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Arik Ascherman

What Sustains Me After Yesterday’s Vote

Tents remaiing in Gan Sacher after the vote banning the courts from using the reasonableness principle to nullify Government decisions (image courtesy of author)

Yesterday I had planned to be in the Knesset for a committee meeting, as we fight to prevent the government from cancelling the ability of public housing residents to buy their apartments at a price they can afford. Of course, there was no hearing, as the Knesset was at the center of the maelstrom. The entire nation was caught up in the vote banning our courts from using the reasonableness argument to nullify government decisions.

I suspect that those of us who are veterans of human rights struggles and opposition to the Occupation are less surprised and less depressed than those who have traditionally not been activists but have now been shocked out of their complacency. We are more accustomed to swimming upstream and much less enamored of the decisions of the courts up until now. Nevertheless, we too share the feeling that our insufficient Athenian democracy suffered a further blow yesterday. With violence reaching new levels on the streets last night, even state radio hosts were noting the awful significance of the fact that we are ripping ourselves apart on the days leading up to Tisha B’Av.

While I think we too need to be careful in choosing our demonstration tactics and oppose blocking roads, I was buoyed to see tens of thousands in the streets after the vote. We aren’t giving up. However, in one of the WhatsApp groups I am a part of, some started writing about sadness and despair. I shared some of what sustains me. These are words that many of you have heard from me over the years, but they are worth repeating. I have translated into English and allowed myself to embellish just a bit:

“As someone who has struggled for 28 years (actually close to 50 years) with some important successes and a lot of issues where we haven’t yet succeeded, I keep in mind:

1. It’s not up to you to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from doing your part (Pirkei Avot).

2. Khetzio Khayav V’Khetzio Zakai (Babylonian Talmud Kidushin 40b). On both a personal and cosmic level, we never know what small act that seems ineffective, insignificant, and perhaps even failed at the time will be the act that tips the perfectly balanced scales one way or the other on both the personal and cosmic levels.

3. Midrash Tankhuma teaches that when Joseph and Jacob and Judah are all depressed and preoccupied with their personal troubles, God is sowing the seeds of the messianic line through the strange interlude in the Joseph narrative when Judah fathers twins after his daughter in law Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and sleeps with him because he doesn’t allow his third son to perform the obligation of levirate marriage.

4. Being an activist, you must have a proclivity for beating your head against the wall. But every once in a while the wall cracks.

5. Slightly distorting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words, “The only thing we have to despair of is despair itself.”

6. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

7. Enough talk. We have work to do.

I admit that I also have had moments of despair. In my last post I wrote about, sleeping over on Shabbat in the Bedouin community of Al Baqa that eventually abandoned their homes because of the new outpost on their access road, I really needed to read the story of God rebuking Elijah for self pity as he flees for his life from King Abab and Queen Jezebel. This haftarah for the Torah portion Pinkhas was not read in synagogue this year because we read the first of the three haftarot of warning before Tisha B’Av.

Yesterday evening, my greeting to all who I met at the ongoing protests was a paraphrase of God’s message to Elijah, “Mamshikhim –We continue. We have work to do.”

Tisha B’Av this Thursday will be an opportunity to reflect on the tasks ahead of us. Like every year we will read chapters of Lamentations in some of the many locations where Palestinian communities existed just a few weeks ago and are no more. They fled state backed settler violence. We will visit the torched homes of Turmos Aya, and threatened and already destroyed communities in Massafer Yatta and the Negev. We will visit Amos, an elderly Jewish man battling cancer who is in danger of being evicted from public housing. Another khurban in the making.

Yes, we have work to do.

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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