Today is Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Independence Day and also its 70th birthday. Make no mistake, Israel is complicated, and Jewish community politics about Israel are equally complicated (locally here in Seattle, nationally, and globally). Here at Kavana, we strive to build bridges of authentic connection, to delight in the miracle that is the modern State of Israel, and also to continue to give voice to the ways in which our dreams and visions have yet to be realized. As with our approach to our own American society, our lens on Israel is nuanced in being both appreciative (celebrating the good that is), and critical (calling out injustice when we see it). Our hope is that we never lose sight of the founders' aspirations and dreams, and that we can also add our own, continuing the process of dreaming and building.
Today is Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Independence Day and also its 70th birthday.
This past Sunday at Prep & Practice, families with young children learned together about the visions of Israel's founders, and how we can take inspiration from their dreaming and building. Parents studied the Israeli Declaration of Independence, unpacking both what it meant in its historical context, and also what it means to read its aspirations as a living and breathing document today.
Make no mistake, Israel is complicated, and Jewish community politics about Israel are equally complicated (locally here in Seattle, nationally, and globally). Here at Kavana, we strive to build bridges of authentic connection, to delight in the miracle that is the modern State of Israel, and also to continue to give voice to the ways in which our dreams and visions have yet to be realized. As with our approach to our own American society, our lens on Israel is nuanced in being both appreciative (celebrating the good that is), and critical (calling out injustice when we see it). Our hope is that we never lose sight of the founders' aspirations and dreams, and that we can also add our own, continuing the process of dreaming and building.
On Tuesday evening of this week, erev Yom HaZikaron (the eve of Israel's Memorial Day), the renowned Israeli author and soon-to-be recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize, David Grossman, spoke to a crowd of thousands who were gathered for an "alternative" Memorial Day commemoration in HaYarkon Park in Tel Aviv. The event was organized by Combatants for Peace and the Bereaved Families Circle, and attended by Israelis and Palestinians alike. (I mention this here in our Kavana newsletter both because there are lots of ties to our ongoing educational, cultural and social justice work -- for example, our Book Club has read a couple of David Grossman's novels over the years, and last years' film screening of "Disturbing the Peace" also featured Combatants for Peace -- and also because Grossman's words are truly worth reading. For a complete text of his speech, published in yesterday's Haaretz and entitled "Israel is a Fortress, but not yet a Home," click here.)
Grossman's talk was at once personal and tragic (he spoke movingly about the loss of his son Uri), poignant, critical, and visionary. He ends with these words, an articulation of his dream for Israel, that it will someday become a true home, in all the valences of the word.
Home. Where we will live a peaceful and safe life; a clear life; a life that will not be enslaved — by fanatics of all kinds — for the purposes of some total, messianic, and nationalist vision. Home, whose inhabitants will not be the material that ignites a principle greater than them, and supposedly beyond their comprehension. That life in it would be measured in its humanity. That suddenly a nation will wake up in the morning, and see that it is human. And that that human will feel that he is living in an uncorrupted, connected, truly egalitarian, non-aggressive and non-covetous place. In a state that runs simply on the concern for the person living within it, for every person living within it, out of compassion, and out of tolerance for all the many dialectics of ‘being Israeli’. Because ‘These are the living words of Israel’.A state that will act, not on momentary impulses; not in endless convulsions of tricks and winks and manipulations; and police investigations, and zig-zags, and flip-flops backwards. In general — I wish our government to be less devious and wiser. One can dream. One can also admire achievements. Israel is worth fighting for. I also wish these things for our Palestinian friends: a life of independence, freedom and peace, and building a new, reformed nation. And I wish that in 70 years’ time our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, both Palestinian and Israeli, will stand here and each will sing their version of their national anthem.But there is one line that they will be able to sing together, in Hebrew and Arabic: “To be a free nation in our land," and then maybe, at last, it will be a realistic and accurate description, for both nations.
In honor of Yom Ha'Atzmaut, I offer you Grossman's words, and invite you to dream your own dreams for the future of the state of Israel, and indeed for the future of the Jewish people both here and there. May we all take inspiration from the famous words of Theodore Herzl: "Im tirtzu, ain zo aggadah," "If you will it, it is not a dream."
With wishes that 70 years brings with it wisdom, compassion, justice, and peace for the State of Israel and all of its inhabitants,
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum
This configuration rings true to me today. I picture volunteers in my community working shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen preparing meals for homeless “tent city” residents or a multigenerational group marching for justice and equality arm-in-arm, like a wall of planks.
In this quiet pause, it's awesome to be able to reflect on the theme of this week's holiday. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated widely in Israel, of course, but it does have a Hebrew name: Chag ha-Hodaya, literally, the Holiday of Gratitude (or thanks or acknowledgement). You might recognize the root word from so many of our Jewish prayers... it's conjugated into forms like "modeh ani" ("I give thanks") or "modim anachnu lach" ("We give thanks to You") or, perhaps most famous of all -- a line repeated during the Hallel service or at a bris -- "hoduladonai ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo" ("Give thanks to Adonai who is good, for God's lovingkindness endures forever.")
Last night, I went to bed with the mixed election results fresh in my mind. This morning, I woke up thinking about a powerful image that appears at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Toledot. In last week's reading, Abraham's servant had traveled to find a wife for Isaac, and he had selected Rebecca based on her incredible generosity and compassion (as our Moadon students have learned, she offered water not only to him but also to his camels!). This week, we meet Rebecca again, now pregnant and uncomfortable. She seeks divine intervention, and is told that two nations are struggling in her womb. In the pshat (the simple, plain meaning), this means that she is pregnant with a set of twins. On the level of drash (deeper interpretation), these twins, Jacob and Esau, represent two very different modalities of being, and it is these that are struggling within her.