Iran is the Wild Middle East – Can it Be Trusted?

I was born at the end of 1960.

I grew up at the time when young Americans were drafted into the US war in Viet Nam.

I vividly remember the Six-Day War in Israel and how that solidified Jewish pride and identity for so many Jews around the world. I was six years old at that time.

Just before I became Bat Mitzvah in September of 1973, Israel was attacked by her neighbors on Yom Kippur and yet another war – the “Yom Kippur War” – began, taking its toll on so many in our beloved homeland.

I spent my childhood and youth protesting wars, marching in rallies to support Israel, and trying to make sense of the world around me.

“War is Not Healthy” Necklace

I wanted to make my protest visible. So I wore a necklace around my neck that was popular with so many of my friends at that time: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” I also wore a bracelet on my arm with the name of an American soldier who was taken Prisoner of War in Viet Nam: Sgt James Ravencraft (I wore that bracelet for decades – until I visited the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC and found his name on the wall, saw that he died and made a paper engraving of it).

We shook our heads in disbelief every time a plane was hijacked by terrorists, every time the PLO made radical statements and demands. This was in the era before suicide bombers, before car bombs and plane bombs and the World Trade Center was destroyed.

We cried out at poverty and hunger, the plight of the Soviet Jews and at other injustices taking place in our world.

Sadly, the world has not changed. Violence and war rage on. The fundamentalists appear to become more extreme. The internet and social media have enabled messages to be disseminated around the globe in a nano-second. Terror tactics have become more sophisticated. And our enemies have become more wily, more conniving.

In trying to understand the dynamics that exist between enemies and in the hopes that peace would be less elusive, Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobvici made a wonderful, stark and fascinating documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Deadly Currents” on the tails of the First Intifada. One professor interviewed in the film made a comment that still rings true today (I am paraphrasing): We are Westerners. We approach this conflict from our Western perspective with our Western sensibilities. The Israelis are, for the most part, Westerners as well. But they are Westerners living in the Middle East. This is not the “Wild West.” This is the Wild, Wild EAST. With a different sensibility, a different culture and a different mindset. It is difficult – if not almost impossible – for Westerners to understand the mindset of Easterners.

As Westerners, we might think we have an agreement, an arrangement with set protocols, set standards, set directives. Yet, that is only because that is how we work from our Western perspective. However, that is not necessarily how things work from an Eastern perspective.

So what does that tell us about the P5+1 Agreement that was signed on Tuesday with Iran? Iran is an Eastern country signing an agreement with Western allies. Is Iran to be trusted?

Israel and her Arab neighbors do not want a nuclear Iran. There are murmurings that Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States have been meeting clandestinely to figure out how to deal with a nuclear Iran because they all feel that Iran is not to be trusted.

If Iran attacks Israel, all the countries surrounding Israel will be affected, so it’s in all of their best interests to come up with a cohesive plan – even if those countries do not have relations with Israel.

Why was Obama so adamant on signing this agreement? I’m sure he’s aware that Iran’s actions will speak louder than any document they sign.

Our children, our future, our Jewish homeland deserve to live in a nuclear-free world. We deserve to live in a world at peace.

However, we need to be sure that our agreements will not be exploited for other nefarious purposes.

As David J. Cape, Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said in his opening paragraph in the press release issued yesterday:

“While we share the goal of a diplomatic solution to this crisis, the Iranian regime has a long record of exploiting diplomacy as a cover to advance its nuclear program. The success of today’s agreement depends on Iran’s actions, not its words.”

(For CIJA’s full statement, click here: CIJA Statement on the P5 +1 Agreement )

Reform Movement and AIPAC Statements:

Reform Movement Statement on the P5 + 1 Agreement

AIPAC Statement of the P5 + 1 Agreement

It is my hope that one day, the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah will be fulfilled, when peace will reign:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb
The leopard lie down with the kid…
Nothing evil or vile shall be done;
For the land shall be filled with devotion to the Eternal.

Isaiah 11: 6 & 9

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares 
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up sword against nation;
They shall never again know war.

Micah 4:3

A Cocoon of Peace and Tranquility

Last Shabbat – last Saturday – I “escaped” from the media coverage of what was happening in Israel and Gaza and the horrifying news of the downed Malaysian airplane to the serenity and peacefulness of the Reform Movement’s Camp Eisner in Great Barrington, MA.

If only the rest of the world could experience the sense of tranquility, wholeness and community that exists at one of our Reform Movement camps!

We began our morning together with a beautiful outdoor Shabbat morning service.

What caught my attention most this Shabbat was the interaction between the parents who were visiting for the day and their children who were spending an extended time up at camp either as campers or staff.

I observed how parents and their children sat really close together during the service because they wanted to be close together. Some parents rubbed their children’s backs during the service, some children had their arms around their parents. Some siblings sat on their older siblings laps. It was truly a time of family togetherness.

I was incredibly moved when one father took his tallit (his prayer shawl), draped it over his daughter and drew her in close. They prayed wrapped in the safety of their father-daughter “cocoon” connected both physically and spiritually. It was their own safe-haven from the rest of the outside world for a short while.

Shoshana Maniscalco and her father Ron "Buff" at URJ Camp Eisner
Shoshana Maniscalco and her father Ron “Buff” at URJ Camp Eisner praying together

tallit literally represents the 613 mitzvot commandments in the Torah. On each of its four corners is a set of fringes. Each set of fringes is comprised of a specific number of threads, tied with a specific number of knots and one thread is wrapped around all of the others a specific number of times.

If you add together all of the threads, the knots and the wrappings from all four corners, they add up to 613. By putting on a tallit, we are symbolically taking upon ourselves the responsibility and obligation of the commandments.

There’s another purpose to a tallit, however. It acts as a “cocoon” and separates us from what is taking place around us. Having a tallit wrapped around our shoulders during a time of prayer and meditation can help keep us focused on our connection with God and community. It serves as our refuge from the world outside.

During times like these, when war is raging in Israel and Gaza and planes are being shot down from the sky, I almost wish I could wrap an infinitesimally large tallit around the world and cocoon everyone from all harm….”and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, they shall never again know war.” (Micah 4:3)

The following poem is by the late Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai. It depicts some of the symbolism, feelings and emotions captured by our memories of the tallit.

A Tallit Poem, by Yehuda Amichai

Whoever put on a tallis when he was young will never forget:

taking it out of the soft velvet bag, opening the folded shawl,

spreading it out, kissing the length of the neckband

(embroidered or trimmed in gold).

Then swinging it in a great swoop overhead like a sky,

a wedding canopy, a parachute.

And then winding it around his head as in Hide-and-Seek,

wrapping his whole body in it, close and slow,

snuggling into it like the cocoon of a butterfly,

then opening would-be wings to fly. 

And why is the tallis striped and not checkered

black and white like a chessboard?

Because squares are finite and hopeless. 

Stripes come from infinity and to infinity they go 

like airport runways where angels land and take off.

 Whoever has put on a tallis will never forget.

When he comes out of a swimming pool or the sea,

he wraps himself in a large towel, spreads it out again

over his head, and again snuggles into it close and slow,

still shivering a little, and he laughs and blesses.

Open Closed Open: Poems, trans. by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (New York: Harcourt, 2000), p. 44

May we all come to know the peace, safety, serenity and tranquility that comes from being wrapped in the cocoon of a tallit at all times.