sitting in a midtown synagogue on Saturday morning, staring at the Torah in its glistening portal, I think about how my grandparents might have reacted to the police officer stationed at the front door of their beloved temple.Armed protection for a simple shabbos service in one of the globe's more obscure cities. Such are the times. The world has shrunk to a fragment of itself, and Kandahar suddenly casts its shadow on Bathurst Street.
Such are the times as well that the godly search for scriptural endorsement of their martial impulses. That's what the seemingly gentle rabbi is doing on this chilly October morning. This is a traditionally liberal congregation and I'm expecting some expression of spiritual unease about the bombing of suffering Afghans, perhaps some faint wishes for a far-off reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, some hand-wringing about our threatened humanity.
I'm not prepared for theological hawkishness. He scolds faint hearts for their ambivalent "yes, but" support for the American war and declares himself against "appeasement." He doesn't want pressure put on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians to save the U.S. coalition. He chastises religious and political leaders for being so interested in making local Muslims comfortable that they have forgotten to worry about Jews hunkered down in their Mediterranean homeland and in well-guarded Toronto institutions.
I take a deep breath. He is frightened; the Jewish community is frightened. The first casualty is cause and effect.
Across the ocean and then some, a government conjuring ancient Jewish entitlement is militarily occupying an imprisoned people and unleashing a fury from hell. And the good rabbi here doesn't seem to notice. He sees only one kind of Palestinian -- a Hamas kamikaze whom he likens with good reason to the perpetrators of September 11. It seems to have escaped him that collective punishment, whether by Islamic extremists or Israeli fundamentalists, is a war crime, or that 200,000 Israeli settlers are holding a whole world hostage.
Jewishness is an ethnicity; military occupation is a political deed. Why does one get mistaken for the other? Why do Jewish leaders fuse them? Sitting here with geopolitical doom descending on me, I know why "Not in my name" has become the new chant of reconciliation Jews.
We look for enchanted moments in the midst of the inferno. Last month an Israeli performance artist, Liad Kantalovich, told a crowd at the Quaker house how she takes her anti-occupation marching band into the West Bank and diverts stone-throwing youngsters. Next month a quilt made of patches expressing the peace visions of Palestinians and Jews, sponsored by Palestine House and Jewish Women Against the Occupation, arrives. Sweet, simple -- oh so naive. At this moment I'm afraid it's all we have.