Yom Kippur Morning 2012/5773
When Hatred Becomes the Core Value
I am proud to be your Rabbi. I am proud to be an Israeli. I am proud to be a Jew. I am proud to be a Rodefet Shalom v’tzedek… one who at her core pursues, teaches and insists upon peace and justice. The essence of Yom Kippur is exactly that. It is the opportunity for each of us to do an honest accounting of where we are and what our deeds have been…and to commit to and insist upon the changes necessary to protect, sustain and prioritize “sacred living”.
Atonement is reaching for the sacred. True atonement requires a stubborn refusal to succumb to or make excuses for or tolerate evil.
Three weeks ago during the days of Elul, the period of heightened awareness leading up to these days of Awe… as I prepared my Shabbat Sermon on Parashat Shoftim, the portion named “Judges”, I was inspired by the words of Deuteronomy 16:20 Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof; justice justice you shall surely pursue. And as the teaching of the weekly Torah portion came into focus so did the breaking news from Israeli newspapers that in downtown Jerusalem, Tzion Square, a late night hangout for young people, 10-15 Jewish youth, their ages ranging from 13-19, beat a 17 year old East Jerusalem teenager Jamal Julani until he was unconscious.
What can I tell you, my Congregation. How do we make sense of this heinous act? Jamal was beaten almost to death…by a group of Jewish Israeli teens, for no other reason than because he was Arab. The attack was unprovoked. He was set upon by with a ferocity and hatred and willingness to kill. But as if that is not devastating enough, a few dozen other young people stood by and watched without intervening.
In the aftermath of the incident eight young Israeli’s were arrested, two of them girls. After his arrest a 13 year old countered: “he could die for all I care he is an Arab.” The Times of Israel ran an article entitled “The Kids are not okay and neither are their parents”. The discourse evolving from Israel described not an aberrant tragic incident but rather a world view that has tragically become tolerated.
Two weeks ago Germany was shaken by a series of anti-Semitic incidents. In one incident a Rabbi wearing a kippah was approached by several youths who asked him if he was a Jew. When he answered in the affirmative they attacked and beat him. Horrendous, intolerable… the Rabbi was beaten…by a group of German teens, for no other reason than because he was Jew.
Tzedek Tzedek tirdof , the word for Justice appears twice in succession. Wanting justice for ourselves, that is simple. The repetition of the word suggests implicit reciprocity; justice must be assured for the other as well. The phrase Tirdof is the assurance, we will surely pursue.
Justice Justice you shall pursue. Do not pervert justice. Do not oppress your neighbor. Love the Stranger as Yourself. More than any other mitzvah commanded in the Torah, 36 times we are implored to love the other. Thirty six times because when we really care for the other, then we forge justice.
It is too easy to hear these stories and point a finger at the anti-semitism that rears its ugly head in Germany. It is too easy to point at the Arab communities and remind ourselves that they teach violence and hatred to their children. But ultimately, the only way forward is for us to ask ourselves, what are we teaching our children. What message do we justify in our hearts. Are we ourselves harboring, justifying and tolerating racism? What action do we take in this world that we live? There is only justice for us when we assure justice for the other.
Let me tell you what followed in Germany. A kippah campaign was launched in response to the unprovoked attack on the Rabbi. Prominent German actors and politicians were asked to and elected to wear a kippah in an act of solidarity with the Rabbi and defiance of the resurgence of racism.
Let me tell you what happened in Israel. Knesset Member Reuven Rivlin visited Jamal Julani in the hospital. He said these words “we are sorry… it is hard to see you hospitalized because of an inconceivable act… what happened is the responsibility of every leader and Member of Knesset.” The Education Ministry ordered schools to confront the episode in the opening day of the school year in EVERY middle and high school classroom throughout Israel. Educators were told to let they youngsters express themselves, but that “the unequivocal message must be a condemnation of racism and violence.” I am proud of these steps that Israel has taken but we all must recognize that an unequivocal message of condemnation of racism and violence must emanate from the very top of Israeli leadership and must be reflected not only perfunctory platitudes but must be protected and preserved as policy and creed.
As your Rabbi, a proud Israeli and a proud Rabbi I cannot accept that racism will be tolerated by us. Whether we are behaving poorly and inadequately with our Ethiopian Brethren, whether it is our intolerance and lack of compassion for illegal African immigrant workers in Israel or illegal immigrants in the United States arriving from Central and South America or whether it is a hatred of Arabs that is fostered and tolerated in Israeli Society and in the fear tactics and nuances of American society, this we cannot afford to condone or allow.
Last year I delivered a sermon describing an act of racism in the parking lot of my children’s high school. Here we are today Yom Kippur 5773 once again racism is a topic that I feel compelled to address if we are to make an honest accounting of where we have been and where we are going.
May our teshuvah lead us to an insistence of tzedek. We must be vigilant, not about other’s racism, but about the racism that we harbor through our ignorance, justifications and complacency. Real teshuvah means that we do not repeat the same mistakes. Tzedek tzedek tirdof, we will have justice for ourselves only when we assure justice for the other.
– Rabbi Yael Romer