Tag Archives: women’s trip to Israel

Zionism: Jewry’s solution or problem?

11 Jun

Zionism: Jewry’s solution or problem?

Reflections After Our Brooklyn Heights Synagogue Women’s Israel Trip

Originally Published in the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue 2014 Spring Bulletin

By Rabbi Molly G. Kane

The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue Women’s Trip spent their last day in Jerusalem visiting Mount Herzl Military Cemetery. While Har Herzel (as it is known in Hebrew) is often a stop on many Israel trip itineraries, our visit felt significant as it was erev Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for soldiers and victim’s of terror. We were not able to visit some of the graves we had planned to see due to the preparations for the next day’s ceremonies. We tried to go to the grave of Hannah Senesh. Unfortunately, we were unable to make our way to pay our respects. So we walked around other parts of the cemetery looking for some shady spots to talk about the cemetery itself and visit soldier’s graves. We found ourselves a place to gather and we read the words of Hannah Senesh from her diary as we looked out at the graves of too many fallen soldiers. She writes in her diary,

I’m convinced Zionism is Jewry’s solution to its problems, and that the outstanding work being done in Palestine is not in vain.

As I prepared to travel back to New York with so many memories and thoughts in my mind these words in particular were echoing the loudest. They are a snapshot of a belief system that rang true for Senesh and many others. Today, a paraphrase of her words seem to ring true for me:

I’m convinced that Zionism has become one of Jewry’s biggest problems, and as a result do we take Israel in vain?

I see Israel as one of the greatest achievements of Jewish people in the modern period. A Jewish nation state devoted to the protection and advancement of world Jewry. Yet, we often overlook this achievement as Israel struggles…how to be both a Jewish and a democratic state…how to protect its citizens while working for peace…how to be both a western and an eastern country.

Israel’s struggles plague us and divide us.

A few days into our trip we heard that the influential Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations voted against admitting J Street, a leading political advocacy organization with the mission of supporting a two-state solution. While I am not sure of the set of principals that the voting members use about who should be “in” and who should be “out” of such an organization, it is clear from the 17-yes versus 22-no vote the conference was divided. The vote feels indicative of a divided North American Jewry that questions who can sit at the table when it comes to discussing Israel.

In March, I witnessed a similar rift at the Central Conference of American Reform Rabbis. In a discussion about Rabbi Rick Block’s presidential sermon, colleagues heatedly debated how critical one should be of Israel from the pulpit. They argued about what lines should be drawn when it comes to letting organizations like BDS (Boycott and Divestment) speak at our congregations.

Rabbi Block said, “Israel needs a many things, but one thing it does not need is more public criticism, which is ubiquitous. Some is legitimate, but lacks context.” I support his use of time during the convention to speak about Israel. I prefer we talk about it then we don’t talk about it at all. And while I am not sure I agree that we should silence our criticism, I do think we must always speak with context and I would add from a place of hope and love.

Yet, so often we don’t want to talk about Israel or we talk and feel on the defensive. We feel we have to defend one side or another or we share a personal experience that we feel makes us right in order to negate some one else’s.

This type of dialogue leaves us feeling unheard, unwelcomed, and with little enthusiasm to return to the discussion. I wonder if this is what the peace talks look like. Each side with their grievances and their narratives, neither side actually willing to listen. It is too bad our leaders can’t model behavior for us. To me this is a sign that we must model it for them.

Throughout our trip to Israel we visited with community leaders and political leaders who focus on listening to their constituents and figuring out ways to create programming and policy to improve their quality of life. From the principal of an Arab school in Lod who makes it her personal goal to see that her students feel like their existence matters in this world to a Jerusalem city councilwoman who despite the difficulties of being a woman in politics seeks to make sure that all inhabitants of Jerusalem have equal rights.

Their examples are instructive. Peace comes when people make peace not when heads of state do.

When we invite everyone to the table we send the message that even if we don’t agree we know we can’t move forward if we do not find common ground. Zionism doesn’t have to be the problem that divides us. It can be the problem that unites us. It can force us to figure out new paradigms of what it means to be a people with a state.

During Hannah Senesh’s time the Jews needed Zionism. They needed an ideology that gave them hope and that politically reestablished the Jewish peoples right to a nation in Eretz Yisrael. And now we must re-think the outcome of what our ancestors achieved. We must passionately decide that we can be both critics and participants.

A few days into our trip our guide joked that this was not the, “Disney Land Tour of Israel.” Meaning we were not seeing Israel in its ideal, rather we were seeing it with its rough edges and cracked surfaces. We were seeing both its failings and its successes. And when we heard and saw things that made us quiver as we asked questions…we did not shy away. And when we saw things that made us optimistic and gave us hope…we were inspired.

We allowed ourselves to be open and experience, and as a result we left as a strong cohesive community of women. Perhaps divided internally, but not externally… ready to continue our learning and participation in the unfolding narrative of the State of Israel.