Seeking Peace in Time of War

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert

Seeking Peace in Time of War

A Talk by Rabbi Rebecca Alpert
as Part of a Prayer Service at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia,
Erev Yom Kippur, 5761

First I want to share with you a poem by Yehuda Amichai, one of Israel's great poets:

I, may I rest in peace—I, who am still living, say,
May I have peace in the rest of my life.
I want peace right now while I'm still alive.
I don't want to wait like that pious man who wished for one leg
Of the golden chair of Paradise, I want a four-legged chair
Right here, a plain wooden chair. I want the rest of my peace now.
I have lived out my life in wars of every kind: battles without
And within, close combat, face-to-face, the faces alway
My own, my lover-face, my enemy-face.
Wars with the old weapons—sticks and stones, blunt axe, words,
dull ripping knife, love and hate,
and wars with newfangled weapons—machine gun, missile,
words, land mines exploding, love and hate.
I don't want to fulfill my parents' prophecy that life is war.
I want peace with all my body and all my soul.
Rest me in peace.

Yehuda Amichai, poet of Israel, died last month before his dream could be fulfilled, before the nightmare of the latest round of words and sticks and stones and guns and too much hate.

And on this Yom Kippur we will remember him, and all those Palestinians who died in the current episode of violent conflict, in our memorial prayers. Amichai's words arouse us to pray for peace, and that is why we gather here on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, to call attention to our need to say those prayers for peace tonight and tomorrow. And our prayers for peace are vital. And our prayers for peace are not enough by themselves. They must come with prayers of atonement:

To acknowledge the wrongs we have committed against the Palestinian people:

failing to admit our culpability for expelling Palestinians from our newly formed state in 1948;

confining them in refugee camps,

denying their descendents access to travel,

imposing heavy taxes upon them,

imprisoning those who protested under harshest conditions, including torture,

building Jewish settlements in the midst of lands we promised to give back,

destroying Palestinian homes, cutting off access to Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem,

insisting on maintaining sovereignty over these sites at all costs,

denying, even to ourselves, that we have real power today, and we are reaping now in violence what we have sowed in arrogance.

The Palestinians also bear heavy moral responsibility for this conflict and for the current escalation. But they must make their own atonement in their own way and in the spirit of Yom Kippur it is not for us to enumerate their wrongs against us.

And after our prayers of mourning and atonement, and our prayers for peace are concluded, one task remains. We must demand that the violence end on both sides, and that Barak and Arafat return to the negotiating table, and make an agreement based on Israelis' and Palestinians' rights to co-exist with security and self-determination, an agreement that is fair and just, that will fulfill Amichai's dream that we may all rest in peace while we are still alive.