Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kaddish for Palestinians – a Memorial for Stella Cornelius

Context: Stella Cornelius, a woman I admired greatly was founder of the Conflict Resolution Network, a tireless peace activist[1] recently passed away. Below are my remarks at her memorial service. The cause of peace is advanced when members of groups involved in conflict question aspects of their own sides response. An Imam I know, corrected people on his own side in the middle of the Gaza war who were saying "God should kill all the Jews'children", he said "no this is not what the Koran teaches us". Neither he nor I have our head in the sand, we are both concerned about the harm caused to our people and realise that we can't agree about some things, and yet this does not prevent us from articulating teachings and principles relating to how people on our own side might respond better.  
Kaddish for Palestinians – a Memorial for Stella Cornelius

Yitgadal Vyitkadash Shmai Rabba. “May the great name, expand and be sanctified”, so begins the Jewish prayer called Kaddish, recited for the souls of the departed.
It was this prayer that Stella was looking for a Rabbi to recite 15 years ago for Palestinians. She planted a seed then; that became my life’s journey. Before she passed away, she requested that I speak today about our shared concern about peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. I will honor that request by considering positive action rather than apportioning blame.
Stella insisted that as Jews we were not superior, but we had added responsibility because we should know better. As a Jew I think of God’s name being expanded in the world, as progress toward the time “when nation will not lift a sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore”[2], especially in the holy land.
V’yamlich Malchutei, V’yatzmach Purkanai, V’ykarev Mshichei. May God’s kingdom reign, may his help sprout, may his Messiah come close. Stella, like other great peace workers imagined the world that could be, not just the one that we saw in front of us. The ancients described lions and lambs lying together, Martin Luther King Jnr. painted a picture of his dream and Stella pioneered  a different way to deal with conflict. None of these visions are complete, but each has already changed many lives, and will continue to do so.
Yehay Shlama Rabba Min Shmaya, Vchayim Tovim. Let there be great peace from heaven and a good life for us.  A worker negotiates with an employer for more money. The boss offers less than the worker needed, for more results than he could muster. The employee agrees because the boss has power, and he has none. A year passes, the needs do not vanish and the promised results do not materialize, so they repeat the deal. Results he could not deliver, for a price he could not live with. The third time this happens, the Boss declares, “you are just like the Palestinians, you don’t keep your part of the deal, and you always want more”.  An imbalance of power and agreements that don’t really meet people's needs, doesn’t work. Peace and a good life, come together.

Bchayechon, Uvyomechon, bizman kariv. In your life time, in your days and in a near time. I am watching the disappearing sand in the sand clock of hope. 33 years ago, Autonomy for Palestinians was discussed at Camp David, 17 years ago additional expectations were created in Oslo. Anyone under 30, grew up with these promises, as yet unfulfilled.

Osay Shalom Bimromav Hu Yaaserh Shalom Aleinu. He who makes peace in His heights, may He create peace for us and all Israel. Divine kindness and justice were both infinite and intolerant when first created in the spiritual world of chaos. Kindness could not bear to see any judgment. Justice, could not bear kindness, insisting that justice must always be served. These unstoppable forces crashed and shattered.  But God makes peace between them by introducing a higher purpose, the will of God. As Stella would say, they are brought together by “the shared task”.

We talk of peace for Israel, and this will happen when the needs of Palestinians are also met as both pursue the common good. A woman from Sderot, Israel, the town that faced rockets fired from Gaza, wrote to me about helping Gaza Youth when they published their frustration and demands. “I live in Sderot and I feel their trouble is my trouble”. 

The people who were touched by Stella, we will build on that thought, perhaps invert it, so the peace and dignity of Palestinians will be our peace. Shalom Aleinu V'al kol Yisrael Vimru Amen.

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/a-shining-beacon-of-peace-and-unity-20110107-19ir3.html
[2] Isaiah 2:4


  1. Beautifully said Zalman her thoughts and your tribute to her make me question some of the rhetoric I have been engaged in lately.

  2. Zalman: Your Kaddish is a masterpiece which for me was the highlight of the tributes to "Lady Stella". Here are two of her gems:

    (1) The best things in this world have been done by people who were not feeling well that day. (Stella CORNELIUS)

    (2) Use "and" rather than "but". That's because "and" opens up options while "but" limits them. (Stella CORNELIUS)

    PS: Donna's story was a close second.

  3. thank you very much Gary, Paul and Shmuel,
    Gary: I am moved by your reflection
    Paul: The two gems are both keeping in mind. Agree, Donna's talk and story were very moving.

  4. "An imbalance of power and agreements that don’t really meet people's needs, doesn’t work. Peace and a good life, come together.".....well said, Rabbi Zalman. I am sure if Stella was listening, she would have gone "oh, what a good recipe for peace - balance of power and agreements to meet the needs of people.
    the real question is how to get the politicians to practice this!
    Regards, Zubeda, Stella's friend.