Beliefnet
On the eve of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Shai Held sent this e-mail message to his community at Harvard Hillel, the campus Jewish organization.

Dear Friends,
I am writing to wish you an easy and meaningful fast, and a g'mar chatimahtovah (that you may be inscribed for good).

This past week has been unbearably painful for many of us. Not long ago,we hoped that a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and thePalestinians was close at hand; we prayed that finally the shedding ofinnocent blood would cease, that a new day would perhaps be born in theMiddle East.

And then the Land of Israel exploded again last week. To ourenormous pain and disappointment, we have realized how far away peace stillseems, and we have witnessed excruciating scenes of renewed bloodshed andabiding hatred. At a time of year in which we affirm that forgiveness andhuman reconciliation are both possible and mandated of us, we have watchedviolence and hatred escalate to the point where despair of reconciliationhovers not far from our hearts.

I do not wish to enter here into comparative blame and politicalname-calling. Suffice it to say that there is, sadly, unconscionably, morethan enough blame to go around. Ariel Sharon's "stroll" on the TempleMount was an unacceptable provocation, and Yasser Arafat's refusal tounambiguously condemn and call for an end to the violence is a disgrace.One wonders how many children and teenagers will have to die in order forthe madness of the Middle East to finally stop. Enough have undoubtedlydied already.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook [one of the major 20th-century rabbinic thinkers] spoke of Zionism as predicated on a world whichwas "becoming sweeter" (mitbasem, in Hebrew) and which would be devoid of barbarism.And yet here we stand, having witnessed stone-throwing children threateningthe lives of soldiers, having seen children killed at the hands of soldiersnot much older than they. The violence and death has spilled over into theGreen Line, as Israeli Police and Israeli Arabs exchange fire, withmounting casualties as a result. Rocks are thrown, bullets are fired, moreand more deadly ammunition is introduced, and "the Had Gadya Machine," asthe late Yehudah Amichai so painfully called the seemingly never-ending circle of violence, continues unabated. Theworld seems no sweeter, and we have witnessed more than enough barbarismfor a lifetime.

I want to urge each of us to really pray in the next 24 hours. Judaismteaches us to be thoroughly engaged in the world, to struggle for a worldin which human dignity is real and the presence of God is manifest. Thatkind of commitment is bound to come with abundant disappointment, with thetemptation to give up, to succumb to the status quo as the way things haveto be. But Torah commands us, despite our exhaustion and ourdisappointment, not to despair. God continues to dream of peace, and so must we. Tears and fatigue are appropriate; rak lo lehitya'esh--only not togive up hope.

If we read the Akedah (Genesis 22, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, the son of Abraham) closely, we note that when all is saidand done, only Abraham returns to his servants. Isaac is nowhere to befound. A rabbinic Midrash suggests that Isaac went looking for Ishmael,having understood for the first time the depth of his suffering andalienation. More than 3,000 later, let us pray that Isaacand Ishmael finally find each--other and reconcile.

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122) and mourn for all those whohave died fighting for her. May we live to see the day when the prophet'sdream comes true, when Jerusalem is a "prayer house for all peoples." Aprayer house, and no longer a slaughterhouse.

God bless all of you and bring you a year of peace and renewed commitmentto a world of justice, love, and compassion. Again, g'mar chatimah tovah.

With every good wish, I am
Sincerely yours,
Rabbi Shai Held

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