Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Traveling to Israel at a Hard Time

Here I am (hineini) in Newark Airport, awaiting my flight to Israel later this afternoon.

It could hardly be a worse time to visit Israel, or at least one might think so.

The last week or more have been highlighted by attacks each day in Jerusalem and around the country—mostly individual Arabs wielding knives against individual Israelis.

Naturally, Facebook has lit up with testimonies about “now you see what we’re up against”, replete with videos of some horrible attacks, as well as some of the rhetoric that encourages them.

My trip is in conjunction with the upcoming World Zionist Congress, being held next week at Binyanei Haumah – the main convention center in the heart of Jerusalem.  I am an alternate in the Mercaz delegation.  (Mercaz is the Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement.)

Since I’m merely an alternate, I didn’t work too hard to prepare for the trip, although I suspect I may have worked as hard as other average participants – especially having sat on my flight from Columbus looking through the entire slate of proposals to be considered at the Congress.

I know a fair amount about what to expect:  I attended the previous World Zionist Congress about 5 years ago – also as an alternate.  In that case, I was going to be the NEXT President of the Cantors Assembly – which is why I was included.  In this case, I’m one past being Immediate Past President.  Last time, my colleague David Propis got to be the voting member (he was the incumbent President).  This time, it’s Alberto Mizrahi (the current President).

Last time was the first time that SHAS was included in the Congress – and it’s not such a clear thing how that worked out, how it WILL work out.

It was fascinating – sometimes inspiring, sometimes frightening, sometimes maddening – to read the resolutions that are to be presented by various factions from left to right.

Since I’m not at the heart of the Mercaz faction, I don’t know what are the prospects for the resolutions – and maybe they don’t either.  We will meet on Sunday evening and begin our preparations for the meetings, and I’ll know much more based on Sunday evening and Monday.  The Congress convenes for the full delegation on Tuesday.

Here’s the thing I want YOU to think about – to recognize – to remember – to celebrate – to share.  Zionism is a fantastic thing.  This has gotten lost in the reality of trying to deal with a complicated world, a  world which still contains way too much anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Here’s what we all should keep in mind:  “The Declaration of Independence [of Israel] states that the State will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the Prophets of Israel; will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race, or sex; will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture, and will safeguard the Holy Places of all religion.” [from the Resolutions to be presented to the Congress].
How much the State of Israel has succeeded in accomplishing those goals is stunning, miraculous, and worth celebrating.  How far it has fallen short requires us to redouble our efforts to bring this model of saving our people while lifting up our neighbors “up to spec.”

Unfortunately, the loudest voices proclaiming Israel’s righteousness do so with little regard for the imperfections and challenges it faces, and try to shout out the many nasty things said to and about Israel, losing credibility in terms of what Israel does and can stand for.

Simultaneously, there are huge splits within the Jewish communities in Israel and around the world, and many who seek to deny rights to others in their own community.

The breadth of the Jewish world might be summarized in two consecutive resolutions: 

In the Resolutions regarding “A Free People In Our Land” (which is a line from “Hatikvah,” Israel’s anthem), there are, side by side, resolutions from Arzenu, the International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists) regarding a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and from Members of the Ohavei Zion Faction, World Sephardic Zionist Organization, regarding The Settlement Enterprise.

The Reform/Progressive resolution notes that “the conflict can be traced back to events long before the establishment of the Jewish State,” that the conflict “has been marked by competing and conflicting interpretations of nhistorical facts,” and that “there are outstanding examples as to how some nations have successfully dealt with such internal conflicts.”  It calls for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, made up of equal numbers of Israel’s Jewish and Arab populations, appointed by the President of Israel.  Its tasks will include “listening to each other’s narratives,” “recommending measres to the Government that would include means to facilitate the public admission of past injustices that both communities have visited upon the other,” and recommending a process for each side “to accept painful compromises necessary for the sake of living together in peace.”

I think this is a beautiful idea, and we certainly need to foster more conversations – not waiting for the “perfect day” to resolve issues between Israelis and Palestinians.  That perfect day will never arrive – but we can bend justice toward it – and challenge our adversaries to do the same.

The very next resolution decries the government having declared “a construction freeze in Jerusalem, a decision which has been detrimental to the awareness of our right to the Land of Israel.” 
The Resolution calls for the government to “annul the construction freeze immediately and increase construction in all parts of Eretz Yisrael, to continue building in all Jerusalem neighborhoods. . . and to increase the Settlement Division’s budget.”

People like me believe that the government’s acquiescence or insistence (is Netanyahu pushed to do this? Or is it something that he just APPEARS to be pushed to do?) is making a peaceful resolution to this ancient and modern conflict more and more difficult – perhaps impossible.

But I will not allow the bullying of those who think that it “all belongs to us” – just as the Palestinians are justifiably criticized for their maps showing no Israel – to kill the dream – to build a just, Jewish democratic nation and maintain and nurture the rights of others.

Experience has suggested that I’m in the left edge of my Mercaz faction.  The crucial thing is to continue this conversation, to continue this battle.  But it is imperative that we recognize how far short we are of living out the vision of the Declaration of Independence – and how we will fall further and further from it if we don’t engage in this mental, spiritual, emotional – and sometimes physical – battle every day.

As to what’s happening in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere – it’s quite a nightmare.  How will these events affect the Congress?  Do the Resolutions I’ve read today have any bearing on the present and future?  Or are we just walking around planning our own lives while ignoring the lives, being in denial about the lives around us and intertwined with us?

I will write more about that later.

For now, I want to invite you to hope, to pray, to work toward the reality envisioned by Herzl and those who founded the State of Israel in 1948.  Im tirtzu, ein zu aggadah.  If you WILL IT/WANT IT it’s not just a dream, just a story.  But WILL, we have seen, isn’t enough.  It comes with hard work, and a demand for almost infinite patience. 

You may want to defend the government of the State of Israel.  You may not.  But I call on you to engage in not giving up on the dream – and being the biggest part you can be of the Dream Team.

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