Posts Tagged ‘peace’

What would you do for peace?

June 18, 2017

A man sits for six endless days, fasting, near the house where the prime minister reportedly enjoys fine cigars and his wife allegedly chugs pink champagne from a questionable source. The fasting man is Avi Ofer, of Kibbutz Ma’anit, 69 miles northwest of Jerusalem, who decided he had to do something to prod the country’s leaders to make peace.

Ofer, an archaeologist turned techie, is no stranger to activism. In the past, he took green paint and painted the Green Line—the ceasefire line drawn in green ink following the 1948 War of Independence. Maps in Israeli geography text books omit the line, as do the maps in Palestinian text books. Israel remains a country without permanent borders. How do you know who you are when you can’t define where you live? And how can you make peace when each side says, “It’s all mine”?

This time around, four kilograms (about nine pounds) of body weight, a hunk of will power, and physical presence were Ofer’s contribution in the name of peace. His ordeal concluded last Friday with a Sabbath-welcoming ceremony. Gaunt but flying with adrenalin, Ofer joined in the songs of peace, Sabbath peace, peace for Israel, peace for all dwellers of the universe, led by (Reform) Rabbi Nava Hefetz of Rabbis for Human Rights and accompanied on guitar by (Conservative) Rabbi Ehud Bandel. With them were about thirty supporters of Ofer’s initiative.

The Middle East is a lousy neighborhood, but I doubt that Uganda would have been a better solution to the Jews’ need for a safe place. (Like Ofer, I remain a Zionist, in the sense of believing in the need for that safe place, though not at the expense of others.) So we send our children and grandchildren, year after year, decade after decade, to kill and be killed. Our military cemeteries overflow.

Jordan and Egypt have made peace with us. What seemed impossible has been done. More than 50% of Israelis and Palestinians have said they favor a two-state solution. Before the 2014 Gaza war the percentage was even higher. But it’s not enough to know in your heart that a peace agreement—imperfect as it may be—is the only solution. Only action will make it happen. Miri Aloni’s “Song to Peace,” which Yitzhak Rabin sang at the peace rally at which he was assassinated, concludes with the words, “Do not say the day will come; bring the day!”

With all the government corruption and growing fanaticism in the country it is so easy to slip into the paralysis of despair. Ofer’s example is a welcome antidote. At least for a moment, at that Sabbath-welcoming ceremony, the gloom lifted, and I thought, what if we each did something to bring the peace?

Text copyright 2017 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.


From Kol Nidre to yoga nidra

September 24, 2010
“Follow the bouncing felafel.” That, it seems, is the essence of community.
On Yom Kippur I am in Los Angeles and attend services at Temple Isaiah. A huge screen on the bima displays many of the prayers, in Hebrew and in transliteration. All eyes focus on the bima, where the action is, instead of down, in isolation, on the prayerbook. A thousand worshipers become one.
Two days later, in Phoenix, my wonderful Jewish hostess enthuses about yoga nidra, a technique for relaxation and spiritual exploration, and the monthly kirtan meetings at her home. Synagogue services, she says, leave her cold. To demonstrate the kirtan, she plays a CD of the people who lead the responsive Hindu devotional chanting. The chants are very melodic and the words are simple; it is easy to see how one can get into it. The praise in this instance is of Ganesha, the elephant deity: lord of success, placer and remover of obstacles, patron of letters. The kirtan then moves on to the multipurpose shanti [peace] om: “Shanti om, shanti om, shalom, shalom.”
Shalom, shalom? It is, as one of the rabbis at Temple Isaiah says, a matter of community. The family that prays together stays together. The people who chant together stand together, at least long enough to release the spirit. Look at the screen and follow the bouncing felafel.
After the French Revolution, huge outdoor singalongs were held as part of the process of nation building. In Israel, hundreds of secular people gather to sing songs about building the land—long after the land is so filled the only way to build is up. Hundreds of Hassidim crowd around a rebbe’s tisch, singing and chanting together. Sufi Muslims chant and dance in unison, for hours on end.
The repetition may induce a spiritual trance. But it also creates an ad hoc community, one that in the Western world can replace the lost community of the village, the shtetl, the extended family. And it is that sense of community that buoys the spirit, allowing it to rise.
Is there a lesson in this for American Jewry? I think so, and Jewish Renewal is learning what the Baptists knew long ago. Chuck the responsive *reading,* perhaps the most boring part of the service, and sing instead. Sing and chant the whole service and let it do what you say your synagogue does: create a community. Perhaps, then, in song, the spirit will soar.
Copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of this text may be used by anyone else without the express permission of the author.