By Rabbi Amy Schwartzman
Are you conflicted about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? You are not alone.
Most American Jews who bring both a deep commitment to our homeland and a social justice lens to our tradition, have strong emotions about Israel that ebb and flow in response to politics and policies as well as times of crisis and violence.
The events of last spring that led to rockets and bombings and protests left me more anxious, more conflicted, more confused and in search of others who shared my distress.
In my view, caring about Israel does not require us to accept everything it does. This past spring, watching the war in Gaza, I joined many who believe that demanding social justice from our Jewish state is not only within the bounds of our tradition but critical to our future.
Of great concern is that for some American Jews, especially younger people, this challenge is causing their connection to Israel to fray. We see their commitment waning. They are less willing to invest emotional and spiritual energy defending not only the state of Israel, but also the legitimacy of a Jewish homeland. Perhaps they have focused so much on Israel as a cause that they have lost touch with it as a land that lives and breathes the Jewish story and a nation of people who deserve to live safe, normal lives.
Like many others, I am troubled by the functional inequities that exist between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. I am troubled by the occupation that has lasted more than 50 years and its resultant injustices and tragic suffering, which Israel bears a share of responsibility.
I hold my truths of connection and struggle simultaneously. My conflicting emotions do not override my commitment and devotion to our Israel. As I and we engage in this tension, I pray we will be moved to act and work to help an Israel re-emerge as a political and spiritual entity that is closer to our hopes and dreams.
The push-pull that I feel is mirrored in my beloved congregation, Temple Rodef Shalom.
A few years ago, a distinguished congregant who has relationships with both Israelis and Palestinians realized that we might be able to help bridge the divide with a genuine colloquy. He proposed that we dive into the issue with a major event that would look at the issue in a profoundly different way — bottom up and top down. Not standard political rhetoric, but on-the-street attitudes and opinions coupled with peace-seeking organizations and experts.
It sounded intriguing, but could we do it? We are a large, suburban congregation with an active volunteer base, but could we afford it, staff it and attract the right speakers? Could we get everyday Israelis and Palestinians to participate? And would top-level experts agree to speak at a forum that wasn’t their usual venue?
Bit by bit, we put together “The Israeli-Palestinian Dilemma: Moving Beyond Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong”, a three-part series this month on Sundays Oct. 17, 24 and 31. It’s being offered online and limited in-person attendance for a fee. The Union for Reform Judaism and ARZA are partnering with us and we have the endorsement of the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
Our hope is that we can do our part to:
Broaden an understanding of the historical narrative that motivates both sides.
Hear stories from people living in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank caught in a generations-long struggle.
Learn from leading experts in the field.
Participate in cultural presentations and hear from organizations that are bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in meaningful ways.
We know that we alone can’t magically change the present dynamic. But we think we can provide a constructive beginning.
Israel is burdened and beautiful. It is scrappy and smart. It is messy and messianic. It is a place of possibility and pain. It contains our history and our hope. It will take determination by us all to move from the Israel-that-is to the Israel-about-which-we-dream.
Please consider joining us.
Rabbi Amy Schwartzman is senior rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church.