Friday, November 21, 2014

Thoughts on the Violence in Israel this Week

A story about two yeshiva students assaulted in Israel is breaking as I write this post:

In college, a Jewish Studies professor I had told the story of how he once attended a program at which spoke people who had saved Jews during World War II.  Each person was impressive, a real hero, but one made a distinct impression on my teacher.  Most of those who spoke connected their actions to a personal connection they had - they had Jewish friends, they worked for a Jewish business, etc.  One speaker though, a nun, said regarding her reason for helping, "I didn't really know any Jews, I didn't even particularly like them, but I felt like it was against my religion to see people suffer and be killed and so as a Christian, I had to act."

In this past week, I have been touched by the way we as Jews are so closely connected to each other.  How we do experience horrific attacks like that which took place in Har Nof this week as "personal" because in a way they really are.  To think that a bookstore owner I knew was lifelong friends with one of the murdered rabbis or that a congregant's family is married into the family of another's, is striking and makes the attack which took place during morning minyan and which I first learned of on my way to morning minyan, all the more personal.

But then I also think of Zidan Saif, the Israeli Druze policeman who was killed responding to the attack.  Whose sacrifice saved the lives of others.  Nobody I know knows him.  And yet here was an Israeli, a non-Jew dying to save the lives of Jews, to stop murderers, how can one's heart not go out to such a person?  And how can it not make us pause to consider that our response to such atrocities not be measured by how closely connected or similar we are to those attacked, but how dedicated we should be, and close we should feel to those who love life and truth and peace - no matter what they look like.  And how united and resolute we should be in battling those who are full of hate and violence and death.  

Tomorrow we will recite the prayer announcing a new Jewish month and in that prayer recite one of my favorite lines in the liturgy, chaverim kol yisrael, "all Israel are friends".  No doubt we will all think of how an attack on the Jewish community anywhere in the world feels like an attack on our own, home, communities - because it is.

But I also hope that as we pray those words we will think of something another of my teacher's said.  Rabbi Ira Stone taught that for the classical rabbis, "Israel" didn't so much refer to a Jew, but to a good, a righteous person.  Someone who you admired.  Someone who you sought to become.  

With that meaning in mind, let us pray that  those in the world who aspire to be part of that definition of the House of Israel, all those who are righteous and just, can learn to work together, in a friendship built on their shared values and beliefs, to protect the innocent and stop those who seek to do evil, and make the world the place God wants it to be.   

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Aaron Benson