An Open Letter to the Commissioners of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

Jews and Presbyterians join in a prayer circle outside committee deliberations on divestment, Detroit, 6/17/14

Dear Commissioners of the Presbyterian General Assembly,

Over the past week a delegation of rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace visited with the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly in Detroit. These rabbis, together with Jewish and Presbyterian peace activists, have prayed and stood vigil, spoken in public and held many private conversations with you, the commissioners.

The rabbis asked you, our Presbyterian friends: what does your conscience tell you to do? Overwhelmingly, you replied: my conscience tells me to vote for divestment. But, the Presbyterian elders –  clergy and lay leaders – added: one concern still weighs on me. “What will the Jewish people in my life say: the rabbi I know, my Jewish cousins, my Jewish neighbors. Many of these Jews have emailed me or called me, asking me not to divest. I value my relationship with Jewish people and I do not want to undermine those relationships.”

Interfaith relationships, particularly between Jews and Christians, are an important focus. We appreciate the sensitivity of the Presbyterian Church to its relationship with Jews and the warm welcome we all received from you in Detroit. You were gracious and thoughtful. We were inspired by your commitment to each other as members of the Presbyterian Church USA.

Yet, when Rabbi Rick Jacobs came to the General Assembly on Wednesday evening, he warned you that a vote for divestment from three American companies could cost the Presbyterians their friendship with the Jewish people.

The Presbyterian Church USA  over the last ten years has sought to engage Israel on the issue of the West Bank. Sadly, to no avail. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, too, has consistently spoken out against West Bank settlements. We have yet to see what results these well-intended statements can achieve.

Rabbis accompanied by young Jewish activists went to Detroit to encourage you, the Presbyterian elders to listen to your inner voice of conscience. The Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace does not believe that the risk of hurting the feelings of some, even many Jews should take precedence over the constant humiliation and violent attacks on Palestinians living under Occupation. As rabbis, we are sensitive to the feelings of those Jews who oppose divestment. But we cannot ignore the daily suffering of Palestinians and the shockingly routine loss of Palestinian life living under Occupation. Withdrawing financial support for tools of war is a compelling moral imperative.

We believe it is unseemly for Jews – or any observer –  to try to steer you away from aligning the church’s investments with your own ethical commitments as judged by you. “Love your neighbor as yourself” teaches us to give the Presbyterians the same respect that we expect for ourselves: freedom to follow our consciences without being told this will cost us our friendships.

Jews will continue to debate with each other how to best to support peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. Let us allow the Presbyterian General Assembly the same freedom to choose how to align the church’s investments with its ethical commitments.

In Friendship,

Cantor Michael Davis
Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Rabbinical Student Leora Abelsom
Rabbinical Student Ariana Katz
Rabbinical Student David Basior
Rabbinical Student Jessica Rosenberg

(list in formation)

“Love Thy Palestinian Neighbor:” A Bar Mitzvah Dvar Torah by Elijah David Gold

The following post is a D’var Torah (Torah lesson/commentary) that was written and recently delivered by thirteen year old Elijah David Gold for his Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Tikkun v’Or in Ithaca, NY (where JVP Rabbinical Council member Brian Walt serves as rabbi).

In his address to his community, Elijah powerfully applied the Torah’s teaching to love one’s neighbor as oneself to the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinian children in the West Bank.

Thank you for coming to my Bar Mitzvah.

My Torah portion is K’doshim, Leviticus 19:1- 20:27. It is a very important Torah portion because it gives us guidelines for how to treat others. I would like dedicate my D’var Torah to the memory of Wolf Karo. Our congregation participates in the Remember Us project. The Remember Us project has Bar or Bat Mitzvah children lift up the spirit of a child who died during the Holocaust before they had a chance to become Bar or Bat Mitzvahs.

Wolf Karo, who I am lifting up today was relative of mine from Babiak, Poland, where my great Grandma Anne was born. My mother and I requested a child from Babiak or with the last name Caro. It turns out that Wolf Karo’s name had been submitted by my great Grandmother’s cousin in Pennsylvania who has the same name as Wolf Karo.

We tried to do research about Wolf Karo’s life, but we were unable to find out much. His Hebrew name was Zev. His father’s name was Chiel-Maier And his mother’s name was Ester and he was born around 1922. We don’t know how or when Wolf Karo died, but we believe it was likely in the Chelmo Concentration Camp because the first transports to Chelmo came from neighboring Babiak and Chelmo was the first camp where the Nazis used poisonous gas for extermination. At the end of the service I will say Kaddish for Wolf Caro.

K’doshim is a Torah portion of God’s laws and commandments as told by Moses to the Israelites. It includes the Holiness Code and prescribed punishments for sex offenses which includes a prohibition on gay sex. The Tikkun v’Or community strongly disagrees with this and openly welcomes everyone. In Judaism, laws are meant for everyone to understand the reason and significance of the  law. For this purpose, the famous Jewish legal scholar who was also a mystic, Joseph Karo, who I and Wolf Karo are direct descendants of, wrote the Shulchan Aruch, or “Set Table,” so that Jewish law would be laid out for the Jewish people “like a set table ready for eating”.

The Holiness Code includes the Ten Commandments, stated again, but in a different order. The Holiness Code involves a number of different subjects including, how to farm and eat, how to be a person of integrity, how to relate to others in your personal and work life, some laws of Jewish religious practice, and obligations to work for social justice.

For farming and eating, The Holiness Code says that when we plant fruit trees, we should let them mature for five years before eating them. It also says not to eat anything with it’s blood. The Holiness Code tells us that we should not sow two kinds of seeds

In terms of being a person of integrity, the Holiness Code tells us to be kind to and feed the less fortunate. This relates to my Mitzvah Project because for my Mitzvah Project every other week I would go to Loaves and Fishes which is a place where anybody can go to get a free meal. I would play guitar for fifteen to thirty minutes for others’ entertainment.

The Holiness Code says to respect God. It says to love your neighbor as yourself. It tells us not to place a stumbling block before the blind and not to insult the deaf in front of them. It tells us not to steal. It says not to degrade your daughter and make her a whore. The Holiness Code says to love the stranger as yourself.

For relating to others in your personal and work life, the Holiness Code says to not cheat or rob, It says not to hate your relatives or hold grudges, It says not to hate your relatives or hold grudges, It says not be selfish or unethical. To not be unbiased and be fair. To have good labor practices, And to revere our parents.

For religious practice and to set ourselves apart as Jews, the Holiness Code tells us that we must keep the Sabbath and not worship false idols. It says men are not to shave the hair at the corner of their heads. It says not to permanently mark yourself, and to observe God’s laws.

The Holiness Code also includes rules about sacrificing animals. It says not to let your cattle mate with another kind, not to make clothing out of two type of cloth, not  to turn to ghosts or spirits and includes rules about having relations with someone else’s slave.

After the Holiness Code, K’doshim includes a large section outlining punishments for sex offenses, as I mentioned before.

I am going to talk about three parts of the Holiness Code that stood out for me. The first is “You shall not eat anything with its blood too.” In kosher law this commandment is interpreted as you must drain the blood of an animal before you eat it. I think this is a very bland interpretation of the commandment. Cornell professor Sherry Colb,  who read the Torah for us today, points out that when a commandment is repeated three or more times in the Torah it has a deeper meaning than just the words of the commandment. Sherry thinks that kosher laws are interpreted too simply and instead of just not mixing milk and meat we should not eat animals and dairy because it is cruel and unnecessary.

Rav Simcha Zissel who is best known as the founder and director of the Kelm Talmud Torah. says that the prohibition of eating blood is because the blood is the soul of the animal, and we shouldn’t eat another soul, whereas plants don’t have a soul. Rav Simcha Zissel also says that this is why the Torah mentions the concept of “doing what is correct and good” in connection with the prohibition of eating blood. When the Torah tells us not to eat blood, it is telling us to respect life, even animal life. I think the main way to respect life is to not take from it or kill it.

The next two parts of the holiness code that I am going to talk about are “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love the stranger” Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, of Congregation Beth Israel in the North Berkshires, says that “love your neighbor” is God’s mitzvah. She says that according to a Hasidic teaching, God created humans because God needed a partner or “neighbor” to be in a relationship with because God couldn’t be whole without without extending love to another. Because we are called to be like God, we are supposed to extend love to “others” too.

There is the famous story of where a convert asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel said, “what is hateful to you, don’t do to others. That is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary”. Second century rabbinic sage, Ben-Azzai disagreed that loving your neighbor is the greatest requirement of the Torah. He said that the teaching “God created human beings, making them in the likeness of God” is a more important principle. Ben-Azzai thought that people should not be able to use their likes and dislikes, or if they understand others, as a guideline for how to treat others because we are all created in God’s image.

I believe “love your neighbor” should include all human beings, not just Jews. But even if you do not agree with that, K’doshim also includes the requirement to love the stranger. It says:

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Certainly in this case, it is clear that we are to treat all human beings with dignity, equality, and respect. For this reason, for my D’var Torah I decided to learn more about how Palestinians, and especially Palestinian children, are treated in the state of Israel. To do this I watched the documentary “5 Broken Cameras” that takes place in the West Bank. I read testimonies of detained Palestinian children in +972 Magazine, I read testimonies of Israeli soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories in “Breaking the Silence,” I read parts of the book, “Stolen Youth,” published by Defense of Children International – Palestine, and I read a report on the psychological effects of child detention that my mother helped prepare for the human rights organization, Friends of Sabeel – North America.

If the Torah says that you are to love your neighbor and love the stranger as yourself, it seems that Israel is in serious violation of this. Palestinians in the West Bank only get 20 percent of the water that Israelis get. As I learned about Palestinians living in the West and Gaza Strip, what affected me the most was the children.

The Israeli military targets children for arrest and detention in order to uproot Palestinian communities. Around 200 Palestinian children are arrested per month. They are tried in the only juvenile military court in the world. The most common charge is rock throwing. They are between the age of twelve and seventeen. This includes what is my Bar Mitzvah age.

During their arrests 90% are blindfolded, 75% undergo physical violence, and 60% are placed in solitary confinement. They are not given lawyers or allowed to see their parents. They are verbally abused and forced to sign confessions in a language they don’t know with the false promise of being allowed to see their parents if they will sign. After they are released, they do not go back to being the children they previously were. They suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they have nightmares, trouble sleeping, anxiety, behavior problems, scared to leave their houses, and many other problems.

Last fall my mother traveled to the West Bank and spent time in the village of Bil’in where “5 Broken Cameras” was made. She became friends with the filmmaker’s brother. She recently learned that his daughter, Mayar, who is my sister’s age, has not been able to sleep because she has nightmares from when the soldiers have come into her home with tear gas in the middle of the night. Most children are arrested during the middle of the night and more than once in their childhood. As you can see, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not treated like human beings should be treated; certainly not like neighbors or like their Israeli counterparts whose children are are tried in civil, rather than military, courts.

In my Torah portion, God commands us to help our fellow Israelites return to good if they are committing sinful acts. In fact, it is a sin not to help. Maimonides and Nachmanidies who were famous for their work on Jewish law say that the commandment is about collective responsibility and we are not only responsible for ourselves but also the behavior of others.

If you see someone committing a sin, or going down a wrong path, you are commanded to try to make him go back to a path of good. Nachmanides says “You shall surely rebuke your neighbor”. As I have now become a Bar Mitzvah, I  have moral and ethical responsibilities and I am required to fulfill mitzvot. I am responsible for my own actions and the actions of my community. As long as the State of Israel is committing crimes, it is a sin for me to stand idly by and not help my fellow Israelites return to a path of goodness. That is why I will be donating some of my Bar Mitzvah money to the organization, Defense of Children international – Palestine.

Now for the thank yous, I would like to thank my mom for helping me with all of my D’var Torah and supporting me. Thank you to my dad for taking me to Loaves and Fishes and supporting me. Thank you to Isabella for being a loving sister. Thank you Cantor Abby and my Hebrew school teachers for helping me get ready for my Bar Mitzvah. Thank you to my Grandparents and great Grandparents for loving me. Thank you to all of my Torah readers for helping me out.

Hanuka: Dedicated to Resisting Militarism Through Peace Education

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

As we approach Hanuka, the Festival of Lights, we can either promote the rabbinic message of Hanuka as dedication to spiritual illumination and peace education  OR emphasize Maccabean militarism as necessary to achieving victory over opponents. Many in the Jewish community will try to promote both, but that is impossible. Our tradition warns us: either choose the way of the book or choose the way of the sword. If we choose the sword, we can no longer be faithful to traditional nonviolent values associated with the book.

The rabbinic tradition largely supports nonviolence: “Not by military might and not by force of arms, by My spirit.” This is the prophetic verse chosen by the sages to illuminate Hanuka! Today, many Jewish people believe military strength is the way to achieve lasting security. While all states have had legitimate security needs, militarization and military occupation were traditionally regarded as evil. Yes, evil. The prophets continually denounced militarism. The sages believed that even lifting one hand to threaten another is ‘rasha‘, that is, violent, unjust and a sin. “Once the arrow is released from its bow, not even the mightiest warrior can bring it back.” Militarism has a life of its own which breeds corruption, systemic violence and the degradation of humanistic values. Militarism is not Jewish.

I find it ironic, given current Jewish loyalty to Israeli militarism by mainstream Jewish institutions, that Hanuka’s traditional emphasis on active nonviolence arose during Roman Occupation. The rabbinic sages framed the holy day as a reminder that our spiritual power comes from remaining steadfast to compassion and good deeds. We are told to think of ourselves as cohainim, spiritual educators. We don the cohenet mantle and light a menorah in the window at sunset, as people return from the market place, in order to create a public witness to our faithfulness to upholding human dignity and love. This is the true source of human strength.

Hanuka also means education. Light symbolizes Jewish dedication to rekindling the altar of peace education! Great is peace, was the message of the sages. This meant refusing to cooperate with Roman militarism. The sages initiated a boycott which forbade the buying and selling of military equipment to either Romans or Jews.  Jewish rabbinic law forbid Jews to derive pleasure or benefit from any products that promote systemic violence. Yes, BDS has Jewish roots in rabbinic tradition. So, how do we increase light today? By supporting resistance to Israeli state militarism through peace education as well as noncooperation with militarism through BDS.

If you use olive oil to light your menorah, please listen to Iyad Burnat in the video above and remember that the olive tree has been tended by Palestinians in the holy land for millennium, and, thus, traditional knowledge about the olive tree has been largely kept by the Palestinian community to this very day. A collective tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. The Annexation Wall, which, when completed by 2020, will be twice the distance of the Green Line in the West Bank. As for security: 85% of the Annexation Wall is NOT on the Green Line. 

The true miracle of Hanuka today is giving public witness to the absolute necessity of putting militarism aside and rededicating our commitment to human dignity as a force more powerful for achieving security and peace.  And lest we forget, the children of Gaza are dying. I have learned from many young Gazans that they regard education as their main form of nonviolent resistance to Occupation. Education gives them hope. The message of nonviolent resistance is alive and well among Palestinians. Israelis would benefit from listening and responding to the traditional messages of Hanuka instead of promoting the Maccabees on steroids. 

Letter to President Obama from American Rabbis

Dear President Obama,

We are writing this letter to you as American rabbis, cantors and rabbinical students, serving a wide range of Jewish communities.   We were dismayed to learn that, immediately following the recognition by the United Nations of observer status for Palestine, the government of Israel issued permits to begin development of two large tracts of settlement housing in highly contested areas in  East Jerusalem (E-1) and the West Bank (Maaleh Adumim.)

As you well know, these expansion permits are damaging not only to prospects for Palestinian self-determination but also for peace in the region.  We urge you in the strongest terms to use your full authority to oppose these expansions, which are illegal under international law and which also make impossible any hope of creating a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank.

We represent a growing voice within American Jewry which seeks an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its stranglehold by blockade of the people of Gaza.  We believe that the aggressive expansion of settlements in the Occupied territories constitutes a deliberate strategy to obstruct a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  We believe further that the United States, as the primary global source of financial and political support for the  Israeli government, has an obligation to hold the Netanyahu government accountable for these actions, which thwart the possibility of peaceful resolution of the conflict.

It is no longer the case — if it ever was — that the Jewish community in the United States  is unified in its support of the policies of successive Israeli governments, which have sought to create “facts on the ground” that obstruct the hopes of independence and sustainability for the Palestinian people.  Absent active intervention by the United States and other nations, Israel will surely continue to implement these destructive policies.

As leaders of the American Jewish community, we join you in hope for a just peace for all the peoples of the region.  Please know that you have our strong support for demanding that the government of Israel reverse for this latest action and for all that you can do to lead the way to a fair and sustainable resolution.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Margaret Holub

Rabbi Brant Rosen

Rabbi Brian Walt

Rabbi Lynn Gottleib

Rabbi Joseph Berman

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman

Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton

Rabbi Julie Greenberg

Rabbi Borukh Goldberg

Rabbi Eyal Levinson

Rabbi David Mivasair

Rabbi Rebecca Lillian

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Alana Alpert

Cantor Michael Davis

Rabbi Michael E. Feinberg

Rain Zohav

Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer

Jessica Rosenberg

Ken Rosenstein

Rabbi Shai Gluskin

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert

Ari Lev Fornari

Rabbi Art Donsky

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom

Rabbi Linda Holtzman

Rabbi Leonard Beerman

Rabbi Alexis Pearce

Rabbi Sarra Lev

David Basior

Rabbi Liz Bolton on Values-Based Solidarity

Statement delivered by Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton at the Kairos USA Press Conference in Support of the American Christian Leaders’ Call for an End to Unconditional US Military Aid to Israel, Washington, DC, November 29, 2012:

My name is Elizabeth Bolton. I am a rabbi from Baltimore and a member of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, and honored to be here.

Along with my Jewish clergy colleagues, I stand in support of the church leaders asking Congress for review of military aid to Israel so that it complies with its own laws and legislation.

A core value in my rabbinate is the passage in Genesis – that we are all created b’tzelem elohim/in God’s image.  The people of Israel are my people, yet I abhor the deliberate debasement of the divine image through systemic violations of human rights committed in the name of Israel the people in the land of Israel.

Some in our communities have been falsely stoking fears that decades of Jewish Christian dialogue would be destroyed as a result of the call by the fifteen church leaders. This is a false prophecy.  Jews and Christians and activists and humanists must all be able to speak truth to power, to call out as witnesses, and hold our civic leaders to account for their stewardship of our resources.

This is consonant with the principle found in the Talmud – dina d’malhuta dina – the law of the land is the law. Applied in this context, the principle is an extension of my citizenship here, and enhances my personal understanding if the complexities inherent in faith-based, particularly Christian-faith-based, calls for justice in Israel and Palestine.  I understand this interest in, and concern for, the holy land, and believe that the motivation for these actions is thoughtful, deeply considered, and values-based.

True interfaith cooperation and dialogue starts with a commonality of principles and ideals, and a willingness to engage with open eyes and open hearts, especially when looking at the painful and tragic intersections of faith and history.  Jews, humanists and activists who stand with these churches do so because we share respect for law, for dignity, and self-determination based on human rights.

In that spirit, JVP has created another opportunity to echo the church’s call. At, you can find a petition asking President Obama to ensure that American aid to Israel is in compliance with current US laws. Our president has identified himself as a person of faith, and I call that to our attention at this moment precisely because some of us at this table do this work as people of faith. Jewish Voice for Peace is just that – a Jewish voice speaking and seeking peace, and taking this opportunity to raise the voices in chorus.

Ten thousand voices have already declared their support for the churches’ call, in this petition to Congress:

We are Jews, Christians, Muslims,  and other people of conscience who wish to thank you for your principled stand asking members of the United States Congress to hold Israel accountable in its use of U.S. military aid as required by U.S. law.

May our solidarity continue to be driven by values, not tribal allegiances, motivated by the prophetic vision that demands we stand with the powerless and call out the powerful.

May our shared work be for a blessing.

Where are we Headed? A Reflection on the 74th Anniversary of Kristallnacht

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

In hindsight, Kristallnacht signaled what was to come: the rounding up and extermination of European Jewry. Most of the world did not intervene and worse, chose to block Jewish efforts to escape. As people either collaborated with or chose to ignore the implications of each step along the path toward genocide, the Germans carried out their plans with impunity and in public.  German civilians either explicitly or tacitly supported a regime of incredible brutality.  They stood by while Jewish neighbors and friends were rounded up and killed. Acts of collective nonviolent resistance like the one pursued by the village of Le Chambon (they saved 5000 Jews) were rare.

I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a sixth generation North American Jew in the Reform tradition. I am still amazed by the wisdom of my rabbinic teachers in response to the Shoah. I learned from the rabbis of my youth not to barricade myself in layers of fear and distrust; rather, they taught me to protest racism in all its ugly manifestations in public because never again meant never again for anyone. They taught me that when one of us suffers, all of us suffer.  They taught me that silence in the face of injustice is complicity with injustice. They tied these lessons to their version of Jewish religion. I never imagined that I would have to apply these lessons to the actions of the Jewish community in relationship to Israel. I incorrectly assumed that the Shoah had somehow immunized us against harming others, that we had learned the Biblical lesson: do not oppress others, for you were once oppressed.

When I was seventeen I traveled to Israel as an exchange student where I confronted a deeply uncomfortable truth with which I have been wrestling ever since: the same racist patterns of segregation, discrimination and mass incarceration of people on the basis of their identity which I learned to resist in North America because of Jewish experience during the Shoah was, in fact, occurring in Israel. Only instead of white people oppressing blacks, Jews were oppressing Palestinians. The justification? Security.  But it looked and sounded like racist disdain to my ears.  In 1966 Atallah Mansour told me the story of the Nakba. The Nakba never ended.

For the past forty five years I have been deeply involved with all kinds of peacemaking efforts between Israelis and Palestinians including dialogue, education, delegations and direct action. As I prepare to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht, I am haunted by profound disquiet.

A recent poll of Jewish citizens of Israel (September 2012) based on a sample of 503 interviewees is the Israeli response to President Jimmy Carter’s question: Peace or Apartheid?  The majority of Jewish Israelis have answered: apartheid or, as Ehud Barak described it, “Us here, them there.”  Most Israelis believe that Israel should be a Jewish state that privileges Jews over “non-Jews” as a matter of law.  To uphold draconian laws that apply only to Palestinians to separate, marginalize and systematically discriminate an entire people based on their national, cultural and religious identity.

Many people are offended by the description of Israel as an apartheid state. What we should be offended by is the actual policies that Israel employs against Palestinians. People outraged by the South African-Israel comparison claim that Israel is nothing like South Africa during the apartheid era because the term apartheid is associated with racism. But they are wrong.

Race is a social, not a biological, construct. Use of the term “apartheid” applies whenever a state codifies into law a preferred identity status, then racializes that identity. The racialized identity group is systematically segregated from the rest of the population into discrete geographic areas (bantustans in South Africa; and areas A, B and C plus Gaza in Israel) in order to dominate and control them.  An apartheid state grants the preferred group access to resources and benefits and denies the same benefits to the denigrated group. Those in the underdog role are forcibly confined to their designated territories. Military repression, mass incarceration and unyielding bureaucracy are used to keep systems of apartheid in place.

No one voluntarily deports themselves from their family land or homes.  Israeli apartheid involves systematic and massive  land appropriation, settler brutality, Jewish only roads, the permit regime, the cutting down of trees, restrictions on family unity, arrest of children, administrative detention without legal recourse, constant military incursion, movement restrictions, severe limitations on export and import capacity, home demolition and the threat of demolition, denial of education and health care, unjust distribution of water, internal transfer and in the case of Gaza, a siege which is making the entire stripe “uninhabitable”.  These conditions makes Palestinians vulnerable to mass killing.

Denying this reality is tantamount to willful ignorance. Mountains of credible testimony collected by a variety of human rights groups such as B’tselem, Al Hak, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Russell Tribunal, the Goldstone Report and thousands of eye witnesses over six decades including Palestinians, Jewish Israelis, internationals and human rights organizations leave no doubt that Israel is pursuing policies that are an insult to Jewish history. Israel’s apartheid regime is a disgrace to the values that I was once taught are the very heart of our tradition.

As Angela Davis recently told the American Public Health Association, you don’t get rid of racism with anti-racism workshops alone! Systematic and institutional change occurs when people engage in mass protest and noncooperation with policies that support a corrupt status quo. That is why Palestinians have called upon us to take up boycott, divestment and sanctions as a way to apply pressure until Israeli apartheid is dismantled.  The object of nonviolent struggle is not to defeat people, but to change the system. Apartheid is not good for the occupied or the occupier. It is a dehumanizing system that promotes endless tragedy for everyone.  We need a new paradigm.

Those deriving profit and benefit from apartheid do not easily surrender their power. The history of nonviolent struggle has taught us that people maintaining an unjust status quo will do as little as possible to prevent real, systematic change. They will obstruct, deflect or suppress with harmful force those who demand their freedom. Institutional change can only arise from movement building, grassroots organizing and steadfastness. Like all freedom struggles, the struggle for Palestinian human rights is a universal struggle. That is why people across nationality, gender and religion are joining together to shape political, economic and social realities that embrace universal standards of human rights.

Overcoming injustice is the first priority of our religious traditions.  This 74th anniversary of Kristallnacht, let us pick up the broken shards of history and fashion a mosaic of peace that honors the human dignity of everyone. This is the true meaning of the promised land.

Corners and Wings: A Prayer for Mori

by Rabbinical Student Alana Alpert

I’m very lucky to be a part of a prayer group of people committed to and working towards liberation of all people from various systems of oppression. Together we are exploring how activists can use prayer as a space for healing and as a practice that expands our ability to imagine the world we are working towards. This past week, I asked my friend who would be leading the group if we could take a few minutes to pray for my friend Mori. That morning he would be reporting to the draft headquarters of the IDF, after being refused a hearing as a conscientious objector.

Moriel and I met last summer as we were both preparing to spend a year living in Jerusalem where he would be working with Rabbis for Human Rights. I watched in awe as he used his fluent Hebrew and Arabic, as well as his seemingly endless energy and courage, to throw himself into the work. We started organizing together and he became a dear friend and colleague, supporting each other to find balance, going to demonstrations, and passing notes during infuriating panels. I knew this week would come, and that he wouldn’t go quietly, even if that might have meant less time in jail.

When planning this week’s service, my friend tried hard to understand what it was that I needed, but I didn’t know myself. I told her, “I don’t know how to pray about it except cry about it, so I guess I just need some witnesses.” That morning we chanted the verse “v’havieyenu l’shalom m’arbah kanfot haaretz” – “bring us in peace from the four corners of the land.” I wrapped myself tightly in my tallit and wound the four sets of tzitzit, representing the four corners, around my fingers. I was reminded of how often those verses are sung to the melody of Hatikvah, that for many the State of Israel is the fulfillment of this prayer. I felt overwhelmed by a wave of heartbreak and disbelief:

Why should we gather from the four corners?

So that Jews can put each other in jail?

For the crime of not believing in violence?

Weeping, I read the last paragraph of the beautiful piece Mori wrote explaining his decision:

So I refuse. I refuse to serve in the army, to put on a uniform, to pick up a gun. I refuse to contribute to the cycle of violence and dehumanization that plagues this place that I love. I refuse because I love, and because I believe in the possibility of a better reality, and because I believe in God and in humanity and in nonviolence and because, as R. Heschel teaches, to despair is the most selfish thing one can do, to say “this is hard for me,” or “it seems to me that the situation will never change,” and to thus be unable to serve God by serving others. I believe that the situation can change. I believe that my refusal is a tiny, tiny, tiny contribution to a reality in which violence is less normal, less prevalent, less accepted. I seek to refuse with the most humility that I can muster, because I do not know, about this or about anything. I refuse in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation, and in hope that the ripples of my action will reach the hearts of some members of my Israeli Jewish and American Jewish societies. I refuse to hate those who have chosen differently, and I hope that the refusal to hate will be reciprocated by those who disagree with my decision.

Between sobs, rocking back in forth in my tallit, I managed to tell the friends surrounding me that the root of the word for kanfot (corners) was the same as knafaiim (wings), and prayed something like this:

Please God, Source of Life, don’t let them clip Mori’s wings. Bring us into a new world where no person can tie another’s wings, where no person can hold another prisoner for wanting to serve You.

Ken yehi ratzon – May it be Your will.

(You can read the full piece on Moriel’s blog. Moriel’s story was also recently featured in Ha’aretz, here.)