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
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
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
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.