Dear Friends and Supporters,
Click here or on the photo above to see some disturbing footage of settlers from Carmel and their supporters ganging up to block Palestinian shepherds from crossing a ridge the settlers are attempting to take over. Note the army standing by and watching.
Here and there you will see me (sans kippah that fell off in the middle of the action) and one of our volunteers trying to help the shepherds keep the sheep on course. An additional volunteer is behind the camera. By the way, although the video clip ends with a seeming victory for the settlers, we eventually got the shepherds through. Moreover, though we were there that day because the shepherds had been harassed for several weeks, things have been mostly quiet since then. (However, even as I was writing these words, I received disturbing reports of other locations where shepherds are being harassed. Our work is not done.)
“B’Makom Sh’eyn anashim, hishtadel l’hiyot ish. “–Pirkei Avot
(In a place where nobody is acting with basic human decency, you must try to be that person)
I reflected on Pirkei Avot as I began preparing this combination of “Purim Thoughts 5774” and a brief update (with lots of powerful video clips) on what we in Rabbis For Human Rights have been up to. (And the truth is, it’s way more than I will be able to cover here. I would recommend regularly checking our website, facebook page and/or twitter account, or subscribing to our RSS feeds.)
Nahafokh hu – Things get turned on their head. Everything is topsy turvy on Purim. We confront a world so opposite the one we would like to live in. Our fate is dependent on the whims of a drunken potentate. We laugh, and maintain faith that the tables will turn. At the risk of being way too serious for Purim (again), I wonder whether our faith can lead us to look at the world as it is, and then find the way to help God turn things around to the way they should be. God doesn’t overtly act in the Book of Esther. People do, and God works through some of them.
Each of us has the ability to, in some way, turn something around in our world. But, as I think about all of our wonderful partners in the struggle for justice in Israel, I know that few are religious, and even fewer are rabbis. I ask:
Why shouldn’t more Israeli rabbis be standing for justice and decency on barren West Bank hills, Knesset committees, and in poverty stricken communities?
So, my nahafokh hu includes an ammendation to Pirkei Avot:
“B’Makom sh’eyn rabanim, hishtadel l’hiyot rav.”
(In those places were rabbis are strikingly absent, try to act as a rabbi should.)
This is what we in Rabbis For Human Rights have been trying to do for 25 years. I personally may not be standing in front of the bulldozers or confronting settlers or the army quite as much as I used to, but today we have a cadre of rabbis every day (except Shabbat) trying to be that rabbi in places where rabbis are generally not to be found.
Let me share another nahafokh hu from this little incident. Ironically, one of the reasons I was with the shepherds of Umm el Kheir that day was because a sympathizer of the Carmel settlers had written to me and to our website to complain about how the settlers were suffering from the Palestinians of Umm el Kheir. That is what we call in Hebrew “hafukh al hafukh,” a distorted misinterpretation turning reality on its head. You can click here to read my answer. Quoting from the Torah and laying out just how the State and Carmel settlers have abused the residents of Umm el Kheir, I had to say nahafokh hu according to its second usage, “On the contrary.” We certainly condemn the uprooting of trees, but this dwarfs in comparison to the ongoing abuse heaped on Umm el Kheir.
Sometimes being that person present and trying to act decently allows us to prevent injustice on the spot. Additionally, the truth from the field and insights from the Torah often make all the difference when we go to the Knesset or the courts to try and change policy, or when we attempt to influence public opinion, or when we simply need to set the record straight since reality has been turned on its head.
Rabbi Arik Asherman