Saturday, November 15, 2008

Avraham Avinu and Obama Malkeinu

One of the most moving things about Barack Obama’s historic win in the US elections was his incredibly powerful victory speechdelivered to thousands in Grant Park, Chicago. It happened on the week of Parashat Lech Lecha, where the great forefather of monotheism, Avraham Avinu, set out on another very different journey of his own, which was, like Obama’s, full of promise. I wondered what a discussion between Avraham and Sarah would sound like, if he decided to take a leaf out of the President Elect’s speech writing school. Here is Bibliodrama I came up with:

Avram: Sarah, I believe our lives can be better. I believe that change is possible.

Sarai: How?

Avram: I think about all that I have seen in the last 99 years of my life– the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that Hebrew creed: Yes we can.

At a time when people were swept up in the idolatry of Ur Casdim, where Faith in one God was scorned, I left the affluenza of Haran, and travelled to the new land. When there was despair and famine in Canaan, you God saved us from the wrath of pharaoh and set us free to be man and wife yet again. Yes we can.

Then we returned to the land, and had to divide it up with my nephew lot, who got himself into many a troubling situation both in Sodom and with the four kings. It took great diplomacy, and God by my side to keep the peace. Yes We Can.

And Hagar became my wife, and brought unhappiness between myself and you, and I had to choose whether to throw them out where they would surely perish. You told me to abandon my first born son, and my handmaiden wife. I listened to you Sarah, and your words were proved right. Yes we can.

Then God made with me a covenant, saying that our offspring will be strangers in a strange land, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed 400 years, but He, God, will execute judgement, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth. Yes we can.

I look up to the stars and God said to me “count the stars, if you can count them, so shall be your seed” . My child-less wife found this funny, but I told her “Yes We Can”

I finally got my coveted heir, my beloved Yitzchak, and as my wife lay in labour for hours at age ninety, she screamed “ Yes Yes Yes Yes We Can”

We have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So this morning, let us ask ourselves – if our children Issac and Ishmael should live to see the next century; if they can put their hatreds which they’ve inherited from us aside and be so lucky to live as long as we have, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to rise up, walk about the land through its length and its breadth, for god has given it to us. To reclaim the Hebrew Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of one, we will be many, like the stars of the sky and the dust of the earth. That while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless Am Yisrael. And let us say Amen.

1 comment:

Ittay said...

Furthermore, on why Israel doesn;t yet have an obama.

Galilee Diary
by Marc Rosenstein

Self evident truths

We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
-Declaration of Independence of the United States, opening sentence

In the land of Israel, the Jewish people arose.
-Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, opening sentence

Watching Barak Obama's victory speech, I was filled with joy as an American, at this proof that the United States means what it says about freedom and equality and the principle that all persons are judged on their merits without respect to ethnicity, religion, or race. Obviously, I have no idea whether Obama will be a good president, or whether he was the "right choice;" (obviously, 48% of the electorate don't think so). But irrespective of these political questions, his election, on the symbolic level, makes an important statement. At the same time, as an Israeli, I felt a tinge of sadness at the conflict between the values I imbibed growing up in the United States, and those manifest in the State of Israel. The United States was and remains a unique experiment, in which identity is based on ideology, on values, on beliefs – not on color or national origins. Israel, on the other hand, continues the European tradition (against which the United States rebelled) of national identities in which religion and/or ethnicity played and play a major role. Instead of rebelling against the European division into nationality-based states at the beginning of the 20th century, when we Jews were excluded from the game, we accepted the model whole-heartedly, and went off to create our own national state in Israel.

What I realized, listening to the president-elect, was that our problem here is not that we don't have any leaders who speak as well as Barak Obama; it is rather that the rhetoric of inclusion, of unity, of building a better future together – is not a part of Israeli discourse. And this is not just because of Israel's fractious, at-large, proportional-representation political system, with its attendant culture of coalition horse-trading/extortion. It is more fundamentally, I think, because such rhetoric conflicts with our very conception of who we are as a state. Many, if not most, Israelis would read such language of universal inclusion and opportunity as some kind of betrayal of the purpose of Israel as the state not of all peoples, but of the Jewish people.

Once I attended a lecture by a Bedouin social worker, a graduate of a Canadian university, working to improve the lot of her people in the Negev. She is a remarkable woman, articulate, smart, charismatic, thoughtful. Leaving the hall, I commented, half facetiously, "Wow, I'd vote for her for prime minister!" To which a colleague responded – "Well, that would be the end of the Jewish state." I've been thinking about this interchange ever since: If England, an explicitly Christian country, can have a Jewish prime minister, can the Jewish state not have a Moslem prime minister? Is it all ethnic hegemony, or is there some basis in values that unite – or could unite – all the citizens of the Jewish state of Israel? Could we imagine a leader who would speak a language that all of us could identify with and respect, or are we destined to live in an eternal zero-sum game of competition for power, resources, and the moral high ground? It seems to me that this challenge, of finding the cultural and civil common denominator, is daunting, but represents the key to the sustainability of Israel, and so we cannot afford to walk away from it.