Arik Ascherman

Have Burning Buildings Lit A Flame Of Hope?/Golden, Red and Dead Cows

Cow That Palestinians Say That Settlers Killed On Their Grazing Lands Close To Rotem Settlement

Shavua Tov

Still thinking about last week’s Torah portion (Ki Tissa), the pogrom, and events in the field last week, I am reflecting on idolatry born out of fear and a lack of trust, golden calves, red cows, holy cows and dead cows. However, I am also thinking about second chances.

Many are still reeling from the aftermath of the Hawara pogrom, and I am reeling from event after event last week, including the killing of cows and at least two new outposts being built as we speak.

Some have legitimately asked me why we make such a big deal about the pogrom and the other crimes that Jews perpetrate against Palestinians, and speak less about the ongoing murders and attempted murders of Jews. Without a doubt, there is nothing worse than murder. Our tradition puts idolatry and sexual crimes on the same level as murder, and  we read of idolatry in this week’s Torah portion. However if we want to engage in the ranking of evil, I agree that murder is the most heinous crime of all. I and the human rights community have tried to be consistent in our condemnation of murders, no matter who commits them. Tag Meir made a point of visiting both the Yaniv family who lost two sons two terror, and Hawara.

However, I think for most the answer is clear.  It is not surprising that the horror over the pogrom crossed all of the usual lines that divide us. It is not a matter of which crimes are worse. It is a matter of who commits them. For those who are only or primarily concerned about the welfare of fellow Jews, it is outrageous to focus on the “lesser crimes” committed by fellow Jews against others. Others of us, as much as share in the pain and anger when fellow Jews are harmed,  feel heightened responsibility and a special pain over crimes committed by fellow Jews. It isn’t just “what will the goyim say,” but what this says about us.  Furthermore, while we know that there are violent extremists on all sides, and while those of us who are regularly in the field have witnessed all too many times Israeli security forces actively aiding violent Israelis or standing by, most Israelis across the political spectrum want to believe that our army acts according to a higher ethical standard.  The pogrom and the army’s operational and moral failure cannot be dismissed as “a few bad apples.” Despite the fact that press reports of the army’s internal investigation indicate that the investigation limited the failure to not having been prepared to deal with a pogrom of that scope, the fact is that there was also a moral failure.

After the army refused entry for our busses the Friday before last, we walked into Huwara by foot. Palestinians cheered us, and I made it clear to them that we condemn violence from all sides.  Some Israelis jeered and cursed.  I spoke with one religious woman who was furious that we cared about non-Jews. Her only answer when I spoke about my concern for every human being was, that we should go and pay a condolence call to the Yaniv family. I regret that I didn’t have the presence of mind at the time to say, “I will come with you to the family. Will you come with me to the family of Sameh Aqtash?

I put up two Facebook posts this last Friday  with pictures from two new outposts being set up as I write and as you read this.  I didn’t time to write about the Palestinian cows killed Tuesday night and Thursday night on the cowherder’s grazing lands near the Rotem settlement. I saw the video of one of the Palestinians talking to two young settlers in the aftermath on Tuesday, and of the settlers threatening on Thursday.  I and another activist slept out with the cowherders in the fields on Wednesday night, and nothing happened.  Apparently, on both occasions, the cows were run over by an all terrain vehicle while lying down.  It seems that there was also a calf  killed on Tuesday, and others that may die because of a lack of mother’s milk. Last Shabbat we not only read about the golden calf, but on Shabbat Parah we had a special reading about the red heifer that is required to create the purifying “waters of lustration” that was once needed before the Passover sacrifice. While we were reading about golden cows and red cows, some fellow Jews were killing cows

And then there were the flocks we caught in other fields, and the violence against shepherds in additional locations such as Hamra.  Inside Israel, we are now trying to prevent an elderly Jewish man with cancer from being evited from public housing…. And I am only speaking of the areas that I am more personally involved with.

For those who are willing to face reality, almost every day both Israeli citizens and our security forces act in ways that slaughter the sacred cow of our moral superiority.

So, while I do agree that murder is the worst crime of all, I also do see many of these acts as idolatry. Not for the first time I say that while there are those who worship gold, there aren’t too many people out there worshiping golden calves. But, there are all too many who worship the Land of Israel to the point that it becomes more important than the one thing in this world that truly is in Image of God—human beings (As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel would say when speaking out against racism.)

But, last week’s Torah portion also relates that we were given a second chance after God reveals God’s Thirteen Attributes to Moses, and Moses uses them to convince God to continue to accompany us.

What is our second chance today? I already mentioned it. The fact that so many Israelis crossing all the usual borders have expressed horror, shock and embarrassment over the pogrom gives me hope.  The fact that so many Israelis want our army to be the most moral army in the world gives me hope. It is not as if all those who are pro-Occupation are now advocating for an end to Occupation. All too many are already putting the pogrom behind them. I have already mentioned that the breast beating of the top army brass admitting the army failed miserably has become a white wash in their report on the incident.

But, the not yet extinguished revulsion means that the flames of burning buildings have lit a flame of hope.  As Rabbi Salanter would day, “As long as the candle is lit, it is still possible to repair.”

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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