Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay
Responding to Ahmadinejad
by Rabbi Isaac Jeret
September 25, 2008
The leadership of the American Muslim community, from those who head major organizations to the Imams in each and every Mosque, bear a heavy burden today. They MUST speak out against the insidious, malicious, and inciting remarks by Iran's president at the United Nations, lest they give their tacit approval to such sentiments. History has proven that silence is indeed acquiescence in situations just such as these. Moreover, the overwhelming failure on the part of Muslim leadership, the world over, to condemn Muslim violence against Jews in Israel and elsewhere and, specifically, to condemn unequivocally organized terrorism by Muslim groups, over the last eight years and prior, is utterly shameful; the Muslim community's local, regional, and national leadership -- BOTH political and religious -- now has an opportunity to redeem itself by condemning in the strongest manner Ahmadinejad's remarks.
Of course, it didn't help this cause when the majority of the rest of the world's representatives to the United Nations responded with grand applause to Ahmadinejad's remarks. However, this call is to the leadership of the AMERICAN Muslim community, hoping that, just as we Jews are willing to condemn hate and terror if and when they arise among elements of our own communities, in America, in Israel or anywhere else, they will do the same -- in this instance and forever more. Maybe then, terror and violence will seem less reasonable an alternative for the next generation of Muslims throughout the world.
May the New Year begin with the strongest voice of unequivocal opposition to and condemnation of Ahmadinejad's remarks, voiced by the American Muslim community -- on the national, regional, and local levels. May such historic remarks then bring about a change of rhetoric, toward similar condemnation, among Muslim political and religious leaders throughout the world. And, may we then, as a united Jewish community, and with great resolve, find the strength to risk embracing such unequivocal condemnation and pursue with ever-greater vigor a path of dialogue and mutual understanding, but, only with those among the Muslim community's leadership who speak or write their condemnations and opposition unequivocally, publicly, and loudly.
And, dear friends, if none of the above can be achieved, may God then bless us with even greater resolve and strength to acknowledge openly the true meaning of the silence and/or "even-handed" pseudo-condemnations among the Muslim community's leadership. May we then find the courage to withhold our support for the self-deprecating and provincially self-centered interfaith dialogue that so many of us pursue every day with local, regional, and national Muslim leaders, and which they have used, in turn, to gain and claim legitimacy in the eyes of America and to divide one Jew from another. And, may we then see with greater clarity and unanimity the need to stand with Israel evermore and steadfastly, for Israel's struggle should then be clear to all of us to be our own.
With every hope for a New Year filled with God's blessings of wisdom, clarity, conviction, courage, and strength for the entirety of our People -- and with every prayer that a change in the Muslim world -- beginning right here in America -- might allow us to work together toward a genuine and durable peace for all of us and all of humanity,
Rabbi Isaac Jeret
(To watch Ahmadinejad's remarks, please click here: Youtube Video)
CAN WE STILL PRAY?
A Dilemma of Modernity and a Response
by Rabbi Isaac Jeret
September 15, 2008
The High Holy Days pose for many of us in our era a great challenge of faith. In times past, when beliefs were absolute and ritual was taken most literally by many more of us, the drama of the worship experience of the High Holy Days held a sense of urgency, as our ancestors understood their very existence for the coming year to have depended upon these Services and how they engaged them. Most worshippers felt, or thought they should have felt, an awesome and humbling sense of personal and communal judgment in God's Presence. Hence, the term, "The Days of Awe," used traditionally to refer to the ten days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.
For many Jews today, as for many faith-associating individuals throughout Western Civilization, religious identity and experience has been greatly influenced by the contemporary disciplines of the Sciences. Scientific truths and religious truths do not align, for the most part. A scientific finding is best articulated in terms of that which we do not know, as opposed to the historically religious virtue of "being certain of spiritual truths, with a perfect faith." We now know that many emotional, genetic, sociological, and psychological factors drive people to act as they do. People are not only driven by the knowledge and awareness of right and wrong or a simplistic view of good and evil that ancient religion might appear to have had us understand to be the root of all human motivation. We live today in a civilization that is blessed with the possibility of tolerance, born of a humility and uncertainty that arises from an awareness of all that we do not know, countering at once both age-old and born-again fundamentalist ideologies that prevail, even today, in certain corners of the world (and gaining power and proximity to us every day).
To be sure then, we are challenged as Jews at this time of year to make meaning of our own religious heritage, a tradition which presents in its High Holy Day liturgy a vast array of absolute ideas that seem more common to the religious criteria for truth (a perfect faith) that many of us have abandoned for the Scientific truth-criteria of our age. Consider this most familiar Judaic theme for this period of our calendar and its dissonance with so much that our scientifically influenced perceptions would encourage us to imagine: "On Rosh Hashanah we are inscribed and on Yom Kippur we are sealed (our fate for the coming year is inscribed and sealed during this period of the Jewish calendar)." If we are honest about it, how many of us believe that God listens to our prayers (with God's ears?), judges the measure of penitence in our hearts (with a gavel?), and determines our fate for the coming year (does God not have anything better to do than determine whether we catch a common cold?)? If the notion is to be proposed literally, few of us would be able to answer honestly that we so believe. If the challenge of these High Holy Days is, to some extent, to emerge with a more perfect faith, how can we do so in light of the uncertainty that under-girds the contemporary culture with which we so identify? Can we reconcile a Jewish statement of absolute faith with a world of scientific uncertainty? If not, how can our High Holy Day experience exceed a nostalgic journey to a (Jewish) world of simplistic and antiquated truths and familiar melodies, garnished with brisket, matzah balls, and tzimmis?
I would suggest, instead, that in our era, a break from the subjective and relative realities that frame our lives -- a break from the scientific lenses through which we have been trained to understand our own experience -- is exactly what might most effectively inspire our own reflection and the self-corrections that we must undertake at this time of year, both to improve our own lives and to make our world a better place. The High Holy Days do not require and do not intend for us to achieve any enduring faith in the words of their liturgy. We do not score any points with God for donning a literal belief or adhering to the metaphors for God's Being and Deeds and to the Divinely ordained destiny of our own fate as they are portrayed in our liturgy.
Rather, my dear friends, our liturgy asks of us the following: If all of the suppositions of these prayers would be factual, if God would indeed inscribe our fate, if the gates of Teshuvah (penitence) would really close at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, if Teshuvah and repair could indeed be facilitated in greater measure at this time of year than at any other, if the world of our liturgy was the world we lived in every day -- how, then, would we adjust our existence? How then would we conduct our affairs? How then would we live our lives?
Our liturgy invites us into a passionate and urgent virtual-reality in which our lives and our fate do truly hang in the balance. The more wholly we enter this drama, suspending our disbelief and experiencing its greatest power, the more whole we might emerge from it. Underneath all of the theological, psychological, and scientific progress that we've made as human beings, each of us can benefit still from a brief return to a simple world of rights and wrongs, of ultimate rather than relative accountability and responsibility, and of an urgency to repair that awaits our correction. We need this return, not because it is a return to a world of truth from a world of falsehood, but rather because a momentary return to a more simple but personally responsible world of the past might be one of the sole opportunities left to humanity to heal a world that might best remain otherwise in the uncertain and far more complicated contemporary present. Both worlds are true. Both worlds are necessary -- each in their moment.
Our High Holy Days can be for us solely and merely a return to the comfort of nostalgia. If so, however, they can serve only as a lesser opportunity for spiritual and personal growth and improvement for us, in our era, than they did so for our ancestors of eras past. Alternatively, we can utilize this sacred time to improve ourselves and the world about us, precisely by entering the drama of our liturgy -- suspending our disbelief and allowing for different truths to emerge than we know daily -- and thereby gaining perspective and motivation to awaken to one another more genuinely and compassionately at the end of this sacred journey of ten days from the start of Rosh Hashanah to the conclusion of Yom Kippur. Should we accept this challenge, then, because of the tolerance, pluralism, and humility that we can nurture in our contemporary world, we, in our era, might exceed even the greatest measure of healing and repair that our ancestors ever achieved at this time of year in eras gone by.
God asks not from us a perfect faith at the conclusion of these awesome days. Rather, God asks of us to measure for ourselves whom we must become by the conclusion of this period. To emerge from these Days of Awe as we ought, we might enter into the experience of the timeless, solemn, simple, exuberant, majestic, and very urgent prayers of our People – then and now, and always. Through the timeless genius of our Divinely gifted spiritual heritage, God blesses us with this extraordinary opportunity for renewal. May our journeys through the transformational drama of our worship lead all of us toward a destination of wholeness and deepening wisdom.
A LETTER FROM ISRAEL
May 9, 2008
*Recently, Rabbi Jeret accepted an invitation to serve as the Chairman of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the American Friends of The Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). In this capacity, he visited Israel briefly last week, attending the official Memorial Day commemorations in Jerusalem and Netanya and Israel's official Independence Day celebrations in Jerusalem. Rabbi Jeret also led Memorial Services at Yad Vashem (Israel's Holocaust memorial and museum) at the dedication of its new Bridge of Hope and participated in the dedication of a synagogue and Torah-Scroll at an IDF base, in addition to several other important and inspirational engagements. While in Israel, Rabbi Jeret wrote the following message to our community ... Rabbi Jeret reflects below upon the unique lessons of Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron) and Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) in Israel ...
May 9, 2008 / 4 Iyar 5768
I write to you this Friday morning, May 9, 2008, after an extraordinary experience these last four days in our homeland. Indeed, the last forty-eight hours have been among the most moving and inspiring that I have ever experienced. Forty-eight hours ago, Israel began a twenty-four hour period of mourning, as it recalled each and every one of its nearly 23,000 souls, all our own brothers and sisters, who lost their lives defending Israel against those who seek its destruction or at the evil hand of terror directed against Israeli civilians. During the most recent twenty-four hours, the same country and, in many instances, the very same mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, and children who mourned just hours earlier their inconsolable losses, joined in celebration of Israel's miraculous rebirth as a modern country, taking pride in its accomplishments in just 60 years of existence.
I've lived in Israel. I've mourned and celebrated before, during 48 hour periods quite similar to the past two days. I've visited cemeteries and lain wreathes before. I've held mothers who have lost sons and daughters to war and terror. And then, I have joined with Israel to celebrate the miracle that it represents. Yet, on this trip, the magnitude of the celebration of Israel's 60th Independence Day that followed immediately subsequent to Israel's 60th Memorial Day commemorations initially left me somewhat paralyzed in my attempt to transition from the latter to the former. Each distinct experience was magnified and complicated not only by six decades worth of remembrance and celebration, but, by the presently concurrent terror wrought by Hamas upon the innocent citizens of Sederot and Israel's entire south-southwest quadrant. Add to this the prospects of a nuclear armed Iran that threatens with annihilation this beautiful miracle of life that I gaze upon this morning from my hotel balcony, as I write to you, and the difficulty transitioning from mourning to celebration seems all the more to be the expected norm rather than the exception.
However, as I joined with our brothers and sisters over the last 24 hours -- Israelis of every color and origin, they appeared not to share my difficulty. And so, as I found my own way from mourning to celebration, I learned some things from Israel and from Israelis that might enrich us each and all, as Jews and as Americans.
To begin, let's consider that, in Israel, military cemeteries exist in almost every municipality and are often among the larger cemeteries in each city. Consider that they are overrun with citizens on Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron). Consider that youth-groups hand out flowers and bottled water to citizens mourning loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers, all of whom shared, in their death, one thing in common; their lives were taken because they represented the State of Israel and the Jewish People! Consider that it is hard to find a single extended family in the entire State of Israel that has not known the anguish and horror of losing a soul in the Jewish State's endeavor to shelter its children from the treachery of its neighbors. Consider the ages on the tombstones in the military cemetery, a cemetery reflecting the civilian composition and defensive purposes of both Israel's army and Israel's victims: 66, 4, 62, 38, 18, 2, 14, 19, 21, 18, 20, 18, 10, 6 months ... and this is just one row. No family is left unscathed, as Israel's future has been bled of so much of its promise, thinned by its tragic losses. The mourning is collective; the nation is, for a moment, a loving but deeply wounded family. And then, an entire country swings into celebration. A nation finds its voice in song. It revives itself in dance. The celebration is similarly collective. For a moment in time, Israel is one joyous family, basking in the light of its blessings.
Is Israel escaping its terminal sadness, simply avoiding its tragic losses? Perhaps, but, I believe otherwise; the celebration feels too real. Are Israelis simply so overwhelmed by their losses that all that they have left is the pleasure that can be derived in the present-tense of any given moment? Have they conceded to grief, so much so that they can't dare any longer to squander an opportunity for celebration with another moment's despondence? Perhaps, but, the tears of joy seem as honest and deeply drawn as the tears of sorrow; they seem to derive from the same well-spring - one rich with a history of painfully earned achievements by Jews throughout all time.
Israel's dynamic in this transition from mourning to celebration is unique indeed. Israel does not succumb to tragedy; it holds steadfastly onto life! To begin to understand this dynamic, we might consider Memorial Day and Independence Day in our own country, and how it differs from the Israeli experience. For one thing, the two days are calendared over a month apart in the United States; in Israel, they are separated by one minute. In our country, it is rare that anyone knows a veteran personally, let alone someone who gave his/her life for the safety of our country; as noted above, few Israelis can avoid knowing someone who has given his/her life for their country. In America, shopping, sales, and BBQ's mark both days; in Israel, neither day is materially oriented for the overwhelming majority of Israelis and the spiritual and emotional qualities of each day are entirely distinct.
Consider then that the very reason that Israelis celebrate their Independence with a joy that is, perhaps, rivaled only by Mardi Gras (though, Israel is much safer!) is precisely because Israelis mourn genuinely and deeply the tragic and painful losses of those who have enabled their independence as a nation to succeed and continue. Consider that a society that faces daily threats of death and destruction, and mourns the sacrifices that it makes to guard against these, celebrates intuitively, but, profoundly every breath of life.
My dear friends, my Ner Tamid family, Israel knows that life is not only worth living, but, that, when required, it is also worth dying for! Israelis have been left with no choice but to remember that every single life matters immeasurably, but, that self-sacrifice is sometimes necessary to ensure that others live onward. They know that Freedom doesn't come freely, that there is a price for Freedom and Liberty and that, if Heaven forbid it must be paid, all that is thereby retained and earned must be celebrated by those who are remain to celebrate. And, the lives preserved and freedoms sustained are indeed celebrated and lived onward in the very names and memories of those whose losses are mourned, those who gave everyone else another chance to live more life!
Yes, Patrick Henry's spirit lives on -- here in Israel, alongside David Ben-Gurion's. George Washington's spirit lives on -- here in Israel, alongside Yonatan Netanyahu's; Abraham Lincoln's, alongside Golda Meir's, and so on. To appreciate what is worth living for and to appreciate the value of life, it is necessary, from time to time, to consider what is worth our ultimate sacrifice. A free society that doesn't remember that anything is ever worth dying for is one that has forgotten the essence of that which makes life worth living. In the name of peace and freedom, we might avoid conflict, discomfort, and potential loss. For the stated sake of our children and their future, we might appease for the moment a sworn adversary to freedom. However, we must understand - as Jews and as Americans - that any society that gambles its future to secure its present is usurping Freedom's call for its own narcissistic and temporary benefits. Such a society deludes itself when it imagines that it is preserving a future for generations to come; in fact, such an approach may well lead the society to come to sacrifice its children for the momentary comfort of its parents, a cannibalistic price for an illusion of peace. Israel's grudging resolve to pay the price of Freedom today is therefore, in fact, its insurance policy for a tomorrow. Israel therefore celebrates the future, championing it in the spirit of those who have made it, and continue to make it, possible!
The reflections above, alone, might have constituted a sufficiently meaningful reminder on Israel's part for Jews, Americans, and all citizens of the Free World. However, Israelis model for all of us at least one more vitally important lesson: Israelis remind us that guilt is neither helpful nor productive when remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on their behalf. Israel's alternative to guilt is sincere appreciation. Israelis feel a deep thankfulness, an enduring and eternal debt of gratitude, to those who have paid Freedom's price, on Freedom's front-line, for all of us in the Free World. Israelis celebrate Independence Day minutes after the conclusion of Memorial Day because those who paid for Israel's Freedom with their lives would demand nothing less of them -- in their memory!
And so, on Sunday, May 18th, back home in our synagogue, we will sing and dance together. We will celebrate 60 years of the extraordinary miracle of the modern State of Israel. And, when we do so, we will be grateful for the many sacrifices that have been made by the sons and daughters of this sacred and beautiful land -- for Israel's sake, for the sake of all Jews everywhere, and to the great benefit of every Freedom-loving human being in the world; we will celebrate, with a depth of joy -- in their memory, as they would want us to do so!
With love and blessings from Israel -- Shabbat Shalom,
SPECIAL NOTE: At Rabbi Jeret's invitation, Lt. Col. Ehud Kauf, Israel's Military Liaison to the United States Army, will join us for our ISRAEL @ 60 celebration on Sunday, May 18th, from 5:00 PM to 8:15 PM. To learn more about our Celebration of Israel's 60th on Sunday, please click here !