From Here to There
Shalom from Jerusalem! At the invitation of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, I am here for a four-day Unity Mission with twenty-one Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative Rabbis of North America. Two of us have come from Canada. We are meeting with professors, policy advisors, rabbis, Supreme Courts Justices, Members of Parliament, and with the Prime Minister himself.
Half-way through our time, I’m happy to share some of what I’ve heard. As the content of these meetings is “Off the record” what I write here is a broad composite of opinions and not attributed to any one person.
- Life in Israel is better than ever. The Jewish State is thriving beyond our wildest Zionist dreams! The economy is strong. More children are born in Israel than in any other free society in the world. “This is evidence of the optimism of our people.” Israel no longer depends on North American Jewry – not for funds and not for influence with American politicians. Israel wins more billions by selling start-up technology than our well-intentioned tzedakah, and Israel is much better at forging its own relationships rather than brokered through local Jewish leadership. All this success is good news, but it leaves us asking: Then what is the relationship between Israel and North American Jewry?
- “The Pew Report was a disaster for Israel-Diaspora relations.” The most worrisome headlines for Israelis are that American Jewry today is growing less Zionist, less Jewishly literate, and less likely to have Jewish grandchildren. At best, “Non-Orthodox Judaism is not understood by Israelis.” Worse, “Israelis see Reform and Conservative Judaism as a gateway to assimilation.” “The two anchors of Jewish life are faith and Zionism. The Pew Report tells us that the majority of North American Jews are not faithful and not Zionist.”
- When non-Jews participate in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, Israelis feel misunderstood and misjudged. When Jews participate in the BDS movement when it comes from “in the family” Israelis are deeply hurt and personally offended. Most seem to agree that intimidating activists and journalists for questioning at Ben Gurion Airport is perfectly legal but absolutely foolish. The most effective way to combat BDS is for people to come and see for themselves what Israel is and what it isn’t. But for Israelis, “Berkley is much scarier than Charlottesville.”
- The Supreme Court of Israel continues to be a very powerful source of light and justice for all citizens and residents of Israel.
- The new Nation-State law does not change anything in practical terms today. Adding to it a clear statement about equality for minorities would only be a repetition of what is already enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, in the 1992 basic laws on human dignity and liberty, and demonstrated in bountiful case law, but would go a long way to reassure people in and out of Israel that there is no agenda to diminish minority rights in the future. Israel is a remarkably democratic state. People are highly critical of one another, but day by day, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, Israelis are extremely tolerant of one another. “There is great coexistence, despite the noise.”
- “We can’t resist Trump’s hug.” As unseemly as he is, Israel depends on the American superpower. The vast majority of Jewish Israelis are very grateful for how Trump has cut funding to the Palestinian Authority and for his plans to move the American embassy to Jerusalem.
- Israel’s greatest, some say only real security threat is Iran. “This is not 1938. Iran is not as powerful now as Germany was then. And we are not as weak as we were then. But Israel cannot afford to be struck by Iran and is prepared to do what it takes to defend itself.”
- “How to help Gazans without helping Hamas is a problem we don’t know how to solve. The Palestinians are no longer an existential threat to Israel, but if we don’t find our way to a two-state solution, Israel will not be Jewish or democratic.”
There will be more to learn over the coming day and a half and more reflection required over the days to come. For now, I am very grateful for this rare opportunity to meet dear colleagues and meet with those who lead and influence Israeli laws and policies.
Please note that over the coming six weeks, we have many visitors coming from Israel. Three of them are leading Rabbis from the Israeli Movement for Progressive/Reform Judaism (IMPJ). Each one offers an opportunity to learn about life in Israel – her accomplishments and her challenges. Most importantly, however, these upcoming events allow us to strengthen the ties that bind us from here to there. Click on the links below for more information on these upcoming events:
Rabbi Mira Chovav and Reut Yachdav from Beersheva (November 23) – more information coming soon!
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the IMPJ (December) – more information coming soon!
Shalom al Yisrael.