Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism on the Alexandria Declaration
St. John's Episcopal Church
March 26, 2002
Contact: Alexis Rice or Dan Kaufman 202-387-2800
Tomorrow night, Jewish families throughout the world will gather together to commemorate our release from bondage in Egypt as we begin the celebration of Passover. In this quintessential holiday of hope we remember how the bitterness of slavery was replaced by the sweetness of freedom. This annual rite provides each of us, individually and collectively, with an opportunity to thank God for the freedom and for the shalom that we do have (not just "peace," but as its root word connotes, wholeness and healing) - and to pray for the freedom and peace that we and all God's children do not yet have.
It is in this spirit that I am here today both to commend those religious leaders in Israel and other Middle East nations for voicing their opposition to the violence in the region and to express their hope and commitment that peace will be achieved.
The Alexandria Declaration is a remarkable step at a difficult time. This was an act of moral courage and vision; one that entailed religious, political, and personal risks to those involved. To Israel's chief Rabbis, Rabbi Lau and Rabbi Bakshi-Doron, I would say: the Jewish people are inspired by your action. To them and to those Muslim and Christian leaders who spoke out to say that this violence, destruction and hatred are not part of our traditions and must never be - to you I would say: Thank you; remain strong in affirming this vision among your communities. For this path alone, is the path to peace and reconciliation. To religious leaders in local communities across America, I would like to say: use this Alexandria Declaration to reenergize local interfaith dialog and efforts for peace.
We, as Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the U.S. must similarly refocus our energies and reexamine our approaches toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just as these courageous religious leaders recognize the need to denounce publicly the violence terrorizing the people in the Middle East, so must we condemn the acts that seek to destroy the work of those who have taken us this far. Leaders like Anwar Sadat and Yitchak Rabin gave their lives in the pursuit of peace. Their mission of peace is incomplete and it is our responsibility to ensure that it is finished.
It is difficult right now to see a way out of the current crisis, a way to escape the bloodshed that has haunted us for the last eighteen months. The status quo seems as intractable as it is deadly. If there is to be a way out of these dark days, it begins with statements of basic common values and reconciliation that the Alexandria Declaration represents.
Indeed, however elusive peace may seem, we remain steadfast in the knowledge that the pursuit of peace must ever be our goal. For supporters of Israel, the logic that drove the late Yitzhak Rabin into the peace process-that Israel will only be secure when at peace with her neighbors, that a Jewish state cannot rule indefinitely over those who reject that rule, that the Jewish character of the State of Israel is threatened by today's demographic realities so long as Israel controls the West Bank and Gaza Strip -is as compelling today as ever. Peace is, and will always be, the only pragmatic option.
We must commend President Bush and the Administration for affirming that peace is vital for U.S. interests as well, and for working diligently at this time in an effort to restart the peace negotiations. We should particularly applaud the Bush Administration for returning U.S. Envoy General Anthony Zinni to the region in an attempt to secure a cease-fire agreement. For peace will only come with American mediation, support, and leadership. As U.S. citizens and enthusiastic supporters of peace in Israel and the Middle East, it is vital that we urge our government to maintain this effort.
Last week, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, along with the Arab American Institute, sponsored an inspiring delegation of Israeli and Palestinian parents who had lost children in the conflict. Unlike the vengeance that fuels the mindset of violence, these parents brought a message that should be heard throughout the world. The words of Salama Temeiza, a Palestinian who suffered the loss of his son, resonate especially loudly at this critical juncture. He told us, "Palestinians and Israelis want to live together….We want reconciliation….We want to work for justice, peace, equal rights for both sides." Although it feels like eons, it was not long ago that, as did so many Israelis and Palestinians, we as Jews, Christians, and Muslims, sat together, united in the quest for peace. Despite our differences, we stand together today to begin the process of renewing that vision. Mr. Temeiza closed his remarks by saying, "We don't want other families to taste what we taste." It is our urgent responsibility to ensure that his wish is granted.
And so, as winter turns to spring and dormant plants and flowers begin to bloom, our renewal of hope is anticipated in the final words of the Passover seder, that the Jews have said for 2,000 years: "l'shana haba'ah b'yerushalayim, next year in Jerusalem" -- a dream of a Jerusalem of hope, healing, freedom, safety and peace. This year, let us join together and pray for a year of calm, reconciliation, rebuilding, and hope - and, above all, a year of peace.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .