First appeared in Jewish People, Jewish Texts, Jewish Homeland.
Jonathan Boyd is the Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research
Sometimes it is just too hard to hold back the tears. Like during the unetaneh tokef of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when contemplating the simple words “who will live and who will die; who at their predestined time and who not at their predestined time” and trying to come to terms with our extraordinary vulnerability. Or while singing hayom harat olam after hearing the blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashana – “today is the day of the world’s creation” – and trying to behold just how beautiful our world can sometimes be. Or when watching our young children’s sheer delight on entering the sukkah for the first time and seeing the world for an all too brief moment through their eyes.
And then there is Gilad Shalit’s release. It’s impossible to imagine what he has endured for the past five years and four months since his capture. It seems that he was treated well and has returned in good physical health, but the psychological scars inflicted by living in near solitary confinement and in the knowledge that his life hung in the balance every single moment are just too much to contemplate. What his parents must have been through too is simply unimaginable – to have your own child taken away from you in that way and to live with the constant possibility of tragic news is too horrendous for words. I could not hold back the tears this morning upon hearing the news that he had been safely released; I have never met him or any members of his family, but the relief and gratitude I feel upon his return overwhelms every other emotion. Gilad Shalit is free.
It’s a great privilege to live in Jerusalem. Just stepping out of my front door, I immediately confront my identity and destiny as a Jew. My street carries the name of a Mishnaic sage, to the left the streets are named after Biblical characters, to the right after soldiers and politicians who forged the State of Israel. Walking up these roads, passed many kosher restaurants and a myriad of synagogues, I regularly spot important rabbis, former Russian dissidents and political leaders. As I nod and murmur a greeting, I proudly whisper to my children, “Did you know that person is a Jewish hero?”
Dear Mr. Waters,
I was deeply disappointed to learn that you have decided to build a wall between yourself and your Israeli fans. We love you here in Israel. Surely, you must know that from the warm reception you received when you performed here five years ago at the Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom.
What you may not realize is that most Israelis believe in a two-state solution. But this vision is not as easy to turn into a reality as you may think. Instead of recognizing the situation’s complexity, you have joined the campaign to boycott Israel, appointing yourself as a judge in a conflict between Middle Eastern tribes. (How British of you!)
It looks like Israel’s slogan, “the only democracy in the Middle East,” will need to soon be replaced. Successful in the corridors of Washington and in much of American public opinion, this claim – with all its truth about life within the Green Line – didn’t work in some corners of the world when it was viewed in the context of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
Israel’s democracy is messy. Personally, I have strong feelings about Israel not really being a secular democracy and I am pained by the infringements on civil rights that stem from Israeli law not allowing for state marriages that are not performed by its official very right-wing Orthodox rabbinate.
The ringing phone unpeeled me from the TV screen. I was on the edge of my seat, watching the wonderful inspiring pictures of courageous Egyptian people fighting for their rights. The phone call pulled me back into an additional reality:
“The site’s been hacked.”
I’m feeling sad that the weather on the East coast prevented me from attending the performance of Return to Haifa at TheaterJ in Washington DC. The Cameri production of the theatrical adaption of Kanafani’s novella has been receiving wonderful reviews – I’ve never seen the show, but read the script.
Sitting, as I am, in a cold snowy hotel room in New York instead of in the audience at the show, I’m just left to reflect on two things.
1. TheaterJ and its supportive home at DCJCC continues to light a torch for serious examination of Israel in Jewish cultural life. Ari Roth, the artistic director of the Theater, is often condemned for his distinctly left-leaning politics, rather than praised for his deep belief in the centrality of Israel to the Jewish world. As he himself pointed out: “The deepest, most complicated issues about how we identify as Jews and how we see our role as those who celebrate our people and culture, and how we do battle with our heritage, are all wrapped up in engaging and identifying with Israel… It’s a huge component of who we are: Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, not Rockville, not northwest D.C., not the Upper West Side. Israel is our center and we all have a little piece of it in our history.” The man is a thoughtful and committed Zionist!
I am a Zionist. Every day I marvel at Israel’s achievements, I am awed by the soldiers who risk their lives so that I can be here, I am uplifted by a democracy where an Arab judge can sentence the Jewish ex-President to jail and I treasure the privilege of walking the streets of the Promised Land.
But living here comes with a price tag. Sometimes the harsh realities of Israel displace my Zionist dreams and the daily papers carry disturbing news of rampant government corruption and the harshness of the occupation. Edmund Burke is famous for saying that “All that it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to remain silent”; should this be our guiding principle, leading us to speak openly and critically about Israel’s flaws?
You can learn a lot about time spent in a place by looking in cabinets. Today I walked around my office peering into drawers and other spaces inhabited by papers and folders and tiny gadgets that I forgot I have and why I’ve kept them. I’ve been working for Hillel for eight years, and in a week, I won’t be anymore.
One particularly interesting pile looks like this: name tag from JStreet U conference, Stand with Us paraphernalia, Birthright staff manual, fliers for JNF program. It’s a nice summary of irony at work in the life of a progressive Zionist Jewish educator. Luckily, along with my incredible ability to amass stuff, has come a few lessons.
Today, while driving into town, I saw two little Arab girls walking to school. Ma’aleh, where I work, is situated on Shivtei Yisrael Street, which is pretty well the dividing line between east and west Jerusalem. I stopped at the traffic light and two little girls, aged about 11, crossed the road in front of me. They were wearing their school uniform – dark blue trousers and light blue three quarter length tunics. Each girl had glossy black hair braided down the length of her back. And suddenly I felt such a longing for peace.
As I rounded the corner into the home decorations showroom of Israel’s Netanya IKEA, I almost ran my cart into a man struggling with his cart. His was the kind designed for carrying big items that he’d need to build at home- desks, beds, bookcases, maybe even an entire brand new kitchen. Mine was the supermarket shopping cart type, but it was already overflowing. The man and I looked at each other in shared sympathy, his eyes caught mine right before I almost rammed him with my cart.