Friday, November 30, 2012

Learning How, and Who, to Trust in this Crazy, Mixed-up World ...

Sermon delivered at Temple Israel of West Palm Beach on November 30, 2012.

            Shabbat shalom.
            I think one of the most difficult life skills to learn is to know when you can trust someone … and when you can’t.
            Unfortunately, it seems like we learn this mostly via trial and error, and it’s usually most effectively learned when we are "burned" by trusting someone we later figure out that we shouldn’t have trusted … and it’s these kinds of lessons that parents want their children to learn, hopefully without too much pain.  
            For a long time, one of my nicknames was “Little Mary Sunshine” because folks thought I was too often looking for the good in people and, even as a grown up, I’ll never forget the time my dad was telling someone the differences between me and my brother … he said, "she got the book smarts and he got the street smarts" … hearing him say that really cut to the core, because I took that to mean that he thought I wouldn’t succeed in life.  
           When we talked about it later, he explained that he worried that someone might take advantage of me because I always tried look for the good in others, and he thought that going through life always, and only, looking for the good in others, without being at least a little wary, without being at least a little bit on guard, without being at least a little bit not trusting, could be dangerous.
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to trust people … how we must trust others in order to get along in this world … and, in particular, this week, I’ve been thinking about the need to trust people when it comes to politics. 
What you are about to hear took place on November 29th.
            [Played audio file of UN vote.]
            What you just heard took place on November 29th, 1947 – it was the United Nations vote on the creation of not only the state of Israel, but also for the creation of a state that would be known as Palestine.  You just heard  the vote by the United Nations General Assembly on Resolution 181 that would partition the area controlled by the British and create the two-state solution we are still seeking to this very day.
            But that was 65 years ago. 
            The Jews accepted this map [showed map from 1947], which was smaller in area than they wanted and the Arabs (as they were referred to at the time), as we all know, did not …  since that time, there has been war after war after war, or conflict after conflict after conflict, or intifada after intifada after intifada, or whatever name you want to give it.
            Take a look at what the Jews agreed to accept … and consider how different it is to what the map of Israel looks like today.  Jews would have gratefully accepted this map, without lives being shed, back in 1947 [showed 1947 map alongside current map of Israel].
            So you might ask:  "Rabbi, why did you start tonight’s talk with a discussion about trust?
            Yesterday, 65 years to the day since Resolution 181 was passed by the United Nations, another vote took place dealing with Israel and the people we now call Palestinians, the vote was 138 in favor, 9 opposed, and 41 abstaining with regards to the Palestinian people being granted Permanent Observer Status, or as President Mahmoud Abbas referred to it, "granting a birth certificate to the state of Palestine."  Please know that I am not opposed to a two-state solution … in fact, I’m in favor of a Palestinian state … but I’m also incredibly gun-shy.
             You see, I’m gun-shy because I lived in Israel from 2003-2004, during the second worst year of the second Intifada, when crazy fundamentalists were blowing things up on my street … and, please note that I choose the phrase "crazy fundamentalists" very carefully when answering people’s questions regarding my feelings on what is happening in the state of Israel.
            I tell people right up front that I am 100% biased when it comes to my views on Israel.  I tell people that crazy fundamentalists were blowing up buses right down the street from school and up the street from where I lived, and that I went through metal detectors every single day to enter into every single store, every single coffee shop, every single time I went to the mall, every single time I entered any kind of establishment open to the public.  
           And I tell people that I walked the 5-minute walk up the hill from school to my apartment  one day to find the bomb squad in front of my building sending a little robot to poke at an unattended package, which they eventually blew up … right next to the entry to my apartment building.
            I tell people I’m biased by my experience of living in fear the year I lived in Israel … I tell people I’m gun-shy about demands regarding free access into Israel, without checkpoints ... which is why I made myself go visit the West Bank and met with a Palestinian farmer and helped him pick grapes in his fields so I could see a checkpoint and so I could hear his story.  And, yes, I always tell people that it was easier for me to go through the checkpoint because of who I was than a Palestinian to go through because of who they might be … I definitely acknowledge that, but I believe that Israel has a fundamental right to keep its citizens safe.
But when I tell people I’m biased, I also tell people that, while I have hope for a peaceful solution, I don’t know who Israel can trust to make sure it happens.
I tell people I don’t know who has control over the crazy fundamentalists that blow people up ... I tell people I don’t know who has control over the crazy fundamentalists who want to wipe Israel from the face of the map … I tell people I don’t know who Israel can trust … .
Yesterday, I heard the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, say the following to the UN General Assembly:  “The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: Enough of aggression, settlements and occupation.”  He continued, saying, “We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel; rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of the state that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine,” he said, continuing by saying:  "We did not come here to add further complications to the peace process, which Israel’s policies have thrown into the intensive care unit; rather we came to launch a final serious attempt to achieve peace. ... Our endeavor is not aimed at terminating what remains of the negotiations process, which has lost its objectivity and credibility, but rather aimed at trying to breathe new life into the negotiations and at setting a solid foundation for it based on the terms of reference of the relevant international resolutions in order for the negotiations to succeed.”
I am skeptical, but there is still a bit of “Little Mary Sunshine” in me … I want Israel to find someone it can trust, but I don’t know who Israel can trust.  Until the right people are sitting together talking with it each other, trying to figure out how to create a viable two-state solution that allows both sides to feel secure in their independence, I am unsure where this will go.
But still,  I am hopeful.
Tonight, as you enjoy dinner, I hope you will debate both sides’ actions and inactions … talk about how you feel about Abbas’ statements that he was not at the UN to delegitimize Israel … and, yes, talk about Israel’s decision to move forward today with permitting additional housing units to be built in East Jerusalem as if nothing happened yesterday at the United Nations.  
Talk about what it would feel like if you could not feel secure in your home and what you would be willing to do to protect your home and your family … and talk about why what you would do should be any different than what any Israeli should do.
Talk from the left and from the right … and when you go home tonight and all through the weekend, read everything you possibly can about what is happening in Israel, from both the liberal media and the conservative media, and intentionally try to see, and argue, both sides.
Ask youselves, what do both sides want .. what do both sides need … what is standing in the way?
Could it be something so simple, as yet so complicated, as trust?
Ask yourself, how can we build that?  What has been missing in the equation for these 65 years?
If you were in charge what would you do?
I’m not sure what I would do … but I still do have hope.
Shabbat shalom.