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Sermon by Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo: 5 November 2016

Be like Noah

You know, Mashiach came in November 2013.

Or so you may have thought if you follow the news from the Jewish, and Zionist, intellectual world. Because on November 2013 a brilliant Israeli journalist called Ari Shavit, Haaretz columnist, published a book, My Promised Land: The Triumph and the Tragedy of Israel. Such a book rapidly became a sort of a Bible especially in the so called liberal Zionist world.

In his book, by accumulating personal stories, Ari Shavit travels through the chapters of the Zionist enterprise. He begins with his own great-grandfather, who immigrated to the then Palestine from England in 1897. And then Shavit follows the whole genealogical tree down to his generation. And himself. More specifically to his own moral awakening, when as a soldier he witnesses the harsh treatment that the Army of the Jewish State imposes on the Palestinian population.

After having served in the Army, Shavit became a peacenik and -needless to say- an outspoken opponent of the occupation of the West Bank. The media gave him space to air his opinions: Haaretz, New Yorker, New York Times: isn’t it amazing how welcoming all these media are for Israeli left wing dissenters, who claim to be silenced?

Shavit made good use of such a space, unleashing his furore against right-wing Israeli politicians, such as the hawkish Avigdor Lieberman, the Minister of Culture Miri Regev and  Ayelet Shaked, the secular Minister of Justice.  Again, isn’t it amazing how those same people who advocate for a multicultural, pluralistic Israel, always chastise those of poorer background? Lieberman is a Russian immigrant; Regev is daughter of immigrants from Morocco, Shakhed’s family immigrated from Iraq. Far less prestigious genealogies than Ari Shavit’s!

Anyway, in his book, Ari Shavit, on the ground of his illustrious family history, makes the case for his political positions, which is the same as Liberal Zionists all over the world. Mainly the English speaking world, that is America and the UK (as the book was never translated in Hebrew). Let me quote from an interview.

“It is the moral and political duty of every Israeli prime minister to try to achieve the two-state solution […] We must end the occupation for sure […] We cannot survive another decade with the suicidal ways in which Israel is building more settlements”. [The Guardian, 10 June 2014]

I can go on, and on, quoting directly from the book, or from countless other interviews. Because of course Shavit gave many, many interviews, Guardian, BBC, Independent etc. Liberal Zionists are part of a silenced minority, they say, but, strangely enough, they are always on the media.

Even if I spare you from all these quotes, which frankly speaking are quite repetitive, I think it’s clear why Ari Shavit has been welcomed (at least in certain circles) as a sort of Messianic figure.

Finally there was a voice who made Zionism acceptable for the European and American Left. Ari Shavit lectured about the moral duty to support those Israelis who were working to stop the occupation and to deliver social justice to the Arab population “and by so doing prove the enlightened possibility of being both Jewish and democratic”, as per another enthusiastic endorsement, this time from Jewish Chronicle [7 March 2014]. But as you can imagine, there ‘s more, for example in many synagogues’ newsletter, where Ari Shavit is portrayed as a sort of Messiah.

The problem, as it turned out last week, is that Shavit himself was not exactly a very moral person. It turned out indeed that, far from being the flag bearer of noble values, he is more a sort of Silvio Berlusconi or Donald Trump. Over the last week, charges of his sexual misconduct involving groping of women in the workplace have surfaced.

A woman journalist reported to have been sexually assaulted by him. Shavit initially defended himself by admitting that there were “misunderstood elements of courtship” in some conversation with the same journalist. I don’t know how many  ladies would like to be on the receiving end of this kind of courtship. Even if it comes from the celebrated author of My Promised Land.

But then other journalists reported having had similar experiences. And it emerged that JStreet, the self-styled pro-Israel pro-peace American lobby (a sort of equivalent of British Yachad), purposely avoided inviting Shavit to its conventions. They were aware of his problematic behaviour, but in any case they chose not to denounce publicly. Which is an interesting choice from an organisation whose leaders often challenge other Jewish institutions’ accountability.

So you have someone who publicly preaches peace and social justice and, I’m sure, inclusion, feminism, gender equality. But in private he behaves in a disgusting, morally reprehensible way. He does in private hose very same things he accuses his enemies of doing: abusing those who are weaker than him, female journalists of every age.

What a depressing story!

It made me think to this week’s Torah portion, and more specifically to the personality of Noach. In the Torah Noach is described twice as ish tzadik bedorotav a just man in his generation.

According to the Rabbis Noah was a righteous person, and for this reason he was worthy of surviving the Flood, and God gave him the task to repopulate the earth.

But Noah was not like Abraham, to whom God gave an extraordinary responsibility. Abraham was a spiritual giant, and indeed every time we pray we mention him. Noah was the most righteous person of his generation.

There is a significant difference.

In the Torah Noah does not stand out as someone who always knows how to distinguish good from evil. He does not lecture every audience with his incredibly deep and profoundly moral knowledge. On the contrary. As soon as he knows what God wants from him, he does not question, he does not argue, he merely does what he thinks it ought to be done.

Noah is probably not good at writing columns or signing petitions. He is just a righteous person, which -while the whole world goes crazy- manages to keep a bit of morality and a bit of reason, while the flood is approaching.

In a few days from today the American people will choose their leader, and the leader of the most important superpower of the Western world. Their choice will affect the world, will affect the Jewish people, either in the USA, in Israel or in Europe.

Is this something similar to the Flood? We don’t know.

What we do know is that we should be like Noah, who used to walk humbly with God.

While a monumental change is coming at the horizon we can choose to be like those who preach to the rest of the Jewish people in the name of lofty ideals, noble values. Those who, for the sake of humanity chastise those Jews who fail to embody their ideals of moral perfection. By supporting for example the wrong Israeli party.

Or we can chose to be like Noah, the most righteous human being in his generation. We can chose to live a more committed Jewish life. Instead of pretending to raise above the rest of the Jewish people, and placing ourselves on some higher moral ground, we can chose to stay with our people, the Jewish people, and to defend Israel, the Jewish State, from its detractors and critics.

We can chose to ignore the arrogance of those who pretend to conform the Jewish State to their own standards of  morality. Which they not often observe in their own private life. And if Israel is not as they wish it to be, then they wish the Jewish State to be damned.

We can like these people, who call themselves Liberal. But in this generation, those preachers are hardly an example of righteousness.

Let’s ignore them and try to be like Noah.

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