Contact Chai

"Supporting True Democracy in Israel" — R'Lizzi Rosh Hashanah 5784

September 19, 2023 Mishkan Chicago
Contact Chai
"Supporting True Democracy in Israel" — R'Lizzi Rosh Hashanah 5784
Show Notes Transcript
At our Rosh Hashanah service, Rabbi Lizzi delivered a moving drash about how acting out of fear has led to seemingly endless cycle of violence. How can we advocate for coexistence and peace in Israel without getting caught in this ancient trap?

Mishkan Chicago's High Holiday tickets are now on sale to the general public! For scheduling, pricing, venue information, and tickets, follow this link:


For upcoming Shabbat services and programs, check our event calendar, and see our Accessibility & Inclusion page for information about our venues. Follow us on Instagram and like us on Facebook for more updates.

Produced by Mishkan Chicago. Music composed, produced, and performed by Kalman Strauss.


We've been talking about the themes of the day, how Rosh Hashanah is, in the collective Jewish imagination, the birthday of the world, this day of hope and possibility this day of assessment and judgment, a day on which we say haYom hereto them. You know, today's the world is being birthed. So what I want to know, apropos to some of the questions I was asking earlier, why on this day and tomorrow is the story our sages chose for us to read the dumpster fire of Abraham and Sarah's parenting choices. Right, like, it's a good question. It's a reasonable question to ask on a day. Whose themes are these transcendent themes of God's creation and evaluation of all creatures on earth, which you would think would correspond more to what they read in the kid service this morning? You know, the first chapters of Genesis? Why do we read the story of Abraham, kicking Hagar and Ishmael out of their family home, and then sending them into the wilderness? And then, you know, tomorrow even worse, or at least equally disturbing? Why do we read the tale of Abraham taking his remaining son Isaac up a mountain to sacrifice him? Ever wondered. Okay, now I've planted the seed of the question. This is a time on our calendar, that is a very intense time, you know, these 10 days, the 10 days of Tuba, the acera, you may chuva. Our days our tradition tells us will set the course for the whole year. As our fate hangs in the balance, who will live and who will die, who will be raised up and who will be brought low, and so forth. Or if that and Musa this time is consequential for us as people as individuals and also for us as a Jewish people. You know, this is our like national holiday or national New Year. This is a big deal for us as a Jewish people. And that's true. Any year. It's true any year, but this year, specifically, like right now, not right now. But starting this past week, the Israeli Supreme Court began deliberating whether or not to accept or reject a proposed law to strike down its own power to rein in unreasonable laws proposed by their government. This reasonableness clause being the first of many proposed to dismantle some of Israel's democratic safeguards by a newish government company have leaders who to put it succinctly, succinctly have shown themselves to care more about power than almost anything else, and certainly democracy. So truly, it feels like much hangs in the balance in the unfolding story of the Jewish people. And in the modern Jewish experiments in sovereignty, that is the state of Israel, which I do want to talk about today. But first, I want to ground us in Torah. I think it's really, really important. Because I'm not Tom Friedman, I'm a rabbi. And because I do think our sages gave us a particular reading for this day. And tomorrow, the most high visibility high traffic day on the calendar, when at least in theory, we're collectively thinking about the patterns we want to set for the year to come inside ourselves in our communities to create a more perfect world, for ourselves and everyone in it. So, with everything, swirling, chaotically, around like some kind of dystopian novel about the future, except it's happening now. And it's happening to us and our people. I want to devote time today to studying the stories our sages gave us to read on this day and see what we learned from them. So shall we study some Torah? Yes. All right. Thank you. All I wanted was one Whoo. All right. So I wish I wish that we could spend, you know a full hour like getting into the tech. So I'm gonna pull out for you what I noticed this year, I want to turn our attention for a minute to Sarah. She comes off as kind of a villain in the reading because it's her idea to kick out Hagar and Ishmael. So I want to provide a little bit of backstory that you did not see in the story today, which doesn't excuse her actions, but gives them context. This woman has been through a lot in her life. You know, she's married to an itinerant preacher, she has to cook for all his guests all the time. The Torah describes situations that Sara finds herself in that one can only imagine we're uncomfortable at best, and traumatic and abusive at worst. And finally, of course, she discovers she can't do the one thing that biblical women are supposed to do have children. And so in trying to be resourceful, she suggests her husband, Sire, a child with the maid Hagar the Egyptian. And from the second Hagar gets pregnant, Sarah feels like she's being mocked for what she can't achieve. And she becomes oppressive and mean, this is all before today. And she is so insecure that even when she does miraculously get pregnant and have a child, she jokes that her son Yitzchok, whose name means to laugh, will be named so because everyone who hears about this will laugh at me. Her story is one of extreme pesos and pain. And so when she finally has the child, she's been praying for which God has promised her, she can't shake the feeling of self protection and scarcity that she's had all this time in the presence of Hagar and Ishmael. And so Sarah requests that they be banished. And that brings us into our story today, in this distresses Abraham, this idea of driving out her garden, Ishmael. And so he says, he goes to God for advice, who says in everything Sara says to you Shamar Buccola listen to her voice, Shama Buccola. And so dutifully, Abraham puts a canteen on her guards shoulder and gives her an Ishmael food, and sends them away. And there's like an intimacy and a sadness to this scene, because the reader knows that Abraham cares very much about Hagar and Ishmael. And that we sense there was probably another way to listen to her voice. You know, listen to her voice. At the heart of Rosh Hashanah, and maybe the entire Jewish project is to do what Abraham fails to do in that moment, which is to practice empathy for all the parties involved, you know, to be a complex listener, a resilient listener, a complex listener, somebody who's listening empathetically to what's going on everyone involved. You know, Sarah, Hagar, the children, the boys. Listen to her voice. Men, not just blindly follow instructions, but get down to the bedrock of Sarah's insecurity and pain. And let's be honest, she's a new mom, hormones, and fear and persistent sense of scarcity that she has been carrying around causing her to behave in a way that seems cruel and hurtful and maybe unreasonable and turning someone else into the enemy, someone who has been a critical part of their family for decades. Seeing her as a threat. Abraham could have listened to her voice by validating Sarah's feelings. I'm sure people did that back then. supporting her making her feel loved and celebrated. You know, my guess is this would have gone a long way then in preserving their affiliate relationship with her gar and with sensitivity to everybody's needs, allowing the brothers Ishmael and Isaac to grow up together, you know, what a different world that would have been. But instead we see a calculus us, them, me versus her, us, the people whose needs matter them, the one, the ones whose needs don't know. And we know that Abraham didn't give her garden, nearly enough water to survive the wilderness. She only made it through because an angel spoke to her, you know, essentially and saying like, I can't cover your needs, you know, there's a limit. And Sara believes and Abraham acquiesces that Hagar and Ishmael are the them the threat to us. And so we have to go. And this is the backdrop to tomorrow's reading. These readings are designed by the rabbi's to come back to back. And Abraham gets another call from God, a test, this time telling him to sacrifice his remaining son, Isaac, and he takes his son and all the items, he needs to strap him down on a pile of logs, and slaughter him and burn him as an offering. That's also something that was done back then. Although it's hard for me to imagine that human beings love their children any less. That was a thing. child sacrifice was a thing. And we see it appear in our Torah. And just as he's holding out the knife, an angel of God calls out and says Avraham, and then a second time, you know, it's almost like he was so in the zone. He didn't hear it the first time Avraham, and he snaps out of it. Like a dream. And when we blow the shofar tomorrow, we're reminded of how close Abraham came to doing this devastating thing, which we then understand the Torah forbids, unequivocally. But nonetheless, like how close he came, and thankfully, how he looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket, which he sacrifices instead. And so when we hear the shofar, we think of that very, very near miss, and Isaac survives.

But he doesn't return with Abraham. It seems there has been permanent damage done. The next place, Isaac turns up is actually Hagar, one of her garden, Ishmael special places, named in the Torah. And so perhaps the Midrash suggests, Isaac went to go find Hagar and Ishmael, the only other people in the world he knew would understand what had happened to him because it happened to them to

you know, this feeling of like suddenly being treated as expendable, despite a lifetime of relationship and family history. And of course, I'm sure that's not how Abraham would have framed it. But it's some sure that's what it felt like, and he never got over it. And meanwhile, we never hear another word from Sarah. And the Midrash suggests based on her silence, and the the next thing we hear about her is that she's dead. So the Midrash suggests that when Sara heard about what her husband was taking her precious only son to go do the shock killed her. And she cried out six times before she died, corresponding to each takia. We blow on Rashanna. The family Abraham was so desperately trying trying to protect he destroyed. Why do we read these painful stories of our founding family on this day of self reflection and possibility and renewal? There's a wait, God bless you. There's a way to tell the story, so that we leave out the uncomfortable and hard parts. And then it sort of makes sense. But if you actually read the story, it is full of pain. Why do we read it today? And I hope, by the way that you will, like go home and discuss this question at your restaurant of meals today. You know, we're online or wherever you have conversations about things, you know, like at a Seder with questions and the push back over good food. And I want to tell you what I think I think that this is a cautionary tale. At a time of year when the rabbi's knew we'd be here to hear it. I believe our rabbis wanted us to see that when we mistreat Hagar, which is a standard for the Gare, the stranger. It's what it means in Hebrew, when we must treat the stranger. The person we've identified you know as the other though they may be proximate enough to us that we can see them. We may even share the same home or the same land even the same DNA, but when we mistreat them, it is only a matter of time before we will be treating the US our family the same way. When we make moral compromises that hurt people outside our homes to protect the people inside our homes. Eventually those same moral compromises will hurt the people inside of our home says, Well, what we do to others or allow it to be done to others in the name of our self protection will come back around to us eventually. And this is what we see with Abraham, and Hagar, and Isaac, and Sarah. And tragically, there is no better demonstration of this timeless Jewish wisdom than what's happening right now in Israel. And, and I'll share with you what I mean by that. And I wish I could be talking about anything else today. But it seems to me that what's happening in the world's only Jewish country, you know, this precious place that so many of us love so very much, what is happening in the in front of the eyes of the world requires our attention to it would be negligent of me not to talk about this today. And especially when so many of my Israeli colleagues, and Jewish leaders and longtime defenders of Israel are begging Americans and American Jews. Anyone who says they care about Israel to say something, anything, tear their close post on social protest, wield our influence, raise our voice against the anti democratic turn the country is taking at this moment. And I'm sure those of us who choose to do so like me right now, will upset some people. And I am sorry, I'm sorry. for that. My email inbox remains open to anyone who wants to write a respectful letter to the editor, after services, but honestly, I'm I'm actually quite grateful, because I feel in this kind is a space that I can share observations and thoughts and not worry that anyone in this community will be unreasonable, or God forbid, on Midwestern. And, you know, which is to say, I hope you'll politely stay and listen, and then afterwards, we can have a good well reasoned Jewish debate. Okay, let's also be real. I'm a progressive, female, non orthodox rabbi in Chicago, it's not like what I have to say matters to anyone over there are matters to the power those in power over there, this isn't for them. This, what I'm talking about is as much a spiritual issue for us where we are as it is a political issue for Israelis. And we are no less affected by the spiritual dynamics here that have led to this moment there. And truthfully, I could be talking about any number of American issues too, that fall into this kind of archetype or rubric. So while the Torah is a cautionary tale, and our case study today is what's happening in Israel, this sermon is for all of us. And for those in the pro democracy movement, who need to know that they are not alone. And that we are in awe of their tenacity and persistence and the way they have come together across the spectrum of political ideology, to form one voice that says we will not accept the unacceptable. And for them to know that there's one more Jewish community in America that stands with them. I want to say, sorry, Israel's not that old of a country. It's only 75 years old, you know, think about what America was doing 75 years, and we were on the verge of a civil war. So Israel was founded on the ashes of the Holocaust, with the world reeling in disbelief, that people could be so humane, inhumane and cruel to one another. But Jews know what it's like to be the Gare, you know, the stranger to others, having encountered anti semitism throughout our history, wherever we've traveled, including here in America, very recently, you know, where we're seen by white supremacists and white nationalists, as outsiders who may share their country, but who are nonetheless a threat to their country and must be contained or controlled or destroyed. We know there's been an uptick in anti semitic incidents in the past number of years here in this country. Hence a bad check on your way in. You know, and literally no country in the world would take the number of Jews who are trying to get out of Europe during the Second World War, including the US, by the way, highly recommend the Ken Burns documentary about the US and the Holocaust if you want to learn more about that. And the consequence was that two thirds of European Jewry were murdered. Along with a million Roma people and disabled and gay and trans people, and other threats to Aryan thriving. It's still staggering to think about and it's truly astonishing that with that as the backdrop with that profound trauma as the backdrop, Israel's founders could write, in their declaration of independence, signed only three years after the liberation of Auschwitz, that Israel would be a home not only for all of the world's Jews who sought safe haven, but to be of benefit to all of its inhabitants. This nation they wrote will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace envision as envisaged by the Hebrew prophets, this nation will uphold the full social and political equality of all of its citizens without distinction of race or creed or sex, will guarantee full freedom of conscience and worship and education and culture. This was a vision for a new Liberal Democracy being born whose purpose was to care both for the quintessential gare of the world, the Jew, because no one else ever did. And to care for every minority in its midst as well. From where we sit now, 75 years in, there are ways in which Israel has fulfilled its founding mission beyond the wildest dreams of its founders has taken in Jewish refugees from every country in the world, certainly wherever Jews are in danger, whether Ethiopia or Ukraine, or Yemen, or Iran, or Iraq, or Russia or France. And the list goes on and on and on. All while building a thriving economy in what seems like the only Middle Eastern plot of land, not swimming in oil, creating a socialized healthcare system that actually works. And I would no my daughter broke her arm there this summer, and it was the nicest, most efficient, least expensive hospital visit I have ever had. There's a reason why people love this country so desperately. And there is a reason why millions of Israelis have been protesting in the streets for the past 39 weeks. This government this Government currently has made its agenda clear and they are moving fast and breaking things to pursue it. They want to weaken the secular courts and strengthen the religious courts. They would like to restrict and contain women in different ways LGBTQ people and their families further weaken the status of non Orthodox Jews, non Israeli Jews converts Israeli Palestinians, Arabs in general immigrants, Israelis are scared. Because they've already seen strained relationships with their democratic allies. They see their country becoming more vulnerable to outside threats as their generals and pilots and reservists people who can only be described as patriots are unwilling to fight in the army of an Israel. It's no longer a democracy. They signed up to fight in the army of the Israel whose Declaration of Independence you've just heard.

Israelis are scared, because they're already seeing economic decline with Israeli tech companies, themselves moving millions and millions, hundreds of millions of dollars outside of Israel along with employees to avoid the concerns of instability. And frankly, discussions of civil war that are now being heard there. I know it's a lot to take in, I just want to invite everybody to remember to breathe. Know talking about this can you know to activate the part of our brain that is like our survival brain, you know, the limbic brain that because this country was literally created to help us survive in this world. And so having a conversation that involves talking not just about the beautiful parts, but about the hard parts, and the rough edges can be challenging, even if you agree with everything I'm saying. So I just want to invite everybody to take a deep breath, exhale, and remember that you're safe here. And hopefully, this is the beginning of a conversation. So I was there this past summer, as many of you know. And I will be actually for the next three years, twice a year doing the shalom Hartman Institute, rabbinic Leadership Institute, which is a kind of incredible opportunity for high level learning with the leading minds of Jewish and Israeli culture and academia, which includes Palestinian scholars as well. So buckle in everyone, I'm gonna have a lot to say over the next three years. But you need to know that over this summer, the language all of them are using to describe this moment is one of existential threat. And what they mean by that is the threat of theocracy, of authoritarianism, of annexation of permanently enshrining separate laws for Jews and Palestinians in the same land, which is the definition of apartheid. Those are the stakes right now. So the existential threat they're worried about is not coming from Hamas, or Islamic Jihad or Iran, it's coming from inside the house. And this falls right, by the way into the pattern of the story we tell about Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel at Tisha Bob only seven weeks ago. So we're right to be nervous. And if you are a Jew or you love it, you are your cousin. centering becoming Jewish or you just love this place and you care about what happens there. And you care about the people there. You know that all of this is being done in our name, in the name of the Torah that we share and love and the people in charge right now, you know, some of them were barred from serving in the army because their views were viewed as too extreme. Their Jewish supremacist views were viewed as too extreme to serve in the IDF. What they are offering is a distortion of Torah and Judaism. There have always been people like them at the fringes. But they are now leading the government of the Jewish state and people from left to right are coming together with one voice to prevent these people from destroying the very thing they're trying to protect, they say they're trying to protect. And we can be alarmed and we should be alarmed. And I hope our alarm will catalyze us into action. But we cannot claim to be surprised. This anti democratic Jewish supremacist government didn't come out of nowhere. Palestinians who formed 20% of Israel citizenry have been sounding the alarm bells for decades about the ways in which Israeli democracy hasn't been living up to its founding aspirations of equality and freedom for everyone. Whether that's been living Palestinians living under military law for the first 20 years of the state, or Israel, providing less funding for Arab neighborhoods and schools were less policing and security for Arab towns, let alone the delta between Jews and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. A few years ago, law called the nation state law passed officially demoting Arabic as national language and affirming the exclusivity of Jewish national rights. Palestinians make less money can't serve in the army, and are generally treated with suspicion by Israeli Jews as a threat. Despite the fact that over 60% of Israel's health care relies on Arab labor. And I can tell you, my daughter broke her arm on Shabbat. And so every single person from the person who checked us in at urgent care to the X ray technician to the doctor at urgent care who sent us to shards at hospital to the person wearing a hijab at Charlotte said UK hospital who checked us in to the doctor who lovingly and tenderly set my daughter's arm were all Arabs. And I never felt more cared for and supported. There has for too long been a high tolerance in Israel for differences in how people who live in the same land are treated. And so we can't claim to be surprised by the very thing the Torah warns us about today, that it's finally happening. Right? that this has spread that this denying of full rights to some folks has now spread into proposing denying full rights to us to what we do to others or allow it to be done to others in the name of our self protection will come back around to us eventually. But history does not have to determine the future. And I think this can be a moment of reckoning. After Abraham dies, his sons Ishmael and Isaac, come together to bury him. And it seems Isaac suddenly understands that he was actually robbed of a meaningful relationship with his brother, because of his parents sense of insecurity and fear, telling him that by isolating him it was for his own safety. But he comes to realize that Hagar and Ishmael were never the threat to him. On the contrary, the sense of insecurity and scarcity that he inherited was, and so much so actually that Isaac's defining quality, according to Jewish tradition is fear. pahad its luck. And we know that what caused his parents to feel that sense of scarcity and insecurity was real and true. But ultimately, we can't let fear define our family. And we read this story today because I don't think we have to make the same mistake. And so part of our spiritual work our spiritual work, as Jews is to treat the inherited sense of insecurity and scarcity and fear that comes along with being a child of Abraham, a Jew, a gare, to so much of the world, because we have played both roles in the story. Right, we've been the stranger. And we still are seen as that in many places by many people. And we have also been, and also are the ones with the power to exclude to other eyes. And so part of our work today is realizing the ways in which we live with incredible abundance. That's incredible, unprecedented abundance. And if if you haven't taken a deep breath recently, like, take another breath. We live with abundance of resources, of joy, of love, of influence, of access of power. And despite what it might sometimes feel like we also live in an unprecedented ly safe time. For Jews, we have never had it so good and been so integrated into the fabric of the cultures that we inhabit, and have so much support from the government and the authorities to protect us, I have to tell you, before, before High Holidays, anywhere we go, we want to talk to the local police department to let them know a whole bunch of Jews will be descending on this block at this time. And Rachel said that the you know, the police in the neighborhood, they understand that we are a diverse community coming from all races and backgrounds. And they could not have been happier to help us feel safe here. You know, let alone that the United States has a special envoy and an ambassador to monitor and to combat anti semitism. So I feel like we have the wind at our backs, and we have allies. And we need to be good allies, we can put all of this into the service of doing something for people who need us right now, you know, who have less abundance and more reason to fear for the presence and future, we can raise our voice you know, whether it's for people here in our city, with less abundance and more reason to fear. And we can certainly support democracy and coexistence in Israel. And the thing is, for me, I am hoping I am hope I am hoping, you know, please God that we restore we

Israel restores the democracy that it had, but but actually not just the democracy that it had, it was deeply flawed. And we know that just as this country and our democracy could still use some work, to put it mildly. We want to support the democracy that could be, you know, which will involve listening to the voices of all of its minorities, helping the Jewish state live up to its founding ideals of equality and freedom for all its inhabitants. I want to see a democracy that doesn't involve making permanent moral compromises for anyone's security, meaning a democracy that doesn't involve occupation of millions of people, that protects all the lives and it's care, in particular, non Jews, because caring for the Gare has always been part of what it means to be a Jew. And there are things we can actually do, that we are being asked to do begged to do by Israelis from left to right to help us in this. We can support the hundreds of 1000s Millions of Israelis who are protesting week after week. We can do that financially online, and you can show up to unacceptable protests here. Or donate money so they can be held in other cities, including in Israel, on Yom Kippur War Mishkan, Miriam cleveden, a leader in the local movement here in Chicago, is going to be teaching an afternoon class on exactly this, if you want to learn more about the movement, we can support the organizations that have been working day in and day out for decades toward the vision of an Israel described in its declaration of independence, one of complete equality and social and political rights for all its inhabitants. And so even if you have been disengaged from this conversation, you know, never really thought about it. But so much more if you have this is a time for waking up along with the shofar. This is not the time for divesting, but rather investing in the people who are trying to create the future there. And as long as there are people on the ground, picking up the mantle of Isaac and Ishmael, unwilling to accept the inherited fear from their parents, and interested in working together to hear each other's voices and build the home that they share. I want to support them. And I would love for all of us to consider ourselves part of that project. So, tomorrow we will blow the shofar, an instrument designed to be narrow at one end and expansive at the other. And as you've already heard, it contains the sounds of some of our most painful memories, our near misses and our losses, also our victories. We begin with the line mean handmade Tsar karate. Yeah, a nanny bummer. Javi I mean, her mates are karate. Yeah, from the narrow place I called out to you and you answered me, by expanding with great expansiveness. We do not need to have all the answers figured out for these big questions. How to Save Democ See, is it possible to create a true Jewish democracy in which no one is made to feel like the stranger in which we don't have to compromise anyone's safety to preserve our own? We haven't seen it yet. But I believe it's possible. Of course, I believe it's possible. And we begin with a narrow view, but we expand outward and the sound begins at the narrow end and it expands outward, it travels and moves, it grows. And it expands to fill a whole new space so people can hear it differently. And so my hope and my prayer for all of us is that our collective imagination for what's possible in this coming year can do the same