- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On September 11, 2020
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, our weekly reflection as we make our way towards Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast HERE.
I share with you the sermon I offered last Friday night at Qabbalat Shabbat because I want as many of us as possible to consider the important impact the recent agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has on Israel and her neighbors. The reference to the Torah portions go back to last week and the week before.
Last week’s Torah portion began with the words, Ki Tetzi. (Deut. 21:10) When you go out…The rest of the sentence deals with battles and taking enemies captive.
This week’s portion begins with this phrase. Ki Tavo. (Deut. 26:1) When you come in…The rest of the sentence focuses on entering into the land.
Going out and coming back in. This is the history of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. We went out into exile twice and faced adversity and challenges in lands hostile and accepting, ever yearning to return. Two thousand years after the Romans destroyed the second Temple in Jerusalem, we came back in to build again.
Going out Ki Tetzei and coming back in Ki Tavo. Each action demands strength and courage and the ability to face the unknown. Pushing and pulling as victims and agents of our own destiny, we have had to decide how we will survive and thrive.
That is why a New York Times Daily podcast caught my attention. “Dinner and a Deal.” It was presented on August 18th, 5 days after the historic announcement of a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
None of us should take this event lightly though it didn’t get as much attention as when Yitzchak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shook hands under the wide spread arms of President Clinton in 1993. Or when Jordan or Egypt significantly changed the course of history with their brokering of peace with Israel.
This podcast shed a helpful light on what happened at the nascent stage of the peace work that made some guests at a dinner party take hold of a moment of serendipity.
Imagine sitting in an exclusive restaurant in a private room in Washington DC as an invited guest by a diplomat from an Arab country in the Persian Gulf. This diplomat was known for gathering leaders representing Democrats and Republicans and senior journalists to create networks of connection. You would feel honored to be there. Imagine there was also a diplomat from a neighboring Persian Gulf country, too, and a senior member of the current administration. Everyone is there with the promise that the dinner is off the record.
Imagine out in the restaurant by coincidence sits, Benjamin and Sarah Netanyahu of Israel, enjoying a lovely meal unaware that behind the nearby wall is this private gathering.
Imagine that someone inside the room discovers the presence of the Netanyahus. Maybe that person left to take a call and recognized them. Maybe the secret service informed them.
We don’t have to imagine. This situation did, in fact, occur.
In the confines of the private room, the guests of the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, mused how “interesting and fun” it might be to invite Netanyahu in.
Here were two diplomats, one from the United Arab Emirates and the other from Bahrain, both from middle eastern countries who hadn’t recognized Israel and even denounced it, in the same place as Israel’s Prime Minister, separated by a wall. Would it even be possible to have the Prime Minister of Israel enter into this space? As Mark Landler of the New York Times who was there noted: “The idea that Netanyahu would be welcomed in even to make small talk felt like a big deal.”
One of the guests at the table slipped out and went over to the Netanyahus’ table and suggested that when they finished their dinner they stop by the private room to say hello.
That act of invitation transformed the wall into a door.
At the end of the meal, the door opened, in walked Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with Sarah Netanyahu. People stood up out of respect and witnessed how Netanyahu wanted to use the opportunity to make the point that Israel and the United Arab Emirates have reason to be friendly with one another because of the shared enemy of Iran. Ambassador Otaiba nodded in agreement, but the sense was that it felt like an “innocuous conversation,” according to Landler.
We already know a crucial seed had been planted.
Before they walked out, however, Sarah Netanyahu invited Ambassador Otaiba to Jerusalem though he appeared non-committal. Sarah Netanyahu watered that seed. That was March of 2018.
There is no such thing as off the record because the story leaked. Mark Landler, the one who told it on the podcast received permission from Ambassador Otaiba after the deal was signed.
The distance between that private dining room in a posh restaurant in Washington DC and the streets of Jerusalem may have seemed far away, but important work was about to happen. We now know the results.
There is something hopeful and wonderful watching an El Al plane land in the United Arab Emirates as a direct flight with the word for peace across its front in Arabic, Hebrew and English. As the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston shared in their statement, “congratulating and thanking President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahlan of United Arab Emirates…this development can serve as a launchpad for further progress toward peace for Israel, the surrounding Arab States, and the Palestinians.”
In a world lacking in hope, Israel normalizing relations with another Arab country raises new possibilities. Bahrain within the last 24 hours has allowed Israel into its air space.
Airplanes flying to and fro are one aspect of this agreement. Normalization means opening an embassy, allowing flights, deepening trading relationship, and aligning themselves strategically, especially to deal with Iran. There are more complex issues at stake: some good. All complicated. Here’s four:
- Netanyahu had to call off his annexation plans, which made the right wing side of his supporters feel betrayed. Netanyahu faced international opposition to the annexation. He released himself from his own conundrum.
- That the annexation plans are off could have pleased the Palestinians, but they were left out of the deal. It did not advance their cause at all. Peace negotiations between Israel and other Arab countries are supposed to include Palestinian sovereignty in a two state solution and these did not.
- The newly established alliance realigns the dynamic of the middle east landscape. Iran no longer has a unity of hate across the Arab states against Israel.
- Will other Arab nations follow suit? While some Arab states may be inclined to follow the United Arab Emirates, still in Saudi Arabia, a big influencer of the region, the hashtag, Normalization is treason is trending. So, this is only a start. (Though Saudia Arabia has recently allowed specific flights through its airspace.)
With all the complexities, there is great potential to be realized. Any action toward peace is a move away from violence and destruction. It is part of the legacy of Yitzchak Rabin who said you don’t make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies.
The ancient Israelites of this week’s portion, ready to enter into the land of Israel, the land of great promise, received the instruction to coat unhewn stones with plaster to inscribe upon them the words of Torah. The directive is clear that the stones are not shaped by tools. Their imperfection and jagged edges are supposed to be left untouched. I see this as a metaphor for peace making. It cannot always easily be planned nor is it linear. The edges were jagged and imperfect. We know peace plans had been stalled for years.
And then, along comes a lesson in serendipity. Sometimes, opportunities like the one Ambassador Otaiba of United Arab Emirates and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel experienced could never be deliberate. Taking hold of the chance makes all the difference whether it is possible to be brought in for peace or go out to wage war. Also, perhaps, as Sarah Netanyahu demonstrated, we should never underestimate the power of an invitation to come to Jerusalem.
So may it be.
- Tonight at 6:00 p.m., we celebrate Shabbat virtually from the TI Garden, where members of the TI Clergy will lead Qabbalat Shabbat “together”, while physically distanced. We can pray together HERE on the Temple Israel website, or HERE on Zoom, or even HERE on TI’s Facebook page. You can find it all on the website www.tisrael.org/TogetherWithTI .
- The Village gathers at 5:00 p.m. for a Shabbat story and blessings HERE.
- Riverway Shabbat gathers at 7:30 p.m. Register HERE.
- Torah study engages everyone. We start with a short Shabbat morning service at 9:00 a.m. with Torah reading and then launch into a provocative discussion. BYOBagel! To join the conversation interactively, access HERE to Zoom. You will be amazed by how well and easy it is to participate and comment. You can also watch HERE on Temple Israel’s website or HERE on TI’s Facebook page.
- Celebrate Shabbat as a family with TGIS with Wayne Potash at 10:00 a.m. HERE.
- Tomorrow night, join us for one, two, or three S’lichot Prep Sessions on Zoom at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30 p.m. Learn more and access the Zoom links here. Tomorrow at 9:30 p.m., we gather in virtual space to sing and pray our beautiful S’lichot liturgy together. Join us on Zoom here.
- Explore our interactive library of High Holy Day materials
- Sign up for virtual small group sessions during Elul and on the holidays themselves
- See the full schedule of virtual High Holy Day services