A Diplomatic Kashering Of Syria And Iran?
few weeks ago, House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took a
bipartisan congressional delega-
tion to the Mideast, including Israel. But
what got the most attention was a visit to
Damascus, which included a photo-op and
talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The reaction from the White House and
many conservative pundits was immedi-
ate and harsh. Vice President Dick Cheney
accused the speaker of "bad behavior."
Others labeled the trip as an attempt to
undermine a policy whose aim has been
to isolate and pressure a brutal dictator
into stopping the flow of terrorists into
Iraq as well as to cease its efforts to reas-
sert control of Lebanon.
The White House appeared to reach out
to Jerusalem and have the Olmert gov-
ernment contradict Pelosi's statement in
Damascus that she brought a peace mes-
sage from the Israelis. That was an embar-
rassment to Pelosi, but also to the Israelis
for allowing themselves to be a pawn in an
American chess game.
Now that the dust has settled on that
incident, this might be an apt moment for
the Republicans to apologize to Pelosi.
That's not just because such congressional
hubris is hardly unprecedented. To take
just one example, anyone who never con-
demned Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., whose
indefatigable shmoozing with Assad
junior's loathsome father had no right to
torch the new Speaker of the House.
While the speaker's trip cannot be
defended on its own merits against
Cheney's attacks, neither can the Bush own
administration's hypocrisy. That's especial-
ly true after Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice's journey to Sharm El-Sheik two
weeks ago for a pow-wow with none other
than the foreign minister of Syria, Walid
al-Moallem, during the course of a two-
day summit in the Sinai with Mideast
nations, including two of the charter mem-
bers of the axis of evil: Iran and Syria.
The meeting served primarily to give the
Iranians an international platform to blast
the United States and to mock attempts to
force it to give up both its support for terror
in Iraq and its nuclear program. In particu-
lar, Rice's tete-a-tete with the Assad family
current consigliere was quite a triumph for
the Syrians, in that it marked the public
repudiation of an American dictum that
prohibited high-level talks with that nation
since Assad's minions assassi-
talking to the Soviet Union.
nated Lebanon's Prime Minister
Lines of communication
Rafik Hariri in 2005.
between countries are impor-
In one fell swoop, Rice gave
tant. The problem is that
both Tehran and Damascus
the focus of the diplomatic
sweet vindication for their belief
paradigm that is at the core of
that if they waited long enough,
the campaign to engage Iran
they could spit in America's eye
and Syria as well as parallels
and have the State Department
efforts to end the diplomatic
call it rain.
and financial embargo on the
And what did the secretary
receive in payment for this dip-
Authority, is not communica-
lomatic coup? Are the Syrians
tion. It is about appeasement.
halting their support for Hamas and
What would be the result if we return
Hezbollah or terrorists in Iraq? Uh uh.
to the so-called realpolitik preached by
Is Iran closer to abandoning the nukes
the Iraq Study Group, which championed
with which it seeks to obliterate Israel?
engagement of Iran and Syria?
While those who embrace engagement
Instead, the Americans seem to be sig-
say their goal is an end to Iranian and
naling to Lebanon that efforts to maintain Syrian support for terror as well as to halt
its independence or obtain justice for
Tehran's nuclear ambitions, the dynamic
Hariri's murder are in peril.
of the talks inevitably leads to Western
concessions in exchange for little or noth-
Defenders of the new policy argue talk is
The problem here isn't the idea of the
always better than war, and that the only
two sides talking. It's the nature of a
way we will ever get these countries to
negotiation in which terrorists and their
change their ways is to engage them in
sponsors are treated as being equally
dialogue. After all, they say, throughout the valid as that of a democratic ally.
Cold War, the United States never ceased
As the failed Oslo process proved, the
Synagogues Must Experimen
gogue will continue to diminish
as Judaism's central institution.
An ethos of experimentation
is precisely what is needed in
order to attract more people to
Judaism and create a renais-
sance in Jewish life.
an Orthodox rabbi
living in New Jersey
at the turn of the 20th century,
espoused a doctrine that Jews, if
their intent was clear and hon-
orable, could experiment with
their religious observances.
With the approach of Shavuot
"For the truth:' he wrote in
on May 23, which celebrates
1921, "emerges only after inqui-
the Jews' receiving of the Torah
ry and investigation, and in the
at Mount Sinai and focuses
initial stages of study, everyone possesses
on Jewish learning, let me suggest a few
false beliefs and errs until acquiring a
experimental approaches that might result
clear comprehension of the matter."
in increased synagogue attendance and
Rabbi Hirschenson was responding to
those who promoted a dogmatic and fixed
In the world of Orthodoxy, why
interpretation of Judaism and Jewish life.
wouldn't a rabbi experiment with some
Most pulpit rabbis of large congrega-
forms of gender equality? Even within
tions would probably have a difficult time
the limitations of Orthodox Jewish law,
acting on such a statement and under-
why wouldn't a rabbi try to propose that
standably so. The idea of experimentation instead of a minyan of 10 men, there
and trial by error can seem oxymoronic
should be one of 10 men and 10 women?
when placed next to the very sober words
Why wouldn't a rabbi in a Reform con-
"religion" and "synagogue."
gregation experiment with dispensing of
Yet without experimentation the syna-
the Torah reading as it is done now, ask
May 17 2007
the congregants to read the parshah before
the service begins and then have a discus-
sion involving any congregant who wants
to be involved? Perhaps that same rabbi
would refrain from giving a sermon to
allow time to thoroughly discuss the Torah
Most important, all synagogues would
do well to experiment with shortening the
length of service. Two to 2.5 hours, and
sometimes three, on a Saturday morning
or even on a Friday night, is a daunting
commitment for anyone, let alone some-
one who just wants to explore Judaism for
the first time.
When I speak with young people, they tell
me that services should be shortened. But
even then, an hour can be too much to
handle if what transpires is boring, irrele-
vant and bereft of meaning. With beautiful
music, choirs chanting, meaningful short
services and prayers that speak to the
human condition, perhaps we can attract a
younger segment of the population, espe-
cially if we ask them to participate in their
Skeptics have charged that people are no
longer interested in prayer or synagogue
life. A 2006 poll conducted by Gallup
ranked Jews second to last in terms of
weekly worship attendance with less than
one in six attending services, beating out
only those who report no religious affili-
The evangelical churches burgeon-
ing across the country prove that, if
done properly, congregational life can
be meaningful and relevant to the lives
of people and a source for communal
identification. Aside from taking con-
temporary visual and audio aesthetics
seriously — something sorely lacking in
synagogues — the success of these evan-
gelical groups has come from realizing
that massive anonymous Sunday church
experiences alone fail to provide worship-
ers with the kind of rich communal expe-
rience they are seeking.
Therefore, alongside the large-scale
gatherings we see on TV, evangelicals
empower laity to partake in smaller study
groups and salons hosted in their friends'