William Hamilton

Does your policy have a human pulse?

“As someone who works in a hospital, you know” a cab driver named Muhammed said to his passenger Anne Dubitsky. “People are all the same inside. We all bleed the same red blood.” Anne works in healthcare as a gardening therapist. Her words this week deserve to be shared widely.

Juxtapose these normalizing sentiments – noting how more than 70 percent of the pharmacists in Israel’s largest drug store chain are Arab Muslims – with the inciting vehemence of the Hamas leader of Gaza who called this week for Israeli Arabs “to get your cleavers, axes, and knives ready” which resulted in 16 suddenly fatherless children on Thursday night.

A single verse in this week’s portion of Torah holds together malicious speech and bloodshed “Don’t gossip harmfully among your people and don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor, I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:16). For God’s Torah, there is a seamless flow, back and forth, between harmful speech and idle indifference to bloodshed.

Yet for me this year, in rejoicing over Israel’s birth and rebirth – the greatest miracle of the modern world – this verse vibrates with a more subtle message. Both noise and silence have pulses. It’s not accidental that the passage adopts a cardiac image to describe standing idly by.

Both terror and the 100,000-fold more-common daily incidents of healthy collaboration are realities with human faces. Yet what lacks a human pulse, by contrast, are efforts to turn Israel and her neighbors into caricatures rather than actual people. When lives are made to exist only on an ideological level, this is itself a form of dehumanization.

Too often, friends-of-Israel are put in a reactive posture. There may be good reasons for this. Being back on our heels doesn’t only spring from the aggression of our accusers. Self-criticism is necessary for growth, and this too is a leading industry in Israel. So are some other things that don’t always show up in her GDP. For example, we should never apologize for promoting coexistence, collaboration, accountability, commitment, and for being self-surpassing to meet the needs of others – within our land and in any land on planet earth that will accept our assistance.

Another voice came from Harvard’s campus last week. Because it had a pulse, it focused less on policy positions. To be clear, good policies can have pulses. But they need to be open to beating hearts that sometimes break and sometimes rally and sometimes suffer from arrhythmia. The message of Ariel Livneh, among Israeli Fellows soon to earn Masters in Public Administration, touches on the texture of language. It also deserves to be shared.

As our People’s proud nation-state enters her 75th year, may the beating-heart that is truly Israel reverberate and bless, as ever, with trust-building measures and good-faith efforts.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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