On Tuesday morning, vandals defaced the Monastery of the Silent Monks at Latrun with anti-Christian graffiti. They also attempted, unsuccessfully, to burn the door. Rabbi Mauricio Balter of the Masorti (Conservative) Kehillat Eshel Avraham in Beersheva and president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, was part of a Masorti delegation that visited the monks at Latrun in the aftermath of the incident. A translation of his remarks is reproduced below. (Translation by Arie Hasit, spiritual advisor to Masorti’s NOAM youth movement.)
The month of Elul is a month for asking forgiveness, but how do we ask forgiveness for such a horrible incident?
The people of Israel are currently reading the seven haftarot of consolation after the destruction of the Temple. “Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick clouds the people,” exclaims the prophet Isaiah in chapter 60:2. He offers consolation some verses later: “The cry ‘Violence!’ shall no more be heard in your land, nor “Wrack and ruin!’ within your borders. And you shall name your walls ‘Victory’ and your gates ‘Renown.’”
How far we are from the consolation of Isaiah. Too far!
The vile act committed here under the cover of darkness was a despicable, contemptible, cowardly act. It was done by Jews, but the act was antithetical to Judaism. It was a racist, fundamentalist distortion claiming to be out of love for God, but hatred for human beings.
Here, the monks serve God with modesty, hard work, and silence. Their study is their work, but they too bring forth bread from the earth, grow grapes and make wine. But the hate-filled criminals are blind. They do not see people standing in front of them, but rather slogans. In their zeal, they forget that all people are created in the image of God.
This monastery has stood here for over 120 years, through the Ottoman rule, the British Mandate, and the State of Israel—and never before has it been desecrated. Never before has anyone tried to burn the monastery—or the people inside it—down to the ground. And there’s no mistake: only a miracle prevented total destruction here. Only by a miracle did the fire not spread, taking with it human lives.
Not far from where we are standing, at “Fellowship Park,” there is a large memorial titled “Man Will Live by His Beliefs.” The memorial shows three 11th century figures of the monotheistic religions representing the value of tolerance: Rashi, the greatest of the commentators of the Tanach and the Talmud, who expounded that “my heart inclined toward those who freely forgive; Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Bernard, who despite his support for the Crusades opposed the attacks on Jews; and Saladin, who after his victory in the Galilee allowed the inhabitants of every Crusader fortress to leave in peace. It takes a special theological effort to find the common ground amongst these individuals, but they succeeded in finding a way in which each not only promoted their belief in God but also their belief in human beings.
And here of all places the desecraters of God’s name chose to release their rage!
Does Jewish history, with all of the persecution that we Jews suffered because of our faith, give us the right to persecute others?
These extremists have strayed far off from our Jewish heritage, even if they allegedly speak our language. Unfortunately, once again I find myself in need of the prayer that my friend and teacher Rabbi Marshall Meyer wrote:
And people asked Hashem:
What will be in the future?
And Hashem answered them: how long will you hate one another?
How long will you kill one another?
How long will you allow others to starve to death or rot in prison?
And his tears dripped down to Earth
And cleansed the cancer of hatred,
And it was so.
And man prayed to Hashem
That He give him the power to be a human
And not to be an animal.
And today, we are here
To pray in the name of the love we feel for Him,
For the Land of Israel
For the People of Israel
And for all of God’s creations in the world;
So that we will have the courage
To continue to build this world;
So that we can continue to build His earth;
So that once more there will be light and order,
Beauty and feeling,
Splendor and harmony,
And love, love, love.
May it be your will that the land of God can live in peace
That the world of God can live in peace
That Hashem can find man
And that man can find Hashem
So that we can all see the light
Through the darkness of the world.
May we all have a happy new year and be written in the book of life.