"We cannot make peace without the military, but ultimately the responsibility for peace will lie outside the military,'' says a man comfortable in both a yarmulke and Navy uniform.
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 29, 2001
For a rabbi and retired U.S. Navy officer, it has not been unheard of for Arnold E. Resnicoff to be quizzed about the seeming contradictions of his two vocations.
"I am someone who dreams of peace and believes in peace," he said during a recent interview.
"It is important to say that you can pursue peace without being a pacifist in the same way you can believe that you need a military without being militaristic. I think both extremes are to be avoided. Sometimes force is necessary. It is the lesser of two evils."
Resnicoff, 55, the new national director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, an organization whose mission includes strengthening the basic principles of pluralism around the world, recently retired from the Navy as a chaplain for the U.S. European Command in Europe, most of Africa and parts of the Mideast.
Recently he visited the Tampa Bay area to prepare for the annual two-day conference of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies that will be held at Saint Leo University in March. During his visit, he talked about his new job.
"I think that one of my goals is to help the Jewish community understand the concerns, sensitivities and dreams of those of other faiths and to help those of other faiths understand the concerns, sensitivities and dreams of the Jewish community. It's a two-way street. I think that we all need to begin dialogue by listening."
In a wide-ranging interview, Resnicoff, whose Navy career included 28 years of active duty, talked about terrorism, religious tolerance, escalating violence in Israel, peace and war.
"I once spoke to a group of students at Union Theological Seminary who asked me, weren't I a little bit uncomfortable having these dreams of peace and wearing the uniform?" he recalled.
"It's not only true that I am a bit uncomfortable," he answered, "but if I do my job well, I would help everyone in uniform to be a bit uncomfortable. All of us should hope that the time will come when we won't need a military any longer."
Resnicoff said one of his favorite quotes is from Woody Allen, who said, "The lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb wouldn't get any sleep."
"I think that we must continue to believe that the time will come when the lion and lamb will lie down together, if that is a symbol that there will be no more violence," Resnicoff said.
"But we have to understand that we have not arrived at that point yet and that if we don't understand that there are still lions out there, we will end up sacrificing a lot of lambs. . . For me, war is always the lesser of two evils. We cannot make peace without the military, but ultimately the responsibility for peace will lie outside the military."
That is where religious leaders come in, Resnicoff said, adding that it is their duty to work toward conflict resolution and reconciliation.
"According to Jewish tradition, there is within each person not just a potential but a thirst and yearning both for good and evil. The role of our faith is to strengthen the yearning for good and to harness the temptation to do evil," he said.
The former Navy chaplain said it is important that Americans distinguish between moral outrage at the Sept. 11 attacks and pure rage, which is an emotional reaction that causes people to lose control of their actions.
"It's not only our lives that are under attack, such as by the terrorists, but our values," said Resnicoff, one of the Vietnam veterans who worked to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and who delivered the closing prayer at its 1982 dedication.
He said that perhaps the trouble in Israel, a land revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, is part of God's plan. If eventually there is peace in Israel, people might begin to believe "we can do it anywhere," he said.
"The worst comment to me is that people say, "It's hopeless. Things can never change,' "
Resnicoff's commitment to interfaith dialogue is not new. He held the first interfaith service at the Western Wall, Judaism's most sacred place, in 1983.
In the weeks since the Sept. 11 attacks, the rabbi said, "I've sat down with many Muslim leaders who are in pain themselves because of what has been done in the name of their faith."
Americans must "distinguish between the actions and the religion of those who commit those actions," he said.
Resnicoff, who was in Beirut in the early 1980s, added: "We Americans had the only interfaith foxholes in the whole Middle East. If the world had more interfaith foxholes, maybe we wouldn't have so many foxholes to start with.
"I really do think that that's an image we must embrace as Americans. We need to understand that we share a foxhole against the brutality, terror and evil that threaten good people of all faiths."