Sermon 9th December 2017
With thanks to Rabbi Dow Marmur whose wisdom I have relied on heavily in this sermon
I love the beautiful words that our Bar Mitzvah read in the Haftarah just now and highlighted last night as he asked that we sing the words that inspired Debbie Friedman to write. The Prophet Joel (2:28) tells us “old dream dreams and youth see visions”. The old dream of what the world should be and the youth see visions of how they can be part of implementing those dreams. Yet maybe it isn’t as straightforward as that because as children we dream for our own future, think about our own hopes and aspirations for our life. As we age we see visions for a collective future, understand how our actions impact others and temper our personal aspirations for a more wide-reaching good. We see it in this week’s parasha with Joseph’s dreams. As a young man he drives his brothers mad, dreaming of his own grandeur. It isn’t until he is a an older man, with the experiences of life under his belt, seeing how he ostracised his family, suffered personally and left his dad grieving for his favourite son that through others he sees the visions of a society that he can benefit, where he can equalise the disparity for the starving masses.
It’s my greatest fear that that one of the most powerful men in the world at the moment is not able to see the visions of watching how his actions impact others but simply dreams the self-obsessed dreams of the young. Julian Resnick who guided our FRS Israel trip last spring said, “I believe in compromise, a value which Amos Oz once called the most underrated value of the 20th century. I cannot wave wands and have exactly what I dreamed of for centuries. But if both I and the others who have big dreams about Jerusalem are not prepared to dream smaller dreams, we will all share a huge nightmare.” We have to see the shared visions and understand how our dreams impact others and those repercussions have to be the responsibility of the dreamer too.
Making sense of this week and Donald Trump’s stoking of the flames of Middle Eastern politics, I turned to my childhood Rabbi, my revered teacher Rabbi Dow Marmur whose writing I am using to articulate what I think many of us are feeling. “For many years and especially after we came to live in Jerusalem my rare moments of optimism about the Israeli-Palestinian situation were linked to the hope that the status quo would prevail. I couldn’t see any signs that pointed to an improvement of the situation but considerable evidence to the contrary.
The announcement that the United States has now recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel hasn’t changed my unease. Even Trump and his entourage seem to want to assure the world that nothing has changed despite his announcement that the US embassy is moving to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to fear that bad things may happen soon, including more senseless terrorism.
So why did he do it? Was it to please the American evangelicals who support him? Was it to help Netanyahu to stay in office despite the threat of being indicted for corruption, and with him, it seems, an ever-growing number of his political supporters? Was it to repay Sheldon Adelson for his $25 million contribution to Trump’s election campaign? Was it yet another manifestation of Trump’s determination to humiliate Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular?
Whatever the reasons, Netanyahu uses the decision to his advantage as part of his message to Israelis that despite the investigations against him, which he feels were instigated of course by hostile and degenerate left-wing media who fabricate fake news, and notwithstanding evidence to the contrary that will soon emerge, he’s moving the country toward ever greater security and success. What bigger win could he have at such a difficult time for him than the support of the American President in a way which hasn’t been seen for decades?
Inveterate optimists would like to see the American declaration about Jerusalem as the beginning of an ingenious scheme involving Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states that will lead to a permanent peace agreement, but there’s no evidence of that at the moment, only speculations, even though US Vice-President Pence is on his way to the region to make nice.
A more likely scenario is that the American people have put a superannuated spoiled child in the White House. What Trump lacks in education and experience he makes up in cunning and mischief. The Jerusalem announcement may be part of it.
Jewish liberals in America (and as ever more quietly in the U.K.) J Street, the Union for Reform Judaism and others – have expressed their objections which, of course, makes the objectors in the eyes of Netanyahu and his entourage, traitors and agents of the enemy who’re on their way out of Judaism.
Thinking and caring Israelis irrespective of affiliation may agree that the Trump decision doesn’t really change anything other than annoy Palestinians and their supporters, and give terrorists another excuse to cause mayhem or threaten to do so. Nobody in his/her right mind has ever doubted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, irrespective of where states choose to locate their embassies.
It would have been so different had Trump declared West Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital as soon as East Jerusalem becomes the capital of the Palestinian state. In the absence of such an outcome of Trump’s meddling, pessimism becomes not only legitimate but inescapable: yet another reason to be confused and worried about the world in general and our little world (our Jewish safe haven) in particular.”
Please don’t think me an enemy of the Jewish people because I cannot celebrate Trump’s move as “good for the Jews”. As I wept at the Western Wall in the Spring I didn’t think myself closer to God, or on land He had gifted just to me, in the only place where my prayers could be heard and finally answered but I did feel I added my pleas for God to hear my voice to the tears of millennia of women who had stood there with their own sorrows. I felt their tears have seeped into the brickwork and it’s that chain of tradition which brings us closer to our ancestors and closer to a framework for life which, for generations, has given us strength to deal with adversity. I feel a deep association with Jerusalem and would passionately defend my Jewish connection with the place. But we have to understand the nuance and complexities around that relationship. As Julian said, “Nobody, but nobody can tell me that Jerusalem is not my capital. At the same time, I need to find solutions which enable all who dwell within our home to find some measure of fulfilment. I still hope for a future in which we find a way to share our city with others who claim it. They will never be able to replace us in Jerusalem, but equally, Jerusalem can never be exclusively ours.” As Rabbi Marmur said, “It could have been so different had Trump declared West Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital”. Let’s never find ourselves saying, “It’s good for the Jews” because the last 48 hours is our latest reminder, should we ever need one, that nothing is good for the Jews if others see it as bad for them because we simply become the target of their aggression. So this Shabbat as we pray for calm and a better future with the words of the Aleinu let our old and young alike dream dreams of a world where compromise is seen as a win for everybody.