Home > Featured > An Open Letter To My Jewish Friends and Neighbors | David W. Good

An Open Letter To My Jewish Friends and Neighbors | David W. Good

About The Author

David W. Good is Minister Emeritus of The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme and is Founder and President of the Tree of Life Educational Fund

May 28, 2018

At the end of the musical “Man of La Mancha”, Dulcinea reminds the failing and discouraged Don Quixote of his “lmpossible Dream”, saying, “You spoke of a dream. And about the Quest!… “To dream the impossible dream” but they’re your own words! “To fight the unbeatable foe”… Don’t you remember? “To bear with unbearable sorrow.” You must remember! “To run where the brave dare not go!”

Then, thanks to Dulcinea’s gentle persistence, little by little the noble knight remembers his true identity, saying “To right the unrightable wrong…” and despite his frailties, he then resumes his quest.

As I consider the tragedy unfolding in Gaza and the West Bank, with the slaughter of over 100 non-violent Palestinian protestors and the despicable wounding of thousands, many of them children, I see this as not only a tragedy for Palestinians and their quest for basic human rights but also I see it as a tragedy for my Jewish friends and neighbors, for what is happening there surely marks the tragic end of what was at first, at least for some of my Jewish friends and neighbors, a noble quest. I can only imagine how heartbroken and disillusioned many must be, and if “Kairos” means the “right time”; now is the time that we non-Jews must be the voice of Dulcinea, saying, “You spoke of a dream… Don’t you remember? They’re your own words! …To right the unrightable wrong.” Or, using the sacred writings of Isaiah, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares.”

That’s the dream; that’s the noble quest, not the insanity of empire, militarism, the brutality and nationalism that Israel has allowed itself to become, not a system so cruel that it incarcerates 500 to 700 children every year under military, not civilian law. These children are frequently subjected to humiliation and abuse. The Jewish people have always been at the forefront of the struggles for human rights. They marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Martin Luther King Jr., singing, “We Shall Overcome”. When far too many Christians were cowering in their piety and racism, Jews struggled against Apartheid in South Africa. “To right the unrightable wrong…. To try when your arms are too weary.” That’s the Judaism that I know and love, and yet sadly and tragically that noble quest is being sacrificed on the altar of a “Jewish State.”

As I see it, Judaism and indeed all our faith traditions are at their best, not when they’re in positions of power and authority, but rather when they’re in the wilderness, maybe even in exile, with their songs, poetry, lyre and other musical instruments trying their best to keep alive the hopes and promises of a new and better world. The Emperor Constantine did Christianity perhaps irreparable harm when he took the cross and turned it upside down and used it as a sword. So Netanyahu and his legions, aided and abetted by our own country, is doing Judaism irreparable harm in his “quest” to build a country in which Palestinians would either be excluded, ethnically cleansed or treated as second class citizens a’ la Jim Crow.

14 years ago on my very first visit to Israel and Palestine, on one of our long bus rides, I asked one of my Jewish friends what for him was the epicenter, the essence of Judaism. He shared with me the wisdom of Rabbi Hillel who said, “To save one life is the same as saving the whole human race.” That is indeed the beautiful essence of Judaism, and those who now work so hard to defend Israel, right or wrong, would do well to remember Dulcinea’s words to Don Quixote, “Don’t you remember. They’re your own words.”

Biblically, perhaps old Judge Samuel could foresee the terrible tragedy of what Israel has allowed itself to become. This is what happens and always happens in every theocracy. Impossible dreams mutate into impossible nightmares. This is what happens when faith is enthroned. It becomes armed and dangerous. Samuel was right; better not to have a king; better not to be like other nations. As I see it, the essence of Judaism can be found in the wisdom of Rabbi Hillel and the prophets of old — Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, Amos and the others. In their prophetic writings, theirs was a struggle to reach beyond the language of exclusion, exceptionalism and the tribalism of their earlier identity. For these prophetic voices, Judaism was not a nationalistic dream but a universal quest for a more just humanity. As such the Kibbutzim movement was much closer to the heart of Judaism than what passes for Zionism today. The Kibbutzim movement was a glorious quest to see if there could be a better and more just economy than that practiced by the robber barons of unregulated capitalism. Today, sadly, most of those Kibbutz communities have given up on their quest to be an alternative economy and have instead become mini-tourist resorts or hotels where foreign labor is exploited, a far cry from the noble principle of what a kibbutz was meant to be.

There is hope, however, if my Jewish friends and neighbors could remember another biblical, theological concept – “the Saving Remnant.” Throughout biblical history, whenever Israel had allowed itself to veer off course and violate the very principles for which it is known, always there would be a very small minority who would say, “this is who we are.” While we all might have different thoughts on who that Saving Remnant is, for me, l think of my friends in Jewish Voice for Peace. I think of my friend, Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, and I think of the other soldiers in that remarkable organization. I think of scholars such as Ilan Pappe, Oren Yiftachel, Avraham Burg and Mark Braverman and activists such as Jeff Halper and Sahar Vardi. I think of young people in Israel who have been imprisoned for their refusal to serve in the Israeli Defense Force. I think of such noble voices of conscience as Rami Elhanan who in response to a question about how we can be critical of the State of Israel without being or appearing to be anti-Semitic, said to one of our Tree of Life delegations, “the violation of human rights, the destruction of Palestinian homes, the imprisonment of children; this is not Judaism; please go home and amplify my voice.” I think of journalists such as Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, both of whom write for the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. I have met Human Rights lawyers in Israel who have sacrificed not only wealth but also have suffered from being ostracized by their own families because of their work on behalf of Palestinians. These are all a part of that Saving Remnant.

I also think of the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber who said that there are two ways to comport oneself to the world, a choice we all have to make: “I and Thou” and “I and It.” I cannot think of anything more urgently needed than that prophetic wisdom.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t also suggest that the Saving Remnant is not any one particular religious identity. As Christians, Muslims, Hindu, Native American, Buddhist, and those of no particular faith orientation, we all can think of others who should be included in our Saving Remnant.

The decision we all have to make is whether or not we are willing to think of ourselves as a part of that group. Toward that end, we all need to be for each other that gentle and persistent voice of Dulcinea: “to right the unrightable wrong. To bear with unbearable sorrow. To try when our arms are too weary. To dream the impossible dream. You must remember. They’re your own words.”

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