Hang in There

From a letter I have just written:

We are in total agreement about the way Israelis have and are behaving toward us Liberal Jews, and it has long been and continues to be appalling.  As long as Israelis only think of da’at ( faith or belief) in terms of Orthodox Judaism and the coalition style, governmental structure remains as it is, we shall receive only the short end of the stick if any stick at all.  Truly something has to be done.

My fear is simply this:  many rabbis have done such a good job of criticizing Israel and the matzav (the “situation”) and the allegedly “immoral Occupation” that they have given the generations that follow us an open door to walk away…and they have…by the droves, both from Israel and, ironically, from their Judaism as well.  Statistics tell us that what follows us not only lacks commitment to Israel, they don’t show any concern for her either.  Our numbers are dwindling.  In but a few decades, we are told, we non-Orthodox Jews shall have done a great job in fully assimilating into the American mainstream.

Several years ago, there was a Reform rabbi working for the AJC in Jerusalem who predicted a widening gulf between America’s and Israel’s Jewry.  He couldn’t have been more insightful.  That gulf is both cultural and intellectual.  What Israelis care about, American Jews don’t and visa versa.  We have drifted apart to a point that a certain level of incivility has crept into our relations which may lead to a total break…as you seem to be proposing.

I have family in Israel. They have little understanding of what I did as a Reform rabbi.  They are secularists.  The Orthodox are wise enough not to touch or threaten things that really matter to them, like being able to shop at the Bilu shopping mall (outside Rehovot) on Shabbat and riding their bikes hither, thither and yon.  If they drive to Jerusalem on Shabbat, they know to stay out of certain neighborhoods.

They used to vote Labor, but are wise enough to throw their votes where they now think they can do the most good.  Like most Americans, they ignore what they can and go about doing their jobs and raising their families.  They throw their hands up like we do when confronted with Netanyahu’s Trump-like antics.  But they watch the skies carefully, pay close attention to security matters, and listen intently for the sounds of impending war.

My point here is that I cannot blame them for their inability to change their governmental system, just as I cannot blame my stateside family for standing by and watching Trump despoil America.  You and I know that religion is mixed into Israeli politics as it is supposedly blocked from doing so here in the States (Jeff Sessions, Betsy Devos, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch notwithstanding…and their damage has yet to come to fruition).  That Netanyahu seeks to maintain his power and keep his coalition together works to our distinct and painful disadvantage.  He is the ultimate  pragmatist when it comes to his political survival.  That our representatives didn’t build in stronger sanctions over the Robinson Arch-Kotel agreement and haven’t leverage (other than rhetorical disdain) for the threatened Chief Rabbinate’s conversion takeover is equally condemnatory of Reform ineptitude as it is a revelation of Netanyahu’s duplicity.

I would urge you to define what it is you want from Israel in specifics that would rekindle your ardor for her and avert your turning away.  I ask this because a blanket condemnation may give permission to others who are sitting on the fence to jump off and quit Israel altogether…and that’s dangerous.

Israel’s problems go beyond Reform and Conservative conversions.  The Orthodox have women’s issues, gay issues and a rising aggravation with their men being drafted from their seminaries, their illegal settlements being taken down and with IDF commanders whose orders countermand theirs.  Nonetheless, aside from the Supreme Court, they hold the cards.  IRAC and Anat Hoffman have won some battles through the court system.  These have taken too much time, but they have experienced some successes.  I would urge you to throw support their way.  I would also urge you to act strategically in continuing to separate the existential from the religious arguments.  It is the U.S. Congress that keeps Israel afloat when nearly every other worldwide institution works against her.  I do not believe that you would wish to see Israel overrun or suffer severe damage…and we both know the increased threats Israel faces from both Hezbollah in Lebanon and from Iran which is attempting to establish itself in the Syrian Golan.  I am certain you can envision large parts of Tel Aviv and Haifa destroyed by laser guided missiles and the like.  It would not be an easy thing to handle.

It is easy to say, “I quit.”  It is harder to devise and carry through with strategies and actions that attain what it is we want.  So, I urge you to think with me and others, possibly from AIPAC and possibly from the Reform movement…but, by all means, to stay engaged.

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