Jewish Journal

Words of Solace

Posted on Sep. 13, 2001 at 8:00 pm

Rabbis in the L.A. area responded to the tragedies in New York and Washington D.C., by making common cause with Israel and finding lessons from Jewish history.

No retreat
by Harold M. Schulweis

From the American Jewish community perspective, this week's terrorism creates at least two challenges.

First, we cannot think that the tragic bombing on American soil is a response to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for in that case, Israel becomes the scapegoat to the bombing.

We heard this too often in the media on the day of the bombing. On ABC, Peter Jennings explained that this happened because the United States is a strong ally of Israel. If you accept that, then the culprit is Israel, since without Israel there would be peace.

But we know this is not true. What's being challenged by terrorism is Western civilization, with its ideals of democracy, individualism and freedom.

The targets of those who bombed the USS Cole and the Pentagon are not Israel. The mass media likes to localize and personalize, which is why the conflict is always explained as being part of the Middle East. We must resist this idea. The forces at work today are truly anti-democratic, and we must say so.

Second, we, of all people, cannot scapegoat the entire Muslim community, nor make an enemy of a million Muslims. The basic question is: What can faith do to transcend the divisiveness of the political partisanship of our day?

Judaism is one religion among the world's great religions, and we Jews have an obligation to know the other great religions, most of which we've spawned. In October, my synagogue is inviting Dr. Nazir Khaja, who will speak on the Koran and other basic tenets of the Muslim faith. Frankly, it's brave of him to come, to discuss his religion in a synagogue.

Jews and Muslims have had a wonderful golden period. Our leaders wrote in Arabic, notably Maimonides' "Guide for the Perplexed." The main point here is that there is a way out of even the most intractable struggle, if you do your part. There is no alternative but a constant effort to win people over. If you don't believe in the possibility of dialogue, you are condemned to one end: war.

Harold M. Schulweis is spiritual leader of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

America Joins Israel's Nightmare
by Steven Z. Leder

Welcome to our nightmare, America! Welcome to terror that strikes the most sacred symbols of all that you believe in. Welcome to impotence -- your planes grounded, markets shut down, the enemy dancing in the streets of Palestine as the call goes out from hospitals for blood. Welcome to not knowing if people you love are alive. Welcome to shock, anger, sadness, helplessness, orphaned children and scattered body parts. We Jews have been there a long time -- thousands of years, really. Our nightmare's most recent name is Intifada II. There have been others. Kishnev. Munich. Entebbe. Kristallnacht. Now, sadly, you have joined us with your own Day of Broken Glass and shattered lives.

This morning, Americans were stripped bare and brutalized. This morning, we grew up in ways both heartbreaking and inevitable. Will this cruelty reveal our capacity for reaching out? Will Americans who thought so little of Israel and her pain find greater sympathy in their hearts as on CNN they watch the next Palestinian suicide bomber's carnage? Will the hundreds of ethnic minorities who live in Manhattan, like so many ants in a hill, see Israel's plight as their own plight? Will the good people of the world, of which there are many, finally watch out for each other, care about each other, and protect each other? I hope so. Because then the terrorists will have failed. In tearing us apart, they will merely have brought us closer together.

Steven Z. Leder is associate rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

What the Past Teaches
by Yosef Kanefsky

So many of us are struggling to obtain some kind of perspective on the surreal events of Tuesday morning. How can we get our minds around a literally unbelievable event -- one that we never imagined possible, and which represents the most dramatic triumph of evil that we have seen in a long time?

In this search, Jewish history is an important ally. I officiated at a bris at 8 that morning. In searching for words with which to place this celebration in the context of the still unfolding events on the East Coast, I found myself reaching into Jewish history. We Jews are not strangers to the unbelievable and the calamitous. We have looked on with disbelief at destruction of our holy places and, repeatedly, at the destruction of entire, innocent Jewish populations. The book of "Psalms" is filled with poems of sheer disbelief. Yet, never have we given up our commitment to bris. In the very midst of the events that we simply could not understand or explain, we intuitively knew that this was no time to suspend our commitment to the God of Abraham.

God had placed upon Abraham's shoulders the responsibility to be a source of blessing for the world, and if anything, the hellish events around us only demanded an even more tenacious commitment to our covenant with God.

The perspective that we can obtain, then, is not one that can explain or justify the slaughter of innocents. It is rather one which provides us guidance as to what we are called upon to do now.

Kanefsky is spiritual leader of B'nai David-Judea in Los Angeles.

The Fragility of Life
by Steven Carr Reuben

I was startled out of my sleep at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday with a phone call from my daughter, who is living half a mile from the World Trade Center in New York.

"Oh my God!" she cried into the phone, "I've just witnessed the most horrible scene of my life!" With those few words, she seems to have captured the dread and horror that we all have felt ever since.

All Americans are in shock and numb, feeling more vulnerable to the blind hatred and fanaticism of terrorist than ever before in our history. We gasp in disbelief at the human carnage of thousands of innocent lives that can vanish in an instant of unleashed evil. The world, as we know it, has changed forever, and our souls lie burdened with doubt and grief.

Once again we know to the core how fragile life is, how unpredictable life is, how we are all linked by the common bonds of human frailty, fear, and longing for a better, safer world.

"The entire world is a very narrow bridge," wrote Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, "and the essential thing above all is not to fear."

Now is the time we need each other's strength, each other's courage, each other's love.

We pray for the victims and their families, for the strength and resolve of our nation, and for the wisdom of our country's leaders. These High Holy Days, every synagogue and every Jew will be looking for messages of hope amid fear, comfort amid grief, faith amid pain.

Steven Carr Reuben is rabbi of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in the Pacific Palisades, and president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

With Broken Hearts
by David Wolpe

Tuesday was a day of stunning calamity. Our tradition teaches us both how to deeply mourn, and how not to despair.

There is a part of us that wants the world to understand that this is the war that has been fought against the Jewish State. We always understood that underneath it was a war against not simply the state, but the freedom and faith that our tradition represents. The most important thing to say is that our hearts are broken, and we pray to God to give rest to the souls of those who have died, and comfort to those who are grieving. But we must also say that the taking of innocent human life for political ends will destroy this fragile garden we have been given. In the name of faith we must save, not kill. Those who do otherwise do not honor God, but rather imperil creation. May God bring justice upon those who have plotted murder and abetted slaughter. May God grant wisdom to those who hate, and turn their bitterness to love. And may God bless America.

David Wolpe is rabbi of Sinai Temple in Westwood.

Finding Comfort and Faith
by Laura Geller

One of my congregants called today to say how grateful she was that the High Holy Days are so close. At a time like this, she told me, when the world seems so out of control, it is a blessing to be part of a large and supportive community. And it is an even more powerful blessing to be part of a tradition that has walked in the valley of the shadow of death before, and has never lost its faith.

The magnitude of the terrorist attacks and the enormous tragedy of the human lives that have been lost does challenge our faith -- in the security and intelligence systems of our government, in the belief that civilized people don't attack innocent civilians, and in the notion that we are safe from terrorism in America. This act of evil must be condemned by all people of faith in the most unequivocal of terms.

As Jews who care about Israel, we now know firsthand what our Israeli friends have endured for a long time: the randomness of terror and the awareness of how difficult it is to find the appropriate response. We hope that Americans and the American government will understand more fully the pressures that Israel has faced and be more helpful in responding to Israel's need for peace.

As Jews who have suffered discrimination, we hope that all Americans will be careful not to judge an entire group of people by the actions of some. And as human beings who have suffered the deaths of people we love, our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims. We pray they find comfort and faith.

Laura Geller is spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

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