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Yom Ha-Atzmaut - Milken Community Center

Rabbi Ed Feinstein - April 16, 2002

I want to talk to the children tonight. Because I'm concerned for your souls and your faith. You've heard that we are aggressors -- savagely invading, occupying, oppressing a sovereign people. You've heard we have brutally destroyed their cities and towns, their homes and shops, desecrating holy places, turning once-thriving centers of life into fields of destruction and death.

You've heard that we have committed atrocity; that we have massacred hundreds of innocents, bull-dozed living people into rubble, shot pregnant women and little children, halted ambulances from attending to the wounded. They say we've even prevented the burial of their dead. And when we did bury the dead, it was only to cover up the mass murder.

And it seems that everyone says it. You hear it on CNN and ABC and NPR, you read it in the LA Times, you hear it from world leaders and organizations devoted to humanitarian causes.

The Portuguese Nobel Laureate, Jose Saramago visited the Palestinian West Bank as one of a group of famous authors, called the International Parliament of Writers and declared that "what is happening here is a crime that may be compared to Auschwitz".

Robert Sheer, in this morning's Los Angeles Time, compares Ariel Sharon to the Serbian butcher, Slobodan Milosovitch. This, after a weekend of prominent, front page articles describing the wanton destruction and ruthless mass murder carried out by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian civilians in Nablus and Jenin. (And you had to read to the fifth paragraph of the story to discover that none of the reports were independently confirmed, verified, or corroborated.)

The annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, last week, condemned Israel for "mass killings" of Palestinians, "gross violations" of humanitarian law" and affirmed the "legitimate right of Palestinian people to resist."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned Israel's "brutal practices in the occupied Palestinian territories." UNESCO issued a resolution condemning the Israeli attacks on the cultural centers and holy sites in Palestine. (Strangely, they said nothing of synagogues burned in France or exploded in Tunisia.)

The European Parliament adopted a resolution last week that called on the European Union to suspend its 6-year-old trade Treaty with Israel.

You, our children, you hear these things, you read these things. You witness demonstrations on college campuses and in the great cities of the world. And you have to wonder: Is this the truth? Are these really my people? What kind of people are we? What kind of society is Israel? What happened to the dream that once was Zionism?

Koffi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations put it succinctly: "Is it possible," he asked, "that Israel is right and the whole world is wrong?"

As long as you live, I want you to remember this night. Tonight, something extraordinary is happening. Tonight, we have come, your parents and grandparents, your rabbis and teachers, distinguished leaders from every corner of the Jewish community -- Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, religious and secular, right-wing and left-wing, to say one thing: Is it possible that Israel is right and the whole world is wrong?

You bet your life it is.

You bet your life, because we've bet our lives. It is true now and it always has been. From the time the world worshipped rocks and trees and Abraham discovered the Creator of all. From the time the world bowed low to Pharoah and Moses commanded that we stand up and be free. From the time when the world idolized and revered Roman power and Akiba risked his life to teach Torah.

And it's true today. Because the world has no memory.

They forget, but we remember. In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine and to create two states between the Jordan and the Mediterranean: One, the Jewish state of Israel. The other, a homeland for Palestinian Arabs. The Zionist leadership, the acting government of the Yishuv, accepted the plan. In 1947, we affirmed our desire to live in peace, side by side with a Palestinian State. But the armies of nine Arab states came pouring over the borders, to extinguish the nascent state of Israel and to murder yet another million Jews. When a truce came, the territory for the Palestinian Arab State had been devoured by Egypt and Jordan and Syria.

They forget, but we remember that thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled in the face of that Arab invasion. But when they reached the borders of Jordan and Egypt, they were not permitted to enter. Israel, tiny beleaguered Israel managed to absorb and settle millions of Jewish refugees from Europe and the Middle East. But the entire Arab League and all 26 Muslim nations, with all their oil-wealth, couldn't find room for their poor Palestinian brothers and sisters -- and left them to rot in squalid refugee camps, festering in hatred and rage.

They forget, but we remember every time they came across our border to murder and to destroy. We remember 1948, 1967, 1973.

We remember the Olympics in Munich and the school in Maalot.

And we remember that when Sadat came to Jerusalem, we dismantled settlements, and relocated whole cities, and gave Egypt back the entire Sinai, in return for peace.

We remember Yitzchak Rabin and his dream. And we remember that his protege, Ehud Barak went to Camp David and then to Taba, and offered, for the second time in 50 years, to create a Palestinian State, comprised of 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza with sovereignty over half of Jerusalem including the Temple Mount, and $30 billion in world economic aid. And we remember the answer.

They forget, but we remember, just months ago, a bomber in the Dolphinarium Disco in Tel Aviv killed 21 teens. And what did we do in retaliation, what did we hit? Nothing. We practiced restraint. And months later when another bomber destroyed Sbarro's Pizza and dozens more were killed. What was our retaliation? Nothing. We practiced restraint. And the Bat Mitzvah in Hadera and the mall in Netanya and the restaurants and cafes in Jerusalem and Afula and in Haifa – we retaliated by destroying buildings. Empty buildings. Because we called them hours in advance of each mission, to warn them to evacuate.

And then came Pesach. This year, the Angel of Death did not pass over. Whole families were murdered at the Seder table. But even now, do we bomb from the air, like America? Risk hitting hospitals and schools and embassies like America did in Bosnia and Afghanistan? No. We send our kids through the alleyways and byways -- to face booby traps and snipers and mines.

Tonight, your parents and grandparents, your rabbis and teachers, your community have gathered here in the thousands to testify that the whole world is wrong and Israel is right. And we will not apologize for doing what's right – for defending our children and their dreams from murderers. We mourn for innocents, Palestinian and Israeli, who are caught in the struggle. We take no pleasure in the suffering of any human being – we dip out wine from our cups -- but we will not apologize for taking steps to survive in that vicious corner of the world where, mesmerized by murder and blood, they dance and sing when their children blow themselves up.

We will not apologize for demanding our land and our freedom and our security in this world. Jews no longer apologize for surviving. You must not be apologetic for Israel or ashamed of Israel. You must not be embarrassed by Israel or afraid to stand up for Israel.

And you must never, ever grow bitter, cynical, or dark. The prophet Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of all he loved: Jerusalem, the Temple, his people. And through his tears he wrote, lo yeshama b'aray yehuda, uv'chutzot yerushalayeem, kol sasson, v'kol simcha, kol chatan v'kol kalah. Never again will Judah or Jerusalem hear the sounds of joy and the voices of gladness, the song of the bride and grooms. But the Rabbis who came generations later knew the prophet got it wrong. They believed that one day, we would return to Judah and to Jerusalem. But only if we hold fast to hope and resist despair; only if we cling tight to our dreams and refuse to surrender to bitterness. The Rabbis knew that the death of our faith is a greater tragedy than the destruction of our city; and the crushing of our vision, a bigger disaster than the ruin of the Temple.

And so they changed one word in the prophecy. Instead of Lo yeshama, we sing Od yeshama. In every bride and groom, in every Jewish family, in every community and synagogue, in every place where Jewish life lives, Jeremiah is proved wrong. Od yeshama b'aray yehuda. For once again, the hills of Judah and the streets of Yerushalim will ring with the sounds of joy and celebration, with the music of love and melody of hope and the song of peace. Amen.

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