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Two Jews, One Opinion?

It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to talk about Israel.  One enters a conversation about Israel-willingly or not-with a kind of dance of words in which every utterance is loaded from the get-go, so that the … Read More

By / October 28, 2009

It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to talk about Israel.  One enters a conversation about Israel-willingly or not-with a kind of dance of words in which every utterance is loaded from the get-go, so that the meaning of a simple phrase like, "I work for an organization that supports justice and equality for all Israelis" can no longer be assumed.  Justice and equality? For whom? All Israelis? Do you mean settlers in the West Bank? Who are you? And most importantly, are you with me or against me? Jay Michaelson’s recent opinion pieces in The Forward are a case in point.  Michaelson’s ambivalence about Israel elicited a range of responses:  affirmation, suggestion that a meaningful relationship with Israel requires more perseverance and good will; personal attacks; references to the Holocaust; blanket dismissals; and, perhaps not surprisingly, accusations that Michaelson somehow questions Israel’s right to exist (though he specifically said he supports Israel’s right to exist).     It’s hard to pinpoint when the breakdown of the American-Jewish conversation about Israel began, but one thing is clear: our relationship with Israel has not been nurtured.  The cliché about ‘two Jews, three opinions’ references an ancient tradition of Jewish argument and debate dating back to the Talmudic era.  This tradition values, above all, the questioning of ideas.  Somehow, though, when it comes to Israel, there is an institutionalized insistence on one opinion for all. Or else…. Or else what? Over the span of several generations, this institutionalized insistence has engendered frenzy, dogma, stagnation, and rejection among us young Jews.  Many of us have become either gatekeepers of the conversation on Israel or, as Michaelson suggests, have simply walked away.  Some of us are inspired and interested, yet exhausted, disappointed.  Then there are those of us who simply don’t know.  We don’t know where we stand, we don’t know enough about the issues.  Above all, we feel unable to get away from the ongoing volley of judgment: back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth…   All of us are looking for a safe place to talk about Israel – a place that will respect our thoughts, experiences, emotions, knowledge (or lack thereof), and most of all, our questions.  Many of us have been told we must love Israel, or hate it, but have not been given the tools to discuss its complexities-as a country, as an ideal-and how it might relate to American Jewish life. Love, Hate, and the Jewish State Back to my original phrase for a moment: I work for an organization that supports justice and equality for all Israelis.  This organization, which helps give a voice to every member of Israeli society-Jewish, Arab, Russian, Bedouin, Sudanese, and Filipino, whether Orthodox, Secular, or anything in between-is also working to give a voice to the next generation of American Jews.  We at the New Israel Fund are deliberately carving out a space to dialogue about the difficult (and the easy) issues related to Israel. Why are we doing this? Because this safe space is critical to fostering a thoughtful and nuanced Jewish identity.  Because we’ve found that investing in a safe space empowers people to develop tools to understand each other and the world around them.  This is especially important when it comes to a place like Israel, which engenders conflict both internally and externally. And let me be clear: ours is not a space for the faint-hearted.  You will hear the words Nakba and Occupation.  These words will be given as much credence and respect as we give to Yom Ha’atzma’ut and Jewish identity.  But your opinion will be heard and considered. We invite you-the ambivalent, the opinionated, the fatigued, the disappointed, the head-strong, the inspired, the angry, the naïve, and the inexperienced-to join us. Interested? Check out this video: www.nif.org/lovehate Get a word in edgewise at our next event: Love, Hate, and the Jewish State: Jews, Arabs, and conflicting narratives Thursday, November 5 @ 7 pm The JCC in Manhattan To register, visit, www.nif.org/lovehate

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