[URJBiennial] Innocence Project and Rabbi Eugene Borowitz
[URJBiennial] The Crisis in Darfur

[URJBiennial] Madeline Albright

Right after shacharit (I went to the all-Hebrew one again; not remarkable, but pleasant enough) I followed everyone else into the George Bush Grand Ballroom for the morning's first big talk, by Madeline Albright. Before she came on stage, Helen Waranch, president of Women of Reform Judaism, opened by speaking briefly about the WRJ Biennial that's been happening concurrently with ours in the Hyatt hotel nearby.

(There are three sub-conventions or mini-conventions happening this week besides the big one: one held by Kesher, the Reform analog to Hillel, e.g. the association for college-age Reform Jews; one held by the National Federation of Temple Youth, for high-school students; and one held by WRJ, the organization formerly known as the Association of Temple Sisterhoods.)

Anyway. The president of WRJ welcomed us, and Rabbi Jerome Davidson introduced the speaker, and then both of them ceded the stage to the former secretary of state.

Madeleine Albright

[Excerpts from her remarks]

"It requires a depth of thought to disentangle the just from the unjust, for the two are so often mixed together, and even the best intentions don't always lead to good results...Doing what is just reflects from us both a challenge from God, and a requirement that we live up to the principles and ideas of a democratic nation."

[She's writing a book called The Mighty and the Almighty, about religion and justice]. "It's not a book I ever expected to write, but I suppose I'm entitled; I was born Catholic, married an Episcopalian, and then found I was Jewish!"

"It's hard enough to solve a dispute over land or resources; it may become impossible when one side or the other is arguing not on the basis of political interests but...because they believe they have a special pipeline to God. But after 9/11 I realized that... religion simply cannot be kept out of politics. This makes some Americans nervous because we believe in separation of Church and State, but...we can't separate religion from public life. Religion shapes our views of history...it can create indelible bonds among those who share religious life, and equally strong disdain among those who don't share that religious belief."

[The challenge of pluralism, and fighting between proponents of different religions, is nothing new; what's new is how we fight with one another and how devastating our interreligious struggles can now be.] "It's easy to blame religion for the world's troubles. It's also easy to take for granted the heroic contributions that people of faith make, and have always made, to justice, healing and peace. I shudder to think what our culture might be like if not for people like Hillel and Augustine, Rabbi Heschel and Rev. Martin Luther King. Religion is not the problem. The problem is our incessant failure, as human beings, to keep pride in us from curdling into hatred of them."

"For all the differences of doctrine, there is at the core of every major religion a commitment to justice and peace... If decency is to prevail in the world, we must destroy the illusion that persists among too many people that terrorism can be justified."

"Terrorism is always wrong, just as genocide, apartheid, and slavery are always wrong...We must oppose terror on every front because it is in our interest to do so and because it is right. But we must also ask ourselves how best to do this, and here is where I must respectfully urge caution."[We're used to hearing the struggle with terror framed as a war on evil. Our lives would be easier if this were true, but the metaphor is flawed -- we're not always good or innocent, our motives can be impure, etc. But 'a war between evil and pretty good,' or 'between evil and as-good-as-we-can-manage,' doesn't have the same ring to it.]

"[A just set of policies] would do everything we can to prevent genocide, and that means now, in Sudan. And it would oppose the use of torture, not only when that is easy, but when out of anger or fear we are most tempted to commit and condone that abuse. A policy that respects the individual would place a high priority on helping our fellow human beings."

"It matters whether people in troubled societies have hope, and whether they believe America is on their side...We still rank next to last among industrialized nations in the proportion of our wealth that we share with the poor...We shout from the rooftops that we oppose terror, but don't we recognize that this is only thge starting point of what we must do? Terrorism is not the world's only evil, and extremists are not the only ones who confuse what is profoundly wrong with something else. If we truly care about human life, not only in our own land...we must see that many of the world's people are threatened every day by an axis of evil consisting of poverty, ignorance, and disease. And that these evils cause far more avoidable deaths than terror, and are at the root of far more desperation and loss of hope."

"We have an obligation to make the case that the disparity in the world today between the people of plenty and the plenty of people without hope is fully and fundamentally wrong."

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