by Rabbi Michael Schwab
I feel honored and privileged to live in a time when there is a thriving State of Israel. Israel is a blessing to Jews and the world for so many reasons. It is the country that contains our historic homeland and the religious and ancestral sites of our people. Israel is a place in which the national culture can flow by the Jewish calendar and naturally celebrates Judaism’s incredible heritage. Israel is a center for the proliferation of Jewish scholarship, art, literature and religious innovation. Israel is a safe haven and protector for Jews spread all over the Diaspora. Israel is a place we can visit to reconnect with our own personal Jewish identities and to deepen our Jewish journeys. Israel is a place where millions of our brothers and sisters call home. Israel is a country that supports the same liberal freedoms that the United States was founded upon: democracy, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Israel is proudly an incubator for so many scientific and medical advances, punching far above its weight class, which they share with the rest of the world. Israel is a beloved place that our Jewish community should treasure.
I know that right now, in particular, and throughout its entire history, some actions of the governments of Israel have been the subject of heated debate. This piece is not intended to weigh in on the merits of any particular arguments about any of Israel’s government’s choices. I also firmly believe that it is absolutely clear that the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza is very real and that impactful solutions regarding the issue of Palestinian sovereignty urgently need to be reached. Further, it is also a fact that we all have different perspectives on what solutions are best, and we each have rationales for why we believe what we believe.
Therefore, my ask today is threefold:
1) Let us all acknowledge that the situation is complicated. Slogans, tweets and Instagram posts are not going to help us communicate or progress. They make those who agree with us feel good but do not meaningfully engage anyone who may differ in opinion. In fact, they may have the opposite effect. As every diplomat I have ever spoken to has told me, real dialogue and a willingness to listen to the other’s narrative is the only way progress will be made. Violence will beget violence and hatred will lead to further hatred. We may not like what we hear, but we need to speak to each other in civil language and truly listen to one another’s perspective. Agreeing to listen is not agreement to concur. We should respectfully challenge when we disagree, but we should listen and do our best to understand. Being able to hold such dialogue that does not lead to hatred is a value in and of itself.
2) Whatever you think about the current situation in Israel, do not let yourself fall into the trap of questioning Israel’s legitimacy or Israel’s incredible value to the world. There is much work to be done inside of Israel, inside of the Palestinian territories and inside the region as a whole. However, our people have an ethical, legal and historical right to a homeland in Israel and Israel has a legitimate place amongst the world of nations, like any other country, that was granted to her in 1947 by the UN.
3) Let us do whatever we can to not let our feelings about Israel’s policies divide us at our core. We need to continue to be one people and to be ohavei yisrael – lovers of our fellow Jews. Extremists aside, we need to be able to advocate for what we think is right and foundational to our values without consigning those who disagree to the status of “other”. There are those out there claiming that our people are destined to be divided into Zionists and Anti-Zionists. I cannot accept this prognostication and will continue to work towards a more sophisticated understanding of Jewish community that allows us to oppose one another around significant issues while still understanding one another as Jews and part of the same family.
I am a Zionist. I love Israel and will work to support her continued vitality and safety. I stand with her during challenging times and celebrate her many successes. I pray for wisdom for all of the leaders in the region, I pray for the safety of all the inhabitants in the region, and I pray that a lasting peace can be created between Israel, the Palestinians and all of their neighbors. I also pray that we continue to work towards our vision of being Am Echad, one people, who can continue to stand together as we, and the rest of the world, face so many difficult challenges. Am Yisrael Chai!