Condemning Israel on the shores of Seattle’s Lake Washington

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SEATTLE RABBI SHARES THOUGHTS ON JVP TASHLICH CEREMONY

This past week Jews the world over performed Tashlich ,  an ancient ritual where members of the Jewish faith gather alongside a body of water, symbolically casting their sins into the depths. The ceremony accompanies the period of self-reflection and repentance between the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur known as the Ten Days of Repentance.

The core of the traditional ceremony is derived from the book of Micah and reads in part. “He will be merciful to us, He will conquer our iniquities, and He will cast off our sins into the depths of the seas.

This past Sunday the Seattle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) – a national group that self describes as working for “for peace, social justice, equality, human rights and respect for international law” and is described by the ADL as one the top ten anti-Israel groups in the United States – held their own unique Tashlich service on the shores of Seattle’s Lake Washington.

Jewish Voice for Peace is well known to TMR readers as supporting the BDS movement and the boycott of the Jewish State. The group was actively involved in efforts to promote the divestment of the University of Washington from Israel. During the recent Gaza war JVP promoted and participated in volatile anti-Israel protests in Seattle which featured swastikas along with a depiction of a Jew eating a gentile baby. (Video below of JVP canards against Israel during the recent Gaza war).

 About 40 JVP activists stood gathered at Madrona Beach Park in a semi circle by sparkling lake Washington and a majestic weeping willow; a stunning setting on a beautiful Seattle day.

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Photo Credit: The Mike Report (c)

With much seriousness and import a series of JVP members led the group through the Tashlich L”Tzedek, a new liturgical interpretation of the traditional Tashlich ceremony.

“Today we are casting off two types of sins” intoned JVP leader Wendy Elisheva Somerson “personal sins and collective sins, including the  ongoing Israeli occupation of and violence in Palestine”

Somerson explained in a sober funeral tone;

While it is false to claim that all Jews are guilty of the sins committed by the Israeli government, as Jews we acknowledge that these acts are being done in our name. We choose to be responsible for all of these transgressions.  We choose to carry them as a burden. And today, in this hour, we choose to cast them into the water.

The lugubrious assemblage proceeded with the group leader confessing their many sins and the collective responding in a somber monotone to each transgression, “We take responsibility and will work to make it stop.

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The identified transgressions included…

Attacking, starving and strangling Gaza while claiming it is no longer occupied. We take responsibility and will work to make it stop.

Allowing violence against Palestinians to be committed in our name. We take responsibility and will work to make it stop.

Feeling powerless in the face of the theft of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian homes. We take responsibility and will work to make it stop.

Elevating anti-­Semitism above other oppressions and refusing to see its interconnectedness with racism, classism, transphobia, homo-phobia, and xenophobia in our communities. We take responsibility and will work to make it stop. 

Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, one of Seattle’s oldest Jewish congregations reviewed the Jewish Voice for Peace Tashlich L’Tzedek liturgy. We asked the Rabbi to share his impressions of the JVP ceremony to which he offered;

“The Jewish Voice for Peace’s Tashlich Service is both inspiring and perplexing. Inspiring, because it calls upon its congregants to engage in a “silent moment of reflection” that reads as follows: “May we turn from these sins in full teshuvah (repentance), with fervent prayer, and with eagerness to carry out acts of tzedakah, so that our own actions will transform this world, from a world of harshness to a world of compassion, from a world of ignorance to a world of enlightenment, from a world of death to a world of life renewed.

“And yet” the Rabbi observed;

“The Tashlich Service is simultaneously perplexing: strewn throughout the text are both explicit and implicit references to Israel as a cruel, intolerant, racist country that seems unwilling to carry out those very acts of tzedakah that will transform the world!”

Rabbi Meyers went on to share his concern regarding JVP’s myopic view of the Jewish State. He noted.

“At this time of year, we are especially bidden to give others the benefit of the doubt; in that spirit, it seems to me that the authors of the service, in their fervor, have unwittingly overlooked the IDF’s intensive humanitarian aid in the wake of Southeast Asian typhoons in 2009 and 2013, its amazing work in the Philippines following super-typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, its provision of 1.5 tons of medical and humanitarian aid to flood-ravaged Serbia in May 2014, or its October 2011 aid to earthquake-stricken Turkey.”

The Rabbi pondered;

“I am curious to know how JVP’s leadership reconciles these facts with their tendency to demonize Israel as a racist, chauvinistic, xenophobic state? Is there any doubt that, given an authentically peace-driven Palestinian leadership, Israel’s love of all mankind would surely be able to fully express itself?”

Rabbi Meyers offered some sage rabbinical advice for the Jewish Voice for Peace activists along with his prescription for a true and lasting peace.

“Perhaps now it is time for JVP leaders to turn to Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, to have them equally reflect on the need “to disengage from destructive patterns, in preparation for re-engaging in constructive work” to quote the JVP Tashlich service. If the Palestinian leadership were to indeed consider such a step, such a process may well hail the onset of a true peace – a peace in which the Palestinians would seek to truly cast their sins into the sea, instead of continually seeking to do so with the modern, Jewish, democratic, State of Israel.”

The program proceeded with a speaker representing a group opposed to the repatriation of undocumented immigrants.

While the traditional Tashlich service usually concludes with the throwing of bread into the water, the JVP Tashlich ceremony ended with the throwing of stones…into the lake. We will leave the symbolic meaning of that up to you.

Despite their ongoing efforts at degrading the viability of Israel, representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace were invited to a young leadership conference at Hillel earlier this year. Seattle JVP continues to be included in the list of Jewish organizations in the Federation’s JTNews community guide.

 The JVP Tashlich L’Tzedek may be found online here.

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