Celebrating a vision of hope for Israel

A Rosh Hashana message eyes peaceful coexistence

September 06, 2002|By John Rivera and Peter Hermann | John Rivera and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

It was just last week that Rabbi Steven M. Fink sat shiva, the Jewish ritual of mourning, in the home of an anguished Israeli family grieving over the death of their 20-year-old son at the hands of a suicide bomber.

This week, as Fink leads members of Temple Oheb Shalom in celebration of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, he will invoke the memory of Sgt. Omri Goldin, a young soldier and punk rocker who shared his father's vision of a land where Israelis and Arabs live together in peace. He was from a small village near Baltimore's sister city of Karmiel in the northern region of Galilee.

At Rosh Hashana, which begins at sundown today, rabbis typically focus their sermons on themes of personal introspection and rallying around Israel - the latter theme of particular urgency as more and more Israelis feel besieged and hopeless amid the constant threat of Palestinian violence.

But Fink will tell his Reform congregation in Northwest Baltimore (whose name means "Lover of Peace" in Hebrew) how Omri's father, Amiram Goldin, plans to carry on his work promoting Arab-Israeli coexistence.

"Here, his son, who accepted his father's ideals as his own, falls victim to a suicide bomber. His death is tragic irony," said Fink, who visited the Goldin family as part of an Israel tour led by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

"He refuses to give up on his ideals, despite his son's murder," Fink said.

But in the course of his visit to Israel, Fink said, Goldin's was the only voice that he heard expressing any hope for peace.

For Fink, 51, who has led the 149-year-old temple on Park Heights Avenue for three years, the Goldins' story personifies the tragedy of an uprising that threatens the survival of Israel and compels solidarity by Jewish communities worldwide.

"Israel is in a very precarious position," he said. "Its future hangs in the balance."

Goldin was one of nine people killed Aug. 4 when a suicide bomber boarded the No. 361 bus bound for Safed, a 30-minute ride, on a brilliant Sunday morning. The young man had been home for the Sabbath and was sitting next to his girlfriend, a soldier at the same base who lives in the same settlement, when the bomb exploded. She told Goldin's family they'd felt fortunate to find two seats together on the usually crowded bus, and had just fallen asleep.

"They went to sleep and [he] didn't wake up," said Amiram Goldin in an interview yesterday at his home in Mitzpe Aviv, a hilltop town of white stucco villas with breathtaking views that is surrounded by Arab villages.

Omri Goldin, a tall, thin young man with the close-cropped haircut of the Israeli army, had finished about half of his three-year military commitment. At the same time, he was lead singer in a punk rock band that regularly played clubs in Tel Aviv and released its first CD three months ago. He wrote songs packed with social commentary that paint a bleak picture of the violent reality in Israel.

Fink, in his sermon tomorrow morning, will recite some of Omri Goldin's lyrics, which he called "disturbing," but which indicate "a young man's prophecy for the future:"

Burnt bodies lie everywhere

The fire has taken control of the masses

The streets are abandoned; there is fear in every corner

The day the State was destroyed.

Despite the pessimism of his lyrics, those who knew Omri Goldin say he shared his father's passion for improving relations with Arab-Israelis. Amiram Goldin said his son used such songs to promote peaceful coexistence. In the last two months of the young man's life, he began taking lessons in Arabic with his father to better communicate with neighbors.

Amiram Goldin's involvement with Arab-Israelis began about two years ago. He had moved to the region from a town near Tel Aviv two years before, after a career as a military officer and then a municipal worker.

Amiram Goldin was deeply disturbed by rioting in Israel's Arab communities at the start of the Palestinian uprising and the fatal shootings of 13 Arab-Israelis by Israeli police. Soon after, he dedicated himself to working with his Arab neighbors, a decidedly minority view in a country where most Israelis believe the dream of peaceful coexistence has long vanished. For the past two years, Goldin has been project manager of an industrial park that is an Arab-Israeli joint venture.

"I think this is our future. If we won't work together and share equal opportunities, our situation will be ruined," he said as he sipped coffee on his patio. At one point, the interview was interrupted by a call from a leader in the Arab-Israeli community, wishing him a happy new year.

"If we want to stay here, we can't fight each other. If we become more and more rich and they become more and more poor, the circle will collapse," Goldin said.

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