Apathy, protests, Heschel, and more

Moadim L'simchah--I hope Passover has been (and will continue to be) a holiday of personal and communal liberation.

It has been a complicated few days. As part of the Beyond Genocide series, a Smith student led a play reading of Robert Skloot's, If the Whole Body Dies--Rafael Lemkin and the Treaty Against Genocide. In general, I have been disappointed in the student turnout to the BG events. No students attended the play reading who weren't involved in it or the BG program. I would have thought students would have been interested in these topics. The apathy was disappointing but was redeemed by what follows.

It was great to see a number of familiar Amherst faces at the Human Rights Coffee House held last night near Smith.

Here are the texts I taught:

Rabbi Hillel Said:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

If I am only for myself, what am I?

If not now, when?

-Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Ancestors)

I also taught a short quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that I had just read:
“Acts are a challenge to the soul … How else can one learn the joy of loving-kindness if not by enacting it? .... We do not have faith in deeds; we attain faith through deeds …”

Today, I joined anti-war demonstrations at Smith. At the demonstration and at the coffee house, there was discussion about not using violent language (ie., 'fight the war'). To this end, I just saw this passage from a speech Heschel gave in 1938 entitled "Meaning of this Hour:"

We have failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness as a result we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil. WE have failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace; thus we offered sacrifices on the altar of war. A tale is told of a band of mountain climbers. Without guides, they struck recklessly into the wilderness. Suddenly a rocky ledge gave way beneath their feet and they tumbled headlong into a dismal pit. In the darkness of the pit they recovered from their shock only to find themselves set up by a nest of angry snakes. For each snake the desperate ones slew, ten more seemed to lash out in its place. Strangely enough, one man stood aside from the fight. When the indignant voices of his struggling companions reproached him for not fighting, he called back: "If we remain here, we shall be dead before the snakes. I am searching for a way of escape from this pit, for all of us."

You can read the entire essay/speech at http://www.bj.org/selected_readings/meaning_of_this_hour.html.

The source showed up on a blog on the Barack Obama website!

There was one difficulty for me at the demonstration. As I was playing drums and chanting on the Smith green, the chant switched to one that started: "From Iraq to Palestine. . ." With barely a hesitation, I quickly walked off the green and away from the protest. I am never in favor of human suffering but you can't compare our war in Iraq and movements for Palestinian nationalism/liberation. If any of the readers were there, I would love to talk about this.
With peace,
Rabbi Bruce

Check out this movie being developed about Heschel. I hope to bring it to our campuses next year as part of the Jewish Film Festival.

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