Posts Tagged ‘Kotel’

DIRTY LAUNDRY

Jerusalem and the Second Temple fell to Rome in 70 CE. The Sages saw in this event dirty laundry—what Jews didn’t want to talk about. The tragedy occurred because of sinat chinam—baseless hatred. Not of Rome for Judea but of Jews towards each other. Jews around the globe need to take notice. So do non-Jewish Americans.

Today, discrete groups of haredim—ultra-orthodox Jews—maintain great antipathy towards each other. They unite in their distaste—often hatred—for Modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and secular Jews—the majority of Jews in Israel and the U.S.

The haredim deny Israelis in the Progressive (Reform) and Masorti (Conservative) movements religious equality. In 1948, David Ben Gurion gave this then tiny group full charge of all religious lifecycle events to bring them into his governing coalition. With their high birthrate, the haredim grew far faster than other Israeli Jewish groups. In Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s multi-party coalition, they wield considerable political power. This includes preventing Progressive women from praying at the Kotel (Western Wall) by themselves or with men, wearing tallitot (prayer shawls) and reading from the Torah.

The Jerusalem Post (9-6) reported statements by Shlomo Amar, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, that Reform Jews “… don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat, but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray. They want to desecrate the holy.”

Sinat chinam! Jews seeking religious equality very much observe Shabbat (Friday night and Saturday) and Yom Kippur (beginning this year on September 29 and coincident with Shabbat). Their interpretation and observance of the Law is not that of Rabbi Amar and others in the ultra-Orthodox community—who often contend among themselves regarding minutiae. But it is serious, studious and heartfelt, reflecting a love of Torah along with an embrace of the twenty-first century.

Divisiveness also impacts Israel’s political realm. The left has faded. The far-right now abhors centrists, who prefer a two-state solution given sound security guarantees to a greater Israel disenfranchising Arab citizens—or denying citizenship. Despite statements to the contrary, Netanyahu continues to appease the far-right. This while facing allegations of corruption and his wife Sara’s imminent indictment on corruption charges.

The hatred keeps on coming. Bibi and Sara’s son Yair recently posted on Facebook a cartoon using classic anti-Semitic images of his father’s political foes, including billionaire George Soros and former prime minister Ehud Barak. Yair withdrew the meme but not before it elicited praise from American neo-Nazis.

Israel and world Jewry see Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas—among others—as security or existential threats. The challenges they present must be faced with resolve. But Israel confronts an even greater challenge—disunity.

The U.S. exhibits the same dirty laundry. Liberals and conservatives raise fists and shout each other down. Varying groups claim sole knowledge of civic and religious truth. Each seeks to impose its views on the others.

This week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, offers my favorite biblical verse: “Choose life” (30:19). We possess free will. Using it, we can air our dirty laundry and rid ourselves of its stench. Otherwise, we open ourselves to grave risks as reflected in the words of the cartoonist Walt Kelly’s beloved character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

To all Jews everywhere: L’Shana Tovah—Happy New Year. To everyone else: shalom—peace.

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THE “C” WORD

Words can offend. One starts with “C.” But we need to talk more about it because given the nature of the world we live in it’s more relevant than ever.

Compromise gets some people riled up. The word suggests a lack of integrity and morality. These folks believe they’re always right and opposing views are by definition flat-out wrong. No quarter ever can be given. A small step towards an opposing view only launches the righteous down a slippery slope.

The refusal to find a middle ground is nothing new. In the novel As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg, published in 1939, the Sanhedrin in Judea debates allowing the study of Greek culture. For some Jews, only Torah is legitimate. Others have drifted towards Greek philosophy, art and science leaving Torah behind. Still others strive for balance. Their faith need not crumble before Greek reason; other cultures offer something of value. When the zealots, who wish to obliterate Greek culture in Israel’s midst, rebel against Roman occupation, disaster follows. Unfortunately this is history not just literature.

Yes, the Sages teach that compromise is not always allowed. One may not commit murder or incest or bow down to idols even on pain of death. Beyond that, the real world requires acceptance of the “C” word. Those who bear direct responsibility for a nation’s wellbeing—presidents, prime ministers and even kings—often understand this. Those who sit on the sidelines—another “C” word, Congress, comes to mind—can promote ideological or selfish positions. The buck does not stop with them.

Jordan’s King Abdullah offers an insight worthy of attention. In an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in this April’s Atlantic, Abdullah notes that his efforts to establish a modern democracy face opposition from the royal family. “The further away you’re removed from this chair [the throne—DP], the more of a prince or a princess you are.”

Fortunately, several new attempts at compromise may pay great dividends.

In Jerusalem, women and men may finally get to pray together at the Kotel—the Western Wall. Natan Sharansky, Israel’s head of the Jewish Agency, presented a plan that may not give liberal Jews everything they seek in an Orthodox-controlled religious environment but nonetheless allows for major progress. The plaza in front of the Kotel would be divided into Orthodox and non-Orthodox areas. To each his—and her—own.

In Washington, Senators Joe Manchin III (D-West Virginia) and Patrick Toomey (R- Pennsylvania) have fashioned a compromise on gun control to include background checks at gun shows. The National Rifle Association, which adheres to the slippery slope theory, will try to kill the legislation in the Senate. But the spirit of compromise just might be too great. In the same vein, reasonable immigration legislation may well be fashioned in the coming weeks. It won’t be perfect, but it will help our immigration policy make more sense.

So let’s get a grip on all our “C” words. Because some should be part of any polite company’s conversation. Oops, here we go again.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

O JERUSALEM!

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

  Let my right hand wither…

—Psalms 137:5

Jerusalem’s place in the Jewish heart has been established for nearly three thousand years. So stating that modern-day Israel can and should live without part of Jerusalem is not easy. But it’s necessary.

The Palestinians have long demanded that East Jerusalem—in Arabic Al Quds (the Holy)—be their capital. Arguments as to whether Jerusalem should or should not be considered sufficiently holy to Muslims after Mecca and Medina (originally Yathrib) don’t concern me. It’s sufficient that Palestinians cling to Jerusalem, which represents a redline issue to them as does prohibiting a right of Palestinian return to Israelis.

Would dividing Jerusalem be a sacrilege? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says yes. On May 20, Jerusalem Day, Bibi repeated that the city would remain Israel’s undivided capital. But other Israeli voices differ. Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak were willing to give East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as part of a peace agreement. And on Jerusalem Day, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who once demanded a united Jerusalem, stated again that East Jerusalem should go to the Palestinians. Reasons abound.

View Jerusalem from Mount Scopus, and the Old City stands surrounded by a vastly larger metropolis unimaginable to Israel’s kings and sages. Tour the Old City, and you know that the Ottoman Turks built the current walls 500 years ago. Walk the tunnel under the Kotel (Western Wall), and you learn that the Jerusalem of the Second Temple lies 50 to 80 feet beneath you. Visit East Jerusalem, and you see another city entirely—Arab neighborhoods lacking the Jewish side’s good streets, ample lighting and sanitation. Moreover, as The Jerusalem Post reported on May 24, “The National Insurance Institute found that 78 percent of residents and 84 percent of children lived under the poverty line in east Jerusalem in 2010.”

Jewish neighborhoods—far too sophisticated and expansive to be called settlements—continue to grow around East Jerusalem. Tensions also keep growing. Not that the Palestinian Authority has been wise in refusing to engage in new talks until growth stops. The P.A. has let the building continue, making a bilateral solution even more challenging. Which is why Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak call last Wednesday for Israel to take undefined “unilateral actions” to set the borders of a future Palestinian state.

For all the relative calm and quiet in Jerusalem, I’m wary. Every block of Jerusalem limestone set in place on the West Bank and every neglected neighborhood in East Jerusalem serves as a piece of kindling. Aluf Benn, editor-and-chief of Haaretz, told my group from Congregation Sherith Israel at a briefing in Tel Aviv a month ago that a third Intifada (uprising) is not a matter of “if” but “when.” I fear he’s right.

The Psalmist described our agony 2,500 years ago after the destruction of the First Temple. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we thought of Zion.” We possess all of Jerusalem today, but that agony continues.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.