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Looking for Ways of Seeing

05/16/2018 02:36:26 PM


Apparently, if you focus on a steady spot far off in the distance, it’s possible to mitigate the worst effects of motion sickness. In a flat vista, that could be the distant horizon. With vertigo, the trick is to snap your head quickly in the opposite direction, which, paradoxically, could also worsen the vertiginous symptoms.

Nothing seems to be working for me this week, as I try to look far ahead into the distance, where somewhere, someday, there might be balance, health, and wholeness in lands so violently fractured by dissonant views.

So many ways to identify the days this week, depending upon which religious or civic culture is on your horizon: Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day (the Hebrew date equivalent of the unification of the city in June 1967 this year fell on May 11-12); Yawm an-Nakba/Day of Catastrophe (usually observed on May 15, commemorating the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians following Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948); Rosh Hodesh Sivan/the Jewish New Month, heralding the end of the omer period and the approach of Shavuot, celebrating the gift of Torah to the Jewish people; the new moon of Ramadan, which will begin for Muslims world-wide on May 17; and in the country where I lived for 24 years, the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign with a March in Washington, on the 50th anniversary of a campaign by the same name launched by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I try to steady myself in this landscape, 58 Palestinian protesters have been shot to death, and thousands wounded by live ammunition, as they gathered at the fence between their walled-in territory and Israel early in the week. On the same day, in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Arnona, the Prime Minister declared that this was a great day for Israel, and a great day for peace, as he and the country celebrated the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

I snap my head back across to our side of the ocean, and catch a glimpse of many colleagues and friends, gathered – and arrested - in Washington, DC, as part of the new Poor People’s Campaign, mirrored by similar actions in many American state capitals. It’s a grassroots network challenging “systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism” by articulating a moral agenda.

Slowly, I scan the landscape, looking for other signs of moral courage, for fortitude, the capacity to seek, find, and maintain balance in the words and actions of Jewish communal leaders here in North America, in Canada, and here in Ottawa. It’s dizzying enough, to try to look and see clearly when it all feels like a sickening roller coaster ride. But it’s not an amusement park ride, not at all. There is so much fear, and so much suffering, that I feel unsteady even offering words and metaphors.

My teacher, Rabbi Arthur Green, once described the Reconstructionist approach to Judaism as religious humanism. I heartily endorse this description, so in that spirit I’ll offer one of the things rabbis offer in moments like these: a prayer, with what I hope reflects religious humanist values:

May the moral disaster that is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza abate and dissipate, speedily and in our day. May we hold our political, secular and religious leaders accountable for any words and actions that endorse or entrench the status quo. May our celebrations of Torah and our people – as Jews and as people – bring all closer to justice and peace, freedom and dignity. And may we develop and sustain each other in our capacity to look, and to see.

- Rabbi Liz

Fri, January 18 2019 12 Sh'vat 5779