Friday, July 31, 2015

אוֹי-נָא לָנוּ כִּי חָטָאנוּ -- Woe unto us, for we have sinned (Lamentations 5:16)

I went to sleep last night distressed because an Israeli man who wears the garb of a pious Jew stabbed six participants in the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade yesterday. I woke up this morning to learn that overnight, Jewish terrorists who also wear the garb of pious Jews set fire to a Palestinian home in the West Bank, burning alive an 18 month old baby and severely injuring several other members of the same family.  On the walls of the house the attackers spray painted Hebrew graffiti, one saying “Revenge” and the other saying “Long Live King Mashiach.”

The attack on the Gay Pride parade is almost unfathomable in that the exact same assailant had done the exact same thing ten years earlier. He was convicted, sentenced to 12 years in prison, and was released three months ago, early, for good behavior (as is the norm in Israeli prisons.) I do not understand how the Israeli Police, knowing of his past behavior, that he was unrepentant, and knowing of the Gay Pride parade and its route, let this person within 100 yards of the parade. It’s simply shocking.

The arson attack unfortunately came as no surprise. It is part of a series of “Price Tag” attacks which an extremist fringe of radical settlers conduct every time a government or court decision goes against them when they seek to build on privately-owned Arab land and so on. While the fact that Israel remains a country of laws and that therefore court decisions often do go against the settlers is cause for pride, nevertheless the quiet toleration and looking the other way when these kinds of attacks occur is simply not acceptable.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has forcefully condemned both of these attacks, and I absolutely believe his condemnations are sincere. Nevertheless, there are parties and Knesset members within his coalition that tolerate if not actively encourage this type of violence. For example, earlier this week Motti Yogev, a Knesset Member from the “Jewish Home” party which is part of the governing coalition, called for the Supreme Court building to be bulldozed after it ruled against the expansion of the Bet El settlement. Although his words were condemned, no further action has been taken nor is any contemplated.

Today is Tu b’Av, the (very minor) Jewish holiday which celebrates love. Tomorrow morning we will read Parshat VaEtchanan which contains the following words:
וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ

While we normally read this as “v’ahavta,” “you shall love the Lord your God,” the Hebrew text as we find it in the Torah scroll has no vowels. Therefore it can also be read as “v’eyhavta,” “you shall cause the Lord your God to be loved.” How do we cause God to be loved? By loving others, gay or straight, Arab or Jew, black or white, native or immigrant, Latino or Anglo, able-bodied or disabled. Unless we love our neighbor we do not love God, no matter what garb we wear.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mexico and the Iranian Nuclear Agreement

Keleigh, Berkeleigh and I returned late Tuesday night from a week’s vacation in Mexico. Our trip was planned well before my recent illness and surgery. We had considered cancelling -- I always buy trip insurance -- but my surgeon said there was no reason to cancel and in fact, swimming in the Caribbean would be good for my recovery and for the healing of the surgical incision.

I do lots of research before travelling to any destination and I spent a good deal of time on the discussion boards for the Yucatan Peninsula, the area of Mexico to which we travelled. The amount of fear and misinformation floating around is just extraordinary. People are told that travel to anywhere in Mexico is extremely dangerous; or that it’s OK to go there as long as you don’t leave your resort (the resorts are gated and have their own security). People are advised not to rent a car because the roads are terrible, the police will stop you and demand bribes, and the rental car companies will cheat you.

While there is a lot of violence in Mexico, most of it is fighting between rival drug-smuggling gangs and takes place in areas near the US-Mexico border, over 2000 miles away from where we were. Advising someone to avoid all of Mexico because of violence in Juarez is like advising someone to avoid all of the United States because of violence in Chicago. Playa del Carmen and the rest of the Riviera Maya is incredibly safe, certainly much safer than most US urban areas. We rented a car and explored up and down the Caribbean coast, went shopping in Mexican department stores like Chedraui and Soriana, and even had dinner at the home of a worker at our resort whom we befriended. All of this was aided by the fact that I still remember much of my high school and college Spanish, but I am sure we would have had just as much fun and just as enlightening experience even if I didn’t.

The point of all this is to say that one is generally better off making decisions from a basis of actual knowledge rather than fear or misinformation. Over the next 60 days the US Congress will be called upon to affirm or reject the recent agreement between Iran and the six major world powers. It doesn’t surprise me, but it does disappoint me, that so many organizations had reached a position either for or against the agreement even before the ink was dry.

There is really no reason for you to look to your rabbi for advice about a nuclear weapons treaty, as I have no particular expertise in this area (it was not covered in the rabbinical school curriculum in the early 1980s when I was in school). I will tell you that at first glance the fact that the Iranians will receive notice before inspectors visit their facilities raises some serious concerns -- as one CNN commentator put it, “how many violations would the Health Department find if they had to give restaurants advance notice of inspections?” But other articles I’ve read point out that nuclear facilities are not like restaurant kitchens and if something is happening which isn’t supposed to happen, the evidence can’t be just hidden in a few hours or days.

Most of the smartest commentary from folks like Jeffrey Goldberg, Aaron David Miller, and Robert Satloff has been ambivalent. Is the deal a disaster? No. Is it perfect? No. Will failure to ratify it lead inevitably to war? No. Is it better than no deal at all? Maybe.

My plea and my prayer as you consider your own position, and as you consider your communications with Sens. Cardin and Mikulski and Rep. Delaney, is that you read as much as you can from knowledgeable and reputable sources. And that we all keep our eye on the prize -- no one on either side of the debate wants to see Iran get a nuclear weapon. Those with whom you disagree want the same thing as you, they just differ with you on the best way to achieve it. Let’s keep the discussion civil in the days and weeks ahead.