Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Sermon by an Atlanta rabbi" misses the mark

I rarely argue against anything posted on our Ahavat Olam Synagogue discussion list, but I have to counter something posted today purporting to be a Rosh ha-Shanah sermon delivered by an Atlanta rabbi.*

The sermon identifies radical Islam as “the enemy” of our time just as Nazism was so disastrously the enemy three-quarters of a century ago. Further, it says that for Jews not to recognize this today is parallel to Jews in Europe in the 1930's not accepting the reality of the threat posed by the Nazis in their time – which only makes the threat of radical Islam more threatening and largely the fault of those Jews who don't think so.

The writer avoids any mention that both the US and Israel might have done something to elicit such enmity. It is as if it arose spontaneously, a completely irrational aberration in human thinking, with no relationship whatsoever to anything that the USA and Israel have ever done.

On Rosh ha-Shanah, of all days, we need to look at our own failures and misdeeds. This sermon offers not a shred of awareness of any responsibility on the part of either the USA or Israel. No human reality is so thoroughly one-sided as this piece presents. Until we look at our own actions, we will not understand what is going on. Until we see the larger context for the situation – as we try to do especially on Rosh ha-Shanah – we remain trapped in it. The moral reasoning of Rosh ha-Shanah is to engage deeply in critical self-evaluation that leads to change in our own behaviour to mitigate our own role in causing the difficulties that affect our lives and those of others. Jewish teachings further emphasize that precisely those traits in others which most disturb us are those which we most need to look for in ourselves to rectify.

The lachrymose emotional appeal of the piece is an attempt to lead its readers to ignore Israel’s near total dispossession of the entire population of Palestinian Arabs, 43 years of brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, decades of occupation of southern Lebanon, massively disproportionate lethal attack on Gaza only two years ago and other continuing acts of aggression. It is not Israel’s mere existence which has led to growing enmity but rather Israel's actions. Similarly, the reader is expected to forget current US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and decades of history, for instance, that the dictatorial regime in Saudi Arabia which produces Wahabi extremists and exports “radical Islam” is itself a direct creation British imperialism at the end of World War I and would not have survived without United States support.

Finally, the piece deserves attention not for what it purports to be but rather for what it is: an  attempt to manipulate those Jews who feel increasingly insecure as they become more painfully aware of Israel’s own deepening insecurity in a world with less and less tolerance for its excesses and excuses.

It is always easier and more comforting to shrai gevalt about others than it is to look at ourselves.


* I thought it was strange that writer is identified only as "an Atlanta rabbi" -- no affiliation, identification or credentials. Rabbis who give sermons are associated with synagogues. Usually, when a sermon is reported, the synagogue where it was delivered is also reported. So, from the outset I was a sceptical. I Googled “Schlomo Lewis”, the supposed author of the sermon, and found absolutely no reference to this name before September 24, 2010, and no reference at all in any context whatsoever other than this one specific sermon which has been published now on dozens of highly ideological blogs and nowhere else. There is no indication of who the writer is or anything at all pertaining to his existence prior to the first appearance of this item in a blog about four days ago. So, now I'm wondering,  “Schlomo Lewis” is either a hidden holy lamed-vavnik in Atlanta who just decided to reveal himself two weeks after he supposedly delivered this sermon or simply a fabrication. – DM