Were Ehud Olmert and Mahmud Abbas on the Verge of Peace in 2007?

For years, disgraced former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has claimed that in 36 secret negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in 2007, they were within several months of concluding an agreement that would have resolved all issues in an end-of-conflict two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. However, at the same time that he was negotiating with Abbas, Olmert was being investigated aggressively for corruption by his former right-wing political allies because, Olmert claims, he was on the verge of striking a deal with Abbas.

Is this true?

Raviv Drucker, an Israeli journalist, political commentator and investigative reporter, aired on Israeli television Channel 10 recently a film he called “The Secrets of the Peace Talks.” There both President Abbas and former PM Olmert agreed that they were very very close to a peace deal that would have settled all claims.

TLV1’s The Promised Podcast’s Noah Efron, Don Futterman and Allison Kaplan Sommer discussed Raviv’s film’s revelations in their segment this week called “Did Peace Slip Through Our Fingers?” (the segment begins at 13 minutes 15 seconds and continues to 28 minutes).

This is an important story that might give pause to pro-Israel skeptics that there really never was a peace partner for Israel among the Palestinians, for the film reveals how close Olmert and Abbas really were, how much Olmert was willing to give, how well they worked together, and Olmert’s plan to bring the agreement before the UN Security Council for approval and then to Israeli and Palestinian populations for their respective approval of the deal. But, everything fell apart when Olmert was forced to resign. Then Benjamin Netanyahu became Prime Minister and he promised to disregard any agreement Olmert had made with Abbas.

The three TLV1 journalists wonder whether peace slipped through their fingers or whether there ever was a realistic chance for an agreement had Olmert remained in office.

Skeptics need to hear this story. One of the take-aways is that leadership matters and perhaps, in Olmert, we had such a leader.

On Gratitude

Tennessee Williams put it exactly right: “You know we live in light and shadow. That’s what we live in – a world of light and shadow; and it’s confusing.” (Orpheus Descending)

No life is simple, but along comes Thanksgiving and tradition compels us to emphasize gratitude regardless of our circumstances, how we may feel and conditions in the world.

For some, gratitude comes easily. For others gratefulness is challenging. Nurturing gratitude, however, is one of our most effective means to dispel the “shadow” and lift us towards the “light.”

Here are a number of reflections from Jewish tradition and world literature that offer us perspective, insight, wisdom, and hope.

“Hodu l’Adonai ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo – Give thanks to God, for Adonai is good…God’s steadfast love is eternal.” –  Psalm 136 (9th century, B.C.E.)

“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” – Native American Prayer, Tecumseh Tribe

“How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

“Ingratitude to a human being is ingratitude to God.” – Rabbi Samuel Hanagid (993-1056 CE)

“What have you done for me lately is the ingrate’s question.” – Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

“If you cannot be grateful for what you have received, then be thankful for what you have been spared.” – Yiddish proverb

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward, American scholar, author, pastor and teacher (1921-1997)

“Gratitude, not understanding, is the secret to joy and equanimity.” – Anne Lamott, writer (b. 1954)

“Thank everyone who calls out your faults, your anger, your impatience, your egotism; do this consciously, voluntarily.” – Jean Toomer, poet and novelist (1894-1967)

“We should write an elegy for every day that has slipped through our lives unnoticed and unappreciated. Better still, we should write a song of thanksgiving for all the days that remain.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach, author (b 1948)

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero, Roman philosopher (106 BC – 43 BC)

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart, German theologian, philosopher (1260-1328)

“When I started counting my blessings my whole life turned around.” – Willie Nelson

“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude.” – Thorton Wilder

“I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.” – William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

What We Need to Hear from our Political Leaders

Much has been written about the politics of fear that has overtaken much of the country since the Paris ISIS attacks and specifically about the House of Representatives vote that would require additional stringent checks on 10,000 Syrian refugees who yearn for safe haven in the United States, even though this group of refugees already is the most vetted and reviewed population of migrants to come into the country.

In the last week we have heard rhetoric stoking the fears of many Americans who are worried that terrorists may slip into the country despite the already stringent reviews of asylum seekers. We have heard some of our political leaders play to racist and Islamophobic feelings directed at Syrian refugees specifically, immigrants generally and the Muslim and Arab communities of the United States as a whole (e.g. Jeb Bush said he would only support the entrance of Christian Syrians; Donald Trump said that all American Muslim citizens should be registered; Chris Christie said that if necessary even Syrian toddler orphans should be excluded from the US; Ted Cruz and Ben Carson have also made equally offensive statements).

In a House vote of 289-137, a new bill drawn hastily after the ISIS Paris attacks will require new FBI background checks and individual sign-offs from three high-ranking U.S. officials before any refugee can come to the U.S. from Iraq or Syria, essentially preventing the entrance of any of the remaining 10,000 Syrian refugees that still need to be admitted under the protection of political asylum. Every Republican representative voted in favor as did 47 Democrats. The new House Speaker Paul Ryan, using the language of reason, said this is simply a matter of “common sense” to protect Americans.

To the contrary, the motivations of those who voted for this bill and more than a third of the nation’s Governors who said that they would not admit Syrian Refugees into their states, isn’t about common sense – it’s about fear.

It isn’t the first time that American political leaders have played effectively to the xenophobic darkness in the human psyche. During World War II, President Roosevelt, the man who told America after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (“We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”) issued Executive Order 9066 that interned 120,000 Japanese Americans, of whom 62% were loyal American citizens, in concentration camps on the West Coast.

Rabbi Fred Guttman of North Carolina, wrote last week on the Reform Judaism website: “What we need from politicians now is not certainty but assurance, not rectitude but sympathetic concern. We need politicians who are willing to say, ‘I understand your fear, but….”  [We need our politicians to explain loudly and clearly that] “the U.S. has an extensive process for vetting refugees who desire to come to the United States.”

Further, we need our political leaders to remind the American people of the terrible cost of human suffering in the five-year Syrian civil war, that four million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Europe, that eight million people have been internally displaced, that 200,000 have been killed and countless more injured.

Our political leaders need to remind the American people that we are a nation of immigrants ourselves, that ALL OF US come from someplace else, that so many of us, like the Syrian refugees today, were “the tired and the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as the Zionist poet Emma Lazarus wrote that grace the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor.

Our leaders need to say loudly and clearly that it is un-American to reject those legitimately seeking political asylum here.

After the bill came to the floor of Congress, 81 organizations opposed it including the Union for Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the National Council of Jewish Women, J Street, and Ameinu, as did Christian World Relief, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the Church World Service. The religious community of America, by and large, has affirmed what are supposed to be the higher angels of our spirit as a nation, and those who claim to be religious and have succumbed to xenophobic fears and prejudice, ought to take note.

Among the most challenging of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Hebrew Bible is to “welcome the stranger” with compassion, empathy and human kindness. Thirty-six times does this mitzvah appear in our sacred scripture, according to the rabbis, signifying how difficult it is for us to be able to regard the “other” as like us, created b’tzelem Elohim – in the Divine image.

All three of the great monotheistic faiths demand that we do so, but sadly, too many of our political leaders are failing not only their own religious principles, but our American principles as well.

In this spirit, if you agree with me, I urge you to write or call your Congressional Representative and Senators and either thank them for voting against this bill, or tell them how disappointed you are that they supported it.

Jacob’s Dream and His Emergence into a Man of Faith

Jacob’s destiny was set from birth and would come at a price. As his mother Rebekah’s troubled twin pregnancy came to an end and the babies were born, Jacob holding Esau’s heel suggesting a strong pre-natal desire to be born first and become the future leader of the tribe. In a clever commentary, Rashi (11th century, France) says that the scene reflects a primogeniture truth, that Jacob was actually conceived first, though he came out second, much as a pebble dropped into a tube first will come out second when the tube is inverted.

Despite being second-born, tradition asserts that Jacob’s spiritual potential merited his assuming first-born rights, and it also suggests that Rebecca knew that Esau, a hunter, lacked the requisite sensitivity, gentility, vision, and prophetic capacity to lead the tribe, whereas Jacob possessed all those virtues.

Jacob’s dream event that opens this week’s portion Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-22) signals the beginning of a new stage in Jacob’s life. He had just fled in fear from an enraged Esau, was alone in the mountains, unsure of himself and exhausted. He fell asleep and dreamed of ladders and angels.

This dream sequence is filled with powerful religious imagery, suggestion and mythic archetypes. The stones Jacob placed under his head are symbolic of what Carl Jung called the Ego, the limited “I” of Jacob, a man still unaware of the implicate order linking the material and metaphysical worlds. The top of the ladder represents what Jung called the integrated Self which unifies the conscious and unconscious into a non-dualistic cosmos.

When Jacob went to sleep using stones as a kind of pillow, we suspect that something unusual is about to happen, that he is on the cusp of new self-consciousness. Lo and behold, he sees angels ascending (representing his yearning for something greater than himself) and angels descending (representing God’s outreach towards him), Rabbi Heschel’s idea of God’s pathos and the Prophet’s empathy.

When Jacob awoke from the dream and opened his eyes, he was astonished: “Surely God is in this place, va’anochi lo yadati, and I did not know it! … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and this is the gateway to heaven.” (28:16-17)

The beginning of any religious experience requires us to understand that we know nothing at all. In Hebrew “I” is ani (anochi is a variant form), and when we rearrange the letters – aleph, nun, yod – we spell ain, (meaning “nothing”). The religious person must transform the “I” of the  ego into a great Self in which the individual becomes part of God’s Oneness. Jacob’s sudden awareness results in his newfound humility and is a prerequisite to the development of his faith.

Despite the spiritual potency of this experience, Jacob remains unaware (i.e. he lacks access to his full unconscious – that is, the integrated Jungian Self) and his faith is conditional. He says, “If God remains with me, if God protects me…, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe … the Eternal shall be my God.” (28:20-21)

One of the consistent themes throughout the Genesis narratives is that in order for Biblical figures to grow in faith they had to suffer trials. As a protected child of his mother, Jacob had been pampered. However, in being forced to flee for his life from the brother he wronged, Jacob became aware of the shadow (Jung’s term denoting that part of the unconscious consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings and instincts) in which he lived and which would envelop him for the next twenty years. Then he met a being divine and human at the river Jabbok and emerged with a new name, Yisrael – the one who perseveres with God.

From Jacob’s birth to next week’s encounter at the river we witness the patriarch’s evolution from the unconsciousness of his childhood to greater awareness, from a self-centered trickster to the bearer of the covenant. As he progressed he learned to view the world through the eyes of faith as he stood at heaven’s gate.

Shabbat Shalom!

Note: This is an edited version of my 2011 blog.

A 400 Year-old Reflection about Paris – John Donne


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“…all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; …

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

MEDITATION XVII. Donne, John (1572-1631). From The Works of John Donne. vol III. Henry Alford, ed. London: John W. Parker, 1839. Pages 574-5.

Note: I have not changed the original English nor adjusted the gender exclusivity of John Donne’s original.

The Paris Tragedy – Religious Liberty in Israel – The Troubled Obama-Netanyahu Marriage


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I recommend the following three important articles published this past week, all of which add insight in these troubled times.

  1. Five Lessons From the Paris Tragedy Times of Israel and the Algemeiner – David Harris of the AJC important lessons from the terrorist attack on France this past week.https://www.algemeiner.com/2015/11/15/five-lessons-from-the-paris-tragedy/
  1. Netanyahu, Don’t Surrender to ultra-Orthodox Ultimatums Haaretz‎ – Rabbi Eric Yoffie challenges PM Netanyahu to stand his ground before Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Rabbis regarding religious equality and diversity in the state of Israel. http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.685825
  1. Scenes From a Marriage, Huffington Post –Amir Tibon and Tal Shalev offer an in-depth dissection of the difficult relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/bibi-obama/

Is a One-State Solution Completely Implausible?


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Daniel Polisar, the Provost of the right-leaning Shalem College in Jerusalem, just published a report titled “What do the Palestinians Want?” (link below) in which he reviews Palestinian attitudes about Israel and Jews.

Israeli polls show the mirror image of Israeli Jewish attitudes about Palestinians.

Meta-surveys suggest that Palestinians don’t think highly of Israelis and Jews, and Israeli Jews don’t have much sympathy for Palestinians.

Alarmed by the Polisar report, I sent it to Noah Efron, the host of TLV1’s “The Promised Podcast” based in Tel Aviv, and suggested that they discuss it on a segment. They obliged, and Noah and his colleagues, Dan Futterman, the head of the Moriah Fund, and Bradley Burston, an Haaretz Journalist (and incidentally, an old friend from my college years at UC Berkeley) addressed the issue in today’s (November 12) broadcast.

They discussed, among other things, the agenda of the author of the report, the credibility of the figures, the meaning of the surveys, and what political implications they might augur for the future.

They wondered aloud about the three possibilities facing Israel and the Palestinians  – a two-states for two peoples solution (Is it possible?); a single-state for two peoples (Is it implausible?); and the status-quo (Is it sustainable?)

It ought to be kept in mind as you read and listen that Israelis and Palestinians have lived in stressful times ever since the Rabin assassination twenty years ago. Polls taken during times of violence and heightened anxiety are likely to measure more extreme attitudes than might be the case during more peaceful times. Additionally, the vast majority of the Palestinian population and much of the Israeli Jewish population are under the age of 25 years, and thus have never known times of quiet and peace, so the possibility of co-existence is foreign.

Both Polisar’s article and “The Promised Podcast” are worthy of our attention.

What Do Palestinians Want? — mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2015/11/what-do-palestinians-want/

The Promised Podcast — “They Really Don’t Like Us!” Edition – (this segment begins at 14 minutes into the Podcast) – http://tlv1.fm/full-show/2015/11/12/the-they-really-dont-like-us-edition/?utm_source=A+View+from+Moriah+Newsletter&utm_campaign=e4f659d8ab-Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5acf0b619c-e4f659d8ab-92533981

Sarah Zoabi – A Brave Israeli-Arab and Proud Zionist Speaks Out in Support of Israel


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These two videos of Sarah Zoabi, an Israeli-Arab citizen from Nazareth, are eloquent expressions of her Arab-Israeli-Zionist identity, by which she means that the Jewish people have a right to a state of their own. They are extraordinary examples of courage in speaking out as an Arab-Israeli in an environment in which she, like her son Mohammed who has done as she has done, will likely receive death threats. Sarah believes that for an Arab to live as a citizen in the state of Israel is “paradise.”

She explains that Israeli Arab citizens enjoy freedoms in the democratic state of Israel that do not exist in any other Arab country ruled by dictators. She acknowledges, as well, that Israeli society is not perfect explaining that “perfect countries exist in theory and not reality.”

Sarah calls upon all Israeli minorities to join together and publicly express their support for their democratic state of Israel.

Kol hakavod to you, Sarah. The Jewish people needs more people like you to speak out.



Should Israel Split Itself in Half? A Thought Experiment


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TLV1’s “The Promised” broadcast reported last week that Eran Tashiv, the head of the program for national security and economy at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (IINSS), imagined just such a scenario recently in a Haaretz column which he wrote as a kind of thought experiment, describing what would happen should two different Jewish states be organized along contrasting religious and national lines. Each smaller state, he opined, might be content with itself and even happier after a divorce from the other half. His thought experiment begs the central question – would splitting Israel in two be better or worse for the Jewish people than what we have today? (see http://tlv1.fm/the-promised-podcast/2015/11/07/partition-ambition/)

Tashiv suggests that one Jewish state might be called “Judaea” and include the Jerusalem area going south, the West Bank settlements, and the cities of Ashdod, Beersheva and Ashkelon. Its population would number approximately 3.4 million people and include all the occupied West Bank Palestinians.

The other Jewish state might be called “Dan” and include Tel Aviv going north, Haifa, the Jezreel Valley, the Sea of Galilee, Rishon L’Tziyon, and Petach Tikvah, and  total 4.9 million people including Israeli Arab citizens in the Galilee and elsewhere who have been loyal citizens of the state of Israel since 1948.

“Judaea” would end up being primarily a right-wing ultra-orthodox state governed, most likely, according to halachah (traditional Jewish law), a Jewish version of Iran and Turkey. The occupation of the West Bank, with its 2 million hostile Palestinians, would become the responsibility of “Judaea.”

“Dan,” however, would include Israel’s cultural, political and secular middle and left-wing and likely would remain a social democracy. “Dan” would produce, based on current demographic, educational and economic conditions, twice the GNP of “Judaea.”

In effect, there would be one state (“Dan”) that is secular, liberal, modern, and economically thriving living alongside another state (“Judaea”) that is ultra-Orthodox, halachic, nationalist, and poor.

This splitting of the state of Israel in half, of course, will never happen because the IDF, the West Bank occupation, the thriving economy of the “Dan” sector, and classic Zionist ideology won’t allow it.

The cultural, religious and political divisions embodied in these two states of “Dan” and “Judaea” are, of course, not clean. There are both economically successful western-oriented Mizrachim (aligned most naturally with the ideology of “Judaea”) and successful Ashkenazim who would be citizens in “Judaea,” just as economically struggling secular Ashkenazim (aligned most naturally with the ideology of “Dan”) would share life with below the poverty level ultra-Orthodox citizens in “Dan.”

It is ironic that PM Netanyahu, who set the conditions for the thriving hi-tech economy when he served as Finance Minister during the Ariel Sharon era, and Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party that represents religious nationalists and the settler movement and who is himself a successful hi-tech entrepreneur, are two of the principle leaders of the current government and would be the leaders of the right-wing nationalist halachic state of “Judaea.” It ought to be noted, as well, that the policies of then Finance Minister Netanyahu are responsible for the widening economic gap between the wealthy and poor of Israel and the diminishing and struggling Israeli middle class.

In “The Promised” broadcast, Times of Israel journalist Miriam Herschlag suggested that this discussion about creating two Jewish states is taking place especially now because we Jews are testing the boundaries of what constitutes our “family” and we are wondering what to do with those fellow Jews about whom we feel we can no longer be engaged and with whom we are constantly quarreling about the meaning of Jewish and Israeli identity. We wonder if there is some end-point on our people’s emotional map where at last we say: “No – we’re too far apart ethically, religiously, nationally, and politically, and our differences require us to separate and get a divorce!”

Many Israelis from across the political, national and religious spectrum might welcome a separation because they feel that increasingly someone else is taking over their country and that Israeli culture is moving either too far to the ideological left or ideological right.

Don Futterman, the head of the Moriah Fund and a regular participant on the “The Promised” broadcast, pointed to another serious and consequential fault-line in Israeli society that exacerbates current tensions. He noted that Israel’s economic stability and success has become overly dependent upon certain sectors, leaving the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities (especially under-employed Arab women) behind. Both sectors need to be integrated more fully into the Israeli work force in order to move their families out of poverty and enhance Israel’s national security.

Splitting Israel in half is neither possible nor desirable because it would mean our giving up on the Zionist dream of the Jewish people united in a Jewish, diverse, pluralistic and democratic state.

The truth is that we are stuck with each other whether we like it or not, and we better learn to live together or the Zionist experiment will end up on the trash heap of Jewish history.

A Weeping Isaac Alone in the Field – A Paradigm for Our Times


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Chayei Sarah is a monumental Torah portion in the Book of Genesis (23:1-25:18) that establishes Hevron as one of our people’s holiest cities in the land of Israel and tells the story of the betrothal of Isaac and Rebekah. Thus, for the first time in Jewish history we witness the passing of the baton of history from one generation to the next.

We, the current generation, however, have yet to fulfill our Jewish destiny. Hevron today is a hot spot of Palestinian and Jewish rage, of extremism and violence, of polarization and hate. Until there is peace (shalom) between the tribes of Israel and shalom/salem (not hudna – i.e. “quiet”) between Israel and the Palestinians, we will not have fulfilled our raison d’etre as a people to be rod’fei shalom, pursuers of peace.

The current violence cannot be the way forward, nor can suspicion, distrust and hatred of the “other” define the character of our people’s and the Palestinian people’s hearts and souls.

I offer a poetic midrash on Isaac’s and Rebekah’s encounter leading to their marriage. I love this story because their meeting is pure and sweet, and it suggests a paradigm of what is possible not only between individuals, but between the tribes that comprise the Jewish people today (e.g. Haredi, Orthodox, Mizrachi, Ashkenazi, Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, secular, atheist, liberal and right-wing Zionists, American, Israeli, European, Latin, etc.), and the peoples of the Middle East who know far too much polarization, suspicion, distrust, and hatred of each other.

A Weeping Isaac Alone in the Field

To be alone amidst shifting wheat / And rocks and sun / Beneath stirred-up clouds / And singing angels / Audible only by the wind.

I’ve secluded myself / As my father did / When he went out / Alone leaving all he knew / For a place he’d never been / That God would show him.

I can do nothing else / Because Father broke my heart / And crushed my soul / When he betrayed me / By stealing me away one morning / Before my mother awoke / And nearly offered me to his God.

When my mother learned / Her soul passed from the world.

O how she loved me! / And filled me up / With laughter, love and tears.

Bereft now / I’m desolate in this world / And this field.

O Compassionate One – Do You hear me / From this arid place / Filled with snakes and beasts, hatred and vengeance?

I sit here needing YOU.

As if in response, / Suddenly from afar / Appears a caravan / Of people and camels, / Led by Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, / With a young girl.

Isaac, burdened by grief / Neither looks nor sees.

He sits still / Lasuach basadeh / Meditating / And weeping / Beneath the afternoon sun / And swirling clouds / And singing angels / Whom he cannot hear.

Rebekah asks: / ‘Who is that man crying alone in the field?’

Eliezer says: / ‘He is my master Isaac, / Your intended one, / Whose seed you will carry / Into the future.’

“Vatipol min hagamal – And she fell from her camel” / Shocked and afraid / Onto the hard ground / Yearning.

She veiled her face / Bowed her head / And Rebekah and Isaac entered / Sarah’s tent, / And she comforted him.


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