I arrived in Jerusalem earlier today along with over 300 members of the Boston Jewish community: participants in CJP’s Spark Mission to Israel – the largest community mission from Boston in twenty years. We’ve spent the last two days in Haifa, our sister community, and next week we will head to Tel Aviv to join communities from across North America for the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly- taking place over Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day).
I don’t think that there is anything that can diminish my sense of wonder at the privilege to be in Israel at this moment, as a Jewish state celebrates its 75th anniversary of independence. In the scope of Jewish history and our 2,000 years of diaspora, to be alive at a time when I can get on a plane and come to this place, be in a Hebrew speaking country, with a Jewish calendar, and celebrate Jewish autonomy… well, that’s something our ancestors could literally only dream of.
And it doesn’t diminish my sense of awe and wonder to also sit with the weight of this moment and everything that’s happening here right now. In all the years that I’ve led or participated in trips to Israel, I have never received so many advance letters and calls from friends and community members– in Boston, from around the U.S., and in Israel– asking that I attend, or not attend various meetings; make, or not make certain statements; and protest, or not protest, at various points along this trip.
This fracturing and friction within Israeli society– whatever your opinion of the specific events or issues– is a cloud hovering over this momentous moment.
And these frictions are not easily resolvable. Not because there aren’t ‘answers’ that people discuss here, but because answers require compromise and even sacrifice between and amongst the various ‘tribes’ (to use former President Rivlin’s framing) that make up this place– the Haredi, Mizrachi, secular, Arab citizens, and more, not to mention those Palestinians who aren’t citizens of Israel. One part of the challenge is that there is a lack of a sense of a common future, a shared destiny. Without recognition of shared interests and a shared future, compromise is much harder to achieve.
We’re only part way through our time here but one thing is clear: as we celebrate 75 years of the State of Israel this coming week, none of these tribes are going anywhere. To hope for the future of Israel requires us to grapple with, and to embrace, the reality of the long-term presence in this space of all these communities. The hopeful future is one in which Haredim, Mizrachi, secular, and Arab/Palestinian sectors are all stakeholders – invested in a common good, their shared interests and a civic citizenship with obligation and responsibility to each other.
I don’t pretend to know the ‘answers’, but as I’m here this week I am thinking that we, Diaspora Jews, have a role to play in supporting and nurturing more contact and discourse across these tribes. We must encourage them to see how they are in this boat together for the long-haul and need to find ways to hear and hold each other’s needs and interests to build toward a common good.
I remain convinced and hopeful that we, Diaspora Jews, have a contribution to make in the future of an aspirational Israel. It will require us to envision all of these tribes as not only inevitable but as valued parts of this region’s future. That will be challenging for many of these people. It will be challenging for many of us. It is challenging for me.
Work worth doing is always challenging. And people who are doing challenging work give me hope.
This Yom HaAtzmaut, I’m not ignoring the clouds, but I’m choosing to see the rays of hope. And I, for one, am willing to do the hard work that gives all of us the right to hope.
I hope you will make that choice as well.