These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Week 28: At the Crossroads

Posted on March 17, 2012 by Derek Kwait

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(X-posted from my home blog, Yinzer in Yerushalayim)

The biggest event this week was our Critical Issues speaker, Rabbi Michael Melchior, former Member of the Knesset, executive in the World Zionist Organization, current Chief Rabbi of Norway, and, would-be top candidate to succeed Jonathan Sacks as Chief Rabbi of Britain, if he wanted the job, which he adamantly does not, no matter how much our British student tries to bribe him. More important than all these credentials, however, is his work in religious conflict-resolution.

In his lecture, he told us how he knew from time it happened that history would not end with the Cold War, but rather that God was about to reenter it, as a piece of grafitti he saw at the time said,

“Nietzsche is dead.” -God

He was right. He has spent his life since then publically annoyed at those on the right and the left for their foolishness in thinking they can resolve religious disputes through political means, and meeting with religious leaders to try resolving religious conflicts—and this is where the crazy part comes in— religiously. For Israel and Palestine, this means he has met with extremeists on both sides, reviewed and learned sacred texts with them, and got them to sign agreements in principle on means of making peace with their enemies based on their traditions’ teachings. If belief in God can’t be a catalyst for peace in the world, he said, then we should all give up on religion. But he believes so strongly that it not only can but needs to be that he has put up with being largely ignored by those in power, and having, he claims, -$800,000 in his bank account. Much of that debt has come from opening religious conflict-resolution centers all over the Mideast, including two in Jerusalem—one just down the street from Pardes, and the other in East Jerusalem. For the immediate result of his efforts, he has those signatures—religious extremeists agreeing, at least in theory, to a religious peace. He would not name names, but nonetheless insisted that he has gotten some of the most extreme leaders on both sides to agree to what a final peace will look like. When pressed on what that is, he said something like, “Everyone already knows what the final peace agreement will look like, it’s just a question of doing it.” For some people this was maddeningly vague, but I think I knew what he meant. I wish I could give a better description of what he said, the names he dropped, the ingeneous ideas he had, but, unfortunatly, you just have to hear him.

You also just have to see him: Rabbi Melchior might be the closest I’ll ever come to meeting a Biblical prophet. He is a man so utterly consumed by the spirit of God that he’ll go anywhere—even to Nabulus to meet with Islamic extremeists—and speak the truth to anybody—even to Presidents and Prime Ministers—for the sake of justice, peace, and the glorification of God’s Name, personal consequences be damned. For me, the most impressive thing about him is how Orthodox he is. I know I might lose a lot of my Pardes street cred for saying this, but the fact that he’s not some guitar-playing “let’s-all-feel-how-much-God-loves-us-as-we-sit-around-and-sing-kumbaya” Reform rabbi or even some crazied Messianist on the other extreme, but a bona-fide black canvas-kippaed, white-and-gray-bearded, suit-and-tie wearing, hyphen-inducing, unabashedly Zionist Orthodox rabbi saying and doing these things, meeting with the other side and making peace, is why he has gotten the respect and results he has. He fits so many stereotypes that no one will say he isn’t being a “serious Jew” (whatever that phrase could even possibly mean) by shattering them all.

On the subject of religious conflicts, you’re probably wondering what it’s like here with all that’s been going on in the South and with Iran and how I’m effected by it. Everyday I see the headlines: more missles, more hightened rhetoric, and I worry about Israel, the Jews, and all the innocent people, especially children, caught in-between. Just like I did in America. The truth is, I’m in such a bubble here, that it’s extremely hard to forget how I’m very literally right in the middle of everything now, because here, in the eye of the storm, all is quiet.

In some ways, I wish it wasn’t so. Sometimes I feel like, ’I’m here, this is real, I’m sharing the fate of my people, I’m really in it with you guys now!’ And then I realize how stupid that is when I live here without fear. I thank God every day that we live in peace and pray that it will increase for everybody. But the point remains—whether the paper is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or Haaretz, headlines are headlines, and my daily routine is my daily routine and it’s all too easy to feel detached. In a small world, a few thousand miles makes no difference as long as the blood you see is just ink on the paper and not coming out of your own skull.


Even in Jerusalem, not all news is filled with international tension. Friday morning was the 2 nd annual Jerusalem Marathon.

All over the city, people came out in the cold and wet weather to cheer on the runners and give them high-fives.

I enjoyed watching everyone, but I was on the lookout for one runner in particular: Anne my Chumash and Mishna chevruta last semester. During our time together, she talked a lot about her training regiment and how excited she was for it, so when the big day finally came, I was eager to see her and cheer her on. She sent me an email the day before estimating what times she might be near my house. When I missed the first time, I went ahead with my Friday routine, planning to catch her for the second, then she called me almost right smack in the middle of the two times when I was in the middle of making an Israeli salad for Shabbat saying she was very close to my apartment. I dropped everything, ran outside and saw her running more-or-less alone from the pack. I didn’t want her to stop for me, but she did anyway just long enough for us to hug and for me to wish her good luck before she took off again. I was so proud of her.


Quote of the Week: “Creation is the undifferentiated desire that there should be.” – R. Mike Feuer

Hebrew Word of the Week: לרוץ (“la’rootz”) – to run