Beth has asked me to speak about Israel over this holiday weekend.

There’s a lot I can talk about. I’ve lived in Israel for 22 years, at Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava Desert for 21. This year has been an interesting one in Israel, this summer has been amazing. Thousands of Israelis moved out of their homes and camped in the streets, for five weeks, in a wave of protest that started against the high cost of housing and ended as a broad cry for Social Justice across the board. There was an exhilarating feeling in the air. Even a terror attack on the Egyptian border near Eilat didn’t stop the protests, even the Palestinian rockets that fell on Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon only brought a brief lull in the weekly Saturday night protest marches. What were those protests about? People want more than just economic wellbeing. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his great book The Prophets, explores the relationship between spiritual truth and political power, and the clarion call for justice in Biblical Israel. Israel’s government, it seems to the protestors, is more preoccupied with profits (with an F) than prophets (with a PH). On Israel's streets this summer, in the many 'Tents of Meeting' this call has been ringing out again, demanding that social justice be put at the center of its public agenda. The tent cities have come down and it’s still too soon to see if anyone will be able to create any electoral leverage out of the summer’s excitement. The polls are pessimistic, and the next election is scheduled for 2013. Many pundits think the success of the tent protests was rooted in the fact that these protestors didn’t speak about the elephant in the room, the Elephant that sits

perennial elephant in the room. Melissa said that every one of the organizations that make up the Jewish social justice movement in this country has an organizational policy to avoid discussion of Israel. In a speech last winter. and talking exclusively to those . Character assassinations. build a broad coalition on issues like Darfur. they say. mutual vilification. And that is Israel-related advocacy and activism that involves the middle of Israel and has paralyzed its politics for forty three years – the occupation of the Palestinians. egged on by media groups from both right and left primed to spring into action in response to perceived criticism on the one hand or defense on the other of Israeli policy. or poverty. reckless caricatures of each other’s positions. Rabbis of every denomination have voiced fear of saying anything in relation Israel. The third option. Rabbis are afraid to get fired for anything they might say about Israel. the environment.0”). We can’t possibly. synagogues. And the American Jewish community is also struggling with how to engage about Israel because of this same elephant. local and national institutional Jewish communities. Unraveled relationships in families. she calls collective solipsism (though it really could be called “avoidance 2. if we touch Israel– that troublesome powder keg. counter-accusations of misrepresentation. The second avenue is Mutual antagonism. conferencing. Rabbi Melissa Weintraub has spoken about the three most common avenues for Israel engagement in the Jewish community: Avoidance. Attacks and counter-attacks on OpEd pages and in the blogosphere.

Israel. Melissa and a few other young leaders created a new organization just a couple of years ago. both within the Jewish Community and between the American Jewish community. We each rally. To counter this trend. ignorant. Israel Advocacy messaging inadvertently turns off the vast majority of Jews under the age of 35. or now and then colliding in frustration and hostility. talking past one another. mobilize and take pride in the numbers of those who are with us. the Jewish people splinters into self-affirming nuclei of our respective organizations. and decide for them selves what they think in an open exchange of ideas. Recent studies document what many of us know anecdotally: a sharp decline among Israel engagement and attachment of those under the age of 35. inclusive settings in which to listen. to introduce the radical concepts of LISTENING and CIVILITY. while dismissing those who aren’t as dangerous.with whom we agree. Relatedly: They found that young . ask hard questions. malicious or loony. to encounter Palestinians face to face. AVERSION. And what they found is pervasive aversion. and Palestine. Encounter is dedicated to bringing together Jews to discuss Israel. That is. Why? They found that young Jews want welcoming. each of them morally superior and self-certain. explore. and to overcome stereotypes. These are the three predominant modes of Israel engagement in American Jewish life. They tested the marketing of Israel advocacy organizations seeking to assist young Jews on college campuses to defend Israel against its critics. Many of us want to engage the next generation in Jewish life.

They care passionately. housing the homeless. The freedom of Soviet Jews. our memories of the Shoah and the wars of the 1960s and 70s are not just history lessons. This isn’t to say they don’t care about their Jewish Identity. easily convinced by demagoguery. to sit down in front of the separation barrier together and grapple with what it . Thank God. Encounter is committed to creating a safe container for right– and leftwing Jews to encounter each other with real mutual listening and respect. We may have a deep existential fear that our children lack. Less than a month later. Thus their Jewish identity may not be threatened from without. brought to Israel a million new voters. and young Jews in the US today are increasingly alienated by Israel. But it may be threatened from within – if we do not heed what Melissa Weintraub and her associates say. Only our experience of anti-semitism is stronger. for which I had protested in the 1980s. healing the sick. I made Aliyah 22 years ago because I felt that Israel was in danger of becoming a country with which Jewish youth like me might not be able to identify. they have not had their lives threatened for being Jewish. They engage core Jewish values of feeding the poor. My guess is that these findings are true for many of us in the boomer generation and older. celebrating and studying.Jews want to be exposed to nuance and diversity of perspective. My one vote has been drowned out. unaccustomed to democratic life. a wave of Russian immigration increased Israel’s population by nearly 20%. They gather on the holidays. not blackand-white thinking.

I was able to model an approach for them that balances a love for Israel and a recognition of Israel’s mistakes. These issues are on the consciousnesses of young North American Jews. They hear about it in the news. my students have been out in the world hearing those messages from a hundred other sources. They had never heard someone criticize Israel out of love. Many students in the class had decided. let alone Palestinians. And they hear about it from each other. They hear about it in their public schools. and were using that as reason to give up on the whole Israel experiment. to turn against Israel entirely. If they don’t hear about what’s happening from me.means. Often participants claim that our trips are the first time they’ve been able to hear other Jews who think differently than them. It was a perspective that they needed to hear. They didn’t see constructive criticism as an option. “So last week I shared my Encounter experiences with my Grade 12 class…. based on what they had heard from other sources.” . An orthodox rabbi who participated in an Encounter tour of Bethlehem wrote the following: “I realized that while I’ve been sitting at home worrying about how my experiences in Bethlehem and Hebron could create negative PR for Israel. They were embarrassed about what goes on in the West Bank. and who will present the information without balance and nuance. they’ll hear about it from someone else. And it was thanks to Encounter that I was able to present it to them. Someone who is likely to have a strong anti-Israel bias.

Shuva Yisrael – return. thinking out our most complex problems aloud. Israel is a country. This summer’s protesters demanded that a Jewish state must act Jewishly. meaningful discussion within the American Jewish Community. Hillel reads the commandment “love your neighbor as yourself” as “what is hateful to you. I listened to President Abbas’ speech and found myself agreeing with almost everything he said. return to our Prophetic values. We must be willing to live with complexity. too. Israel. caring for the weak and the poor. . Listening to one another can be a great start. It can only be strengthened. and so can you. to agreeing to disagree.Our children need to hear us challenging our own thinking. to accepting one another regardless of our political positions. but none of them are as existential as the alienation of Jews around the world. And then I listened to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech. Israel – the haftara of this Shabbat Shuva calls upon us to return. indeed. and I was surprised to find myself agreeing with everything he said. Shuva Yisrael – return. Israel’s existence will not be threatened by honest. A country with a lot of challenges. return to the path of justice and right action. return to grappling with a difficult topic. do not do to your neighbor”. Prime Minister Netanyahu demands recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. I don’t know if you heard the speeches at the UN last week. return to civil conversation. and bringing our venerable tradition to bear on them.

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