I attended the Pre-Convention morning studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute with Yossi Klein Halevi on Tuesday.
The Jewish people read a lot of text. We do this to remember our history, to study our most important values, and because text both ancient and modern can help to reveal ourselves to ourselves. Tuesday morning Yossi Klein Halevi helped us explore the competing values of “Remember you were strangers ” which teaches us that we may not be brutal, and “Remember what Amalek did to you…,” which teaches us that we shouldn’t be naive.
On the surface it may not be clear how these values may compete, but when we read them with an eye towards the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians we begin to see how hard it may be to find a balance. We, the Jewish people must not behave in a brutal way. We must not oppress the stranger, we must love our neighbor as ourselves, and yet when we have a long and difficult relationship with our neighbor, with the people we share land with, how can we forget, how can we love when we understand that this relationship is not so easy. How can we both avoid naïveté and brutality with the neighbor and the history that we have.
Through chevruta and with the larger group we examined multiple texts with an eye toward finding a balance both between brutality and naïveté and between self-preservation and justice.
For me the stand out text was was a poem by Uri Zvi Greenberg, “Holy of Holies.” Written in the early 1950’s, this poem is a conversation between Uri and his mother who was killed in the Holocaust. In it she says to him, “And even when the Redeemer comes, and the nations shall beat their swords into/ pruning-hooks and throw their rifles into the fire–/ you will not, my son, you will not!/ …Lest the nations arise again and gather iron/ and rise against us again and we will not be prepared/ as we were not prepared until now!” He posits that the Holocaust or all of Jewish history teaches us that even after the messiah comes we can not lower our guard because the nations will always come for us. And so we will always wear our uniforms and carry our weapons or we risk history repeating once again.
And yet, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must love ourselves, we must love our neighbors and we must do these things in equal measure.
I do not know if balancing justice with self-preservation, or brutality with naivete, or even self love with neighbor love will bring the coming of the messiah or even just peace in the Middle East, but I would like to see us continue in this struggle. It’s a good one.
Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker serves Congregation Kol Ami in Vancouver, Washington.