There’s a famous, apocryphal story about Ezer Weisman that when he was president of Israel he invited the Grand Mufti of the Waqf, which oversees the Temple Mount, or the Harm Al-Sharif, and the Chief Rabbi of Israel, to his official residence in Jerusalem. While there he asked them which of Abraham’s sons was sacrificed on the Temple Mount, The Noble Sanctuary, Isaac or Ishmael? The Chief Rabbi naturally said Isaac, and the Grand Mufti naturally said Ishmael, each citing their texts and their opinions, the conversation growing ever more heated. Finally, Weizman put a stop to it and, with a twinkle in his eye declared “you’re both wrong! It was a ram that was sacrificed up there!”
Today we see a similar debate taking place, only now the language is even more incendiary, and the results catastrophic. On the one hand the Palestinian leadership is stoking rumors online that Israel seeks to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and ‘Judaize’ the Temple Mount; rumors that are leading to young men and women, in their teens and twenties, flinging themselves with knives and guns at Israeli civilians to attempt to murder them. These are not just Palestinians—many of these kids are Israeli Arabs, with Israeli rights. These rumors have also led to attempts at the United Nations to declare the Western Wall, Joseph’s tomb (which was set ablaze) and other Jewish sites as Muslim, leading many on the Israeli right to declare that this is proof that the Palestinians don’t want coexistence, they want murder. This has led to Israelis buying guns to protect themselves, barring Israeli Arabs from working in schools in some communities, erecting temporary barriers in some neighborhoods, the mob-murder of an Eritrean immigrant in Beer Sheba, and Bibi Netanyahu putting his entire lower half into his mouth, declaring that the Grand Mufti of the 1930s was responsible for the Holocaust, resulting in Germany saying “actually, that was us. Sorry.”
There are two powerful, compelling narratives going on here, but really they’re one. And the narratives begin this week with parashat lech lecha. Avram, dwelling in Ur, already an old man, is told by God to go to some unnamed land, the land God will show him, and will bless him. His descendants will inherit that land and all the families of the earth will bless themselves by him. It is an audacious story; to uproot one’s entire life to journey to an unknown place for an impossible blessing, but Avram does so, and thus fulfills his name, becoming the father of many.
It is cliché at this point to note that Avraham is the father of us and the Muslims, the kind of reference one brought up in the heady days of the Oslo accords. But it’s cliché because it’s true. It’s a shared narrative and a shared land. As Sarah Tuttle-Singer wrote in the Times of Israel last week: we’re not going anywhere, and they’re not going anywhere.
Right now the World Zionist Congress is taking place. Thanks to our efforts, 40% of the delegates are from ARZA, our American Reform Zionist Association, who ran on a platform of moving peace forward. They are meeting and working toward that effort now. There are voices on both sides—drowned out by incitement—who are calling for peace and coexistence. We need to everything we can to lift those voices up, in spite of our anger and our fear. Not Pollyanna ideas or foolish notions that the Middle East will suddenly be Northern Europe, but peace and prosperity on the ground nevertheless.
There was an article in Ha’aretz this week citing several studies that pointed to how the Palestinians, Jews and Druze and Israeli Bedouin all share common genetic ancestry; we are closest to each other. There may not have been an Avraham as appears in the Torah, but we come from one ancestor. We are all mishpocha. So were Cain and Abel. So it’s up to us to decide whether we want to use our shared story to justify harm to one another, or to uplift one another. And we have to make that choice again and again, otherwise it won’t be a ram sacrificed, but all of our children. Amen.