Heavy hearts and loving hearts (the news from Israel)

We are living through an uncertain time, a clear pivot point in our Jewish story... but it's not yet clear which way history is pivoting, here in the U.S. or in Israel. As we approach Shavuot this year and recall how our ancestors once stood at the base of Mount Sinai to receive Torah and enter into a covenant with God, I'm reflecting on these words (from Exodus 19:5-6): "Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." What do these words mean for us, in our generation? What does it look like to internalize the idea that the earth belongs to God and not to humans at all? What can we do to try to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation"? How can we actively pursue justice and peace, as the Torah instructs us to do, and to replace fear and hatred with compassion and love?

My heart has felt heavy all week, with the news coming out of Israel. 

One lead story in Israel which has captured the imagination and hearts of so many there is Netta Barzilai's big win at the Eurovision Song Contest for "Toy."  But in this week of so much troubling and serious news out of the region, her fun ear-worm of a pop song has felt to me like a bizarre juxtaposition, a kind of escapism coming out of a region in crisis.

The two bigger stories I'm talking about, of course, are the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and the protests and mounting death-toll on the Gaza border -- each problematic in its own right.  

Even if you believe that the U.S. Embassy belongs in Jerusalem (a question about which I'm sure we have differences of opinion in our pluralistic community), you have to agree that this embassy opening was a show of Trumpism of the worst kind.  The event was timed (purposefully, I have to assume) to infringe on the sensitive anniversary that Palestinians call "the Nakba" and also the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the blessings of right-wing evangelical Pastors Hagee and Jeffress left a bad taste in my mouth, to say the least.  Watching celebrations in the streets in Israel and seeing that the Jerusalem's professional soccer club has renamed itself "Beitar Trump Jerusalem" makes me feel so very out-of-sync with my Israeli counterparts.  

And, thinking about Gaza, I truly cannot fathom what it would feel like to stand on either side of the border fence there! I feel deep empathy for the young Palestinians who have grown up in the large open-air prison that is Gaza.  We hear a lot in the press about those who have turned to violence, but there are so many more who can only dream about gainful employment and a future, and are trying to demonstrate non-violently and get the world's attention in any way that they can.  And, what would it be to be a young Israeli soldier, standing across barbed wire fences from an angry mob that is setting tires on fire, lobbing homemade explosives, and trying to charge and dismantle the fence?  I am deeply uncomfortable with those who paint the events of this week as a "massacre of innocents," but at the same time find myself deeply pained by each casualty.  Witnessing from half-way around the world, the whole situation of Gaza (corrupt leadership, occupation, the blockade, etc.) feels impossibly bleak and unspeakably tragic.

We are living through an uncertain time, a clear pivot point in our Jewish story... but it's not yet clear which way history is pivoting, here in the U.S. or in Israel.  As we approach Shavuot this year and recall how our ancestors once stood at the base of Mount Sinai to receive Torah and enter into a covenant with God, I'm reflecting on these words (from Exodus 19:5-6): "Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.  Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."  What do these words mean for us, in our generation?  What does it look like to internalize the idea that the earth belongs to God and not to humans at all?  What can we do to try to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation"?  How can we actively pursue justice and peace, as the Torah instructs us to do, and to replace fear and hatred with compassion and love?

Down the hall from my office, the Gan kids have been singing "Shir La'Ahava" all week.  This is a different kind of Israeli pop song; it was released by the Israeli band Gaya in 1999 and quickly became something of an unofficial second national anthem for many Israelis.  The chorus goes like this: "Yachad, lev el lev niftach v'nir'eh 't-or she-bashamayim; yachad, lev el lev niftach b'tikvah, la'ahavah." "Together, heart to heart, we'll open up and see the light that's in the heavens.  Together, heart to heart, we'll open up with hope, for love."  May this song come to reflect reality, speedily and in our day.