And then the email, which starts with, "To be a liberal Zionist today is not easy."
You can say that again.
Most people don't even know what a Liberal Zionist is. Sometimes I'm not even sure, but I know that I am one, or more specifically, that I am a Reform Zionist. And that sometimes I feel proud and secure in that identity. And that sometimes I feel foolish.
But here. Rabbi Josh Weinberg can explain it to you (better than I can in any case, but then, that's basically his job). He describes the Liberal Zionist as, "a passionate advocate in a challenging position, fighting for two sets of values."
He writes, in this email I am reading (titled "Viva Liberal Zionism" btw):
The first (value) is Zionism. Liberal Zionists are firmly rooted in Jewish peoplehood and see the establishment of the State of Israel as an unparalleled accomplishment in Jewish history. No matter where they live, liberal Zionists define the Jewish people as a political body whose spiritual and physical homeland is the Land of Israel. They recognize that a Jew can have, in the words of Mordechai Kaplan, “full participation in the life of the nations of which Jews are citizens, [and also] recognize the inevitable difference in scope and intensity between Jewish life in the State of Israel and in the Diaspora.” The liberal Zionist stands up for Israel’s right to exist against any who deny its legitimacy and seek to undermine its strength.
The second set of values is liberalism. Liberal Zionists champion liberty and equality, supporting civil rights, democracy, freedom of and from religion, gender equality, freedom of speech, and the like. They speak out against threats to democracy, whether from the Justice Minister or the ultra-Orthodox religious monopoly; they fight for the rights of asylum seekers and oppose military rule over another people—namely the Occupation. Liberalism does not preclude their Zionism or become a condition for it, rather the two value systems are inextricably intertwined.
We're quite the conundrum aren't we? Us Liberal Zionists...
On a good day, I'm all for it. I feel it's possible - to live out this conundrum,
on a good day...
but these weeks have not been good days...
So I'm feeling adrift. Knowing that this is exactly the time to ground my response in my liberal zionism and also finding that it doesn't quite get me ... there ...but then, what does?
I am a weird combination of optimist and realist and cynic at most times. All the more-so when it comes to Israel. One foot in unconditional love. One foot in horror and dismay. Where is the truth? Where is the nuance? Where is the hope? ... It's somewhere out there, but I'm having trouble locating it. It's drowning in rhetoric and propaganda and reactions rooted in emotion and trauma and hate and
I remember the first time I realized there was something painful and complex about Israel. That it wasn't just "our home away from home". That it wasn't just a far-off desert with a lot of Jews living there. I think I was probably about 7 years old. Possibly younger. But here's what I remember.
"Dad, will there be peace in Israel soon?" (expecting a reassuring, yes, but instead getting)
"I don't know, honey. Maybe not."
I remember being somewhat shocked by the answer. By the uncertainty. By the lack of optimism and joy that otherwise infused Jewish life and discourse in my household and temple and Jewish day school and Jewish summer camp.
I remember feeling sad.
I'm sure I asked, "But why?"
I don't remember the answer. Just that it didn't satisfy. And that for the first time I wondered if my dad could be wrong about something. Because Israel was supposed to be this magical, wonderful, SAFE, place (for Jews), so how could it not manage peace? How could "our home" be something we felt sad about, or bad about, or uncertain about? Home, for me, then, secure in my 7-year-old, middle-upper-class, white-priviledged, Canadian childhood, was something that equated good; and safety.
Something wasn't adding up.
And I still feel that way sometimes.
I hold in one hand the vision of the Israel I was sold as a child and the vision I've come to believe in as an adult. My home. My safety net. A good place. The Israel that can be a light to the nations; a model of Jewish values applied to the global conversation; a safe place (for everyone).
I hold in the other hand the reality of Israel today. A disappointment. A shanda. A place that is not safe for everyone (but partly so that it can still be safe for me...). A place that has failed to live up to its stated values, not because it is inherently wrong or problematic, but because it is being led by people who are leading it astray.
I guess that's what being a liberal Zionist boils down to for me - loving critique. Critiquing out of love. Believing in another's ability to be the best they can be even while they are proving themselves to be at their worst.
My heart loves Israel the land. Israel the place. Israel the people.
My heart hurts for Israel the State. Israel the government. I do not always love these things.
My heart loves and my brain screams and my mouth is open and gaping and silent because
I am shouting into a void of shouting
just one more voice
believing that what I have to say matters; That it can help somehow; That my truth is the truth, all the while knowing that others hold their truths in the same light. And that their truths sound nothing like mine. And that it can be as black and white as kill or be killed but that we can't exist that way. We can't endure that way. We shouldn't want to or have to. We shouldn't be satisfied with that as the answer. And at the same time, in the moment between your death or someone else's, what other answer can there be? Our tradition mandates self-defence. But this ("situation". now. in Gaza.) is not just that. Self-Defence is too easy an answer. Only one part of a much more complex whole.
And I want to be silent because I don't know how to tease it all out. And because I know that someone will take offence no matter what I say. Someone will hurl a different rhetoric right back at me. My words will fall on deaf ears. On people who have already decided; whose hearts are hardened.
And yet. Not all ears are deaf. Not all hearts are heartened. Opinions can change. Ignorance can be educated. Swords can become ploughshares (and all that jazz)...
And so I know I can't be silent. That it is unacceptable to be silent. That in the absence of answers I must keep asking questions; Keep speaking with those who will listen; Keep modelling how to love Israel and hold her accountable at the same time; Keep modelling how to search for truth(s) in a mountain of well-manufactured, convincing, bullshit, which is often so much louder than the truth; So much more prevalent.
So much easier to just believe the first headline than to plumb the depths but we can't.
I have family and friends who have been the ones securing those borders.
Someone loves the men and women and children rushing those same borders now.
They are all people who are being driven by their own narratives and histories and governments and propaganda and beliefs and hopes and fears and desperation and hunger (spiritual. physical) and
they are all people
and somehow we have to share this home
and make it a place that is safe for everyone
One day a child will ask me, "Will there be peace in Israel soon."
And I understand, now, how my father's heart must have broken in that moment.
Because I will want to say,
"Yes sweetheart. Soon."
I will want to believe such an answer is possible.
I pray for it.
But right now...
"soon" feels far less likely than "never".
But still, we must find truth. And hope. And forgiveness. And a path forward