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September 13, 2002 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-09-13

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Israel InsigAit

Honor Thy Enemy


Rabbinic group wants to recognize Palestinian suffering, Israeli faults.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency


New York City

lizabeth Bolton, a
Reconstructionist rabbi in
Baltimore, based her Rosh
Hashanah sermon on the
story of God saving Ishmael, who tra-
dition says is the ancestor of the
For her Yom Kippur Yizkor (remem-
brance) service, Reform Rabbi Ellen
Lippman of Brooklyn is studying an
essay that suggests Jews grieve for
Jewish and Palestinian victims of
Middle East violence. And in Palo
Alto, Calif., Amy Eilberg,,a Conserva-
tive rabbi and cantor, found herself
moved by a new misheberach prayer
for the ill that enjoins Jews to be
"open to the suffering of all people
who struggle for freedom and justice."
These rabbis are heeding a nation-
wide call by the new American chapter
of the Israeli group Rabbis for Human
Rights. The group is urging liberal
Jewish leaders during these High
Holidays to question Israel's treatment
of the Palestinians and condemn
human rights violations by Palestini-
ans and Israelis alike.
Such criticism of Israel has been rare
in the United States since the outbreak
of the Palestinian uprising in Septem-
ber 2000, but some rabbis say they are
using the new year to speak out.
"Only by recognizing that all of us
— on both sides of this story — have
known terrible losses, can there be a
chance for all of us to live at long last

in peace and safety," says Rabbi
Rabbi Eilberg, of Palo Alto's Con-
gregation Kol Emeth, was among
3,000 North American rabbis in the
Conservative, Reform, Reconstruc-
tionist and Renewal movements who
in August received the human rights
group's Days of Awe Rabbinic
Resource Packet.
The packet was a collection of litur-
gy, contemporary writing and study
texts intended to stir debate not only
about Israel's immediate security needs
but ultimately about its Jewish soul,
says the U.S. chapter's executive direc-
tor, Rabbi Brian Walt of Philadelphia.
"The intent is to soften the natural,
vengeful and angry reactions to terror-
ism," Rabbi Walt says. "I am not a
person in solidarity with the
Palestinian people. But I want justice."

Civil Rights Group

Timed for the High Holidays, but
crafted to be used by congregations
throughout the year, the packet
reflects the rabbinic group's stance that
"every human being is created in the
eyes of God, and every human being
deserves basic human rights."
Founded in 1988 to protest alleged
Israeli human rights abuses in battling
the first Palestinian uprising, or intifa-
da, this group is unusual on the Israeli
civil rights scene in several respects.
The group employs highly visible
tactics that it calls "direct actions,"
such as rebuilding Palestinian homes
in eastern Jerusalem demolished by
Israel or replanting West Bank olive






trees on Tu B'Shevat that were uproot-
ed by Israeli forces during anti-terror
Its 100 Israeli members, including
rabbis and rabbinical students, span the
denominational spectrum, which is rare
in Israeli religious life. The new U.S.-
based chapter of 200 members includes
mostly liberal rabbis, but a tiny number
of Orthodox rabbis as well.
The High Holiday packet was the
group's most ambitious U.S. project
since it was launched in January. It
sent its message to liberal Jews across
North America, as well as to more
than 200 liberal rabbis worldwide.
The High Holiday materials are
aimed at provoking debate in the
Jewish community about Israel's treat-
ment of the Palestinians at a time
when Rabbi Walt says "some red lines
have - been crossed" by Israel.
In battling terrorism, Rabbi Walt
_ says, the Israeli army has engaged in
collective punishment of all Palestini-
ans by cutting off water and electrical
lines, imposing curfews in towns and
villages, shooting at ambulances it
believes are being used to transport
terrorists or bombs and keeping emer-
gency medical vehicles stopped at
While debate about such actions has
remained strong in Israel, Rabbi Walt
adds, American Jewish criticism has
been muffled in favor of blanket sup-
port for the Jewish state.
"It is hard for Jews," given the
Palestinian terror "attacks on us, to
feel the pain of the Palestinians,"
Rabbi Walt says.

Palestinian Authority leader Yasser
Arafat condemned attacks on Israeli
Civilians in a speech to the Palestinian
parliament this week. He also called
for an end to confrontation and
bloodshed, and a return to the nego-
tiating table with Israel.
Unfortunately, a report in the
Jerusalem Post reveals that Arafat's
words are not reflected in Palestinian
Authority actions.


The report said the Palestinian
Authority has intensified its campaign
of incitement against Israel, especially
in the schools and the media.
Schoolbooks used in the Palestinian
Authority do not mention Israel, and
identify some Israeli cities and towns
as being in "Palestine." More than
13,000 Palestinian children attend
camps where they learn to emulate
suicide bombers. Palestinian Web
sites contain children's games that jus-
tify violent demonstrations.
— Allan Gale, Jewish Community
Council ofilletropolitan Detroit

Moral Character

For Rabbi Bolton, her rabbinic credo
remains the Rosh Hashanah story of
how God saved Abiaham's child
Ishmael and Ishmael's mother, Hagar,
from dying of thirst in the desert after
their expulsion by Abraham.
According to the midrash, God
ignored the pleas of an angel who said
Ishmael's descendants would ultimate-
ly harm the Jewish people.
"Ishmael is a young child, a victim
of forces he didn't cause," she says.
"That's not some abstract ethic — we

HONOR on page 30

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