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Harvey Gotliffe, Ph.D. Headshot

We Can Gather Together

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The headlines on Oct. 10 read "Extremist violence expanding in Israel." The story was about Jewish extremists who vandalized Muslim mosques and farmlands within the State of Israel proper. The fanatics also spray painted "Death to the Arabs" in both Muslim and Christian cemeteries, and did so immediately after the end of Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish days.

It doesn't matter whether these culprits were a gang of Jewish thugs from the settlements, most of whom were American-born, or just demented radicals who claim all of the land as their holy territory willed to them by God.

Many of the above who fervently believe such a claim are the ultra-Orthodox, and if so, earlier on Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement -- they were thumping their chests and asking for forgiveness for all of the sins they had committed the previous year.

In the concluding service on Yom Kippur, just before they went on their search and destroy mission, these people read from their prayer books and pleaded for an end to "plundering, fighting, destruction, calamity and quarrel, and causeless hatred." Amen.

After saying and praying in Hebrew "for we have surely sinned," they recited the ways that they had done so. Among a plethora of possible sins were "we abuse, we are cruel, we destroy, we kill, we are unkind, we are violent, we are wicked, we are xenophobic, we yield to evil, we are zealots for bad causes."

Shortly thereafter, they thanked their God for giving them "this Day of Atonement, an end to all our sins in pardon and forgiveness, that we may cease doing violence to our lives."

So inspired, when the sun set and Yom Kippur was over, they immediately perpetrated actions that would give them a head start on accumulating sins to ask forgiveness for on next Yom Kippur.

The one voice that stood out after these horrific actions was Israel's President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace laureate who said, "It's against everything that the Jewish people stand for as a country and a democracy."

The Arab extremists provide their own brand of deranged disruption and destruction. They derive unwarranted satisfaction when they thrust rockets into near-the-border Israeli towns and villages. They do so with complete disregard for the recipients of their action and sadly also for finding a peaceful solution to the problems that exist for both sides.

With fanatics on both sides -- for example, Hamas and the settlers -- there is a simple solution to have them work out the problems they both cause and exacerbate. Build a wall. No, make that four very high walls. And make the walled-in edifice as large as needed to lock in all of the fanatics. Then have them work together or fight against each other until they are tired of fighting, just as most Israelis and Palestinians are tired of having no real opportunity for a peaceful co-existence.

Religion can get in the way of sane solutions in Israel as well as in the United States when fanatics get involved. There has been a minor debate brought about and inflamed by an evangelical pastor from Texas as to whether or not Mitt Romney is a "true Christian," whatever that means.

We seem to always have someone who proclaims that the United States is a "Christian Nation" and avoids the fact that of our current population of some 311 million people, according to the census, nearly 15 percent are "non-Christian religious adherents."

That's more than 41 million of us in total, including 750,000 very peaceful Baha'is, 925,000 Atheists, 950,000 Hindus, 1.65 million black Muslims, 2 million Buddhists, 3.95 million Muslims, 5.5 million Jews and a whopping 24.5 million non-religious persons.

While many of the world's troubles are based on a religious divide, my wife's Jewish father came up with the perfect solution for peaceful coexistence more than 50 years ago. When his family was living in Malaga in Franco Spain, he told each of his six daughters to pick a religion that they were comfortable with, and they did so. The eldest chose to be Jewish, the next became Catholic, followed by one who stayed Jewish, the next became Catholic, the fifth (my wife) remained Jewish, and the youngest became Catholic.

They all get along and attend family bar mitzvahs and Catholic weddings. Today, the youngest Catholic sister makes sure that her late Jewish sister's religious husband is taken care of.

If sitting down and rationally and peacefully talking among people of different religions is unworkable, perhaps creating interfaith families would be a way to bring disparate people together. Although, it's difficult to picture an ultra-Orthodox Jew inviting a devotd Muslim over for a Sabbath meal. A large problem in Israel is that Muslims celebrate their Sabbath on Friday, Jews on Saturday, and Christians on Sunday.

If anything is possible in America, perhaps that could also be the case in Israel.

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