This morning we went to a Lutheran church service (given in English) at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s old city. We walked through the old streets full of merchants selling their souvenirs. I’m trying to gauge prices for items I want to buy for people at home. We walked to a small lunch spot for falafel and some of the best humus I’ve had.
We then went to the office of Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), a watch group established on the ideals of Judaism as the founders saw them. The founder that spoke to us was raised in Pennsylvania surrounded by the idea that Judaism is about universal compassion and justice. The Israeli declaration of independence calls for equality for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc; the RHR tries to see where Israel has succeeded or has not yet succeeded on these grounds. The declaration implies to me that the State of Israel was founded around the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion. I just realized also that the 1/8th rule applied for Israeli citizenship (based on the 1/8th rule used by the Nazis) allows for a diversity of people, as not all those killed in the Holocaust were practicing Jews. But I digress. Back to Rabbis for Human Rights.
According to the man who spoke to us, RHR was started during the first Intifada because the state of Israel seemed to be interested only in supporting the laws of the Shabbat and the dietary laws. The founders of RHR were interested in creating a Rabbinic presence to stand up on real issues. As he said today, true Zionism should be about creating not just a militarily strong nation, but a morally strong nation. RHR tries first to work within the democratic system of Israel’s parliament (which is arguably stronger than our own as a democracy) to affect change in policy, but is certainly not limited to that. They do fieldwork, go through courts and practice civil disobedience if need be. Talking about his work against Israeli home demolition of Palestinian houses, he said, “As a man sworn to uphold the Torah, there is no choice but to stand in front of the bulldozer.” Inspiring. He went on to say that we expect justice and mercy from God, but we are in no such place if we do not practice these tenants to the best of our abilities ourselves. He also said that the majority of both the Palestinian population and the Israeli population say that they want peace and a solution, but believe that the other side does not. This is clearly because there are limited images of each side to the other besides the extremists (the Shas and Hamas). Quick side story about this guy: he saw a young Palestinian man by the Separation wall being beaten by the IDF, and felt called as a Jew, Rabbi and Zionist to go to him and bear witness to the injustice. He walked through tear gas to the young man, who was strapped to a car’s windshield while being beaten, but was then grabbed by another soldier by the neck and head butted, being told “You’re under arrest! You’re under arrest!” He was then handcuffed and held on the hood of another car. Fortunately, the media was there and it became international news in journals including Newsweek. The young man was later reported to have said, “I was being beaten but then a tall man with a beard and Kippah told me not to be afraid.” Now that young man, wherever he is, knows that there are good Jews in the world. The Torah says something along the lines of, “if you change the life of one man, it’s like changing the world.”
Final quotation of the day: “In a democracy, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”-Rabbi Herschl
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