Vwolfprusan, peretz
Vwolfprusan, peretz

Bitter fallout from Rachel screening showed us a lot about ourselves

These are the days before Rosh Hashanah — in rabbinic poetry, the Creation of the World. The Jewish world we are creating is a dangerous world of sinat chinam (groundless hatred), both here and in Israel.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli press calls it “The War Between the Jews,” referring to the secular/religious battle in Jerusalem’s Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood. Following the arrest of a mother from the Toldot Aharon Chassidic sect who is suspected of nearly starving her toddler to death, several hundred haredis pelted the police with stones.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Rabbi Yitzhak Kershenbaum declared that his followers would “fight to the last drop of our blood” to secure the mother’s release and clear her name of what the community has charged is a blood libel.

Here at home in the Bay Area, we, too, are throwing stones at each other.

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival showed the movie “Rachel,” co-presented by Jewish Voice for Peace. Before and after the showing, I saw copies of letters from Jewish community funders accusing Peter Stein, the festival’s executive director, of horrible things, including, but not limited to, equating him with Holocaust deniers.

I have seen e-mails calling for the banishment of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival from community funding.

I have heard Jews who question house demolitions by Israel (not including the “Rachel” story) called names and ridiculed. And those who support the current Israeli government castigated as neo-colonialist.

I have been with rabbis who are compelled to meet in secret to express their concerns over Israeli human rights violations, afraid to speak in public for fear of their jobs.

I have heard supporters of AIPAC set against supporters of J Street, and back again.

I have seen e-mails from self-appointed protectors of Israel assaulting Hillel professionals as “haters of Israel” for allowing Jewish students on college campuses to voice a spectrum of opinions.

I have seen the placards carried by Jews equating Israel with Nazi Germany.

The issue is not the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.  The problem is what the showing of “Rachel” revealed. Before, during and after the festival, we have been throwing stones at each other.

There is a paradox at work here: In the Bay Area, we bear no risk to life and limb — as do Israeli citizens — and yet we are at risk.

We have a shared destiny with the Jewish community of Israel. This is hard to take hold of, to know the margins of what to say and what to do about something so important. It is still summer, the time to study Pirke Avot, the teachings of our ancestors.

“All love that is conditional upon something, when the thing ceases, the love ceases. Love that does not rely on something will last forever. Which kind of love is conditional? The love of Amnon for Tamar. What kind of love is unconditional? The love of David and Jonathan” (Pirke Avot 5:16).

Accepting for the moment that the rabbis of the Mishnah were excluding the possibility that David and Jonathan were actually lovers, this might mean that Amnon, once he had sex with Tamar, exhausted his “love” for her. David and Jonathan loved each other unconditionally.

We need to love each other unconditionally. We demonstrate that love when we control our words, temper our passions and treat each other with unconditional mutual respect.

And if we cannot love each other, we must at least act as if we do.

We must freely express our deeply felt concerns about Israel. We must debate vigorously and energetically engage in the marketplace of ideas. The danger is not how we support Israel, by tribute or rebuke, but how we destroy each other. The early rabbinic philosophers faulted Jewish sinat chinam more than the Roman military might for Jerusalem’s destruction.

I love Israel and I am really worried about her. I am really afraid of our sinat chinam. I am distressed by how we speak to each other. Even as you read this, someone is picking up a stone.

The antidote to sinat chinam is to respect every person’s unique place in creation. We can do this because this love has been inside of us since creation. It is only our weakness to hide it — or our strength to show it.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan is a rabbi and senior educator at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.