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November 16th, 2012

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann: I Do Not Have Words, Only Tears and Frustration

Pastor Tom Martinez (All Souls Bethlehem Church in Kensington and OTBKB) sent me this message from Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Park Slope's Kolot Chayeinu. She is one of the organizers of the annual and interfaith Children of Abraham Peace Walk. Here Rabbi Lippman quotes fellow human rights activist, Rabbi Arik Ascherman. Tom writes, "I found this helpful in this difficult time."

The news from Israel and Gaza could not be worse: rockets flying, bombs bursting, death, destruction, violence unleashed. I find myself speechless with horror and fear and an odd kind of numbness whose main question is "Again?!?  When will they - or we - ever learn?"

To try to get a handle on the situation on Wednesday when I first got the news of the Israeli attack, I turned to online sites and various organizations and - of course - to the words of Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights. This time, as often, I found Arik's words right and smart and somehow therefore comforting.

As the deadly exchanges grow and escalate, I share with you some of his words and would like to hear yours; how does this look from where you sit? I do not yet have words, only tears and frustration.

Hear/Here Arik, an Israeli writing from Israel:

"Most of us have biases burned into our hard drives. If our sympathies lie with the Palestinians, we see Zionist aggression and charred Palestinian babies. If our sympathies lie with Israel, we see terrified Israeli children with 15 seconds to run to a bomb shelter every time the siren sounds (According to one source, some 11,000 rockets in the last 4 years.) For all too many of us, our sympathies are all encompassing and exclusive. We see only Palestinian children or Israeli children.

"This is not just a matter of spiritual blindness, although it is certainly that. When some Israelis rage against our government without a word about our fellow Israelis suffering from rocket attacks year after year, most Israelis see them as out of touch at best, and possibly self hating....When others of us go on and on about Sderot without a word about the death and destruction our overwhelmingly superior power wreaks in Gaza, it may play well at home, but we confirm for many that we are jingoistic purveyors of exclusive Jewish privilege.

"Some of you no doubt see what I have written as simply a sappy attempt to be "even handed" and "balanced." I agree that evenhandedness seems a bit outrageous when we Israelis have so much more power....Our rabbis...saw violence as a curse. They expected human beings to resist the impulse to do evil, but understood that in the real world [those who live in poverty and oppression] will lash out at their neighbors in their comfortable homes. Gazans who can import or smuggle in just about anything, but can't afford many of the goods on their well stocked shelves because restrictions on exports leave them without income, will continue to support terror against their oppressors. Israelis under rocket fire while the world is silent will feel justified in doing whatever is necessary to stop those rockets, even when civilians are also killed.

"Our message can not be to ignore the rockets on our fellow Israelis. However, when we hear "There would be no attacks on Gaza if their would be no rockets on the Western Negev", we must both join the demand that the rockets stop and remind our fellow Israelis that we can best help ourselves if we stop using our overwhelming power to make life miserable for most Gazans. With our greater power comes greater responsibility.

"Our task as rabbis and Israeli human rights activists must be first and foremost to hold our own government to the most basic principle in international law and in the Jewish tradition: We have a right and responsibility to defend ourselves, but we can not harm civilians, even in the name of self defense...

"While our first responsibility is to hold our own government accountable, we must make it clear that Gazans should be held to the same standards. Our fellow Israelis must know that we know that they too are created in God's Image.

And, I can't help recalling the fact that not so long after the Gaza War, the level of rocket fire returned to where it was before the war. I can only sadly identify with the desire of my fellow Israelis for peace and quiet, and repeat again, "The sword comes into the world because of the suppression of justice and the perversion of justice, and those who misinterpret Torah."



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