November 8, 2007
Loving our passion
It's been a rather tense couple of weeks since my good friend and neighbor Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky spoke his mind on the sensitive subject of Jerusalem. His Op-Ed on Oct. 26 caused a firestorm to erupt in the Jewish world, and now, everywhere I go, people are still charged up about it.
And when you consider the stakes, who can blame them?
On one side, you have the incredible, visceral attachment to a holy city that Jews have yearned to reclaim for 1,900 years that represents the heart and soul of the Jewish people. On the other, as Kanefsky laid it out, you have all of that plus the incredible, visceral attachment to the values of "speaking the truth" and "honest self-appraisal."
It doesn't stop there. On one side, you also have the conviction that because the enemy is not really interested in peace and couldn't deliver on it even if it were, any "honest self-appraisal" at this stage only emboldens the enemy and makes a peace agreement even more remote.
Then, on the other side, you have the conviction that Jews must always look at "the complete story" and internalize not just our "rights and demands," but also our obligations to those we have wronged, as well as "speak the language of compromise and conciliation."
There's also division over key facts and assumptions. For example, there's a debate on whether or not Israel has violated international laws with its reunification of Jerusalem -- and, even if it did, whether it necessarily follows that the only way to repair this is to consider splitting Jerusalem. One side argues that because Israel has significantly increased human rights and the respect for all religions since it reunified Jerusalem in 1967, a lot of "repair" has already occurred.
But the other side argues that because the story of Jerusalem has many sides, we should be more honest about this and not push Israel to take the city off the negotiating table.
I can go on, but you get the picture. We have a collision of forces that has touched raw Jewish nerves and put a community on edge. No one should be surprised. This is Jerusalem we're talking about. If we can't fight over this, we can't fight over anything.
I also have strong views on the subject, but I think we should all calm down. I know Rabbi Kanefsky well, and knowing him, I can assure you his intent was never to promote a division of Jerusalem. From what I gather, his intent was to convey that the Jerusalem story is more complicated than it seems, and that his argument is against tying the hands of the Israeli government in any future negotiations. The headline (which, by the way, he didn't write: "An Orthodox Rabbi's Plea: Consider Dividing Jerusalem") was needlessly incendiary. It should have read something like: "Allow Israel to Figure Out Jerusalem."
Of course, even that is the subject of sharp debate: Since Jerusalem belongs to all of the Jewish people, why shouldn't all Jews have a say in its future?
The article touched another raw nerve. The Orthodox community is proud of its tradition of keeping a united public front in the face of a hostile and dishonest enemy. As a Sephardic Jew who was raised in an Arab country, I was also taught that when an enemy is out to harm you, they don't deserve to see your doubts or insecurities. Many non-Orthodox also feel this way, but Rabbi Kanefsky broke an Orthodox taboo by challenging this tradition.
A big problem for me is when the article suggests that all this "honest self-appraisal" among Jews will bring us closer to peace.
That's a stretch.
As I see it, the inconvenient truth in the Middle East today is that while Israel can deliver peace, its enemy's leadership cannot. Yet, somehow, we have reached this absurd point where the enemy keeps raising the price of peace even though they don't even have it to sell.
Why does the price of peace keep going up? Because we're so desperate to buy it -- even if we know it's a fake. Ironically, the more we offer to pay, the higher the price goes, the further we get from a deal.
When we nobly admit our mistakes and "speak the language of compromise and conciliation," the enemy, unfortunately, does not respond in kind. In fact, all this does is perpetuate the peace charade and jack up the price of an already fake peace.
As long as Palestinians teach and preach hatred for Jews in their schools, media and mosques, they will have nothing of value to sell to us.
But we do have something valuable to sell to them: real peace. Israel is the one party that can control its army and guarantee peace. Yet, we keep acting like desperate buyers instead of confident sellers. Until we learn to stop being so insecure and start to value what we are offering, Israel should be extremely careful about offering any more concessions.
So, from a spiritual standpoint I might share Rabbi Kanefsky's faith in confronting our own errors and moral lapses, but when it comes to trying to make a deal with a wily foe, I'm all for watching my mouth -- and my back. And I don't mind telling the Israeli government that.
Having said all that, there's something more important to me than whether Rabbi Kanefsky and I might have differences on how to approach Israel's messy problems.
This whole episode reminded me how passionate we are as a people. Sure, we might yell and argue and blow a fuse, but we're alive! And we care deeply. I'll take that any day over the "whatever" generation. If anything will keep Judaism alive, it will be this passion.
Rabbi Kanefsky is as passionate a Jew and lover of Israel as I've ever met. By lighting up a firestorm of passion in other Jews, he reminded me why I so passionately love my people, even -- and sometimes especially -- when I disagree with them.
David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.