Friday, March 14, 2014

Making A Peace Offering – Vayikra and Reflections from AIPAC 2014©

Making A Peace Offering – Vayikra and Reflections from AIPAC 2014©
By Rabbi David Baum
It was great to be back at AIPAC – what it feels like to be among 14,000 people who are there for one purpose – to support and strengthen the bond between the U.S. and Israel, is an indescribable feeling! 
Some people tell me, “AIPAC is full of right wing people, and, although I’ve never heard this, those in Orthodox congregations hear – it’s filled with left wing voices.  I’m hear to say, yes and yes.  It’s both, it’s all; and that’s why I like it.  There are times when I feel at home, and there are times that I will hear someone say something that really bothers me, and that’s when I recognize that we are under a big tent.  All too often, we divide up into silos – but when we are under a big tent for one purpose, we are so much more effective. 
It’s more than just diversity of opinion, but diversity period. 
AIPAC has made, in my eyes, the correct decision to reflect the changing American landscape, including prominent representatives of the Latin-American, African-American, GLBT, and many other communities, who all agree that the US-Israel partnership, so vital to Israel's future, must be a shared value. 
Israel's security is an American strategic priority which is good for us as a Jews living in America and for the world.  It was amazing to hear from first responders in our country, from New Orleans to Colorado, who spoke about the first people who came to their aid after natural disasters, Israeli volunteers.  Israel has sent their teams to places like Japan, and they have also treated Syrian wounded during this brutal civil war.  As PM Netanyahu said, “The Syrians have been told a lie by Assad – I am your friend and leader, and the Israelis are the enemy.  These Syrians tell us this.  Now, they tell us, we were lied to, the Israelis are helping us, and Assad is killing us.  You are our friends.” 
I wanted to share a couple of speeches that really affected me: 
1.     College student, and Israel activist, Lindy Mabuya, a non-Jewish black South African who lived through Apartheid.  Upon coming to the U.S. for university, she saw signs, ‘Israel is an apartheid state.’  Living through apartheid, she had to speak up to say that Israel is no apartheid state! 
2.     Reverend DeeDee Coleman – a Christian pastor who went to Israel to welcome the final airlift of Jews from Ethiopia, this was the final mission that began in 1985, Operation Moses and Solomon, as former Senator Rudy Boschwitz, these operations were the only times in history when black Africans in large numbers were taken from the African continent for love and a better life, not slavery.  She talked about how
3.     Olga Miranda - SEIU Union Leader – spoke about Hispanics often times rooting for the underdog, and when she went to Israel, she saw the history of our people, that we are the ultimate underdogs. 
a.     She was impressed with how Israel accepts its immigrants, helps them integrate through absorption centers (mercazei klita) and this spoke to her as a Hispanic woman who fights for immigration reform in our country. 
4.     I was introduced to Isaac Herzog, the Labor party leader, who deeply impressed me, and Naftali Bennet, who I may not have known so well, impressed me with his words about the Jewish soul – how we need to get it back. 
But I wanted to share with you a reason why I went, but first, a story.
A congregant recently asked me, “Rabbi, I loved your high holiday sermons, but why didn’t you talk about the peace process?”
I told her, that I didn’t for a couple of reasons.  How many times have we gone through this dance, what makes this time different than all other times?  I mean, it was the high holidays, not Passover after all!  But it revealed to me how jaded we have become to the peace process and I sensed this at the Policy Conference. 
When PM Netanyahu spoke about peace, there was this moment:  “I hope that the Palestinian leadership will stand with Israel and the United States on the right side of the moral divide, the side of peace, reconciliation and hope,” Netanyahu said. Drawing only muted applause, he said: “You can clap. You want to encourage them to do that.”
He had to GIVE us permission to clap! 
I have spoken about the peace process before, but, I have to make a korban hattat (a sin offering) at this time, perhaps I haven’t spoken about it enough.  Next week, I will share my views on Iran and on BDS, both important, existential issues, but I want to focus on the third existential issue that was dealt with at AIPAC – peace. 
And it seems quite fitting that our parashah this week is Vayikra, which deals with the major types of sacrifices, or korbanot – the Olah, the burnt offering, the Minhah, or wheat offering, the Zevach Shlamim, the offering of well-being, the Chatat, or sin offering, and the Asham, the guilt offering. 
(background to the sacrificial system – korban – get close to God; physical ways to exhibit real emotions that we still have – celebration, regret or guilt, sin, thankfulness, our relationship to God, how we deal with how small we are in the world, and so much more) – let me also put it this way – it made eating meat much more important and our ancestors were a lot more mindful with their eating because of it. 
Tucked in there, I mentioned the Zevach Shelamim which comes from the root, Shalem, whole, but the word Shalom, or peace, also comes from it. 
The Zevach Shlemamim is different than the previous offerings mentioned before it in the parashah.  The Olah offering was completely consumed on the fire, and the Minchah offering is only consumed by the priest, but the Shelamim offering, was shared by the person who offered it and others.  Remember, when it comes down to it, this is a meal.  A meal between the person who offers the sacrifice, the people he shares it with, and God who is the honored guest.  Rashi points out, it’s called a Shlemamim offering, in plural because they create peace among the altar, the priests, and those who bring the sacrifice
It’s a beautiful thing – it reminds me of the line from Psalms, Hinei Mah Tov U’Mah Naim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad - Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!  And we think so highly of this value that we bring God to act as a witness to it.  As PM Netanyahu said in his speech, “Peace is Israel’s highest aspiration.”
But the Shlemamim offering may not always be about sitting together in happiness. 
Rashbam wisely says, that it’s called shlemamim to ensure the well-being, shalom, of those who offer them. 
The elephant in the room that we do not often talk about is why our side, specifically, has to finally resolve this conflict – to remain both Democratic and Jewish.  If we become one state, we will lose the Jewish side, if we don’t allow others to vote, we lose the Democratic side.  This issue was brought up many times during the conference, by leaders on all sides. 
But like the Shlamim offering, peace can only come about through both sides voluntarily coming to the table. 
Peace cannot be imposed upon the parties – they have to own it.  Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s CEO, asked a question, “How many of you have ever washed your rental car?”  If you don’t own it, you don’t care about it as much.  Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have to own it of their own volition.
What I learned is that peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis can be a korban, a way to bring the whole region closer together.  PM Netanyahu spoke about how the region, which suffers from water insecurity, can benefit from Israeli technologies, and how Israel can benefit from her Arab neighbors.  If there is peace between the Arab states and Israel, water problems, energy problems, education problems, can end.  If they came closer, they could change the world.  The possibilities are endless and it can be quite amazing. 
Is it possible?  When it comes to the Middle East, anything is possible, for good or for bad. 
I want to end with an experience I had watching David Broza perform at AIPAC. 
He his ended his performance by singing the first song he ever wrote, Yehei Tov which he wrote it as Anwar Sadat landed at Ben Gurion Airport before he addressed the Knesset – at the time (1970’s), I think people thought it would have been more likely for the Messiah to land at Ben Gurion Airport! 
“I look out of the window and it makes me very sad, spring has left who knows when it will return.  the clown has become a king the prophet has become a clown and I have forgotten the way but I am still here

And all will be good yes, all will be good though I sometimes break down
but this night oh, this night, I will stay with you.

Children wear wings and fly off to the army and after two years
they return without an answer.   people live under stress looking for a reason to breathe and between hatred and murder they talk about peace.

And all will be good...
And then he ended with this stanza, which he told us, was intentional: 

“We will yet learn to live together between the groves of olive trees children will live without fear without borders, without bomb-shelters on graves grass will grow, for peace and love, one hundred years of war but we have not lost hope.” 
As a Rabbi, I have to be optimistic, I believe in peace.  For 2,000 years, our people were scattered around the world, we were persecuted, and 70 years ago, 6,000,000 of us were killed, almost crushing us, and yet, we are here, stronger than ever.  To be a Jew means to be an optimist, to believe in light at the end of the tunnel, to believe that a new light will shine upon Zion and out to the world.  Many of us lived through Camp David and the peace between Israel and Egypt, many of us lived through the peace between Israel and Jordan, and many of us saw the first steps between Israel and the Palestinians.  Unfortunately, our children have not seen any of this.  Their reality is continuing conflict, but we know that peace is possible, because we have seen it with our own eyes.  That is why I’m an optimist, because I have to be, if not for my sake, for the sake of our children. 
One day, we will eat of the korban together – I know it, one day, it will all be good.