In Defence of Barriers

There was something uncannily symbolic in the fact that the flimsy, ill-fitting kippah that the writer, Michael Chabon, wore fell off his head in the middle of his presentation as he addressed the students and their families at their graduation ceremony at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Los Angeles campus earlier this month.

Chabon spoke of barriers, of how he “abhor(ed) … insularity, exclusion and segregation, … the erection of border walls and separation barriers”.

He added that “we tend to draw a distinction between walls that protect and walls that imprison. That is only the same dark logic … justifying itself as always in the name of security. Security is an invention of humanity’s jailers.” At least one graduate, Morin Zaray, and her family from Israel walked out in protest.

He criticized Judaism for being “a giant interlocking system of distinctions and division…. The whole story begins with three mighty acts of division: Day from night, heaven from earth, sea from land.”

However, it is precisely those distinctions that are a prerequisite for our very survival. The Thames barrier prevents Greater London from being flooded by exceptionally high tides and storm surges, whereas it was the failure of over fifty levees and flood walls that allowed Hurricane Katrina to cause such catastrophic damage and loss of life in New Orleans. It is precisely when the sea is not divided from the land that a tsunami can reap destruction killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Border walls and separation barriers do not have to be viewed negatively. They have kept the peace between North and South Korea ever since a bloody war in which nearly three million people died.

I abhor the barriers and check points that separate Israelis from Palestinians, but I also remember the 2nd Intifada in which thousands of our people were murdered and maimed as they went about their daily lives. Words like Sbarro, the Park Hotel and the Dolphinarium are imprinted on the collective memory of Israelis who lived through those traumatic times. It was the very erection of those barriers that brought the carnage to an end.

Barriers are not a solution, but they do provide some level of protection until such time as our leaders can sit down together and bring an end to this tragic conflict.

About the Author
Rabbi Boyden was educated and received his rabbinical ordination in London, England. Having served as the rabbi of Cheshire Reform Congregation for thirteen years, he made aliyah with his family in 1985. He has established Reform congregations in Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon and previously served as director of the Israel Reform Movement's Beit Din.
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