Saturday, November 26, 2016

Giving Thanks in America, Giving Prayers to Israel

Empathic Rationalism begins at home, which means that we all have a God-given right to empathize with ourselves.  That in turns affords us the right to vent, at least to ourselves, if not publicly.    
Truly, no religious person should ever have a totally lousy Thanksgiving weekend.   After all, a big part of faith is feeling gratitude to our Ultimate Benefactor, and Thanksgiving weekend is set aside every year to do just that.  So yes, allow me to thank God for giving us a world that is so wonderful that, for most of us, our worst fear involves departing from the world or having loved ones depart from it.  Even on weekends like this one – where, at least for me, not too much has gone well – we still need to be thankful for what we do have.   And that is plenty.  

Here in America, a lot of people are unhappy about this month’s election.   Some loonies on the left are spending millions of dollars to see if they can undo its apparent results.   Others on that side of the political spectrum are so depressed that, even now, nearly three weeks after the election, they have trouble getting out of bed or carrying on their daily duties.   Personally, I’m experiencing no shortage of trepidation about the immediate future, but I’m going about my business – and I’m thankful about that, because doing office work has probably been the high point of my weekend so far.   Not exactly what the Pilgrims had in mind.

But on this Thanksgiving Shabbat morning, my thoughts are really not about myself and any minor struggles I might be going through.   I’m thinking about life halfway across the world in a small place called Israel.   At least I call it that.   Others feel that the name “Israel” is an anathema to their lips. 
Sheikh Mishary Alfasy Rashid is likely one such person.  As I prepare to help coordinate the Washington D.C., Imam-Rabbi Summit for the third time, Sheikh Rashid, the imam of Kuwait’s Grand Mosque was busy this week tweeting to his 11 million followers.  Suffice it to say that the vibe he brings to Muslim-Jewish affairs is a bit different than my own – or at least that’s what I’ve been gathering from reading the Jerusalem Post, one of the world’s leading English-language newspapers about Israel.

After reflecting on the fact that tens of thousands of Haifa residents have been displaced from their homes due to more than a dozen fires that have been raging in their country, Sheikh Rashid tweeted in Arabic, "Good luck to the fires. #Israel_IsBurning," and punctuated this with a smiley face icon and photos of the fires.  

One of Rashid’s countryman, a Sheikh named Nabil Ali al-Awad, was forced to content himself with tweeting to a mere six million followers – barely half the audience that Sheikh Rashid enjoys.   Sheik al-Awad’s contribution to the discourse was to say that “God burned their hearts and their homes and their money and their bodies and make their graves inflamed...because of what they did to the [Muslim] believers,” before providing the hashtag "#Israel_IsBurning."   Later, as you might expect, Sheik al-Awad apologized for his tweet.  Specifically, he apologized for using the word “Israel” in his earlier tweet,” adding that "there is no such entity. I used the word as part of a hashtag."

Sheikh’s Rashid and al-Awad reflect one side of Muslim opinion, one that obviously has quite a few adherents.  And let us interfaith advocates please not whitewash that truth.  But there is, fortunately, another side of Muslim opinion, rest assured about that as well.  It is reflected by the fact that Muslims from all over the region have been providing Israel with fire fighters to damp down the blazes.  At least two different teams of fire fighters who were deployed to help in Haifa were Palestinians who were sent by the Palestinian authority.  Thanks to them, in addition to photos indicating that “#Israel Is Burning,” we also now have photos of Israeli and Palestinian men  working together on the sacred task of saving Israel ... or Palestine ... or whatever you want to call the place known to me as the Holy Land.  Why do I call it that?   There are many reasons, not the least of which is that were it not for my trip there in 1981, I still might not believe in any “Ultimate Benefactor” to whom to give thanks.  

The biggest tragedy that is happening in Israel this week doesn’t involve the death of plants, though plants are holy.   Nor does it involve the destruction of homes, though homes are holy.  Nor – and believe me, this is especially hard to write – does it even involve the injuries, some of which are critical injuries, to dozens of suffering Israelis.  The greatest tragedy is that the nation is now ablaze with the same kind of accusations and mistrust that have been destroying the soul of this place for decade upon decade, with seemingly no end in sight, and seemingly no limit to the future destruction that those forces will bring.  Israeli officials are publicly declaring that much of the fire damage is a result of Palestinian arson.   Palestinian officials are publicly declaring that those who allege arson have engaged in an irresponsible rush to judgment.   And for any of us who don’t live in the Holy Land and who actually care about what goes on there, we’re left to our own speculation and biases when it comes to deciding what really is happening and why. 

The only thing we can really know beyond a reasonable doubt is how difficult it will be to make peace between the two peoples who are fighting over the Holy Land.  Oh, it is easy enough to envision the leaders of the Palestinians and Jews inking some sort of treaty.  But how would such a treaty – which surely would be opposed by substantial minorities -- eliminate all the hatred that exists between the two peoples?  How would the fact that many rabbis and imams attend summits together and send intrepid followers to fight fires together outweigh the fact that many other leaders in this region are so blinded by their hatred that they cheer the destruction of trees, homes, even lives, and attribute the slaughter to the will of God?  Assuming the latter continue to have millions upon millions of followers, and some of these followers have access to weapons, how could that ever-evasive but ultimately-inevitable peace treaty possibly bring real peace to the region? 

But enough with such questions.   Let me end this with something inspiring, not depressing.
I will give you a link to a song by the great Debbie Friedman, who gave the world so many beautiful Jewish melodies before she passed away five years ago at the age of 60.  The lyrics to the song are below.  To state the obvious, the land she is talking about in this song, well – it is the same land that has been burning these past few days.  But don’t worry, as filled as that land is with pain and suffering, it is equally resilient.   Nothing is more resilient than Israel.    

L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you
Leich l'cha, to a place you do not know
L'chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
And (you shall be a blessing) l'chi lach
And (you shall be a blessing) l'chi lach
And (you shall be a blessing) l'chi lach
L'chi lach, and I shall make your name great
Leich l'cha, and all shall praise your name
L'chi lach, to the place that I will show you
l'chi lach
(L'sim-chat cha-yim) l'chi lach
(L'sim-chat cha-yim) l'chi lach

No comments: