I am not Jewish …. not Muslim …. and perhaps only nominally a Christian. I live my life by trying my best to follow the Golden Rule: “Treat others as I wish they would treat me.” The Golden Rule can be found in every religion. I have learned a lot about how to live by the Golden Rule during my visit to Gaza.
I don’t profess to have a deep understanding of the Passover Seder, maybe not even a superficial understanding. But Rabbi Michael Lerner’s words resonate with me. Lerner is the founder of Tikkun in the United States.
I once found his words so compelling that I ordered many extra copies of the Tikkun Magazine and when they arrived, I mailed copies to many members of Congress with a personal letter. I wonder if anyone read it.
This month Rabbi Lerner has written an important supplement to the Passover Haggadah, available here. I have copied a portion of it below, followed by my question to Jews who are celebrating Passover this week.
One of the most frequently repeated commands (mitzvah) in the Torah goes something like: “When you come into your land, do not oppress the stranger. Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Indeed, it commands us positively: thou shalt love the stranger.
We cannot turn this Seder into a meaningless ritual by ignoring the ways in which we, the Jewish people, have been acting as Pharaoh to another people.
Yet we also have to approach these issues with a high degree of compassion, both for Israelis and for Palestinians. The two peoples have co-created the current mess.
As Jews, we have a special responsibility for Israel’s role as long as we allow Israel to claim to be “the State of the Jewish people,” and as long as we allow American Jewish organizations to give blind loyalty to whatever policy is presented to the world by the Israeli government. Unless each of us has actively involved ourselves in building organizations like Tikkun, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, or some equivalent, we must share some of the blame for what other Jews have done in building organizations and media that express blind loyalty to the Israeli government. Many of us say that we are pro-Israel but not pro-its-current-policies. But unless we’ve put our money and our time behind efforts to create an alternative voice, we share some of the responsibility for what is being done in our name by the leadership of the American Jewish community and by the State of Israel.
But while Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is unacceptable to us as Jews, a fuller account points to horrific acts of violence and human rights violations by Palestinians as well. We should not accept attempts by others to make Israel the sole villain in this story without acknowledging the ways that Palestinians, surrounding Arab states, and the entire world have acted irresponsibly and sometimes cruelly toward the Jewish people, and how that has contributed to the political intransigence and self-destructive and immoral policies of the government of Israel. In critiquing Israel, we do not seek to delegitimize its existence or its many humane accomplishments in other spheres and important contributions to the well-being of people around the world. Nor will we play into the notion that Israel is the worst human rights violator on the planet—it is not, though sometimes others talk as though it were.
Yet, since we are Jews celebrating Passover, and we do feel a special responsibility for Israel, it becomes appropriate to not hide behind the unfairness of others—our task is still to fight for liberation for all peoples, and that includes the liberation of the Palestinian people from the domination inflicted upon them by Israel.
Let’s acknowledge that both sides are suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder so acute that they cannot recognize the humanity of the other, nor can they see their way to the peace and justice both legitimately seek. Both have been victims of a horrendous history of oppression. So while we as Jews have a responsibility to challenge our own people’s distorted vision, we have to mix that challenge with a high level of love and caring for our people, and recognize that our people need healing, not just chastisement.
We have to acknowledge that some Israeli intransigence is rooted in genuine fear that has been reinforced by terrorist attacks and by Hamas’s bombing of Israeli cities, just as much Palestinian intransigence is rooted in the daily violence imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli Occupation, as well as by Israel’s targeted assassinations, its killing of hundreds of civilians, and its jailing of tens of thousands of Palestinians, who are often imprisoned without formal charges. Because our people has vastly more military power than the Palestinians, we must mix our compassion with a firm commitment to end the Occupation. Its inevitable consequences of human rights violations and its hatred-generating behavior have, in turn, already ensured that there will be generations of Palestinians who will feel justified in acts of terrorism and hatred against our people. Both peoples need healing, and that can only happen when there is both a genuine peace accord that brings justice to the Palestinian people and also a fundamental change in the dominant paradigm of thought so that our people become the embodiment of Torah values of love, generosity, repentance, and forgiveness. We must escape the “blame game” of who did what to whom and focus on how we can embody more love and compassion for both sides of this struggle.
My question to my Jewish friends and family. Do you think the “dominant paradigm of thought” that Rabbi Lerner writes about above can be changed — and if so, what is the role or responsibility of American Jews in changing it?