Dear AIPAC Leffell Fellows,*
The purpose of this letter is two-fold: to thank you and to challenge you.
After spending this past week in Israel with each of you, future rabbis in each denomination, I am optimistic for tomorrow . I am buoyed by your deep and thoughtful commitment to Israel and your unique gifts that will help direct the Jewish people on a path to make the world a better place.
Each one of you is smart, kind, sophisticated and empathetic, which are core ingredients to a successful rabbinate. Thank you for reinforcing my faith in the future of the Jewish people.
We were greeted in Israel 7 days ago, with a short phrase, ‘It is complicated here.’ That phrase would prove to be a foreshadowing, because it was reiterated at each visit we made by speakers on the political left, right and center and even the people with little skin in the political game.
From Peace Now to proud members of the Settlement community, from discussions on the permissibility of Jews and Muslims on the Temple Mount to religious pluralism throughout the land, from civil marriage conversations to the plight of refugees and challenges for the LGBTQ community, from Saeb Erekat to Michael Oren — this place, these issues, this history, the narrative we inherit and the narrative we create, are all complicated.
Complicated, as a concept, is something we are quickly abandoning in place of simple, linear and monochromatic models. Fast answers, less research, more sound bites, staccato statements, reports limited to 140 characters all make the task of description much more challenging.
Can any of you explain the almost 70-year Israel — Palestine conflict in a Tweet? Can the tug of emotions experienced near Bethlehem at the Rachel Border crossing of embarrassment for the dehumanizing conditions Palestinians must endure to come and work in Israel, but satisfaction these measures keep Israelis safe, be limited to an elevator speech? How can one boil down the positions of the Meretz AND the Likud members of Knesset and explain those distinctions at the coffee house?
This amazing place called Israel is indeed complicated. But, what thing that is good, that matters in our life is not complicated? As Jimmy Duggan said in the movie, A League of Their Own, “It is the hard that makes it great. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
Love is complicated yet, it doesn’t stop me from engaging in relationships. Judaism is complicated, but that has not interfered with my faith. Politics are complicated, but that will not stop me from exercising my right to vote. Life is complicated, but that has not stopped me from sucking out the marrow of what it has to offer.
Israel is complicated too. Please do not let it inhibit you from being an important thread that is integral to the tapestry of this sacred place.
You have chosen a career and dedicated the balance of your life to teaching Torah and modeling its values. Torah begins to breathe life when Rashi is taught next to the verses. The rabbis, influenced by the time and social climate of where and when they lived, brought color to the laws we follow today with personal interpretations and particular analyses. Our text gains meaning when we better understand the context from where it comes. We have a rich history that has used endless resources to embrace that which is complicated. Our ancestors have done an amazing job of bringing nuance to our shared history. Can we do the same with our shared future?
As you take the next steps in your lives and prepare to enter the leadership ranks of the Jewish communal world, teach the Rashi, so to speak. Embrace the complicated and nuanced when it comes to this land called Israel. Do not be bullied by those that want you to share their absolute and simple view of the situation, regardless of their side of the aisle. Try hard to listen to those around you and to make them feel heard. Just as your theology and personal practice has, and will continue to modulate over time, so too can your thoughts on Israel change, so long as your love is unconditional.
Simple is good sometimes for some situations. So is complicated. Do not shy away from it. Grab on to it tightly. ‘Complicated’ is the bedrock of our past. It should be a vital part of our future too.
Chapter 90 of Psalms ask God for support so that the work of our hands do good in the world. I pray that God partner with all of you to add meaning for those that seek and to start the challenging and rewarding process of unpacking the complicated in the communities that will be blessed to have your leadership.
May you go from strength to strength.
Your colleague and friend,
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
*The AIPAC Leffell Israel Fellowship is a two-year program for rabbinical students from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox seminaries. The fellowship deepens rabbinical students’ understanding of modern Israel, the US-Israel relationship and its place in the rabbinate through education, advocacy and mentorship. This program is made possible thanks to the beneficence of the Lisa and Michael Leffell Foundation.