April brings spring weather, Passover, and this year, many of our Israeli civic holidays – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day, April 11), Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day, April 19), and Yom HaAtzma-ut (Israeli Independence Day, April 20). This year it seems that our relationship to Israel as American Jews may be tenser than ever.
Passover reminds us of the value and transience of our freedoms. We retell the tale of a capricious ruler enslaving an entire people on a paranoid whim. We observe a change in diet as a physical reminder of the value of even our smallest liberties, and thus a teaching of the need to appreciate our greater options to make the biggest decisions in our lives.
The redemption from Egypt leads to our people’s entrance into Israel, and our historical presence there. The Israeli civic holidays remind us of that intrinsic connection between freedom from tyranny and slavery, and responsibility to build a better society in a homeland. As Americans, we support Israel, taking advantage of one of the most important aspects of our freedoms.
Still, we remain free to offer criticism to Israel too – supporting Israel must include thoughtful, respectful deliberation about Israel’s fate, not merely a lockstep support of any and all Israeli policies. Admittedly, this presents us with a great conflict – how can we, as Americans, most of us who do not make the same commitment to Israel as someone who lives there, offer words of criticism? What right do we have to do so when we have opted for the greater comfort of existence in the United States, where our families don’t fight and risk their lives for the continued existence of our homeland?
We can earn this right by engaging with Israel and Israelis – visit, lend our support, and love that country, but don’t do so unconditionally. When news about Israeli teenagers horrendous opinions emerges, we must speak out, and connect with people we know to let them know that we are horrified, that this does not recommend Israeli society as civilized (see Haaretz.com’s piece, titled “Poll: Half of Israeli High Schoolers Oppose Equal Rights for Arabs” – www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1155627.html). When Israel behaves poorly in diplomatic relations, like they have recently with American diplomats; when the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, deliberates a bill to require orthodox conversion to Judaism in order to be seen as Jewish for the purposes of emigration to Israel, speak out – through an organization like AIPAC or J-Street, or directly to the Israeli government via the websites for the consulates and the Israeli ambassador to the US.
Most importantly, let’s all go to Israel, at least once in our lives, and talk to Israelis, Jews and Arabs both, and find out about their lives. Our presence, our conversations, our understanding of the difficult and valuable work it takes to work towards a tolerant and open multi-cultural society, make us perhaps the most valuable resource for Israelis as they struggle with their problems.
Exercise our freedom to identify as Jewish, if we are, and pro-Israel, and define that for ourselves. Israelis need more from us than our donations to big organizations – they need the best that we have to offer. As Jews, the best we can offer has always been in the area of thinking, learning, and reflecting on our experiences in order to build a better future for ourselves and everyone else with whom we share creation.
A beautiful, thoughtful, and happy Spring, Passover, and series of Israeli commemorations and celebrations to all of you!