Who Am I?

by Rabbi Lee Friedlander

Dear Friends,

Like so many of you, I feel that I have sat shiva, and am now coming to the end of sh’loshim, the thirty-day period since the Sh’mini Atseret massacres in Israel.  My Shiva observance was not home-centered as is traditional, but was community-based.  I attended every demonstration and rally for Israel that I could.  I needed to be with fellow mourners who felt my rage and shared my sadness and fears, people with whom I could find comfort in just our being together.  Sh’loshim challenged me to examine my life after the killing of more than 1400 Israelis and the wounding of 5400 more at the hands of Hamas terrorists, knowing, too, that 230 people were being held hostage.  So, I asked myself, who are you now?  I have concluded, I am who I was . . . mostly.  I am a Zionist.  I am a student of history.  I am a rabbi.  I am a father and a grandfather.  I am a dove.

I am a Zionist, but I am not an Israeli.  As I said on Rosh HaShana,  I have been a Jewish nationalist from birth.  The State of Israel has been a reality for all my life.  I believe that the Jewish People are entitled by history and by the mandate of the United Nations to have a state of their own.  I believe it must be a democratic state with “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” with the guarantee of “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture,” as stated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.  I also know that my investment in Israel, even as a committed Zionist, is not the same as that of Israel’s citizens.  I have not served in the IDF, nor have my children.  My support may be absolute, but it is at a distance of 5700 miles.

I am a student of history, but I am not a military strategist.  For seven years, my Shabbat Seminar focused on the ideological history of Zionism.  I spent the next three years looking at Israel through the lens of Jewish power and powerlessness.  Considering the two millennia-plus hiatus of Jewish political independence, it is amazing that Israel has done so well in the course of the past 75 years.  But now its existence is being threatened as never before.  How to respond militarily is not for me to answer.  There are recent examples, however, of failed attempts from powerful armies to eradicate terrorist groups that I hope are being examined by Israel’s generals.

I am a rabbi and, therefore, a pastor, too.  Not everyone in our synagogue shares the same perspective or opinions about the present situation in Israel and Gaza.  And, I suspect, that I personally differ in my view from some of you.  But we have always been able to express our thoughts openly and without fear of condemnation.  I speak for myself, and for Jodie and Eric, in saying that we are here for you and with you in these politically charged, “us-versus-them” times.  We want to hear what you have to say, and we want to provide comfort for you in your grieving, sadness, certainty, and questioning.

I am a father and a grandfather. How can you take in the news of infants slaughtered and young people violated and mutilated without summoning the faces of your own children and grandchildren.  The most moving part of last Sunday evening’s event in support of Israel at Temple Beth Israel in Port Washington was the card of a picture and short biography of an Israeli captive found on every seat.  My card was a photo of a 32 year old mother holding her infant daughter, which could have been my daughter, Ruthie, holding my granddaughter Tallulah.  Multiplying that image of Israeli women and children by the number of non-combatants who have died in Gaza results in grief is overwhelming.

I am a pursuer of peace, of a strategic peace.  Mark Rosenblum, Professor of History at Queens College and former political director of American Friends for Peace Now, once described himself as a Machiavellian dove.  I, too, want a peace in which children can play in their own playgrounds without fear of attack.  I dream not of John Lennon’s ‘imagined’ peace.  I want a peace where you can fly your flag and I can fly mine, and neither of us have to be concerned that we won’t be dead in our beds come morning.  Not the peace of the lion and the lamb together, not the peace of the prophet Micah; a cold, practical peace is all I want. Can we hope for that?

Still with grief,