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Steven Bayar

The Contrary Child

The first Friday Shabbat, my first week in the rabbinate, brought a young Congressman Steny Hoyer (an honorary member) to services. In his honor, I spoke about the relationship between Judaism and politics. After services, as he put his arm around my shoulders, he quietly suggested, “Rabbi, stick to your day job and speak about what you know.”

There is great wisdom there. We who don’t live in the political arena can rarely understand its reality.

In the hours following the massacre on October 7, support for Israel was nearly universal. My first response was, “Let’s wait two weeks.” Though I was not surprised when the Jewish “left” immediately distanced itself and demonstrated.

What did surprise me was a tee shirt message that read: “Not in our Name.” It brought to mind the wicked or contrary (depending on your translation) child on Passover who asks the question, “What is this to you?”

The answer given is, “By saying ‘you’ (and not us) the child separates from the group … had the child been there (in Egypt) they would not have been redeemed.”

“Not in our name?” What does that mean? For me it seems that the continued existence and vitality of the state of Israel is a constant source of frustration. They are not self-hating Jews so much as unrealistic Zionists, yearning for the Zion that never was and never could be.

Growing up, I found a disconnect between what I had been taught about Israel and its human reality. I learned this lesson on my first trip to Israel. In the days when there were neither shopping carts nor express lines in the supermarket (Supersol), I let an elderly lady with “only” one bag of groceries in front of me. She then opened her coat to reveal six other bags to unload. How could she trick me like that? In Israel?

That seems to me to sum up the idealism of the “not in our name” people. They don’t want a “human” Israel. They want to bathe in the comfort of an Israel that lives their values.

How then do they reconcile the harsh reality of the cellphone of a Hamas terrorist found in the aftermath of the massacre, where you can hear him bragging to his parents of the minyan of Jews he killed, and hear them cheering him on, saying, “Kill more Jews.”

And do they really think that their tee shirts will affect the US Congress, which recognizes that Israel’s strength is vital to American interests in the Middle East?

David Twersky (may his memory be for a blessing) reflected so many years ago that the real conflict in the region is between Sunni and Shiite. Israel, aside from the being the only democracy and the most stable country in the region, is our most constant ally.

Those who fall in the “contrary child” category would do well to first understand the reality of why political support for Israel is necessary before they blindly insist that Israel “turn the other cheek.”

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar recently served as Interim Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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