09 January 2015

It's Still Up To Us

I imagine if I had a chance to talk to Edgar this week, he'd be very practical about everything.  And brutally honest.

He'd see and say that political constructs aren't necessarily either/or but both/and in the events playing out in the world.  From New York to Paris to Jerusalem.

He'd say that the NYPD have a right to be pissed about being targeted by angry citizens but that certain racist and rogue cops and overly excessive stop and frisk policies need to be curtailed.  He'd say that for the sake of the city, Mayor deBlasio and the NYPD need to stop fighting NOW, sit down, and make peace.  (After all, given the horrific events in Paris of the past few days--the abhorrent attack on Charlie Hebdo followed by the horrifying anti-Semitic outrage on Paris Jews--a unity between City Hall and the One Police Plaza is absolutely essential for the safety of New York.)

He'd say that one of the reasons he served as he did as President of the World Jewish Congress had to do with the undeniable reality that in many parts of the world today, Jews are still in danger.  And he'd be fearless in using his considerable power, wealth, incisive wit and pragmatic sensibility to speak out, persuade, and do whatever was in his strength to save Jewish lives.  And in the same conversation, he'd say that it actually is possible to find the expansion of Jihadi movements beyond dangerous, necessary to confront; but that didn't mean that one couldn't also be critical of Israeli governments and settlement policy.  That the debate about what was right and wrong in the world didn't mean that if you opposed the spread of violent and radical Islam, it meant by necessity that the movement for a greater Israel was correct.  You could believe both/and.

But as I stood above his grave on the one year anniversary of his death this week; as a steady snow lightened the weight of the granite stone that bore his name; as I remembered back to burying my friend last year beneath a heavy December rain while a flock of Canada geese flew mercifully overhead, I remembered with pain and sadness that his voice--his moral voice, his playful voice, his fearless voice--could only be as discernible as his very name below, obscured by the light film of frozen condensation, near, approximate, but no longer plainly known.

The evils bastards who try to kill free expression and murder innocent Jews shopping for Shabbat in Paris is categorically evil.  Period.  And one can justifiably say that the attempt by Jihadists to draw Israel in to their orbit, to triangulate the world against the Jews because, according to their twisted logic, the Jihadists wouldn't be so angry if Israel didn't exist as the exemplar and perpetrator-extraordinaire of Western colonialist values, is the worst kind of reasoning imaginable. Transparent in its pure, unadulterated hatred of the Jew, it can and ought to be rejected.  Categorically and with confidence.

And of course, no sooner would one do that than some other partisan, would draw a similar inference and we'd be back at the barricades again, alas, fighting the battle for what is true and just.

We are weary, God.  Let us rest.

"God?" I'd hear my friend Edgar say.  "By God you mean who exactly?"  And he'd be right.  There is just too much God wrapped up in all this and it presses against the limits of, if not reason, than what any sane person can tolerate.  Jihadists crying out their understanding of God's name spray machine gun fire into newsrooms and onto sidewalks and inside grocery stores where others, seeking to observe their God's Sabbath, buy food to bless and eat.  And while being held hostage, others offer prayers in God's name that the hostages should remain safe but no sooner are those prayers uttered than other prayers are necessitated because the first set of prayers didn't work, the murders occurred, and now God's name is called upon to offer comfort.  Comfort for the families of Jihadists whose sons lost their way; comfort for the families of innocent writers and innocent Jews who prayers didn't protect.

Perhaps we are not the only ones who are weary, God.  Perhaps you are, too.

Our Torah teaches us this week the following:  "And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them."

This part of the Torah has always confounded me.  It seems to imply that here in Exodus, at the beginning of the narrative of an enslaved people, that only after some of the most intense expressions of human suffering did God hear, remember and then--take cognizance?  He didn't immediately throw plagues, or thunder, or cause an earthquake.  He didn't even kick anybody's ass.  He took cognizance.  The passivity inherent in this construct upsets me greatly.  It seems to make us God's plaything, an object of reflection until a plan can be put into place to actually save us.

I find that the commentators come up short here.  God's taking note of the suffering at this juncture seems to be the activating of an earlier promise to redeem Israel.  But it is still Moses' lesson to learn, in the next chapter, that the God of Existence ("I am that I am") is the closest approximation to God's power that Moses will get in order to convince Moses that Israel's redemption relies as much upon Moses as it does on God.

Or, as Edgar used to like to say, "I don't know about God; but I like the term "Godliness."

It will be up to Moses to answer the call; to "go down, way down, in Egypt land;" it will have to be Moses as an agent of freedom; justice; righteousness; compassion--to be, by necessity, the animating and the closest approximation to the manifestations of God's will that we can conjure through the fog of suffering and strife and terror and war.

Cassuto argued that the notion of God "taking note" is exactly similar to God taking note before Sodom and Gomorroh.  Thinking aloud in Genesis 18:21, God says of Abraham that he can be counted upon to "do righteousness and justice."  And he does, doesn't he?  After all, it's Abraham who speaks up, bargains, and makes sure that the innocent don't die in God's path of rageful, Divine destruction.

In other words, pray with all your might but it's still up to us.

I demand that the Mayor and the Police here in New York City make peace--NOW!--before we make ourselves vulnerable to more attacks from those maniacs who would exploit division for an opportunity to do violence.

I am grateful for the Paris police in hunting down the bastards who killed innocent people but they need to do a much better job fighting terror and anti-Semitism in France.  This shouldn't have happened!  And tonight Paris Jews didn't worship in the Grand Synagogue for Shabbat for the first time since World War Two?!  This is outrageous.  Truly.

I want reasonable and peace-loving Israelis and Palestinians who know in their hearts that peace is the only way to live together to be strengthened in all that they do.

And in the spirit of my friend, my mentor, my teacher Edgar, on this one year of anniversary of missing your voice, I pray:  for the strength to endure; to question my own assumptions and grow; to speak the truth as I see it; and to not only remember the covenant, not only take note of it, but to use all my heart and soul and strength to build a world of justice and peace.

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