Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Israel, Part Two, Musings

Still Zionist After All These Years

Growing up in a classical Reform temple in the ‘60s, I didn’t hear anything about the State of Israel in temple.  I’d heard the term, of course, and wondered how there could be a “State” that wasn’t one of the 50.  While it implied a close relationship between Israel and the United States in my young mind, I knew little else about Israel. 

Then I started getting invited to friend’s bar mitzvahs.  Many of them were held at Temple Israel, a large, conservative congregation, so named because it too was founded in 1948.  At Temple Israel, they wore their Zionism on their sleeves.  They flew the Israeli flag. 

Then the Six-Day War began.  My mother z"l told me that I might not be able to have a party to celebrate my bar mitzvah.  I was confused.  My bar mitzvah was scheduled for over seven months later.  It depends how long the war goes on, my mother said.  We’ll just have to see.  I think she really meant that it depends on if and how the war ends.  She had been a teenager during World War II.  There was a lot on her mind that she wasn’t saying.  But, suddenly, my life was connected to the State of Israel.   

The war ended soon with Israel’s stunning victory.  My awareness and pride grew.  I studied modern Hebrew.  I learned Israeli songs in BBYO.  I visited Israel twice.  Once in 1975 for a three-month college term abroad on a religious kibbutz called Be’erot Yitzchak.  Again in 1987 for a vacation with David. 

The intervening years, especially the last decade, have been disheartening for so many reasons.  I never lost my Zionism; I think I just shelved it in the back of my mind. 

A convergence of circumstances took hold of me this year.  After getting an iPhone in February, I found apps to watch Israeli news, hear Israeli radio, read Israeli newspapers.  I watched the entire season of Kochav Nolad, Israel’s American Idol, on my tiny screen.  My Hebrew came back faster than I imagined.  I signed up for Hebrew class in the spring.  I followed the events of the summer’s social justice movement.  When I heard about the trip sponsored by A Wider Bridge, Keshet, and Nehirim, I knew it was bashert.  I had to go. 

Seeing first hand the tremendous progress Israel has made in LGBT rights, the efforts of the religious LGBT Jews to find their place, the slow but increasingly successful outreach of progressive Judaism to “secular” Israelis, the renewal of a new pioneer movement for the 21st century, even the amazing economic and infrastructure development since I was last there, and many other things, made me tremendously proud.  I hope to write about most of these in subsequent posts, b”h. 

Not to whitewash … or pinkwash, G-d forbid! ;)  (More on that later too.)  One can certainly criticize Israeli government policies.  One can believe that Israel has made many mistakes, even committed sins, over its history.  It’s especially easy with 20/20 hindsight.  But none of that, nothing at all, can convince me that it is a legitimate position to maintain that of all the peoples in the world, Jews are the only ones not entitled to their own nation-state.  The denial of the national rights of the Jews smacks of anti-Semitism, (or anti-Jewish prejudice, if you prefer that term).  Yes, I know there are people of good will, including some Jews and Israelis, who reject Zionism and believe in a one-state solution in which everyone would be equal.  There are people who say that that Jews and Palestinians have much in common and would quickly learn to live together in peace.  I’d like to think so too.  Maybe that day will come.  But in the meantime, there needs to be two states.  Let them learn to live together.  Then we will see how idealistic the future may be.  In the meantime, the Palestinians are stuck with checkpoints and barriers and collective punishment.  I cannot deny that it is oppressive.  But it is a lesser evil than suicide bombers’ blowing up teenagers at a pizza parlor. 

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