In July I had the tremendous opportunity of spending a sabbatical month in Israel. I went with a charge that I made for myself: I wanted to see the blessings; I wanted to hear the voices behind the conflicts.
I went because I feel that we in America are trapped in the tension between right and left, each with their own particular vision for Israel, and in this tension we don’t see the people anymore; we just see conflict and struggle. The result is distance and disengagement. Who wants to relate to something that is associated with conflict all the time?
I went because I felt that in this struggle I was missing something.
Hence I went to see and hear as many voices as I could in a short period of time.
How did I organize it?
I talked to my friends and contacts and told them about my kavannah, my intention. They helped me to organize the most incredible Israel trip that I could imagine. I owe them and the BJ leadership, who supported this idea, my gratitude.
Where did I go, and who did I meet?
I ran all over the country visiting more than 60 exciting projects and meeting their dynamic leaders and participants. I know they are only the tip of the iceberg. There were many places I had to skip because there just wasn’t enough time. Even with my rabbinic training I couldn’t manage to be in two places at the same time.
I learned about high-tech projects dedicated to the environment and ending hunger; met a Bedouin woman trying to break the patriarchy of the tribal system and an Orthodox woman fighting for equal rights in Jerusalem; visited a new Conservative congregation in Neve Tzedek with Rabbi Roberto Arbib that is creating a synagogue and cultural center; spoke with youth at Ayalim, a new village created by young people with their own hands to fulfill Ben Gurion’s dream; met with musicians; was at the beginning of the tent movement fighting for social justice; and had a conversation with Amram Mitzna, the Avodah party candidate for prime minister, about the gap between the rich and the poor.
I saw a country that is awake and alive, where Judaism is being recreated. I saw what we don’t see from afar through the smoke of the tremendous challenges it faces. Metaphorically, I saw in the people of Israel my family—in spite of the huge and complex conflicts, I love them more than words can express.
Tweeting and making videos? Me?
Moshe Horn from the Israel committee suggested that I give tweeting a try, and Noel Rubinton took the time to teach me the technology and to coach and guide me while I was there. This was not an easy task.
Tweeting my short thoughts, with photos and videos of the people and places I visited, provided an unexpected new way for me to affect Israel/Diaspora relations. I was wary of the technology but found that my messages actually had a positive impact on other people. My goal was, and will continue to be, to deepen the connections with Israel.
What did I come back with?
With a Bridge.
Hedy and Yumi Schliefer are a couple who run relational workshops applied to couples, institutions, and organizations, and I have witnessed their work. They say that in a relationship of two there are always three: You, Me, and the space in between us. What is created between us is where the relationship takes place. When that space is contaminated, there is no possibility of real communication. They also say that to communicate we have to cross the bridge without judgments to the place of the Other. This message struck me as so applicable to our relations with Israel.
The political discussion has contaminated the bridge between Israel and Diaspora and between Jews in the Diaspora. Yes, we should become more informed about Israel’s conflicts: the Israeli-Palestinian, the secular-religious, and the rich-poor, to name three of the major ones. The situation requires wrestling with tremendous complexities in a neighborhood that is becoming more uncertain by the hour.
But Israel has changed. The relationship has changed. The balance of power has changed. The players have changed. The old paradigms don’t work anymore.
We need to create relationships with the real people who are busy remaking Israel today and from whom we can really learn about the nuances. We need to see beyond the surface. This requires dedication and connections. It also requires that we build a bridge and cross it frequently. It requires that we visit Israel as often as we can.
We, the rabbis, and Ari are working very hard to fulfill the dream of creating such a bridge. We are working to bring an Israel desk to BJ that would become a place to learn, to organize trips like the one I took, to find new ways to connect with the people of Israel, and ultimately to bridge the space between us.
We should never forget that under the complexities, there are in Israel real people, living real lives, shaping the destiny of a real country. When we connect personally, one- on-one, we all gain.