Restor­ing re­spect­ful di­a­logue about Is­rael


Is de­clin­ing aliya from the United States and other coun­tries, as the Jewish Agency re­cently found, fore­shad­ow­ing an end to the strong ties be­tween the State of Is­rael and Jews in the Di­as­pora? Th­ese re­cent find­ings re­mind us of the im­por­tance of find­ing ways for Jews around the world to con­nect with Is­rael and en­sure this strong con­nec­tion en­dures.

Th­ese con­nec­tions – and Is­rael’s Jewish and demo­cratic char­ac­ter – can only be main­tained with an open di­a­logue about Is­rael and Zion­ism that is em­brac­ing of widely di­verse per­spec­tives. This im­per­a­tive is es­pe­cially cru­cial within the lib­eral Zion­ist com­mu­nity, which pro­vides for a mul­ti­tude of ways that Jews both in­side and out­side of Is­rael can en­gage and de­fine their re­la­tion­ship with the Jewish state.

Pub­lic de­bate in Ju­daism – in­clud­ing ar­gu­ments about core, con­tro­ver­sial so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues – dates back to the Tal­mu­dic days of Hil­lel and Sham­mai. How­ever, a con­struc­tive di­a­logue is only pos­si­ble when con­ducted with mu­tual re­spect and good faith and with a will­ing­ness to con­sider re­shap­ing one’s own opin­ion. All sides are obliged to en­sure that the con­ver­sa­tion about the fu­ture of Is­rael does not de­scend into an un­pro­duc­tive shout­ing match.

Too of­ten, we Di­as­pora Jews only think about Is­rael in terms of its gov­ern­ment and the po­lit­i­cal par­ties in power. That’s why we must fully en­gage our­selves in the work of un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­at­ing mod­ern Is­raeli life, with a fo­cus on the rich­ness and vi­brancy of Is­raeli cul­ture. Its his­tory, lit­er­a­ture and art are cru­cial parts of mod­ern Jewish life. This also means that we must equip our­selves with the tools to un­der­stand and in­ter­act with this cul­ture, for ex­am­ple by study­ing the He­brew lan­guage and ac­cess­ing mod­ern Is­raeli lit­er­a­ture. We must be more than ob­servers, and in­stead be­come full par­tic­i­pants in the na­tional life of the Jewish state.

Is­raeli Jews have a role to play as well. Too of­ten, Di­as­pora Jews en­counter a re­flex of judg­ment and ex­clu­sion when ex­press­ing opin­ions about Is­rael that de­vi­ate from the es­tab­lished norm, even when those views are de­rived from care­ful and thought­ful con­sid­er­a­tion and ex­pressed in good faith. This phe­nom­e­non is by no means one-sided, but as Di­as­pora Jews take the ini­tia­tive to en­gage deeply with Is­raeli life and cul­ture, they de­serve a re­cip­ro­cal will­ing­ness to en­gage in un­der­stand­ing Di­as­pora Jewish life from their Is­raeli broth­ers and sis­ters, re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences.

So, how can we work to­gether to build and main­tain greater mu­tual re­spect, en­gage­ment and di­a­logue among Jews in Is­rael, among Jews in the Di­as­pora, and be­tween the two groups? While there is no one an­swer, we of­fer a few sugges­tions for lib­eral Zion­ists seek­ing to en­gage their com­mu­ni­ties:

• Cre­ate safe spa­ces: The con­cept of “safe spa­ces” has been much ma­ligned, but such spa­ces have an im­por­tant part to play in build­ing and pre­serv­ing a pro­duc­tive di­a­logue around Is­rael and Zion­ism. Sy­n­a­gogues and Jewish com­mu­nity lead­ers, both in Is­rael and the Di­as­pora, should work to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for their mem­bers to ex­press their hon­est, thought­ful and in­formed opin­ions on th­ese is­sues, with­out fear of judg­ment or ex­clu­sion and with pre­de­ter­mined ground rules that en­sure mu­tual re­spect and good faith.

• Fa­cil­i­tate var­ied ways to ex­press Zion­ism: There’s no short­age of ways that Jews around the world can con­nect to Is­rael. Ed­u­cat­ing one­self and par­tic­i­pat­ing in re­spect­ful con­ver­sa­tions about Zion­ism, sup­port­ing Is­rael from abroad, form­ing deep and last­ing friend­ships with Is­raelis, find­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to visit and study in Is­rael, en­gag­ing in deep­en­ing Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sup­port for Is­rael and open­ing our doors to younger adults to ex­press their doubts, their chal­lenges, their dreams – are all ways to en­gage mean­ing­fully with the Jewish state. Com­mu­ni­ties should en­sure that their mem­bers have op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­press their Zion­ism in ways that are most rel­e­vant and enriching for them.

• Sup­port lib­eral Is­raelis and their in­sti­tu­tions: There are or­ga­ni­za­tions in Is­rael, such as the Is­rael Move­ment for Re­form and Pro­gres­sive Ju­daism (IMPJ) and the Is­rael Re­li­gious Ac­tion Cen­ter (IRAC), that are ded­i­cated to ad­vanc­ing pro­gres­sive and lib­eral causes within Is­raeli pol­i­tics and so­ci­ety. Not only does sup­port­ing th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions help ad­vance our mu­tual goal to pro­mote demo­cratic and plu­ral­is­tic ideals, it makes clear to lib­eral Jews ev­ery­where that Is­rael is a coun­try where their val­ues have a place and a voice. Such sup­port also sends the clear­est pos­si­ble mes­sage to Is­rael’s po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural lead­ers that the fu­ture of Is­raeli pro­gres­sive Ju­daism is quite ro­bust.

Con­ver­sa­tions about Is­rael are too im­por­tant for wide swaths of the Jewish com­mu­nity to feel ex­cluded or os­tra­cized for fear of judg­ment or con­dem­na­tion. By open­ing up the con­ver­sa­tion and en­cour­ag­ing greater per­sonal and cul­tural in­ter­ac­tion be­tween Is­raeli and Di­as­pora Jews, we can en­sure that the fu­ture of Is­rael aligns with a pro­gres­sive vi­sion and that Jews in Amer­ica and around the world feel a deep, last­ing con­nec­tion to Zion­ism for years to come.

Rab­bis Stan­ley M. Davids and Lawrence A. Englander are co-edi­tors of The Frag­ile Di­a­logue, a forthcoming book from CCAR Press that ex­plores the di­verse per­spec­tives of the lib­eral Jewish com­mu­nity on Is­rael and Zion­ism.

‘TOO OF­TEN, Di­as­pora Jews en­counter a re­flex of judg­ment and ex­clu­sion when ex­press­ing opin­ions about Is­rael that de­vi­ate from the es­tab­lished norm.’

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