Americans and Israelis: We need to talk the talk

I have seen over the past month some older and some younger North American rabbis and rabbinical students mulling over the American-Israeli relationship. It seems that certain people are really quite frantic over the issue. I suppose that the rest are frankly not interested – if it doesn’t have a direct impact on your life, then it’s not of much concern. I can understand that. I have a harder time understanding the threats to leave your synagogue if a representative of J Street speaks there (for those who don’t know – in a nutshell – a lobby organization that is considered left wing in its views and supports pressuring Israel to make peace with the Palestinians), or those who want to boycott Israel altogether because they don’t agree with the policies of the current government.

I agree that politics is not a matter to take lightly. In fact, in Israel people really care more about politics because political decisions actually do affect our lives (For example, we are all very happy about the recent law passed in the Kenesset outlawing leaf blowers to combat noise pollution). Seriously, sometimes it is a matter of life and death – billions of dollars going to create an anti-missile system to deflect missiles coming from Gaza to the Negev. Which is money that’s not going to education or welfare.

But, my friends (in Israel and in North America), we have to dialogue. All the time. For those who passionately care about Israel and the future of the Jewish future, we have to make sure we are always trying to understand each other. For those who don’t care, we want to convince you to care. But it is relevant to all of us – Kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh – All of Israel is responsible for one another.

As an example – tonight, I was speaking to my mom as I drove home from a shivah minyan (a service at a house of mourning). I was telling her how many of the people there were secular Israelis who I had never met before. She said, “Wasn’t that strange for you? Wasn’t that hard?” I explained that most Israelis don’t belong to a synagogue and don’t have a person who they think of as “their rabbi” to whom they would turn. They are used to rabbis they don’t know showing up to perform a service and then leaving. She said, “That’s so unfortunate that they don’t have the experience of Jewish community. It’s so important to have that support.” I agreed with her, as that is my mission as a rabbi. On the other hand, the mourner told me how he has been thanking people all week – the hospital workers, the neighbors, the chevra kadisha (burial society), friends…In Israel, people come together to help, even total strangers. That is something really inspirational about Israelis. My point is: Israelis and Americans have what to learn from each other.

Jewish community leaders should not hide their political leanings. However, at the same time, they need to help present all of the opinions to their constituents and their congregants. Congregations need to welcome both J Street and AIPAC to forums. Sometimes, also, we need to get beyond politics to understand and appreciate Israel. Politics can also be depressing and de-humanizing. We need sister congregation relationships to share information about our lives (and political opinions). We need schools to be in touch to create lifelong friendships. More Israeli teens to come to American camps, and more Americans to come visit Israel.

As one who straddles the bridge, I try to see both sides. I can be critical of Israel – For example, I went to a major Israeli chain to return a furniture item that just didn’t look quite right in my living room. There is a new law that you can return for cash (You could only get credit previously). However, not so simple. If I return for cash, I have to pay a 5% of the item cost fee, fill out a form, wait 10 minutes in the store for phone approval, and then get hassled by the employee that perhaps I damaged the item and don’t have the right to return it at all (here, I displayed my Israeli elbows and that did not fly). I said to them, “This is a developed country?” and sighed, pining away for Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Seriously (not that the returning issue doesn’t seriously bother me) — I am critical of my government on many issues. I write about these issues from time to time. I write to the newspaper and the government about these issues from time to time. And, by the way, I love living in Israel and I am proud to be an Israeli.

The main point is: Engage in dialogue. Learn from each other. Use humor! (That’s what we Jews have always done, no?) Speak up. But please do not silence the opposition. Please do not shut your ears to criticism of your own ideas. Please do not use threats or shout abusive, irrational slogans against those whom you oppose.

I hear that something like that is happening in many countries surrounding us here in the Middle East.


One Response to “Americans and Israelis: We need to talk the talk”

  1. Benjamin Sperber Says:

    As if I didn’t miss Israel enough already, again R. Stacey’s brilliance and fairness sets a new standard. First, congratulations on your new Synagogue doors. Second, congratulations in returning your furniture. Your words and your new building are not so different; from out of the wilderness of Ramat HaSharon rises a beautiful (lavanah?) symbol of community and welcome.
    So too are your words like Moshe Rabbinu’s staff, an object of inspiration and survival. Living in the Diaspora is a difficult place to remember HaShem. Living in Israel is a difficult place to remember HaShem is your neighbor.
    Yasher Koach

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