Thursday, September 3, 2015

Parashat Ki Tetzei: Last Week's Israel Sermon

The Place Where We Are Right 
by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right 
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

I was really hoping to not talk about Iran, but like Michael Corleone, every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.
In the last week or two I have attended a briefing with Admiral Ami Ayalon, former director of the Shin Bet, I attended Senator Coons’ bagels and briefings hosted by Federation and the JCC. Alan Ebner’s thoughtful, PERSONAL article about his feelings on the Iran deal came out in the Orbit, and I’ve gotten lots and lots of emails from various organizations jockeying for position, and some pressure to take a stand one way or the other.
And then the Reform movement put a position out. Which felt, at first, like a cop-out. But the more I think about it, the more I think it was the absolute right thing to say.
First, it recognizes that there is no consensus on this issue. There are wise and thoughtful people who both support and oppose this deal, and a significant number who, for various reasons, find the Iran deal odious, but don’t see another viable option. And while many of the current leadership of secular Jewish institutions are taking stances against the Iran deal, many prominent leaders of the community—including both Eric Yoffie, former head of the URJ, and Ischmar Schorch, former head of JTS, have leant the deal their support. So there is no clear choice.
Second, and more importantly, the movement called for civility in dialogue. And this is important because the debate is becoming increasingly shrill, with the voices for the Iran Deal calling opponents traitors (as was the case with Senator Chuck Schumer) and opponents accusing the supporters of marching Israel to the death camps of Auschwitz. We can differ, even passionately, but there is a real fear that this level of aggressive, partisan animus will irrevocably undermine Israel’s relationship with the United States, and destroy the growing partnership and collaboration between Jewish organizations. Even worse, it runs the risk of marginalizing voices on both sides to such a degree that the next generation of Jews—who largely support the deal—will disengage entirely from organized Jewish life.
This isn’t a cop-out or a no-stance; it’s a warning, a very adult reminder that we can do lasting—perhaps permanent—harm.
Our Torah portion this week reminds us to guard what comes out of our mouths (Deut. 23:24): Whatever our feelings, however passionate we are on this issue, we must choose our words carefully. I am not an expert in proliferation. And I am not a prophet. I cannot predict the future. I am a rabbi, and as a rabbi I know that we cannot allow our words to divide America from Israel, to demonize others, or to make permanent opponents out of those who feel differently. We must act in a holy way. We must carefully watch every word that comes from our lips, lest we be left with hard and trampled ground and ruined houses. May the words of our mouths be acceptable in God’s—and each other’s—hearing. Amen.

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