Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and The Death of Klinghoffer
Binafal oivecha al tismach u’bikashlo al yagel libecha / Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls and let your heart not be glad when he stumbles.
Mishley (Proverbs) 24:17
Im raev sonecha ha’achilehu lechem v’im tzameh hashkehu mayim / If your enemy is hungry feed him bread and if he is thirsty provide water to drink.
Mishley (Proverbs) 25:21
The first and fundamental law of nature… is to seek peace and follow it. “The second, the sum of the right of nature …is “by all means we can to defend ourselves”
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan 1651
Gadol ha’oseh me’ahavah yoter min ha’oseh mi’yirah / The one who acts out of love is greater than the one who acts out of fear.
Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Sota 31
Every man has a right to live
Love is all we have to give
Together we struggle by our will to survive
And together we fight just to stay alive
Struggling man has got to move
Struggling man no time to lose
I’m a struggling man
“Struggling Man,” by Jimmy Cliff
Underneath a sea of doubt
There’s a million voices shouting
Let me out, let me out
When we go
We never return
‘Cos there’s just one lesson
That we got to learn
Wherever you go
Whatever you do
Whatever you say
Say, say, say
Say it with love
“Say It With Love,”
by Justin Hayward from the Moody Blues album Keys of the Kingdom
There is much happening in our congregation this month. One event is the special services and kiddush we will be having in honor of my rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s yahrzeit. As I began to compose the November article late in the month of October, events took place that led me to place an even greater emphasis on the influence that Reb Shlomo had on my life and how I am able to perceive various life events.
I’m sure you by now heard of the controversy surrounding an opera called The Death of Klinghoffer, which opened in October at the Metropolitan Opera. I haven’t seen the performance myself but from what I’ve read and heard, the opera is based on the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise liner the Achille Lauro by the PLO and the subsequent murder of a 69-year-old wheelchair-bound passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, by the terrorists who then dumped his body into the ocean. One would think that such an opera would focus on the condemnation of the vile Palestinian terrorists who committed the atrocity. However, the opera is controversial because the intent was to “humanize” the Palestinian terrorists and attempt to explain how the suffering and historical experiences of the Palestinians would lead to such an event. As I haven’t seen the opera, I can’t take a position on how the characters are portrayed. I have heard from some that the Palestinians are portrayed as crazy and thuggish. Reviews I read took the exact opposite position and have claimed that the Palestinian terrorists are presented as noble but flawed freedom fighters. What is not in dispute is that the opera endeavors to “humanize” the Palestinians and their cause including its terroristic aspects. The opera is even more laden with controversy due to the fact that the librettist, or creator of the dialogue of the opera, is Alice Goodman, an individual born Jewish who rejected Judaism, converted to Christianity, became an Anglican priest, and created a record of comments that have been acerbic and critical of both Jews and Israel and sympathetic to the “Palestinian cause.”
Last year I strongly advocated for the inclusion of a local Islamic group in our Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering. There was much resistance in our group of planning clergy, but eventually the others agreed to allow me to extend an invitation to the contact I had at the mosque, an individual who often represents that community at public events. This contact immediately accepted the invitation. However, he didn’t show up at the next
planning meeting as planned, where he was to meet the other clergy for the first time; and in a subsequent phone conversation with me, he made a demand that after a representative of his mosque would deliver a speech, the Muslims would immediately get up and leave the event because, like Orthodox Jews, it was sinful for Muslims
to hear women singing and we had music planned for the event that, of course, included women singing. Following these events, when our group of clergy next met, it was decided that I would diplomatically “uninvite” the mosque from the event. Today, I’m glad that this series of events took place leading to the “uninvitation,” because as Israel was fending off the attacks of the most evil terrorists in the world, Hamas, in the latest “Gaza War,” I was receiving some very dismaying and shocking emails. Apparently my contact didn’t realize that I was on his email list and he sent me two disturbing email messages. The first was a link to an article that claims that Israel was committing “genocide” against the Palestinians because Israelis as Jews believe that they are the “Chosen People” and have the right to murder anyone else. The second came around September 11 and was a link to a video that supposedly revealed that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were the work of the Israeli Mossad. After the first email, I replied to my contact. I diplomatically expressed how I found the article objectionable. He didn’t respond but after the second email with the link to the video, I received no more email from him.
Still, after all this I remained committed to dialogue and bridge building with the Islamic community and continued to believe that there are reasonable and good people in that community. I, however, just received another blow to my idealism about “bridge building.” The Islamic Center of Long Island was to hold a fundraiser for their mosque. They invited a local politician to headline the event. Controversy broke out when it was
revealed that they had also invited radical Islamist Imam Siraj Wahhaj of the Muslim Alliance of North America. Upon this revelation, the local politician pulled out of the event explaining that the Imam had been added to the event without her knowledge after her acceptance of the invitation. Imam Wahhaj was an unindicted coconspirator in the 1994 World Trade Center bombing. Wahhaj testified in support of some of the suspects and referred to the notorious leader of the group, “The Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, as being a “respected scholar.” Wahhaj can be seen on video saying “If only Muslims were clever politically, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate….America is one of the greatest terrorist nations on this earth…” I haven’t spoken to my contact at this mosque for comment, but the mosque’s website makes no mention of the controversy.
In this article, I have mentioned some events that would perhaps create the impression that I would do a “180” and turn away from being a peace seeker and close my eyes to the humanity of people who many see as our enemies.
I’ve mentioned Reb Shlomo’s yahrzeit, so it’s only appropriate to mention that it is his mentoring that will continue to guide me in this area.
Shlomo loved the so-called “settlers”; he called these people, some who are very idealistic and would love to live in harmony with the Arabs on historically Jewish land, “the real Jews.” Shlomo loved, celebrated, and revered the Israeli soldier who daily risks his life for the safety of “Klal Yisrael” (you may remember the story of the “Street Barber” I told on Yom Kippur; I’ll tell it again during the special Shabbat services). Shlomo was by many mostly known for his embrace of the “hippie generation” and founding a freewheeling congregation called The House of Love and Prayer. Shlomo loved “the Holy Hippelach.”
Once Shlomo was returning from a celebration in the Shtachim, or Settlements, where he had danced and sang with the residents, celebrating their expansion of the community, which he held to be a tremendous mitzvah. On his way back he was scheduled to perform a concert at a women’s prison. This prison held both Jewish and Arab prisoners who had been convicted on serious charges. As he was about to begin his performance, Shlomo paused and asked if everyone was there. He was informed that all were present with the exception of one prisoner. Shlomo said the concert could not go on unless everyone was present. The prison officials explained to Shlomo that the absent prisoner was an Arab who had been imprisoned for assisting terrorists. Her son, a leading terrorist, had just been killed in a recent shootout with the IDF, and this women was at that moment sitting on the floor of her cell crying and mourning her son. Shlomo said, “I’ve got to see this woman, now!” The prison officials resisted but Shlomo was persuasive, and eventually they led Shlomo to the Arab woman’s cell, where she sat on the floor crying. As they opened the door, Shlomo immediately sat down on the floor next to her and, taking her hands, cried with her and comforted her. After a while she agreed to get up and join with the others for the concert, which turned out to be incredibly joyous and healing and led the women in attendance who danced together to Shlomo’s music to see each other as sisters and no longer enemies.
My rebbe could dance with the “Settlers” and soon afterwards comfort the mother of a dead terrorist. The mother of the terrorist would then end up dancing with Jews not as enemies but as sisters. Without turning victims into villains, without excusing evil, without perverting history and truth, Shlomo could see and bring out the humanity in everyone. Please bless me to have the strength to follow his example.