Saturday, January 19, 2008

Two Rabbis Speak

Rabbi Arik Ascherman shared with us on Saturday afternoon and I came to really appreciate his depth of religious conviction and the power of his social justice witness. Ark has been to Seattle several times on behalf of his organization, Rabbis for Human Rights. He described a wild scene near a checkpoint where he put himself between a young Palestinian boy and Israeli guns. The boy later said he was saved by a tall man in a kepa, which was the first time he'd ever met a Jew who cared about Palestinians.

Asherman described to us his upbringing in the U.S. in which he learned that being a Jew meant being concerned about human rights and social justice. He had two shocks when he came to Israel years ago. First was how hard it was to find a bagel. Second was that fewer Jews than he thought were interested in the importance of human rights for all.

Secular Jews tend to be more interested in human rights, Ascherman indicated, and religious Jews (who tend to be conservative) are more often "particularists" who believe that God's interest in well-being for humans is intended only for his Chosen People. The purpose of Rabbis for Human Rights, which includes hundreds of rabbis in Israel, is to promote the foundational Israeli values of freedom, justice and peace in contemporary Israel.

To Ascherman both sides have work to do to make peace. Palestinians must learn that violence destroys the peace process. Israelis must learn likewise that settlements destroy the peace process. Clearly Ascherman feels as well that Israeli Judaism must get back in touch with the Talmudic tradition that mandates a person allow themselves to be killed before killing an innocent person. He feels the best way to create peace is to build a truly just society. Thank God for the Rabbi Arik Aschermans of the world.

After meeting with Rabbi Ascherman we attended synagogue, led by the first ordained female rabbi in Israel (wish I remembered her name). Jet lag was kicking in, though, and to be honest my Hebrew is so poor I couldn't keep up with the service at all. Afterwards we joined Rabbi Barry, his wife Julie and their three beautiful young daughters for Shabbat dinner. My first ever in a Jewish household.

I think Barry and Julie's perspectives on peace were a little more mainstream Israeli. Barry's feeling is that Israel has never provoked the Palestinians, but that it has always been the Palestinians who initiated conflict. Hank Landau, one of our little group of four at the Shabbat dinner, pointed out the problem of the settlements, themselves a provocation. From that we launched into a heated but friendly conversation about peace in Israel-Palestine. I wish I had a picture to share, but Barry reminded me that in their home they do not create anything on Sabbath, even a photo. Our group came away with an appreciation for the joys and pains of being Israeli.


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