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 I Declare! 

04/27/2023 11:28:21 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

I didn’t get “in trouble” a lot as a kid.  My parents might tell you that it wasn’t, however, uncommon for me to receive pretty good grades that were often accompanied by comments like, “Scotty likes to talk,” or “Scotty isn’t always on task.”  Anyone who knows me today is probably not “aghast” at this characterization.  I think perhaps the most memorable time I got “in trouble” in school actually took place during my 3rd year of rabbinical school!  I was a student at HUC (Hebrew Union College) in Los Angeles and it was early December 1995.  The school had organized a sheloshim service in memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had been assassinated by a Jewish, right-wing extremist, who came from a part of Israeli society committed to undermining the Oslo Accords.  Sheloshim means “thirty,” and it’s a commemoration of the death of someone 30 days after they are buried, marking a transition of mourning.  Natalie and I had been living in Israel from July 1993-May 1994 and thus present in the country when Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton together stood in front of the White House having signed what we all believed and hoped to be the most significant and promising peace treaty in the history of the state of Israel.  

Immediately (and prior), Prime Minister Rabin, no dove himself, was labeled by these extreme Israeli elements to be a traitor, whose imagined assassination was halachically permissible.  They called him a rodef, a “pursuer.”  According to Jewish law, when there is someone “in deadly pursuit,” of someone else, especially if the potential victim is vulnerable to attack, a witness to this pursuit can justifiably cut down the pursuer, and this killing is considered a matter of self-defense.  Prime Minister Rabin, signatory to an agreement that would have permitted a trade of land for peace, was dubbed a rodef, in ever more violent political rhetoric and street protests, with burning effigies of the prime minister adorned with signs declaring him a Nazi.  But all of that has faded into the background of my memory with one exception, today’s Prime Minister Benjamain Netanyahu standing at those rallies in deafening silence.  

Back to HUC, November 1995…at a certain point, we engaged in an open conversation, and I took significant issue with one of my professor’s seeming need to deflect any blame or responsibility for this tragedy from the chief contender to become Israel's next Prime Minister, Netanyahu.  I got called into the Dean’s office. Seriously! He shared with me how crucial it is that as a Rabbi I learn to balance my passion for justice with the recognition that not everyone will be able to hear that voice, with those words, offered in the way I spoke that day.  Clearly, that day has stuck with me…28 years later.  

And I can’t help but reflect on it today.  You have heard speak about, you have read my writings about, and in today’s e-letter, you have hopefully heard Rabbi Gross and I joke about the challenge of Israel for American Jews.  To this day, I still don’t truly understand why Israel holds so much sway in the minds of people worldwide. I don’t at all suggest that Israel is or has been perfect.  I am not of the persuasion that Israel is such a miracle, and that our history is such a crucible, that we always must give Israel the benefit of the doubt.  That would be ridiculous.  I am willing to discuss the merits and faults of the Jewish state, as we all should be about any nation state, especially those that strive to create fairness, equality, and decency for all its inhabitants.  Has Israel always succeeded?  Of course not.  Has the US?  Of course not.  What confounds me is that there is and has always been far more critique of Israel, a country that declares itself committed to human rights, than a country like Myanmar, whose leadership declares exactly the opposite.  Some might call this the “What-about” argument, and that’s fine.  I think the “What-about” argument is often a good critique precisely because there are certain situations that are the exceptions that prove the rule.  

How do we celebrate Israel at 75?  We celebrate!  And support those in Israel who are recommitting themselves to the fulfillment of the words of its Declaration of Independence: 

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Click here for the full text of Israel's Declaration of Independence.

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784