Cindy Sheehan 's presence caused a bit of a stir in the Jewish community and I had demands from the local Jewish newspaper to be able to cover the event and take notes and photographs. I refused. Our synagogue is on the traditional/hallakhic end of the Jewish Renewal spectrum, and we do not allow people to write or in other ways violate Jewish law with regard to the observance of the holiday. The Jewish newspaper reporter seemed outraged, apparently unfamiliar with Jewish religious practice.
The reason for the stir is that Cindy was accused of having said in an email (the authorship of which she denies) that her son had died for Israel. The implication was that because some Jewish neo-cons in the Defense Department had been big advocates for this war, along with Ariel Sharon and his supporters in AIPAC in this country, that this was somehow a Jewish war.
The very first thing Cindy said was that she had heard about these accusations and that they were false. She does not blame the Jewish people and she does not blame Israel for the war in Iraq. Instead, she said, it would be ludicrous to do that, just as it would be ludicrous, she said, to blame the English people for the war just because their leader Tony Blair had been a big advocate for it. Cindy told me privately that she was aware that 78% of Jews had voted for Gore in 2000 and for Kerry in 2004, and that if the rest of the country had voted the way the Jews vote that there never would have been a war in Iraq. Instead, she insisted, it was very clear who deserved blame for the war: Bush, Cheney, the Republicans, and the many Congressional Democrats who supported the war originallyas well as many who continue to support it by voting for authorizations whenever asked for by President Bush, plus Haliburton Corporation and other war profiteers. IT was these, not the Jews, and not Israel, who deserve criticism.
Cindy went on to discuss the war, why it was immoral, why it hurt our country and the Iraqi people, and why we should be advocating to get the U.S. out immediately. She pointed to the emptiness of the argument that "our people in the armed services should not have died in vain " by insisting that she and many other mothers did not want to see more people killed in the name of justifying the deaths of their own already dead children. No mother, she said, should have to bury their own child as she had.
Then she cried about her son. It was a sad and solemn moment for all of us.
During the question and answer period that followed her talk she was asked if she would unequivocally denounce David Duke, the Nazi who had apparently invoked her name and supported her on his website. Cindy responded simply and unequivocally that she had never authorized her name to be used in conjunction with Duke, that he was in fact a racist and anti-Semite and that she wanted to have nothing to do with such people, and that she completely rejected him and his message.
She was asked if she would consider running against Diane Feinstein, the California U.S. Senator who had cheered the day that Bush landed troops in Iraq, has been part of the faction of Democrats who talk about increasing troops as a solution to the problems the US faces there now, and who consistently votes for every new appropriation for the war. Cindy acknowledged that it would be important for the anti-war movement to run a candidate against Feinstein. But she said she would not do it because, as she put it, "I don 't know enough about a lot of issues, like social security or tax codes --what I know about is the war in Iraq, and I know that that is wrong and that Democrats who support it by voting for appropriations are doing something wrong. But I don 't know enough about other things to be a good U.S. Senator. " I do not remember ever hearing any political person acknowledge their own limitations so clearly and forthrightly. Her humility was stunning and moving.
We ended up feeling very proud that we had given Cindy Sheehan a venue on Yom Kippur, but also deeply saddened that our government is playing such a destructive and even self-destructive role in the world today, so we had yet more issues to focus on as we concluded the services that day.
This Monday night, October 17th, starts the Jewish holiday of Succot in which Jews are commanded to dwell in a temporary shelter (the sukkkah, a flimsy shack-like agricultural hut) for 7 days. The focus is on dis-connecting to the world of material things, acknowledging that our lives are fleeting and that nothing is permanent, and living and celebrating nevertheless in the face of radical impermanence. Yet nothing drove that impermanence more forcefully into consciousness than listening to the sad story of how Cindy Sheehan 's son had allowed himself to be talked into enlisting by an armed services recruiter who told him all kinds of fanciful stories about the rights he would have in the army. Our psalms say: "Do not trust in princes, in the son of man who has no salvation. " We 've learned instead to trust in the God of the universe and in the goodness of ordinary human beings. Cindy Sheehan massively reinforced our belief in that goodness lurking near the surface of most people on the planet.
Rabbi Michael Lerner RabbiLerner@tikkun.org
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