Rabbi’s Message: Aug. 1, 2014

Gotta Be Free

Hillel omer: Hevei shel talmidav shel Aharon; Ohev shalom v’rodef shlom, ohev et habriyot um’karvan laTorah / Hillel said be like the students of Aaron; Love peace, pursue peace, love all of humanity and bring them close to the Torah.
Pirkey Avot 1:12

You should see what a lovely, lovely world this’d be
Everyone learned to live together ah-ha
Seems to me such an itty bitty thing should be
Why can’t you and me learn to love one another

All the world over, so easy to see
People everywhere just wanna be free
I can’t understand it, so simple to me
People everywhere just got to be free
“People Got To Be Free,” by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati (the Rascals)

Chevra,

Right before we left for our yearly obligatory summer family visit by car vacation, I received an invitation I had received last year and had gladly accepted. In the inbox of my email was an invitation to the annual breaking of the Ramadan Fast sent to me by one of my friends at the Westbury Islamic Center. Last year I had attended this event and had greatly enjoyed it. My hosts were very gracious, warm, welcoming, and expressed a positive message of community harmony. I felt greatly honored when asked to speak before the diverse assembled group.

This year I admit I was filled with some mixed feelings while reading the invitation. I have always striven to understand and accept that my friends in the Muslim community and I may have deep differences of opinions on a variety of topics, especially those that deal with the State of Israel. I fully comprehend that they may hold an entirely dissimilar view of the apportionment of rights and the wrongs concerning this very emotionally arousing
issue. However, I have experienced the Muslim community to not be anti-Jewish as a whole, and overwhelmingly the people I have interacted with all seemed to be good, decent people. This year, though, the invitation came in the midst of the current turmoil going on in Israel. Three innocent Israeli teens were abducted and murdered by Hamas. In a chilling and horrifying manner, the Palestinian population appeared to celebrate
this atrocity with glee. Then in the most unacceptable and ugly fashion, several Israeli teens retaliated by kidnapping and murdering an innocent Palestinian teenager (however, Israelis in every sector of the nation strongly condemned this heinous act and were saddened and horrified by it). Hamas began to rain rockets down on Israel. The Israeli military appropriately began to carry out their sacred mission to defend the Israeli
population, Jew and Arab. With evil cynicism, Hamas intentionally placed their own people in harm’s way hoping to generate the most death and suffering possible. All of this generated within me mixed feelings and conflicting thoughts. Could I attend this event wholeheartedly, knowing that some of my hosts may be highly critical of Israel’s response, will likely be sympathetic to the “Palestinian cause,” and may possibly even be
understanding of or excuse the actions of Hamas?

I thought it over for a number of days before responding. The question was actually moot by then as we had left have done if I had been able to participate. I would have attended, and I would have attended wholeheartedly. I wrote my friend back telling him that I always enjoy participating in events at the Islamic Center and would have been honored to attend if I was not out of town. Furthermore, I encouraged him to continue to invite me to events at the Islamic Center.

It was my weekly study of the Parsha hashavuah and our lively discussions of the perspectives I share during our weekly Shabbat service Torah reading that led me to my conclusion and decision.

As we have been going through Sefer Bamidbar (The Book of Numbers), week after week we encounter in both the parsha and the haftorah, stories of conflict and conquest. We see our revered ancestors, the Israelites, regularly receive and carry out divinely ordained commandments to conquer, loot, enslave, and often exterminate competing Semitic nations. We have stories of our God angrily ordering the slaughter of people that he finds displeasing or insulting to him. Misogynistic laws allowing a man to abuse and humiliate his wife are presented plainly and without comment. Slavery, social inequality, rampant sexism, and homophobia are all presented as acceptable societal norms. What we don’t see is religious tolerance or efforts to co-exist. A plain and honest reading of the text can make us very uneasy, as it runs broadside into our more modern enlightened and peaceful beliefs. Over the centuries, scholars worked with these texts striving to reinterpret them. Some used elaborate apologetics to find excuses or reasons for such excess. Other scholars devised ways to take the text to mean something entirely different from the plain meaning. And most interesting of all are those who took words describing acts of violence and intolerance and used them instead as tools for personal self-improvement. eradicate various traits of cruelty and selfishness from one’s character.

When we encounter and interact with our various Semitic cousins, we need to take into consideration that we may often be asking them to make a journey that we took some 3,000 years to take, in just a very short time. We Jews developed our unique humanistic but religiously based shared outlook over many centuries of dispersion and movement through many cultures and the ideas and learning that those cultures possessed. We had the benefit of being a part of the culture of Western civilization as the ideologies that created modern democracy developed. We were part of a greater culture of rapidly expanding knowledge of science and rational thought.
Before Western civilization intellectually emerged, the Muslim world led in science, medicine, and intellectual endeavors. For many later centuries, however, Muslim culture lagged far behind in these areas. However, when I meet American Muslims including immigrants I find them to be informed, educated, intelligent people who strongly embrace, appreciate, and revere the system of freedoms we live under. I see them to be the key to
instilling the love of freedom, tolerance, and co-existence in the rest of the Muslim world. They can best do this when they know that here in the United States their non-Muslim fellow citizens care about them and call them friend. It is especially important for the Muslim community to have Jewish friends.

I will always support the State of Israel. I will always make an effort to have Muslim friends.

Don’t let issues distract you from enjoying the gift of summer.

B’Shalom,
Menashe

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