I've found, as a rabbi in a progressive American Jewish community, that our willingness to see the humanity in the face of "the other" far surpasses our historical willingness to see our own family's faces in the same way.
It's an interesting dilemma. Judaism is and has always been a dynamic blend of humanism and tribalism, a complicated and nuanced recipe of elements, alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) affirming the universal and the particular.
How is this so? A few examples:
My synagogue's commitment to family doesn't stop us from participating in the SF Gay Pride Parade, though some of the event's content "varies wildly" from the way we define modesty. (The internal debates in the Queer community about whether Marriage is an ideal worth pursuing is an important part of this tension. This, of course, is a complex history within the LGBT community, but knowing how this came to be is not the same as accepting it as modest in Jewish terms.) Our Jewish commitment to inclusion, which is deep and real in our programing and ritual lives, demands that we stand, march, and celebrate at an event that should provoke thoughtful reflection, perhaps even a pause. We march, though we aren't the same.
My synagogue's commitment to standing up for Justice with our Muslim and Christian sisters and brothers, also deep and constant in our communal life, trumps our recognition that, for some of our fellow faith-travelers, Jews are damned or "less-than." Yes, there is more that connects us than that which divides us, but these truths must be acknowledged if we are to actually know each other. (My personal philosophy on these questions has been: We have enough to worry about in this world. I don't mind if they're wrong about the next one.) We march, though we aren't the same.
But when the topic of Israel comes up, it gets more complicated. Do we march for Israel, even when we disagree?
This isn't a piece designed to point to the terror of Hamas' assault on Israeli civilians. This piece isn't focused on the 160 children that died building the Hamas terror tunnels. Nor am I, at the moment, spending appropriate time speaking about the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, 1,000+ of whom I and many in my synagogue said Kaddish this last Shabbat, as they have died because Hamas intentionally placed them in mortal danger. This isn't a piece that attempts to process the mega-terrorist attack scheduled for the coming Rosh haShannah, wherein thousands of Hamas terrorists from Gaza were to emerge from tunnels burrowed into Israel proper and slaughter innocents. This isn't even a piece struggling with the statement of my "opponent" in an NPR segment last week that "the missiles will end when the 1948 occupation ends."
This short essay is a call for action to the Jewish People.
I spoke to my community this last Shabbat, sharing with them that though we cry out in pain and grief, though we are assaulted physically and verbally in Belfast, Queens, Paris, Antwerp, Boston, Turkey, and Los Angeles (it seems the list grows every hour), despite my personal sense of betrayal by the draft ceasefire proposed by Secretary Kerry, despite my outrage at CNN for equating self-defense with unrepentant terrorism, despite all this, we are commanded to hope. We do not despair.
The worst sin a Jew can do is lose hope. It is engraved in our hearts as surely as the Shema: "Od Lo Avda Tikvateinu/We still have not lost hope." What an irrational national anthem we have! What people would codify how, despite it all, despite a world that has never been kind to the Jews, we haven't YET lost hope?! The answer is: This people. My People. Me.
We march, even when we disagree. Even though we're not all the same. Jews are black, brown, French, American, Algerian, Dutch, Yemenite, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Likudniks, Meretzniks, Yesh Atidniks, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Anarchists, Conservative, Haredi, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative, in-married, inter-married, queer, not-queer, etc... (I know. I left you out, whoever you are. You're showing you're Jewishness by airing your legitimate outrage.)
I hope you noticed that, in that list, I didn't use the word "Israeli." It has become easier, in many Jewish communities, to affirm the dignity of difference in the list I composed. We nod in affirmation to each of the labels I shared above. Do you hesitate a bit more when I include "Israeli?" I beg of you to reflect on this question.
Must we be the same in order to affirm worthiness, to stand as family, to see God's Face in another person's? In another Jew's?
Just this morning, someone commented one of too many Facebook posts that, my writing in defense of Israel makes me "a shameful human for perpetuating this kind of disgusting justification of violence... [placing me] neatly into the category of 'unquestioning and righteous' when it comes to Israel." Really? There are portions of every tradition that has had to grapple with power (every one of them) that addresses the ethics within war, where violence is terrible always and moral sometimes. The rightward turn which I see happening in Israeli politics is of major Jewish concern, one which deeply influences our use of power, the necessity of which has become painfully obvious, even to those of us who are reluctant to wield it. I affirm, as part of this important recognition, that this political question is also not the same as the IDF's necessary response to Hamas' terror.
To my growing number of critics, I ask: Do you believe my saying Kaddish for dead Gazans is only cover for my Zionism? Or can you imagine that my Zionism demands my grief for my children and for yours, even those who wish to hurt me? Do you believe that Israel's democracy is absent of Jewish and non-Jewish citizens' voices that agonize over the carnage being fomented and caused by Israel's impossible moral situation, responding somehow to Hamas' intentional sacrifice of Palestinian civilians as part of its violent strategy?
To my Progressive American Jewish colleagues and friends, I beg from my anguished soul: Please try to see an essential humanity in the eyes of our Israeli sisters and brothers, and march with me as we stand with them. The whole world is writhing. Our family needs us.
I've been overwhelmed to see some of what I've shared from my heart connected with so many others. I know that we are praying for all our children, all their children, knowing we will do what we must, and praying it is enough, though the unfolding of our current moment makes hope seem irrational. Jews have never seen reality as sufficient for giving up hope in the past, and we do not grant it that right today. We still haven't lost our hope.
It is time to stand as a family.
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