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A Modern Day Amos

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An Evening with Arik Ascherman

By The Rev. Alfred Krass


What an inspiration to be in the presence of a man of deep conviction, whose faith has been tested in the fires of conflict and arrest, a man with a vision-which comes to him from the Torah-of a world in which the alienation, wars, and mutual hatred of Jews and Palestinians will be overcome by a new day of peace.

Tuesday I had the privilege of being at a meeting in Mt. Airy in Philadelphia with Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization which has a multi-faceted outreach to Israelis and Palestinians, to Muslims as well as Jews, including
1. a program to plant new olive trees where Palestinians' former trees have been uprooted or cut down by the Israeli government or by the wrath of settlers-this program also includes sending volunteers to share in the olive harvest (and protect the Palestinians from the settlers), which has the extra result of giving an opportunity for dialogue ("Some people go to Europe and sit down around tables and have interfaith dialogue," Rabbi Ascherman says. "I prefer our dialogue in the olive groves."). Beyond that, through RHR's advocacy work, and court decisions handed down by many Israeli courts, up to and including the High Court, the Army is now recognizing it has a responsibility to protect not only Israelis but Palestinians as well.
2. a program to call for the ending of home demolitions by the government, and a call for housing justice for Palestinians-giving them authorization to construct dwellings on their land, restricting the out-of-control expansion of Israeli settlements and opposing the stealing of added land on the Palestinian side of the Green Line when Israel annexes additional land when building the Wall. {Ascherman was arrested for standing in front of bulldozers intent on destroying a home, and he fought the case all the way to the High Court and won.)
3. a major effort to rebuild demolished cinder block homes (sometimes over and over again) and even whole villages of simple homes
4. keeping an eye on ways in which Israel's annual government budget takes more and more from the poor-who make up 20-30% of the population-especially the infamous "Wisconsin Plan," of "welfare to work"-and lobbying for changes in legislation
5. running pre-Army academies that train new recruits in international human rights law before they serve their 3-years of mandatory service
6. teaching Yeshivas on Judaism and human rights at two universities

Over and over again Rabbi Ascherman quotes the Talmudic axiom, "The one who saves an individual life, it is as if s/he had saved the entire world."

But the rabbi keeps hearing new words as he prepares each week to conduct Shabbat services based on the Torah portion in the lectionary. There a few weeks back was Jacob, returning from 14 years with his uncle, to whom he had fled from the wrath of his brother Esau, from whom he had stolen his birthright. He is frightened to death of the vengeance Esau will exact, but Esau greets him warmly, glad to have his twin brother back again! And Jacob tells him, "I saw the face of God in your face." "What a promise this is for us," Ascherman exclaims. "We can overcome the limits we put on ourselves and achieve reconciliation with those with whom we thought we were doomed to be at enmity our whole lives!" He sees great hope for peace between the "Jacobs" and "Esaus" of the Holy Land.

Every time a home has been rebuilt and the keys are brought to the family that will dwell in it, RHR beings a grape vine and a fig seedling, as a housewarming gift in remembrance of the prophecy of Micah, "And they shall dwell beneath their vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid." They long for the day when Palestinians will no longer have to be afraid of what may happen to their homes, their means of access to their farms, or their access to healthcare and work.

But right now it isn't that way. On the one hand in that land we see "cold hardheartedness." On the other we see "unbelievable humiliation." Ascherman is indignant. "That is not meant to be! We are meant to see the image of God in the other and treat the other accordingly!"

And as the Rabbis continue their task, their witness, their vocation, they need help from those in this country who learn of their work and send support. We can offer the support in two ways:
• by sending money to support Ascherman's annual visits to the U.S. as part of his regular fundraising efforts (donations may be sent through Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, Box 1539, W. Tisbury MA 02575)
• by advocating for their causes with officialdom in Israel and with the U.S. government [we may on a given issue urge our congressperson or our senators to speak up; I can personally testify to the effectiveness of my approaching Rep. Jim Greenwood to stop a home demolition a few years ago-I saw a photo of the home last week. A threatened home demolition is the home of the Dari Family in Isawyiya. We are asked to fax or phone the Mayor of Jerusalem: Mayor Uri Luplianski at 972-2-675-3764 (fax) or 972-2-629-7717 (phone) As a weaker alternative, he can also be e-mailed at mayor@jerusalem.muni.il, lpuri@jerusalem.muni.il The message is simple: "I am calling to urge you not to demolish the home of the Dari family in Isawyiya."
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peacecoalition.org
Al Krass coordinates the work of the Coalition for Peace Action in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. A formed United Church of Christ minister, he lives in Levittown PA.

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