Thursday, October 8, 2020

Eternal Hope, Yom Kippur 20


I believe Messiah has already come.  Actually, two messiahs.  And no, not the loaves and fishes guy, and not, for those of you who like nerdy Jewish references, not Shabbetai Zvi. No, I believe they were Theodor Herzl and David ben-Gurion.  I can give the rest of that sermon another time – very quickly, Jewish tradition offers the idea that when the messiah comes, first there will be Moshiach ben Yosef, kind of a preliminary messiah, and then Moshiach ben David, the actual messiah.  Furthermore, it is not at all necessary that in coming the messiah does any miraculous things.  In fact, one of the key things the messiah needs to do is bring the Jews back to an Israel not subservient to any other power.  Hence – and truly, this is serious for me, they were the messiahs.  No fanfare, no smoke, but making the miraculous, the nearly impossible come to be. 

Because Israel is the realization of a dream.  A dream made reality.  Not always pretty, not always perfect, but a dream, that a miracle would come to pass.  And that miracles don’t require a thunderbolt from on high, they can be brought about by courageous and willing human hands.

The hands of those with dream.  For what do dreams do?  The best dreams inspire us.  Give us hope.   The world today needs more of it.  While Judaism shapes the outline of my dreams, looking to Israel reminds me dreams can become reality, with all that reality implies about being imperfect and in progress – but a dream realized, nonetheless.  That hope extends to my feelings about Israel and the Middle East, to the rest of the world, and back to us here, and even to withinside us – here. 

There is so much terrible in our lives now – the ongoing stress and danger of Covid-19.  The passing of an exemplary American Jew in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  xamples of miscarried justice as we only just saw in the Breonna Taylor case.  The killing of police officers, civilians, rioting and destruction, that have marred what should have been the patriotic and time-honored American tradition of civil disobedience.  All terrible.  All can cause us to want to give up hope. 

It is said Franz Rosenzweig, the great German Jewish philosopher was on his way to convert to Christianity when he decided to attend Kol Nidrei services.  Hearing the prayer’s haunting melody and its message, directed precisely at Jews like him, who, for whatever reason may feel they had to hide or give up their Jewish identity, and declaring they, too, are beloved by God and part of the Jewish People – Rosenzweig abandoned his previous plan and had what would prove to be a historic change of heart. 

Kol Nidrei which we only just heard, is a call inviting us, however and whyever we may feel distanced from God, that even if we’ve suffered physically or emotionally, even if had to give up or hide our faith, that it is never too late. 

As Americans, this should offer us hope.  The very real troubles of our country can, with effort, with a dream, be overcome.  And yet, as challenging as the trouble in our lives may be, we mustn’t let them blind us to the truly horrible suffering of others around the world.  And for us as Jews, some of that suffering we should feel ourselves forbidden to ignore. 

Around the world in Asia, in a part of China the Han Chinese call Xinjiang, and which is locally called East Turkestan, the systematic persecution, oppression and even murder of the Uighur community is taking place, even right now.  Something like a million members of this Turkic ethnic group have been put in concentration camps.  Some have been sterilized.  Some have had organs taken from them.  Islam, the religion practiced by most of them, has been suppressed.  Mosques destroyed, Uighurs forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.  Han Chinese have increasingly moved into the area as part of an effort to erase the local culture. 

If you want to talk about modern-day parallels to the Jews’ experience in the Holocaust, this is it.  If you want to talk about a dream to help realize, to help make your own, this should be one of them.  And it is with pride we should note that various Jewish organizations, such as Jewish World Watch and the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice (named after and led by the family of Holocaust survivor, the late congressman Tom Lantos) along with others, are already working to help these people.  To devote even some of our energy, a part of our dreams for a better world to helping the Uighurs would be bringing a miracle into the world. 

And it needn’t be with despair that we look on such a situation in Asia, or any of the challenges we face here.  Wherever we look, we can find examples of hard-fought and hard-won hope worthy of inspiring us. 

We saw the Justice Ginsburg lying in repose at the Supreme Court and in state at the Capitol Building.  Saw for the first time a rabbi speak words of comfort and praise, recite prayers in Hebrew, in that most American of settings.  That should be a sign of hope – for any American Jew that should be stirring. 

And if you want to look for signs of large-scale, region-changing, dreams coming true on a historic scale – look to what has been happening with Israel, that constant source of hope for us as Jews.  While Israel struggles with internal political dissension, and a permanent peace with the Palestinians is yet to be had, it cannot be described as anything short of miraculous to see Israel open relations with the United Arab Emirates and with Bahrain.  To already be quietly achieving detente and even cooperation with Saudi Arabia.  And likely to open diplomatic ties with other Arab countries such as Kuwait, Oman, even The Sudan, if stories in the press are to be believed.  So many thought that such a normalization of relations with countries once pledged to Israel’s destruction would never come unless what’s always been called The Peace Process was resolved first.  Now it may very well be that what brings the Peace Process finally to a close, will be the normalization of relations between Israel and precisely those countries who once sought or supported efforts to destroy it. 

Now – the lesson we should derive from all this.  Has everything been perfect regarding the tributes to Justice Ginsburg, certainly as Jews, we can be proud to see how she has been honored, but as Americans we also all know that for such a public and influential person, political fighting would also be part of how she was eulogized and rembered.  Perfect?  Impossible for it to be.  Inspiring?  Certainly – that a woman and a Jew could be honored so, that’s a dream realized.

And the same is true regarding Israel.  Are these agreements ironclad?  Probably not.  Is it surprising how they came about?  Most certainly?  Are there others challenges and less than perfect aspects to these breakthroughs?  Without a doubt.  But even so, you cannot deny that for all who hope Israel can live in peace and with good relations to all those around it, we cannot but be hopeful. 

These then, are the lessons we must take away. Hope in difficult times springs from dreams of a better world, of our own better selves.  Dreams that we refuse to abandon no matter how long it takes to realize them or what challenges we must overcome.  Hope comes from fighting hard to make those dreams reality.  And dreams of hope may one day bring about reality changing miracles – that won’t make the world perfect but make it better.  That won’t happen through supernatural intervention but because some Austrian journalist (Herzl), some girl from Brooklyn (Ginsburg) some daughter of a congressman (Katrina Lantos-Swett) has the chutzpah to think they can make a difference in the world. 

Let all of us go forward from this place and into the New Year, and make our own chutzpadik dreams of miracles realized happen in our lives. 

G’mar Chatimah Tovah

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