Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jews in Conflict over "Israel"

Dear Friend,
Dana Goldstein, a NYC Jew, in conflict with her parents' generation over the State of Israel.
It's like an earthquake is going on. And where the earth settles is still not clear. But it sounds like everyone will have to adjust to the new landscape, as difficult as that will be.
Palestinian existence on the "land" persists, despite long efforts to ignor, displace and resist their grievances.
Stay tuned, and be in touch with Dana and her generation. More is undoubtedly coming. "God" loves all people. As one of my friends put it this morning at our fortnightly gathering: "If God is not God of all, God is not God at all". (Thank you Gene!). JRK

Thursday, Sep. 29, 2011
Why Fewer Young American Jews Share Their Parents' View of Israel
By Dana Goldstein

"I'm trembling," my mother says, when I tell her I'm working on an article about how younger and older American Jews are reacting differently to the Palestinians' bid for statehood at the United Nations. I understand the frustrations of the Palestinians dealing with ongoing settlements construction and sympathize with their decision to approach the U.N., but my mom supports President Obama's promise to wield the U.S. veto, sharing his view that a two-state solution can be achieved only through negotiations with Israel.

"This is so emotional," she says as we cautiously discuss our difference of opinion. "It makes me feel absolutely terrible when you stridently voice criticisms of Israel." (See photos inside the West Bank settlements.)

A lump of guilt and sadness rises in my throat. I've written harshly of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and its assault on Gaza in 2009, and on civil rights issues in Israel. But speaking my mind on these topics — a very Jewish thing to do — has never been easy. During my childhood in the New York suburbs, support for Israel was as fundamental a family tradition as voting Democratic or lighting the Shabbos candles on Friday night.

My mom has a masters degree in Jewish history and is the program director of a large synagogue. Her youthful Israel experiences, volunteering on a kibbutz and meeting descendants of my great-grandmother's siblings, were part of my own mythology. Raised within the Conservative movement, I learned at Hebrew school that Israel was the "land of milk and honey" where Holocaust survivors had irrigated the deserts and made flowers bloom.

What I didn't hear much about was the lives of Palestinians. It was only after I went to college, met Muslim friends, and enrolled in a Middle Eastern history and politics course that I was challenged to reconcile my liberal, humanist worldview with the fact that the Jewish state of which I was so proud was occupying the land of 4.4 million stateless Palestinians, many of them refugees displaced by Israel's creation. (See TIME's photoessay on growing up Arab in Israel.)

Like many young American Jews, during my senior year of college I took the free trip to Israel offered by the Taglit-Birthright program. The bliss I felt floating in the Dead Sea, sampling succulent fruits grown by Jewish farmers, and roaming the medieval city of Safed, historic center of Kabbalah mysticism, was tempered by other experiences: Watching the construction of the imposing "security fence," which not only tamped down on terrorist attacks, but also separated Palestinian villagers from their lands and water supplies. I spent hours in hushed conversation with a young Israeli soldier who was horrified by what he said was the routinely rough and contemptuous treatment of Palestinian civilians at Israeli military checkpoints.

That trip deepened my conviction that as an American Jew, I could no longer in good conscience offer Israel unquestioning support. I'm not alone. Polling of young American Jews shows that with the exception of the Orthodox, many of us feel less attached to Israel than do our Baby Boomer parents, who came of age during the era of the 1967 and 1973 wars, when Israel was less of an aggressor and more a victim. A 2007 poll by Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of UC Davis found that although the majority of American Jews of all ages continue to identify as "Pro-Israel," those under 35 are less likely to identify as "Zionist." Over 40 percent of American Jews under 35 believe that "Israel occupies land belonging to someone else," and over 30 percent report sometimes feeling "ashamed" of Israel's actions.

Read about America's first female black rabbi.

Hanna King, an 18-year old sophomore at Swarthmore College, epitomizes the generational shift. Raised in Seattle as a Conservative Jew, last November King was part of a group of activists who heckled Netanyahu with slogans against the occupation at a New Orleans meeting of the Jewish Federations General Assembly.

"Netanyahu repeatedly claims himself as a representative of all Jews," King says. "The protest was an outlet for me to make a clear statement, and make it clear that those injustices don't occur in my name. It served as a vehicle for reclaiming my own Judaism." (Read more about the debate on a Palestinian state.)

A more moderate critique is expressed by J Street, the political action committee launched in 2008 as a "pro-Israel, pro-Peace" counterweight to the influence in Washington of the more hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Simone Zimmerman heads J-Street's campus affiliate at the University of California-Berkeley. A graduate of Jewish private schools, she lived in Tel Aviv as an exchange student during high school, but never heard the word occupation spoken in relation to Israel until she got to college.

During Zimmerman's freshman year, Berkeley became embroiled in a contentious debate over whether the university should divest from corporations that do business with the Israeli army. Although Zimmerman opposed divestment, she was profoundly affected by the stories she heard from Palestinian-American activists on campus.

"They were sharing their families' experiences of life under occupation and life during the war in Gaza," she remembers. "So much of what they were talking about related to things that I had always been taught to defend, like human rights and social justice, and the value of each individual's life." (Read the top 10 religion stories of 2010.)

Even young rabbis are, as a cohort, more likely to be critical of Israel than are older rabbis. Last week, Cohen, the Hebrew Union College researcher, released a survey of rabbinical students at New York's Jewish Theological Seminary, the premier institution for training Conservative rabbis. Though current students are just as likely as their elders to have studied and lived in Israel and to believe Israel is "very important" to their Judaism, about 70 percent of the young, prospective rabbis report feeling "disturbed" by Israel's treatment of Arab Israelis and Palestinians, compared to only about half of those ordained between 1980 and 1994.

Ben Resnick, 27, is one of the rabbinical students who took the survey. In July, he published an op-ed pointing out the ideological inconsistencies between Zionism, which upholds the principle of Israel as a Jewish state, and American liberal democracy, which emphasizes individual rights regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. "The tragedy," Resnick says, is that the two worldviews may be "irreconcilable."

Still, after living in Jerusalem for 10 months and then returning to New York, Resnick continues to consider himself a Zionist. He quotes the Torah in support of his view that American Jews should press Israel to end settlement expansion and help facilitate a Palestinian state: "Love without rebuke," he says, "is not love."

Dana Goldstein is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Nation Institute.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A New Start for Rosh Hashanah!

Dear Friend,

I admire Bradley Burston. (Below is his op-ed in Haaretz) Especially in the honesty that opens up the crack in our facade of self-righteousness. It is in all and each of us. Some dare not go there. Self-assessment is hard. I would rather be invincible and correct, all the time, rather than "give in" to others, especially those whose intent is to do me irrevocable harm.

I have long felt that the average Israeli is scared to death of giving the Palestinian narrative even "one inch", lest the whole occupation edifice come crashing down.

So there is this constant buildup of walls, and military and entrenchment in "our way", our country, our narrative.

To look at the other narrative, openly, non-defensively, and walk in the "other's shoes". O my. That takes courage. There may have to be changes. And that would be God-aweful. Yes, in awe of "God", the King over all nations, tribes and peoples. Yours truly, JRK

Palestine, the UN, and lies at Rosh Hashanah

This year, in Jerusalem, show us what a New Year actually looks like. Avinu Malkeinu, hoshiyeinu. Rescue us from ourselves.

On the High Holidays when I was small, Jews wore clothes they were not comfortable in, in order to ask themselves questions they were not comfortable with.

Some things don't change.

On the High Holidays when I was small, the old people, when they weren't discussing the Old Country, would talk about the Holy Land, and peace, and how they would never see either, not in their lifetimes.

The rabbi, meanwhile, would talk about God's Book of Life, in which we all appeared, each of us with what we had done over the past year, and done wrong, and failed to do. On Rosh Hashanah, God would open the book for review, and at the end of the day of judgment, Yom Kippur, our verdict for the new year would be handed down, and the book, until the next fall, slammed shut.

Mindful of the Book of Life, I used to wonder what became of what we had left undone. This year, the Friday before Rosh Hashanah, I found out. Thanks to the United Nations.Thanks to the debate on Palestine:

Anything left undone becomes a lie.

Who'd have guessed that what's true in daily life is also true of the UN? Who'd have guessed that what was left undone when I was small, would still be undone these many, many years later?

When I was small and could take no more of the High Holidays, and when there was no baseball on the radio, I would open a book. One of them began with an observation by Pablo Picasso. "Art," he said, "is a lie which makes us realize the truth."

The same, I now realize, could be said of the United Nations. And because it is left undone, it can be said of Palestine as well. And because Palestine has been left undone, the same could be said of Israel. Left undone. Like all of us.

We pray to the same God - all of us, we and the Palestinians who are our cousins and neighbors, we pray to the lord of the second chance - but our belief is flagging. We are undone and unmoving. We cannot shake our grief and our failure and our guilt and our instinct for blame. We are undone by politics and by bad politicians. We are undone by warped religion and bad clerics. We are undone by our belief that only from our side do people see clearly and speak the whole truth.

When I was small, my favorite part of the High Holidays was singing with the old people to the prayer called Avinu Malkeinu, in part because there seemed some unique truth in it. "For Your own sake, Lord, if not for ours," the old people sang, "forgive us, let us off this hook, rescue us from ourselves."

Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King, they sang, these people whose own parents were long dead, these people who had never placed faith in the nobles who had once ruled over them, these people whose own voices were already fading. Avinu Malkeinu, Shma Koleinu, Hus V'Rahem Aleinu. Hear our voice. Help us hear the voices of others whose stories and tragedies are different. Help them to hear ours.

Hear our true voice, the one from close to the heart inside. Avinu Malkeinu, have pity for what we do and are and try and fail at, and what we give ourselves too much credit for. Give us permission to start again. Give us, this day, a break.

Avinu Malkeinu, haneinu v'aneinu, ki ein lanu ma'asim. Avinu Malkeinu. Cut us a deal we can live with. Avinu Malkeinu, help us find, at long last, an answer we can use, a way out of this, even though we have nothing to show for all our trying. Because we have nothing to show for all our trying..

God who does not make mistakes, God whom we bitterly and consistently disappoint, God whose land always falls short of the arrangement we feel would somehow dress the wounds in our souls - dress the wounds in our souls.God who created human differences and human disagreement and human compromise, help us write a new document for every one of us. A Book of Life.

Show us Your face in the faces of the people we find it easier to look away from and call enemy. Show them Your face in ours. For the same reason. Show us what we least want to see: That we look the same.

Avinu Malkeinu, Aseh Imanu Tz'dakah V'Hesed, V'Hoshieinu We talk big, but we are, all of us, small and fallible and wounded. Be kind. Teach us finally to grow tired of our own lies. Teach us to finish what we start. This year, in Jerusalem, show us what a New Year actually looks like. Avinu Malkeinu, hoshiyeinu. Rescue us from ourselves.