La’asot N’Kama (To Exact Revenge)

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In the last few weeks I’ve heard the word נקמה (revenge) mentioned in regards to the horrific massacre in Itamar, the bombing in Jerusalem, and the rocket attacks in the South. We hear it mentioned every time there’s a terrorist attack, and it’s the reason why some people refer to the situation in Israel as a Cycle of Violence. There’s even a song played at some Jewish Weddings (horrifyingly almost at ours) that glorifies the idea of נקמה.

If you can tell from having read anything else on this blog, or my tweets, I am not a big fan of Revenge. While it may feel good in the short run, it’s rarely perpetrated against the original offender, it leads to more bloodshed, and doesn’t heal the original wound. It embroils people in deeper conflicts, and creates an even greater stumbling block for peace.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised earlier tonight to see a mention of נקמה that I could jive with. It was written by the Rambam in his Mishneh Torah, and I ran across it during my daily study of a Perek from Mishneh Torah (part of a Mt Sinai Education Committee initiative). Here is the text:

.הנקמה שאין נקמה גדולה ממנה שתכרת הנפש ולא תזכה לאותן החיים

“The word revenge that can be exacted is the cutting off of the soul, and the denial of eternal life in the next world.”

(Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah, 8:5)

The Rambam had just described the most wonderful perception of the afterworld, and he explains that the worst thing that could happen to you is that you are denied access to this “House of God” after death.

When we read in the news about concerns about “Price Tag” attacks against Palestinians in response to the Itamar murders, it’s disturbing and horrific in its own right. There is no excuse to attack someone because you suspect they live in the same town as a person who attacked you.

We need to work together as best as possible to work towards peace in all situations, and especially with the Palestinian people. While the IDF and PA should continue to hunt down the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks, the rest of Israel and the world can rest assured that Justice will surely be had in the world to come.

The focus of the people of Itamar, Israel, Palestine and the world should be Peace.

Israel Day Parade 2010 – Standing in the Middle

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Growing up in Maryland, I didn’t know what the Salute to Israel Parade was all about. I had NY friends who would rave about how big a deal it was, but it wasn’t until I came to New York for college that I marched for the first time with Bnei Akiva. And it is truly remarkable to see hundreds of thousands of people coming together in Manhattan to celebrate and support the State of Israel.

Ask anyone what part of the parade route stands out the most, and they’ll likely mention the corner of 59th and 5th where two large groups of people are gathered with signs on opposite sides of the street. Palestinian and Neturei Karta protesters are on the West side of the street, and (mostly Right-Wing) Pro-Israel protesters are on the East Side. People are yelling and screaming, and the emotions are running high. It is an ugly scar on this day of celebration, and a stark reminder of how far we still have to go as a community.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I am in favor of a two-state solution, and would not oppose a Palestinian Capitol in Eastern Jerusalem. I think this is the right thing to do for moral, legal, pragmatic, and religious reasons. I know these views do not make me very popular, and I am often in the minority among my fellow Zionists and Orthodox Jews.

It’s not easy to think about asking (forcing) people to leave their homes. It was a horrible process for the 8,000 Israelis who left Gaza in 2005, and it will be a horrible and painful process for those living in areas of the West Bank which will hopefully be part of a future Palestinian state.

We have been jaded by the years of violence to believe that Palestinians are the enemy that has no desire for peace, and that the Israeli government/military is the infallible  and sole agent of good in the Middle East. We need to break ourselves from these false conceptions, and realize that this is a complicated situation that requires a nuanced and difficult response.

A recent article in the New York Book Review by Peter Beinart highlighted the problem that many young American Jews don’t feel connected to Israel or Zionism because of the attitude that Israel must be never be criticized, and that Palestinians are “violent and hateful.” As long as our community promotes these ideas, we will never have peace, and we will collectively lose our connected to the State of Israel.

There are Palestinians who will be partners in peace, and there is hope for a better future. We need to have faith that a better collective experience is out there if we are willing to find it. The process will not be simple, and a fledgling Palestinian State will not be without its shortcomings. We will need patience and resilience, but that is the only real option we have.

So when I arrive at the corner of 5th and 59th this afternoon, I will truly feel as if I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I can’t relate to the Neturei Karta who deny the validity of Israel, and I can’t relate to the Right-Wing Zionists who refuse to trade land for peace – they are simply opposite sides of the same extremist coin. I am a Religious Zionist who believes in both the importance of a Jewish State in the land of Israel, and the need for a sovereign Palestinian nation in the West Bank and Gaza.

As the rain falls during today’s Salute to Israel Parade, we should realize that the more ominous clouds are those that blind our judgment and perpetuate strife and discord in the Middle East.

The Beginning of the End for the Jewish State?

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The longer Israel refuses to pursue a Two State Solution with the Palestinians, the greater the likelihood that the world begins demanding a One State Solution. A single state for Jews and non-Jews will be a state without a Jewish majority.

The New York Times published an Op-Ed last week titled “The Two State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything.” The authors of the article argue that the Jews are eternally focused on having a Jewish State, and that the Palestinians are forever thinking like refugees. In their opinion, “the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel.”

I’ve been telling people for two years that we need to take a pragmatic approach to the Israeli/Palestinian impasse we find ourselves in. I personally feel that the Palestinians deserve to have a sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza, but that belief of mine is not really relevant.

People who are against the two-state-solution never seem to stop and think about the alternatives. The status quo cannot last forever. We cannot have an apartheid state with Palestinians playing the role of 2nd class citizens. We can’t kick the Palestinians out of Israel because there is practically nowhere for them to do.

The alternative to creating a Palestinian State is giving full Israeli citizenship to all of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (and maybe those in the diaspora as well). I believe that the Jewish people have a right to country where we can express our culture and heritage, so long as it isn’t infringing on other people’s similar rights.

We can either demand a two state solution, or resign ourselves to the end of the Zionist dream for a Jewish homeland.