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The Call Is coming from inside the house

I’m really not a fan of horror movies, but this week—

a line that is sort of a “horror movie trope” came to mind.

That line: “The Call is coming from inside the house.”

originated in a 1974 horror movie called Black Christmas,

and has been spoofed and played on ever since.

It is a classic horror scenario:

Someone, usually a young woman who is home alone,

often a baby sitter, gets a creepy phone call.

The police trace it but learn that the calls are coming from inside the house.

That line has been ringing in my mind all week,

as I watch the Jewish diaspora grapple with a few very disturbing calls

that are coming from inside the house, so to speak.

This Shabbat is designated as Shabbat Zachor,

the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim.

On this Shabbat, we are directed to remember:

to zachor et mah she’asah l’cha Amalek:

specifically, to remember what Amalek did to us

when we went out of Egypt.

Our Torah first commands us to remember—

how Amalek came upon the Israelites from behind,

attacking the weakest and weariest members of the community.

The name Amalek echoes forward into Jewish history,

becoming a stand-in for the ultimate evil:

those who would seek the destruction of our people.

From Amalek, to Haman, to Hitler, the parallels are not hard to find.

Shabbat Zachor in essence

is about remembering the evil perpetrated on us by others.

These last few weeks have held their share of stories

that remind us of the specter of evil:

attacks on synagogue goers in Los Angeles,

a National Day of Hate,

the story of a thwarted threat to kill Jewish members

of the Michigan state government.

And those are just the incidents here in the United States.

Over this last week in Israel,

three more young Israelis lost their lives:

brothers Hillel and Yigel Yaniv were killed on Sunday

in a terror attack in the West Bank,

followed by the shooting of 27 year old West Hartford native,

Elan Ganeles on Tuesday, on his way to celebrate at a friends’ wedding.

Each of these attacks diminishes the light in our world—

each of these deaths diminish our people.

Each act of violence,

each incident of hatred lands in our hearts-

causing us at times to call out in lament,

and at other times, to scream in protest or anger.

On this Shabbat Zachor— this Shabbat of memory,

it would be all too easy to call out in anger

and self-righteousness at Amalek:

to look only at our victimhood.

Our Torah is clear on what it is that made Amalek so bad:

it is not only that he attacked,

but that he attacked B’nai Yisrael from the rear:

which is to say, his assault landed on the most vulnerable:

on the elderly and the very young,

on the mothers with babies in their arms.

There, Torah is unequivocal:

that kind of violence is how we define evil.

As I reflect on the weeks gone by, i

t seems to me that we, as a people,

are in danger of seeing that face of evil

staring back at us, as a mirror.

On Sunday night,

just hours after the murders of Hillel and Yigal Yaniv,

a group of more than 100 Jewish settlers

launched a retaliatory attack on the village of Huwara–

the village where the brothers were killed.

Seeking revenge, they set homes and cars on fire,

ransacked businesses,

injuring many and killing one person.

I watched video footage of the settlers during the attack,

davening ma’ariv as they watched buildings burn—

praying for peace and redemption

even as homes and cars burned, and families cowered in fear.

The call, as it were, is coming from inside the house.

Libi b’mizrach, v’anochi ba’sof ha’maarav.

My heart is pulled eastward,

toward the land and the people of Israel that I love,

even as I sit here at a distance.

This week, I have watched with a sense of deep sadness

as terrorism tore families and communities apart across Israel,

the West Bank, and the Jewish diaspora.

Even as the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

are filled with hope as demonstrators

protest the degradation of democracy,

the blood shed across the region covers that hope with dread.

I can’t get that image of our fellow Jews,

standing in a village that they have ransacked and burned,

davening ma’ariv.

Praising God’s holy name, with blood on their hands.

It pains me to acknowledge that this too is Zionism;

this too is our Jewish community.

To say “this isn’t my Zionism”, or “that’s not my Jewish community”

is an abdication of responsibility.

I am reminded of the Talmudic commentary

on the moment when the Israelites are crossing the Sea of Reeds,

and they see the Egyptians, their oppressors, behind them, drowning.

On seeing the drowning Egyptians the angels were about to break into song when God silenced them declaring, “How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying” (Talmud, Megillah 10b and Sanhedrin 39b).

The call is coming from within the house, and we should be horrified.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen and learn

from my friend Yona Shem-Tov, Director of Encounter,

along with Libby Lenkinski from the New Israel Fund,

and Michael Koplow from the Israel Policy Forum.

If you aren’t familiar with these organizations,

I strongly encourage you to learn more

about the crucial work they are doing on the ground in Israel

and abroad to build a more just

and democratic state of Israel for all of her inhabitants.

What I want to highlight from their shared wisdom is two-fold:

First: this is a moment that we have seen coming.

This is a moment that those who have dedicated their lives

to preserving Israeli democracy

and working toward peace

have been warning us would happen, for years in fact.

We should be clear eyed about how it all holds together.

As Michael Koplow remarked in his analysis,

we are witnessing two simultaneous crises:

first, the crisis of the attempted judicial overhaul,

and second, the crisis of the abuse of state power.

This week, we watched as the Israeli government

was unwilling to step in and use state power

to stop acts of terrorism perpetrated by Jews.

What’s worse, is that the attack on Huwara

was not only not stopped,

but encouraged by members of Netanyahu’s coalition like Finance Minister

Bezalel Smotrich who called for the village of Huwara to be “erased”.

The rise of populism, and perhaps more specifically, Kahanism,

should worry us— but should not surprise us.

Second: we should take seriously the protests

that are happening all over Israel,

and be heartened by the broad and varied

support across demographics,

across the religious spectrum.

Parallel to my concerns about Netanyahu’s coalition,

is the great hope and vision I see

in the coalition of support turning out in the streets across Israel each night. In her remarks, Libby Lenkinski of NIF remarked

on the diversity of who we are seeing out in the streets:

all different blocks from anti-occupation coalitions,

feminist organizations, Ethiopian Jews,

a coalition of artists who call themselves the Pink Front,

and of course, our own Reform movement,

as represented by the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism,

and most recently by many CCAR rabbis

who were in Israel for an annual convention.

Never before has a popular protest movement in Israel been this diverse.

This should give us hope that we are not marching inexorably towards the demise of Israeli democracy.

When I consider all of this— the terrorism, the attack on Huwara,

the rise of an ultra-nationalist government, the protests —

what I want to suggest is NOT that we, Jews, are our own worst enemy.

Rather, it is that we have not yet fully realized and integrated

as truth that together with Palestinians, we have a shared fate and a shared destiny.

If we allow them to become Amalek, we dismiss the possibility of peace.

As my friend and colleague Yona Shem-Tov, Director of Encounter shared,

“Encounter retired the term “Israeli Palestinian conflict” last year because one thing is irrefutable: Israelis and Palestinians are linked and locked into a shared reality. While it might be tempting to try to separate between the ostensibly “internal” struggle among Israeli citizens over the nature of Israeli democracy and governmental institutions, and the escalating violence between stateless Palestinians and sovereign Israeli forces as well as vigilante civilians in the northern West Bank, we know that all of these threads are part of one interdependent and intertwined reality. “

Truly, our liberation is bound up together.

In just a few days, we’ll mark the holiday of Purim—

the Jewish holiday which invites us to celebrate the unexpected:

to turn things upside down, to see things a little differently.

Shabbat Zachor’s timing is intentional:

we remember Amalek just days before we remember Haman.

And so perhaps we can apply some Purim wisdom

to the realities which our global Jewish family are facing.

In realizing how precarious her situation is,

Queen Esther bemoans her predicament to her cousin Mordecai,

who encourages her to speak up.

She can see the evil she is facing,

and must decide what to do,

realizing that the fate of her people rests on her shoulders.

Fittingly, Mordecai turns to Esther and says

: וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת׃

Who knows: maybe it is for this exact moment that you were born.

We are alive at a time of great potential,

and now more than ever,

I believe we have a responsibility not to cede our seat at the table:

now more than ever, we must be willing to speak up,

as Reform Jews, as people of conscience,

as people who see that our fates are intertwined and that there is no winning over the other.

We need each other more than ever. The Jewish people cannot walk away from one another, not on our watch. There is too much to do.

My hope and prayer on this Shabbat Zachor is that in remembering the destructive potential of evil, we will rededicate ourselves to the work of pursuing peace.

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