I’m going to begin with some inspiring words that go beyond my normal “good news.” This is extracted from commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Koren Rosh Hashana Machzor [Prayer book] with my emphasis added:
“There is mystery at the heart of Jewish existence, and it is written into the first syllables of our recorded time.
“The first words of God to Abraham were ‘ Leave your land…And I will make you a great nation…
“Early on in the story…we read that Abraham ‘was very wealthy in livestock and silver and gold.’ His first words to God were ‘O Lord God, what will You give me if I remain childless?’ The first recorded words of man to God in the history of the covenant are a plea for there to be a future generation. The first Jew feared he would be the last.
“Then Abraham has a child, Ishmael, born to Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar. But God tells him: he is not the one….Abraham has to part company with him…Another son is promised and Sarah will bear him. This is a biological impossibility. Sarah is already post-menopausal. Yet, against possibility, Isaac is born…
“Then in words that over the centuries have not lost their power to shock, we hear God’s call to Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice…Then a voice is hard from heaven: ‘Do not reach out your hand against the boy.’ The trial is over. Isaac lives.
“The enigma is almost overpowering. On the one hand, the promises, on the other, the years of childlessness – then the child who was sent away, then the child who could not be born, then the trial countermanded at the last moment. What is the Torah telling us, not for that time but for all time?
“The story of Jewish continuity is a mystery. According to the Torah, had nature taken its course, Sarah would not have had a child and there would be no Jewish people. If Abraham had his way and been content with Ishmael, there would have been no Jewish people. If Isaac had been born but the word from heaven telling Abraham to stay his hand had been delayed, there would have been no Jewish people. On such slender avoidance of the probable does Jewish continuity rest.
“It is as if from the beginning a message was woven into our being. To move from one generation to the next requires a series of miracles…We are Jews today by virtue of miracles. How do we survive?”
This is a powerful message of comfort. A reminder for all time. Let it be our theme, as we struggle with the tough stuff during this new year, 5777.
Rabbi Sacks makes another point, as well:
“No people have cared more for their children, invested more energy in them and shaped the whole of their religious life in order to hand on to them what they find precious. Abraham and Sarah had a child because they so nearly did not have a child. Other cultures take children for granted. Judaism has never taken its children for granted, because Jews know what it is like to be an Abraham or Sarah…
“…We have lost too many Jewish children. What meaning will our lives or the lives of our ancestors have if they are not lent immortality by our continuity? If we would only remember the many miracles it took to bring us to this hour, we would willingly do our duty to ensure that the next generation stays Jewish…Jewish continuity is the greatest gift we can bring to the future and the past.”
Israeli society is a child-oriented society. Israeli Jews have the highest birth rate of Jews anywhere in the world. Is it any wonder? A statement of commitment and of hope, drawn from our very essence.
There will time enough in the days ahead to cover a host of news stories. Here, I wish to write only about one subject: Shimon Peres. His passing at 93 last Wednesday, and his funeral last Friday morning, so fraught with complexities and broad implications. At first, I thought I would avoid this subject. Best to allow the deceased to lie in peace. But I have since thought better of the silence. It does not sit well when there is so much to say.
I think commentator Martin Sherman has it right, when he asks: “Which Shimon Peres do we mourn?”
Peres, a protégé of Ben Gurion, was the last of the founding fathers of the State of Israel and held just about every major position in Israel during his long career. He served twice as Prime Minister (in non-consecutive terms); as Director General of the Ministry of Defense and subsequently as Minister of Defense; and finally as President. He headed a number of other ministries over time, as well, such as the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Communications. Elected to the Knesset in 1959 he remained a member of the Knesset almost continuously until he became President in 2007.
Most significantly, during the first part of his career, Peres was deeply involved in Israel’s defense in a variety of critical roles: He strengthened the IDF and established Israel’s electronic aircraft industry. He is credited with promoting Israel’s nuclear development, as well. He acquired advanced combat aircraft from France, and reportedly had a major hand in the Entebbe rescue
Sherman reports, as well, that in his 1978 book, Tomorrow is Now, Peres “negated the validity of the land-for-peace doctrine, the desirability of a Palestinian state… it strongly endorse[d] Jewish settlements across the pre-1967 Green Line, including Judea-Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the Golan.”
These enormous and critical contributions to the wellbeing of the State of Israel cannot be ignored. And so, it is highly appropriate that the State of Israel – in remembrance and gratitude – honored him on his passing.
And yet…and yet….
As Sherman put it, Peres did a “breathtaking volte face [abrupt reversal] in his professed political credo.” He cites Anshel Pfeffer, who recently wrote, “If Peres had resigned from frontline politics at the age of 54…he would be remembered as one of Israel’s most legendary security ‘hawks.’”
And then suddenly there was Peres the dove, who embraced policies that Peres the hawk had warned against. Shifting left, he worked behind the back of Prime Minister Rabin to promote “land for peace” and “the two state solution,” the quest for which was ultimately embodied in the disastrous Oslo Accords. We are still entangled in these Accords, which have weakened us, while strengthening the terrorists of the PLO.
There are many attempts to explain the rationale behind this about-face. But I am not going to go there. I will simply note what happened.
Peres spoke a great deal about “dreams.” Many people admired him for this, and indeed all Zionist leaders have been dreamers in a sense. But Peres’s dreams became “pie-in-the-sky,” totally disconnected from what was happening on the ground. Thus dangerous.
He referred to those Israeli Jews killed by terrorists post-Oslo as “sacrifices for peace.” A horrendous conceptualization. So taken was he by his dream, that he apparently never stopped to ask why it should be that just when the Palestinian Arabs were offered new hope via Oslo, they should double-down on killing Jews.
Embracing modern technology as a panacea for the world’s troubles, he said, “It is a great mistake to learn from history. There is nothing to learn from history…Israeli children should be taught to look to the future, not live in the past. I would rather teach them to imagine than to remember.” Painfully shortsighted. Apparently he had never internalized the well-known aphorism that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
What is of enormous significance is that Peres, as he shifted left, became an internationalist. His message was not for Israel, but for the Western world, as he spoke of his vision of a “new Middle East.”
And here we come to Peres’s funeral.
It was astounding by any account. Those in attendance included more than 20 presidents, 10 prime ministers, more than 20 foreign ministers, five defense ministers, a Spanish king, and a British prince, in total representing more than one-third of the nations in the world (more than 70 nations).
The ceremony was tasteful and according to Jewish tradition.
Obama was there, and spoke, as did Bill Clinton. Also in attendance: Prince Charles of Britain (sporting a unique kippa), Tony Blair, French President Francois Hollande, German President Joachim Gauck. And on, and on.
I know of at least one rabbi who called this a “kiddush Hashem,” an honor to the name of the Almighty – that heads of so many states came to Israel.
I respect this rabbi, and understand what he is thinking. We can find Biblical prophecy for this – all the world coming to Israel. But I respectfully disagree with his perspective in this instance.
For the leaders of the world did not come to Israel to do honor to Israel. They came to honor the memory of Shimon Peres in his leftist incarnation. Peres the dreamer – who in his later career promoted failed policies that were detrimental to Israel’s wellbeing. It is this Peres who spoke most clearly for them. And it was the loss of this voice that they mourned.
You can rest assured that they did not come to honor the Peres who had worked to make Israel strong because they care about a genuinely safe and secure Israel. For these world leaders it is Shimon the “two-state” promoter who embodied tomorrow’s truth.
Obama gave the most political address at the funeral, speaking of “the unfinished business of peace…Shimon never saw his dream fulfilled…Now his work is in the hands of Israel’s next generation.” (Emphasis added)
Since that address, Obama has made additional comments directed towards Israel regarding the need to renew efforts for peace in Shimon’s memory.
Just yesterday, Mark Toner, Deputy State Department Spokesman put out a press release chastising Israel for new building in the “settlements” – in a neighborhood in Shilo, actually. The release said, in part (emphasis added):
“…it is disheartening that while Israel and the world mourned the passing of President Shimon Peres, and leaders from the U.S. and other nations prepared to honor one of the great champions of peace, plans were advanced that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two state solution that he so passionately supported.”
Shame on us for doing what Peres would not have approved. Something else to hit us over the head with.
(The release also attempted to hit us over the head with the MOU just signed, but I won’t go there now, as it would be a bit of a digression.)
As to the “new Middle East” that Peres envisioned, there was precious little sign of it at his funeral. It is disappointing that neither King Abdullah II of Jordan nor President Sisi of Egypt saw fit to make the short trip to Jerusalem. Each, as I understand it, sent underlings. But there was a statement implicit in their absence – the people of these countries would not have approve their attendance. Sisi most disappoints me. Abdullah, I expect little of: he is forever watching the radicals eager to push him from his throne. Although, as Herb Keinon of the JPost pointed out, Abdullah’s father, King Hussein, had a close relationship with Peres.
Heads of other Arabs states stayed away, as well. I do not believe any sent underlings.
”…the public can look at who came to the funeral and be awed by the respect the country could garner if it pursues Peres’s path.
”But, on the other, it can also look and see who among the country’s neighbors did not come and ask themselves a simple question: What’s the use?”
True enough. But I would add yet another thought: Even with the “respect” we might garner from the international community were we to follow Peres’s path, there would be no reason to believe we could count on that community, either, were we to find ourselves threatened and in trouble. It is only ourselves we must look to, without thought of currying international favor.
In a surprise turn of events, Mahmoud Abbas did come to the funeral, with an entourage that included PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat. I read this as nothing more than a PR gesture designed to put Abbas in the good graces of the world and show how he is for “peace.”
Abbas was greeted warmly by Israeli officials – something that Naftali Bennett later criticized. I understand his honest response: why give this terrorist bum the time of day? Indeed!
But I also understand the need at official government levels to be certain that Abbas did not “one-up” Israel: no one was going to be able to say that, see, Abbas made that difficult gesture, and look how the Israelis treated him. Thus do we have Sara Netanyahu, in one video, saying, “We hope we can welcome you to our home.” (Ouch.)
There was a backlash among the Palestinian Arabs because of Abbas’s presence at the funeral, which was broadly referred to as a betrayal. Rebuke came from Palestinian Arab media and from social media across the Arab world. Not surprisingly, Hamas called his attendance “traitorous.”
On the day after Peres died, Fatah, the party of Abbas, ran a cartoon on its Facebook page showing Peres being questioned by the Grim Reaper before being sentenced to hell.
More problematic (and perhaps less expected) was the response of the Joint List of Arab parties represented by 13 members in the Knesset. As a group, they opted not to issue a statement of condolence and not to attend the funeral.
“Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh told Army Radio on Thursday that the party…was choosing to remain silent ‘out of respect.’
“’I can tell you that it is complicated. It is not simple.’
“On his Twitter account, Odeh wrote in Hebrew that ‘Peres’s memory in the Arab community is different from the narrative that has been spoken about over the past few days and I understand that it is difficult to hear such complicated messages in the moments after his death.’”
What occurs to me is that, even if the Joint List, in retrospect, severely disapproved of the “’hawkish” positions of the younger Peres, he had in fact subsequently become someone whom they should have gladly embraced. Yet there was no “forgiveness” – if this is the right word – for him, no gladness that he had “seen the light.” No respect expressed for the man who, more than any other, made the founding of the Palestinian Authority possible. The anger that they held on to, which prevented them from attending the funeral, does not augur well for peace.
But let us close on an upbeat and hopeful note with this lovely Jerusalem medley sung by Cantors Michael Azogui, Shai Abramson of the IDF, and Colin Schachat:
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.