Despite doubts, rabbis praise peace accord


September 15, 1993|By Frank P.L. Somerville | Frank P.L. Somerville,Staff Writer

Every year, Beth Tfiloh Congregation's Rabbi Mitchell S. Wohlberg cites fervent hopes for Middle East peace in his Yom Kippur sermon. "But this week, it can't wait for Yom Kippur," he said yesterday.

So tomorrow morning, as the biggest Orthodox synagogue in Pikesville celebrates Rosh Hashana, the first day of the Jewish year 5754, Rabbi Wohlberg will relate the ancient biblical story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac to Monday's remarkable picture of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking hands on the White House lawn.

"What happened is so monumental," Rabbi Wohlberg said. "The world is not the same."

That picture is likely to be on the minds of all Maryland Jews as they celebrate the High Holidays.

The solemn observance of Rosh Hashana, a time of hope, repentance and God's forgiveness, begins at sundown today and continues tomorrow. It is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Rabbi Wohlberg said the Torah account of Abraham and Sarah, and their willingness to sacrifice their beloved son Isaac as commanded by God in a test of their faith, provides a timeless theme for Rosh Hashana. In the end, God did not require them to consummate that sacrifice.

"For 45 years now, many mothers and fathers in Israel have been Sarahs and Abrahams, sacrificing their children on the front lines," Rabbi Wohlberg said. "Perhaps a more hopeful story is being written. I am optimistic because I have to be. There is no other choice."

All through history, Jews have "taken the risks, taken the gambles," in response to God's demands on them, the rabbi said. Examples he gave were the Hebrews stepping into the parted Red Sea, Queen Esther pleading for her people before the king, the Maccabees in revolt, David Ben-Gurion "declaring his belief in the State of Israel when people said it can't work."

Rabbi Wohlberg said the risk for Jews is that "Arafat's hands are dripping with Jewish blood" but that the record of Israel's prime minister as an experienced general and war hero provides some reassurance. "Yitzhak Rabin does not strike me as a softy," the rabbi said.

"There is a concern, but there is a hope. A strong case can be made for the other direction, but my heart tells me to go for the good news. The bottom line is that we won what we wanted, the recognition of Israel by the Palestinians. How can I not be excited?"

Rabbi Marcel Blitz, who will be conducting the Rosh Hashana services at Baltimore's historic Lloyd Street Synagogue east of downtown, is not as hopeful about the Israel-PLO agreement and will be taking a less sanguine approach in his remarks to the congregation this evening and tomorrow morning.

"I think Arafat should have gotten an Oscar for his acting -- that's what was missing at the White House," Rabbi Blitz said.

"It was a great show. I'd like to be hopeful, but if the past is any indication, it doesn't look that good. I can't believe this is all the Palestinians want. The truth is, they don't want any kind of Jewish state to exist.

"Suppose Arafat's not a great actor; suppose he's really sincere. How long is he going to last?"

The rabbi referred to the assassination in 1981 of Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat, whose dramatic peace overtures had led to the Camp David accords and the treaty with Israel.

"I hate to be the bad guy, hate to be against peace," Rabbi Blitz said. "Everybody wants peace, but this is just being emotional. We have to be realistic. I'm not a pessimist, and I'm not an optimist. I try to be a realist.

"I hope and pray it works out. But the only hopeful sign for me is that Rabin is a military man. I hope he knows what he is doing."

Rabbi Mayer Zayon, who succeeded Rabbi Blitz as spiritual leader of Northwest Baltimore's Beth Isaac Adath Israel synagogue this year, was more cautious.

"All I wish to say is that this is a time of great changes and must be a time of much introspection," he said.

He acknowledged that the Israeli-PLO agreement will be on his and his congregation's minds this evening and tomorrow.

David Sulomm Stein, the new rabbi of Congregation Beit Tikvah, which will celebrate Rosh Hashana this evening and tomorrow ** morning at First Christian Church, 5802 Roland Ave., said his services will deal with the historic news in the Middle East "implicitly -- the issues of letting go of control and trusting the cosmos, if you will, and at appropriate times marveling at life's improbabilities."

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