Rabbi’s Weekly Message

Rabbi’s Message, Nov 8, 2023

Channeling Father Abraham After Class

Illustration: Marc Chagall, Abraham Weeping for Sarah (1931). Credit: WikiArt.org
                Today, I had a remarkable experience. It made me feel for once as if I were truly a child of Father Abraham.
                As we recall, Abraham negotiated with the local “Hittites” living in the vicinity of Hebron, in order to purchase a burial cave for the interment of his deceased wife, Sarah. The bible describes the elaborate dance of dialogue and ceremony conducted by Abraham and Ephron the Hittite, the would-be seller of the cave Abraham wished to purchase. Ultimately, Abraham paid most generously to secure clear title to the cave and its surrounding field. “The field and the cave that was in it passed over to Abraham as a burial-holding from the Hittites.” (Genesis 23:20)
                Abraham clearly knew the niceties of communication in his society.  That is what I gleaned from the elaborate back and forth of the negotiations described in Genesis chapter 23.
                All this came to mind when two of my college students approached me at the end of class and asked me to explain to them what is going on between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. It is worth mentioning that the two students, both African American, are among the stronger students in the class.
                I thanked them for bringing me their question and gave them a mid-length explanation…. It’s always best to leave them feeling that they got a reasonable answer, not just a bullet point, but that there is room to expand further. I told them about the partition plan of 1947, accepted by the United Nations, that the Israeli/ Zionist side accepted, and the Arab side rejected.  I told them about the “Two State Solution” that Israel has consistently been willing to live with, and the rejectionism of many Arab states and groups.  I then explained that Hamas was one of the extreme rejectionists within the Arab camp, created in opposition to other groups because it wanted to act out a more violent and zealous set of attacks against Zionists and against Jews.  Then I explained that Israel has no territorial claims on Gaza…. That there is no so-called “occupation” in Gaza…. Because Israel unilaterally withdrew from the entire territory in 2005, as a gesture to help advance the peace process. Finally, I told them that there was some measure of peace between Israel and Gaza until Hamas took over Gaza in a civil war in 2007, and that ever since, Hamas has used that territory as a launching pad for missiles and other terror weapons aimed at Israel.
                The students listened appreciatively and thanked me for giving them a perspective that they said they had not received from other sources.
                Then I spoke about the rise in antisemitism accelerating alarmingly today.  I drew the connection between anti-Black racism and antisemitism.  They understood that our two peoples have been victimized again and again.
                At the end of our session--- about ten minutes in total--- I felt as if I had connected with two peer leaders in the student body.  Who knows how far the good effects of this may extend? It is not possible to predict.
                But it is certain that such efforts must always engage our energies.
                The world is filled with people who have not been focused on the racism directed against the Jewish people. That’s just a fact of life.  In the African American community, there is a tendency to focus on their own long and brutal history of victimization, and not to save space for empathy for others who have been the targets of attack.  But when given the opportunity to cultivate an ally, I will channel my father Abraham, and give whatever energies are needed to the task.
                May God grant me other opportunities to combat falsehood, to share the historical truth, and to assist in some measure in defending our Jewish brothers and sisters now under such vicious attack. Amen.