The Book or the Sword?

From the pen of Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

On the current escalation in Israel and Palestine

Posted on: June 21st, 2014 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Dear friends:

During this time of escalating violence throughout the Middle East, Jewish Voice for Peace would like to express our profound concern for the safety and security of all children living in the region, from Iraq and Syria to Palestine and Israel. We emphatically condemn the massive influx of weapons and military infrastructure generated by the United States, partner governments and corporations as the greatest impediment to the region’s well-being. All children, no matter their identity, deserve our protection and care.

Jewish Voice for Peace condemns the kidnapping of Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach, the Israeli, West Bank teens abducted by, as yet, unidentified individuals while returning home from school. We hope for their immediate and safe return to the loving embrace of their families. The life of every person is precious and these children, no doubt, are frightened and traumatized by what has happened to them.

Jewish Voice for Peace also condemns the killing of Nadim Nuwara and Mohammad Abu Daher, two Palestinian teens who were shot in the chest by young Israeli soldiers near Ramallah in May, as well as Mohammad Dudeen, 15, who was killed by Israeli forces on June 20th. Every life is precious, and our hearts go out in particular to the families of these children.

And we condemn the ongoing incarceration by Israeli occupation forces of hundreds of Palestinian children who are so numerous, their names are virtually unknown by those outside of their families and communities. We hope for the immediate and safe return of these children to the loving embrace of their families.

No child or civilian should ever be used as a pawn. We hope that all our actions support the life and well-being of children, regardless of their religious or national origin. Sadly, this is not the case.

Finally, Jewish Voice for Peace condemns the collective punishment being imposed on Palestinians as a response to the kidnapping of the three Israeli West Bank teenagers. There has always been unequal value placed upon Israeli lives over Palestinian lives in the context of Occupation. The military response to the kidnappings in the form of a massive round-up of Palestinian men and the killing of at least two people as well as closures is disrupting daily life. Collective punishment is illegal under international law.

Israel’s repressive policies of land appropriation, dispossession, mass incarceration and siege cause wide spread harm to ordinary Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza and impede the possibility of normal, friendly relationships among Palestinians and Israelis. In addition, Israel’s refusal to halt its settlement process and respond to Palestinian calls for an end to occupation has caused a small minority of Palestinians to communicate in the language that Israelis employ on a daily basis: the language of violent resistance.

Without an end to the systemic violence generated by Israeli’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, tragedies like the kidnapping of three Israeli children living in West Bank settlements, and the incarceration and killing of hundreds of Palestinian children will continue to unfold. That is why people of good will seek the end of Occupation through the use of nonviolent means. Militarism will never transform conflict, protect children from harm or create lasting peace.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
June 20, 2014

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Shomer Shalom Shavuot and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Posted on: June 4th, 2014 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

The struggle of ordinary people for equity, dignity, and fair treatment has given rise to a unique document that enshrines a new global consensus of what constitutes fundamental and inviolable rights. On Dec. 10th, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a collective vow to ‘never again’ permit the occurrences of atrocities like those that occurred during World War II. The rights enumerated in the Declaration’s 30 Articles define the fundamental freedoms which all societies must secure by enacting progressive measures.

The adoption of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a global ‘Sinai moment’ and the stories of ordinary people striving for freedom comprise the sacred narratives we recite to remind ourselves of the real human cost of violence and injustice. Stewardship of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be seen as a sacred obligation for members of the human family. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its preamble and 30 Articles, and the stories that inform its creation and ongoing application can be integrated into our collective understanding of what constitutes compassion, justice and peace.

In response to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community has developed humanitarian laws and protocols that recognize the legitimacy of leveraging non-violent actions to secure fundamental freedoms. Securing and safeguarding human rights by waging nonviolent campaigns and employing nonviolent tactics such as public demonstration, strike, boycott, divestment, protection of a free press and many other forms of economic, political and social noncooperation has been taken up by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

Liberation from mass incarceration, deportation, forced dislocation, economic exploitation, health care and education deprivation, gender violence, militarization, environmental injustice, deadly conflict, autocratic rule and genocide is a matter of life and death. Revelation is not a one time event. It is ongoing. As the Jewish community stands at Sinai in the year 5774, let us receive a Torah illuminated by nonviolence. The values so beautifully and hopefully enshrined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights carry the ancient struggle for freedom to new heights. They are reflected in the seven core principles of Jewish nonviolence as well. May these seven principles be studied by people staying up all night in order to reaffirm the sacred covenant of the Jewish people, as it is written: The Compassionate One desires the Heart.

Here are the Seven Middot/Core Principles of Shmirat Shalom to study on Shavuot:

  1. YHVH Ekhad: Life is sacred and inter-related. (Deut. 6:7)
  2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Do not do to others that which is hateful to you. (Lev.19: 18; BT Shabbat 31a)
    דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך – פירושה הוא, זיל גמור.
  3. Great is human dignity. (BT Berakhot 19b)
  4. Nonviolently pursue restorative justice, truth and peace, as it is written, “By three things the world is preserved, by (restorative) justice, by truth, and by peace, and these three are one: if (restorative) justice has been accomplished, so has truth, and so has peace” (JT Ta’anit 4:2).
    רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר על שלשה דברים העולם עומד על הדין ועל האמת ועל השלום שנאמר (זכריה ח) אמת ומשפט שלום שפטו בשעריכם.
  5. Practice teshuvah: resolve conflict in the spirit of nonviolent reconciliation. (Deuteronomy 30:2)
    וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ, הַיּוֹם: אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ.
  6. Do not envy a person of violence. Do not choose any of his (violent) ways. (Prov. 3:31)
    אַל-תְּקַנֵּא, בְּאִישׁ חָמָס; וְאַל-תִּבְחַר, בְּכָל-דְּרָכָיו.
  7. Refuse to cooperate with and resist structural violence, colonialism and war with nonviolence, as it is written, “Not with (military) might, and not with force of arms; Only by My spirit, says Adonai.” (Zecharia 4: 6) What is my spirit? My spirit is nonviolence.
    לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ–כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי, אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת.
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Passover: A Celebration and Exploration of Liberation

Posted on: April 10th, 2014 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

The oldest Sephardic haggadah featuring the prayer: This is the poor bread our ancestors ate in Mitzrayim. Let all who are oppressed, come and feast with us. Let all who are in need, join the Passover Seder!

The ritual book used for Passover, the haggadah or the telling, starts off with a call: “Let all who are hungry, come eat. Let all who are oppressed come join the Passover celebration!” Since this is the night of telling there is a presumption that the community will hear from ‘all those who are oppressed.’ Hearing voices of people on the front lines of struggle against systems of violence is the narrative of Passover. Assessing how each of us unconsciously or consciously participates in or resists structures of oppression is key to observing Passover – the oldest and most beloved Jewish holy day.

For Jewish people concerned with our collective relationship to the State of Israel, history has transformed the context in which we tell the Jewish liberation story and radically reshaped our questions. For example, the last line of the haggadah, “Next year in Jerusalem!” has caused members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) to consider this phrase from the perspective of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. From a Palestinian point of view, “Next year in Jerusalem” is experienced as Israel’s occupation policies of forced displacement from Jerusalem as new Jewish settlers take over former Palestinian villages and land. The State of Israel’s dispossession policies toward Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem encompass land appropriation, discriminatory planning policies, the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, the denial of citizenship to Palestinian East Jerusalem residents, home demolition, settler vandalism and harassment, and the use of Jewish historical claims to take land.

This year, as many Jews break the matzah in two, and hide one until the meal is through, we will be contemplating next steps as solidarity partners in the Palestinian freedom struggle. Those of us associated with JVP and the Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence will continue to honor the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Working together, we can transform despair into hope and oppression into liberation. Next year, a liberated Jerusalem. Dayenu.

Syrian Charoset for Passover from Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Charoset is a symbolic food that has two meanings (like all the symbols). On the one hand, it represents the mortar Israelites were forced to use in Pharaoh’s building projects. On the other hand, it represents the fruits of the garden of Eden associated with liberation and delight. This charoset recipe is from the Brooklyn Syrian Jewish household of Stephanie Cohen.

  • 3 pounds dates
  • Water
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate extract (my addition) or sweet wine
  • Teaspoon of ground cinnamon (mixed with a pinch of cardamom and allspice)
  • 1 c. finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Put dates in large saucepan with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until dates are very soft (30-45 minutes). Date skins will separate from the flesh of the fruit, and the boiling liquid becomes thick and syrupy. Mash everything up. Add other ingredients. Chill until ready to serve. Eat with matzah and bitter herb.

Hag Sameakh, a joyous Passover season to you!
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