This Shabbat we learn of two cities and two lessons. Each of these cities offers us a value and a cautionary note. We relearn these values and we recall their accompanying cautionary notes.
The first city is from the Torah portion. It is Hebron. In this week’s Torah portion Sarah dies at the age of 127 years. Abraham mourns her and seeks to buy a burial plot. He purchases the Cave of Machpeleh from Ephron, the Hittite. We learn that Abraham pays more than the asking price and thus Hebron becomes the first Jewish place. From this city we are reminded that the land, the land of Israel, is more than a sentimental note, it is holy to us. It is made holy by Sarah’s death, by Abraham’s purchase, and God’s promise.
Here is where it all started. Our faith began in Hebron, located in the modern day West Bank. Thus it is not just any land that the Palestinians claim. It is our people’s as well. When it comes time to make peace (may that day be very soon) it will not be as simple as withdrawing from Gush Katif in Gaza. And if you recall this recent history, remember that it wasn’t simple or easy at all. In Hebron we still feel Jewish history and its reverberations. There one can sense Abraham’s and Sarah’s presence.
Still our cautionary note is that the land is no more holy than any people; no place is worth more than human life and preserving Jewish democracy. Even a place as holy as Hebron, with its many Jewish resonances, is worth “sacrificing” for the sake of furthering security for Israel and saving lives.
The second city is Berlin. We think of it because of our commemoration of “Kristallnacht” this week. On November 9, 1938 in Germany and Austria, and in particular in Berlin, the Nazis perpetrated this “night of broken glass”. There are many dates to which we can point and date the beginning of the Holocaust. This date would be one. On this day the Nazis destroyed and burned synagogues and Jewish books. And on this day the world stood by. Kristallnacht was reported but little, if anything was done. The Nazis were allowed to destroy Jewish lives and homes with impunity.
We are reminded that even the most cultured of places can become evil. The place that gave the world Max Liebermann, Alexander von Humboldt and Rahel Varnhagen also gave rise to the past century’s most unparalleled evil.
Lest we be naïve, we must proclaim that anti-Semitism still exists. We hear its venom coming from Iran. It exists in Europe, in the United States, and even in South Africa. There are tinges of it emanating from BDS. This is a movement that is all about anger and not about peace and empowerment of the Palestinian people. Standing in front of Jewish owned places and calling for boycott of exactly those stores and companies follows only one pattern, the Nazi terror of the Third Reich. From the memory of Jewish Berlin we are cautioned: stay vigilant. Never be so quick to dismiss racism and anti -Semitism. It can arise anywhere and everywhere. It can be found in any city.
For us Jews, history is relevant, it is part of our identity. Those two cities are only two examples for how history has shaped us as a people, as a faith, as human beings.
Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Steven Moskowitz )