannot believe that human beings – human beings who look like them and sound like them – are capable of behaving that way.  Because good people always refuse to recognize the totality of evil until it’s too late.”[2]

As Lapid notes, we find that each side in this conflict emphasizes different priorities.  Israel was able to greatly minimize the number of deaths on its side thanks to tremendous infrastructure investments in bomb shelters and in the Iron Dome missile defense system, both of which served to insulate Israeli civilians from the attacks.  The leadership in Gaza, on the other hand, elected to invest its money in stockpiling weapons and building a network of tunnels into Israel, through which they intended to kidnap, attack, maim, or kill Israelis.  An estimated 600,000 tons of concrete were diverted to build these tunnels at an estimated cost, in both parts and labor, of nearly ninety million dollars.[3]   Had this money been used instead to provide opportunities for the citizens of Gaza—to fund education and infrastructure projects, and to restore hope to a downtrodden community—this summer’s events could have unfolded much differently. 

Some will still protest that Israel’s bombing raids unfairly targeted civilian areas.  While there is believed to have been some discrepancy in the reporting of Gazan casualties,[4] it is of course, extremely lamentable that any loss of life was incurred during this summer’s battles.  But to suggest that the Israel Defense Forces attacked haphazardly, that they sought to escalate the death toll in any way, again distorts the reality of the situation.  As has now been widely reported, and even acknowledged by the United Nations (an institution that is frequently quite critical of Israel), the IDF regularly provided advanced warnings of attacks in an effort to allow civilians to clear the area.[5]  That many chose to stay, heeding the urgings of Hamas leadership, testifies to the mindset of the Hamas commanders.  Their endgame has little to nothing to do with freedom, self-determination, peace, and security for the citizens of Gaza.  They are driven instead by a desire to maintain the struggle, for doing so keeps them in power, and bolsters their image as heroes or martyrs.

Another argument that is frequently heard regarding casualties in Gaza holds that since Gaza is so densely populated, civilians had no place else to go.  Gaza is indeed a small country, but as Alan Dershowitz and others have noted,[6] there are open areas away from population centers.  Hamas fighters chose not to do battle from these locations, and continually discouraged civilians from fleeing to these locations.  Instead, they repeatedly fired from civilian areas, including schools and hospitals, which is not only a violation of international law, but is also morally indefensible.

My outrage is directed toward Hamas and its combatants.  This is not a group of intrepid freedom fighters engaged in civil disobedience in a battle for self-determination, despite attempts of the media to portray them in that light.  Hamas is a terrorist organization, designated as such by the European Union, the United States, Canada, and several other countries.  In contrast, I do feel empathy for the citizens of Gaza.  I pray that they will have the opportunity to live in peace alongside their Israeli neighbors.  I still cling to the belief that there can be two states whose rulers recognize and respect the right of the other to exist.  And I hope that a resolution can be found soon, so that our children, the children of Israel, and the children of Palestine can be spared the pain and frustration of repeating the same conversations.

So, somehow, Hamas must be removed from the equation.  And the world must understand that Israel’s struggles against Hamas are not isolated battles to protect Israeli interests; they are part of the global fight against terror.  Though they may bear different names and fight on different fronts, all of the groups who have made headlines in the past year for kidnappings, beheadings, rapes, executions, and other violent acts purportedly carried out in the name of Allah—all these groups are essentially one and the same.  Ignore the threat of Hamas—or of Hezbollah, which is strengthening its presence in Lebanon—and we risk watching their counterparts in Islamic Jihad, Boko Haram, and ISIS grow in strength and tenacity.  As Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Monday in his speech to the United Nations, “When militant Islam succeeds anywhere, it’s emboldened everywhere. When it suffers a blow in one place, it’s set back in every place.  That’s why Israel’s fight against Hamas is not just our fight. It’s your fight.”[7]  Radicalized, jihadist Islam—a perverse distortion of normative, moderate Muslim beliefs—represents an existential threat to us all.

To me, Yom Kippur is a time to look toward the future, to envision the change that we want to make in ourselves and the difference we want to make in the world, and then to take the necessary steps to bring those changes to fruition.  As we improve our society and ourselves, we renew hope and opportunity for future generations.

I want my children, and your children, and all the children of earth to inherit a world of peace and possibility, in which problems are solved not through violence but through dialogue, in which the inherent worth of every individual is appreciated and celebrated.  In the world I dream of, Israel will live in security with her neighbors, and terror will exist only in ghost stories and Hollywood slasher films.  This is my prayer for the people of Israel, this is my prayer for the people of Gaza, this is my prayer for the whole world.

There are no easy answers to these issues.  Certainly, I’d encourage continued support of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.  Buy Israeli goods, use Israeli technologies (which are already relatively ubiquitous), or travel to Israel yourself.

Advocate and agitate for peaceful resolutions to this ongoing conflict.  As I mentioned, I still hold out hope that a two-state solution can be possible, and that democracy and cooperation can create a rapprochement in the Middle East.  This will require compromise on both sides, which I believe should begin with a freeze on further Israeli settlement construction, and a reconceptualization of the right of return for Arab refugees.

We are B’nai Yisrael, the children of Israel, descendants of the one who wrestled and struggled.  We continue to struggle; we continue to debate how best to engage with the land with whom we share a name and an identity.  May we continue to struggle, may we continue to engage, until that day—may it come soon—when peace shall prevail.

Oseh ha-shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel, v’imru: Amen.  May the One Who makes peace in the heavens, cause peace to descend upon us, upon Israel, and upon all who dwell on earth, and let us say: Amen.