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Last Saturday night two different gatherings took place in my Jerusalem neighborhood. One was a rally for "peace" sponsored by the Geneva initiative and led by Yossi Beilin. This group met outside of the house of Prime Minister, barely two blocks from my residence. The Prime Minister was not home since he was busy meeting with his Security Cabinet, planning a response to the barrage of Kassam rockets fired at towns inside Israel (1948 Israel) over the day. The "Peace" rally nevertheless continued apace following the timeworn script of all such rallies. A popular singer sings a soothing song about the rewards of peace, a stirring speaker - this time Yossi Beilin himself - delivers a harangue about how the Palestinians really want to live next door to us in peace but it is the Israeli refusal to accommodate their demands for Jerusalem, the right of return and the freeing of the murderers of innocents from prison that prevent the Garden of Peace from being revealed. All of this on a day when countless Israelis had to flee their homes in Sderot to avoid the rockets being fired by our peace partners. The schools in Sderot have been forced to close temporarily. A "work accident" killed many Palestinians in Gaza on Friday when a truck loaded with Kassam rockets exploded in the midst of a Hamas parade. Many Hamas militants were killed by their own hand in that event. Of course, that event is also Israel's fault, for if Israel did not exist why would they need those Kassam rockets in the first place? Yet, I have a hunch that even without us being around they would find use for those rockets on their own fellow Muslims who would dare to disagree with them. Look at Iraq! All of this self-apparent logic is completely lost on the Geneva gang who persist in living in their well financed, well publicized but utterly unrealistic dream world. Too bad for them and too bad for the rest of us also.

By my unscientific judgment to the naked eye, the "peace" rally was poorly attended. Its organizers placed a brave face on this, declaring that more people came than was expected, whatever that means. We all want peace and crave for quiet and serenity. But we would also like to live and survive and be able to raise our children and grandchildren in our own homeland in security and confidence. If the Geneva organizers could figure out a practical and realistic way to accomplish this without giving away the store, they would find a great outpouring of popular support for their program amongst the Israeli public, including me. However, as the current situation really is, the Geneva platform and its "peace" rally is just a caricature of itself.

The other gathering on Saturday night was the beginning of the season of selichot by Ashkenazic Jewry. Sephardic Jews have been hard at prayer of selichot since the beginning of Elul but the Ashkenazim just began only on Saturday night. These selichot gatherings far outdrew the "peace" rally. The Days of Awe are approaching and Jews are searching for some spiritual sustenance to nurture them in these dark and dangerous times.

In my synagogue I noticed people at the selichot services that I had never seen before. I don't know the import of that. I just know that without some sense of spirit, tradition, attachment to Judaism and its people, land and history, life is very lonely, scary and empty. I therefore found the op-ed article about the unrepentant Jew that appeared in the Sunday issue of the Jerusalem Post very revealing. Here is the "empty wagon" personified. But the villain of the piece is naturally the Jewish religion. It is what makes the writer of the piece wander all over the world, stateless without ideals, purpose and hope. Estranged from his people and past, he lashes out at a religious coercion that is practically non-existent any longer here in Israel. The "peaceniks" say: "If only Israel would concede everything to the Palestinians the struggle would finally end." The rootless, estranged and embittered post-secularist Jew says: "If only there was no Judaism, then Israel would be an attractive place to live." To say that both have put the cart before the horse in their assessments of the reality of Jewish existence, survival and accomplishments is a gross understatement. It is precisely Judaism that fuels the State of Israel and gives it and the Jewish people as a whole the strength and resilience to survive and triumph in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. The angst of the Jew who has separated one's self from one's people and heritage will not be easily assuaged by wandering from Paris to New York or South America. The call of selichot and the shofar of this season is a call to one's deeper inner self. Estrangement from that self is a loss for that person himself or herself but it is also a loss for all of us Jews and to the cause of Judaism itself.

Shana Tova.
Berel Wein

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