Twice Stabbed

At around 8:30 p.m., a loud knock on the door jarred my family as we sat around enjoying Friday night. In the midst of a PG-13 (meaning only family members 13 and up) game of Settlers of Catan (and yes, I won) with three of my kids I jumped up to beat my 7-year-old to the door. As my wife was playing with the younger kids, we were shocked to discover soldiers waiting outside. People knocking on our door Friday night is a rare occurrence and the presence of soldiers can be a bit unsettling. They came to check to make sure we were safe and requested that we stay inside.  Earlier that evening, a terrorist (and yes, I feel at that is the appropriate term for a knife-wielding maniac running around stabbing people for living where they do) infiltrated our town.  After informing them that our 12-year-old was out and about with friends, they promised to return her home safely. She arrived in tears around an hour or more later accompanied by her friend’s armed father. He brought her home after she had been too frightened to leave the house while a terrorist was on the loose.

At that moment, we did not know that the husband of my children’s aerobics instructor had been stabbed multiple times on the block just below where we live. The victim, my age, had been strolling down the street. A father, a neighbor, a human being — a victim because he lives in a town built in an area which was on the wrong side of an imaginary line drawn in 1949 and recaptured by Israel in 1967. From where the marauder ambushed my neighbor, one can see the lights of towns next door — towns that had belonged to Jews until they were massacred in 1948 on the eve of Israeli Independence. That declaration ended a 2,000 year period when Jews lacked self-determination.  I live on the street named after Yehuda HaMaccabee, the same soldier-priest-rebel who, we remember this week, created the last Jewish state over 2,000 years ago. One that lasted until the Romans stole our sovereignty from us.

At about the exact same moment that a terrorist was running rampant near my house, the United Nations Security Council voted that my home violated international law. Fourteen countries voted that cutting my lawn is an illegal act and the US sat back and abstained. The back story intrigue may never come to light; however, the ebbing of the Obama administration might have something to do with it. Many accuse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of insulting President Obama by accepting an invite to speak before Congress protesting the latter’s negotiations with Iran. This, some say, is the president’s revenge.

Alternatively, perhaps, realizing that the incoming Trump administration might be less friendly to the anti-Israel sentiment rampant in the UN, various countries decided, on their own or with advice from the US that now is the window of opportunity to push such a resolution. Many may recall that back in November, in a reversal of prior American policy, one of the president-elect’s advisors said that Trump,“ does not view Jewish settlements as an obstacle to peace.”

With a new American ambassador to Israel who supports the continued building in the biblical heartland, the Palestinians may be faced with a need to relinquish their prior intransigence and negotiate a pared-down state or a face the death of the peace process all together. So a cluster of countries pushed aside world-wide horrors such as the events in Syria to focus on a toothless and cowardly bill in hopes of pressuring the Israelis before the new president is sworn in.

The present administration was more than happy to “abstain,” basically giving the Israeli government and us who live over that magic marker line a kind of twisted farewell. (As hurtful, but no more surprising is the support the bill received from groups such as J Street.) It certainly seems to me, this is more about personal vendettas and insults than a true effort to bring peace. As an op-ed in the Washington Post clearly points out, “by allowing an anti-Israel Security Council resolution, Obama will hurt the UN, and not help peace.”  Even the Anti-Defamation League’s left leaning head and former Obama assistant, Jonathan Greenblatt criticized the move saying, “We are outraged over the US failure to veto this biased and nonconstructive UNSC resolution on Israel.”  I wonder if the White House Hanukkah  party, which bizarrely took place a week before the holiday, wasn’t scheduled to precede the vote, hence preempting criticism or boycotts of the event.

Personally, I feel we as a collective were stabbed in the back twice.

But let’s be clear: this week, Jews throughout the world celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah. Maimonides offers this historical account:

During the Second Temple period, when the Hellenic kings decreed decrees upon Israel, and [sought to] nullify their religion, and they did not allow them to immerse in Torah and in commandments. And they reached out their hands against their money and their daughters, and they entered the shrine, and put in there idols, and defiled that which was pure. And was Israel was distressed because of them, and oppressed them greatly until the God of their ancestors had compassion on them, and saved them from their hands, and rescued them, and the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, overcame and killed them, and saved Israel from their hand, and set up a king from among the Priests, and brought back kingship to Israel for more than two hundred years until the destruction of the Second Temple…

Because of this, the Sages of that same generation established that these eight days which begin on the 25th of Kislev [would be] days of joy, and singing-praise, and would light lights on them in the evening at the entrances of their houses every night of the eight nights, to show and reveal the miracle. And these days are called Hanukkah (lit. Dedication), (Maimonides, Laws of Hanukah 3:1-3)

Because the Maccabees reunified the country, even for a brief time, under Jewish sovereignty, the Jewish people recite the Hallel praise to God.

For 2,000 years, we were bereft of a country of our own. Return of Jewish sovereignty is fraught with complexity and the obligations of governance. Being responsible for our destiny and navigating democracy and peoplehood is not simple. Our relations with the other peoples living in this land requires serious work and negotiations free from the meddling of outside forces with their own personal and political agendas. Like the stabbing victim returned to his home and to the community, the Jews have returned to their land. As someone who respects Palestinian aspirations for independence and has supported various plans to help bring that about I can say, stabbing our citizens either literally or figuratively will not bring about a Palestinian state.

About the Author
Rabbi Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.