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
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.