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Kol Nidre 5775

Kol Nidre – 5775

“Tomorrow Better Than Yesterday” October 3, 2014

~Rabbi Jamie Gibson

This summer in Jerusalem, I became a junkie. Wait, maybe I could phrase that better. A news junkie. After Hamas began firing missiles into Israel, day and night, I found myself chained to my computer and the Israeli news channels.

Every day, the headlines were similar: Dozens of rockets fired into Israel. Few, if any, casualties, because of the Iron Dome missile defense system. Israel responds, targeting terror infrastructure. Some terrorists killed along with many civilians, despite warnings. In the end, more than 2,000 Palestinians fighters and civilians died along with 70 Israeli soldiers and civilians.

It was tragic that civilians died in such numbers. But war is fought where the fighters are and Hamas intentionally chose to put its headquarters and firing capacities near hospitals, schools and apartment buildings. Civilian deaths were certain to occur.

Terribly sad and frustrated, I returned home. Back in America I saw coverage of a completely different war, with banner headlines like, Israel Air Attacks Batter Gaza; Dozens of Civilian Casualties.

My sadness turned to anger. Didn’t Americans know about the wanton murder of the three Israeli teenagers, Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Sha’ar by Hamas agents? And yes, I, along with thousands of Israelis, grieved at the wanton murder of Muhammed Khdeir by Jewish thugs.

But Hamas was sending missiles the length and breadth of the country. They were attempting to infiltrate Israeli communities with commandos from the sea. And, in the most terrifying development, they were emerging from tunnels dug from the Gaza Strip into Israel in order to launch attacks on civilians.

But that’s not how it was reported here. And I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Israel was being accused of war crimes because it could not pinpoint military targets deeply interwoven into population areas. And because Iron Dome prevented Israeli civilian deaths, world opinion was not sympathetic.

No, world sympathy was for the Palestinian civilians who died by the hundreds. I grieved for them, too, though my heart was unmoved by the deaths of Hamas fighters.

While I was at the Hartman Institute, Yossi Klein Halevi, the brilliant journalist and author, was giving his take on the emerging conflict. After another missile filled night, he said that the Israeli Army might have to enter Gaza. I visibly shuddered. He asked what was wrong. I said that Israel’s strength was its live soldiers. And Hamas would counter with its strength, dead children. And I wondered which would prove stronger? World opinion was never in doubt.

Okay, wait a minute. Many of you who read the news know that I shouldn’t even be talking about Israel tonight. From the New York Times to the Jewish Journal to Ha-aretz, we rabbis were warned to put a sock in it and not talk about Israel this year.

We were warned – If we speak on Israel, we would make ourselves a target for whoever disagreed with us, right or left. We would display our naïveté. Worst, we would show the world that we rabbis make bad pundits. So, many rabbis have been scared off talking about Israel. They are taking on other, softer issues this season, like Ferguson, ISIS, global warming or anti- Semitism in Europe. You know, the easy stuff.

Frankly, powerful pieces on Israel have already been given by greater rabbis, writers and teachers than me. Don’t believe me?

Read the Rosh Hashana sermon by Rabbi Richard Block, my colleague at Tiferet-Israel in Cleveland for a fact-by-fact, blow-by-blow defense of Israel’s actions this past summer.

Read the article in Tablet Magazine by former Associated Press reporter, Matti Friedman. He meticulously demonstrates how the press has its own agenda in covering the conflict. He relates how reporters shaped their coverage in line with a pre-formed narrative, which almost always puts Israel in a bad light. This narrative is repeated by hundreds of reporters from dozens of news outlets based in Israel.

Read the article in Israel Today this week by Yossi Klein Halevi in which he bares his soul. He blisters critics who question every move Israel makes. But he feels anguish for the innocent Palestinian lives that were lost as Hamas’ human shields. And yet he refuses to give up hope, writing:

“I am entering Rosh Hashanah committed to doing all I can to defend Israel from those outside our borders who hate and vilify it – and also from those among us who express their twisted love for the Jewish people with hatred for others, who endanger the precious miracle of Israeli democracy.”

Read the words of world famous Israeli writer Amos Oz, a life-long leftist. He demands that fellow Israel’s critics of the war answer two simple questions:

“Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or…kidnap your family? The answers are self- evident.”

So what am I to add? These are all much brighter bulbs than I will ever be.

Instead of offering you my own pronouncement for you to dissect over break fast, I would like to introduce you to a teacher and mentor of mine who you’ve probably never heard of. His name is Dr. Tal Becker. He was born in France to a Moroccan father and an Australian mother. He grew up in Australia and moved to Israel 20 years ago.

Tal Becker holds a Ph.D. from Columbia in international law. He serves as Principal Deputy Legal Adviser at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is a veteran negotiator for Israel. He knows every one of his Palestinian counterparts personally. Tal Becker also knows his Jewish texts. So, I take his views very seriously, not just about this summer’s war, but the entire conflict, more than a century old and counting.

This summer Dr. Becker declared his frustration with rhetoric and slogans masquerading as debate. He said, “We are good at arguing about peace, not talking about it. Someone says, I read an article that says “this.” Someone says: I read an article that says “that.” Most people say that they really like they guy who agrees with what they already thought.”

Tal Becker says that the quickest way to a dead-end is to argue incompatible opposites: “It is suicide if we withdraw from the territories,” is met with “It is suicide if we don’t withdraw from the territories.”

Instead, he asks a simple question to all who want to engage without shouting: How do we turn the volume down on argument and turn it up in our speech? How do we turn diatribe into dialogue?

He proposes we look to our tradition for guidance. From it, Becker says, we learn that the hardest lesson is to accept that it may be more important to get along than to win.

He quotes our Sages from a little known source called the Tosefta to the Talmud, tractate Sandhedrin. There, two rabbis argue about the nature of truth, as to whether it can be divided or it must always be one.

R. Elazar taught: We are to pursue truth as truth, not to divide it. Some truths cannot be divided in half.

R. Shimon ben Korcha retorted: Any place there is truth there is not peace.

Tal Becker concludes that “compromise entails limiting our attachment to our truth!” Why? Because our truth may be incomprehensible to those we are trying to convince. To illustrate, he tells the story of four exhausted mountain climbers from different backgrounds. They are French, British, German and Jewish:

The Frenchman says – I’m thirsty, I must have wine! The Brit says – I’m thirsty, I must have tea!

The German says – I’m thirsty, I must have beer!

The Jewish man says – I’m thirsty, I must have diabetes!

Under the humor? A very different lived reality for each of them. We have to concede the other’s reality, the Palestinian reality, may be beyond our ken. If we do, we might agree that a piece of peace is more valuable than a ton of truth, since a perfect peace is unattainable and there is no total truth, at least in this instance.

Dr. Becker’s bottom line is, what can we do to make the situation better? What can we do today that will make tomorrow better than yesterday?

He’s right. Outrage gets us nowhere. Apathy is inexcusable. Is there anything we can do? To make tomorrow better than yesterday? Tonight, I want to offer three things.

  1. Visit. Visit Israel this year. Many of you have been to Israel, but frankly, most have not. Even a moving film, like “Jerusalem,” shown at the Carnegie Science Center this year, cannot give you the sense, the feel of what the country is actually like and the challenges it faces.

There are many opportunities to visit. The easiest one to is to come with me in December. Sign up at: /connect/join-rabbi-gibson-in-israel-and-prague-and-budapest/. We are going to explore both culture and current events in Israel from December 21-30, over winter break. It is one of the most fascinating programs I have ever put together.

We will experience the breadth of Israeli culture through its food. We will visit our Partnership area in Karmiel-Misgav in the Galilee. We will also visit towns in the South hit so hard during last summer’s war, including S’derot and Asheklon.

We will talk to Israelis – Reform rabbis and common people, Generals and scholars. We will visit our Reform Rabbinical School in Jerusalem as well as my beloved Shalom Hartman Institute. We will hear the story from real people, not glean it from the media. Come experience it with me. We will see “my” Israel, the one that I love, the one that drives me meshuggeh, the Israel that I can’t stay away from.

Frankly, the tourism industry in Israel has been hurt by tour cancellations due to this summer’s war. Coming with me will give you the opportunity of a lifetime, it will help Israel economically, it’s a win-win for everyone!

There is room on the trip and the more people who come, the more discounting of the price I can offer. Register on the website if you would like to come with me to the land of our people. Not Florida, no, the real land of our people!

  1. Fill out the registration form for the World Zionist Congress election. What is it? The World Zionist Congress in Israel represents Jews like you and me living in the Diaspora. It allocates in Israel the tzedaka money we raise here. It also helps set policies to advocate our values in Israeli life.

You know that Reform Judaism is not officially recognized in Israel. I cannot function as a rabbi there, nor Rabbi Symons. Neither can the more than 150 Reform rabbis who live there. Orthodox synagogues and their rabbis are all paid for by the government. Our movement has to raise

private funds for our institutions. But in addition to our donations, the World Zionist Congress provides our movement with around $20 million dollars per year, though this is a pittance compared with what the Orthodox get.

I would like you not only to register for the election now, I want you to vote in January of next year. I want you to vote for ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. It is this organization alone that fights for Reform rights and support. At the last major meeting of the Zionist General Council, ARZA was able to win support for civil marriage in Israel as well as support for a plan to give greater access to women at the Western Wall plaza. Your votes during the last election made that happen. Voting is your direct way into changing Israel for the better, for our movement and for the kind of Israel we dream of.

Lynn Magid Lazar will be leading a session of tomorrow afternoon’s Yom Kippur Beit Midrash on the importance of this election and will help to make sure you have registered properly. Your vote in this election will help determine our success over the next four years in Israel. Instead of wringing your hands or complaining about the Orthodox establishment, vote in this election and you’ll be amazed at the results. Every one of us over 18 gets a vote. We in Pittsburgh can be heard in Jerusalem if we will just vote for ARZA this year!

  1. The last thing we can do is to learn more. You can come to my session tomorrow on the aftermath of the war in Gaza. The setting will allow us to share our views rather than just listening to me.

You can also read on your own. There are Israeli websites that have abundant news and opinion on them that are free of charge, including: The Times of Israel, Yediot Achranot, or Ynet. These pretty much straddle the center of the political spectrum. There are news sources to the right, like the Jerusalem Post and to the left, like Haaretz. Though these last two limit their content, there is no reason anyone should feel shut out from what is going in Israel.

Finally, I run a weekly Sunday seminar based on the work of the Shalom Hartman Institute called iEngage. It weaves together modern readings from Israelis, traditional Jewish texts and DVD lectures from leading academics and other figures in Israeli society. Our seminars involve learning with a partner, called chevruta learning.

I teach along with guest presenters. There is lively discussion of the issues facing Israel today. Registration is open. The first session for the year is on October 12 from 9:30-11 AM. As of yesterday, I am delighted to announce that this first session will feature Amir Tibon, international correspondent for the Walla news service in Israel. Call my assistant, Judy Kirklin if you want to participate. There is a modest fee for materials.

You belong in the conversation. As my rebbe, teacher, mentor and inspiration, Rabbi David Hartman, z’l, put it, “Israel is too important to leave to the Israelis.” Come in to the pool with me. The water is fine!

This summer Tal Becker said that “Peace happens ‘Jewishly.’” It is less about winning this point or that. Less “How do we hold on the settlements?” than “How do we build a world we both want to raise our families in?” We can’t necessarily achieve peace, but the commandment is to seek and pursue it!”

The challenge, he says, is to create a space in which a different reality can emerge over time, to cultivate a different consciousness.

That said, working for peace is about what we do now, not in the distant future. It is what we do today to make tomorrow better than yesterday. Every small step we take in that direction will bring us closer to that goal, no matter how long it takes, no matter how impossible it looks to us today.

Tal Becker, the hard-headed negotiator of water rights, borders and checkpoints, says, “Peace will be when we spend time perfecting THEIR victory speech and they spend their time perfecting OURS.”

Some will say that this will never happen, that their “victory” speech is a eulogy over Israel and Jewish life in the region, that they will never agree to peace.

But “never” is a long time. Tal Becker says that we are responsible for what we do now, the seeds we plant and, frankly, the budding shoots we uproot. It has never been more apt to quote R. Tarfon famous teaching: Lo aleicha ham’lacha ligmor, v’lo atta ben chorin l’hibateil mimenah. It is NOT required of us to finish the work, but we are not free to desist from it.

Tal Becker’s final question rings in our ears. It will not let us alone: “What will we do to make tomorrow better than yesterday?”

For if we make enough tomorrows better than enough yesterdays, we will achieve our goal of a stable region with Israel at peace within it, even if it takes another 100 years.

A hundred years! In our history, that is just around the corner. A blessing for my great- grandchildren! May all our steps lead us to that place! Your steps! My steps! To reach that day. When tomorrow is better than yesterday forever. And ever. And ever.

Sun, October 1 2023 16 Tishrei 5784