This was the first time I returned to northern California for the High Holidays since making Aliyah over a year ago. Before I made Aliyah I was completing my last year at the University of Oregon, and the year before that I was at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Before that I visited Israel several times with various organizations, always returning to the Reform, liberal Marin County that I grew up in.
Having gone back and forth so many times over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to experience an array of Jewish practices, have heard dozens of perspectives on Zionist identity and ideology, and have learned what it means to understand Israel from an internal and external lens. This visit to the Bay Area, however, was different – it gave me a glimpse into the reality of today’s Marin Reform education, its leadership’s chosen direction, and what this means for the future of the movement’s relationship with Israel.
As I sat in my synagogue last week with my family on Rosh Hashanah, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. The service seemed more like a therapy session or a meditation retreat than anything else. One after the other, congregants stood up on the podium and shared their personal hardships into the microphone, as someone gently played guitar in the background. The audience was clearly moved, as each story was relatable on some level.
The moment I was fearing the whole time then began — my rabbi, someone who I have looked up to since I was a child — stood up to share his words with the congregation.
The reason why I was dreading this moment was because of Facebook. Almost every day on my news feed I see his posts, most of which are taken from the New York Times or Haaretz and shed a very leftist perspective on whatever is currently happening in Israel. Although I had never taken the time to truly examine what this means, it gave me a clear idea of where he stood within the Israel dialogue that consumes most of my news feed. It became especially disturbing when Facebook notified me who else was sharing the same articles that he was — a Libyan, pro-Palestinian, Israel hating Facebook friend who I grew up with in grade school (and who also had a serious crush on me in 5th grade, something he probably regrets now).
When the rabbi stood up on the podium, he began speaking about Malachi Moshe Rosenfeld who was shot and killed near his home in the West Bank on his way back from a basketball game this past summer. He then spoke about the young man’s funeral, which was attended by many, including politicians who used this tragedy as an excuse to have a political showboat, spouting their views on settlement claims and future expansions.
My rabbi then hypocritically transitioned this into his own political showboat, sharing his personal views on Israel in front of a huge congregation on one of the holiest days of the year. He ended this speech by sharing the words of a friend, which stated “I just witnessed the end of the State of Israel.”
I was shocked, and immediately looked around the room to see if there was anyone else visually horrified by the rabbi’s statements. Instead, all I saw were slightly tilted heads, mostly matched by blank faces who clearly knew very little about Israel, the conflicts she faces of the complexities of these events which sadly take place all too often.
The only mild reaction I saw was from my father sitting a few seats down from me, who looked so incredibly disappointed. The rabbi may have felt that he was witnessing the end of Israel, but I was watching the end of my community’s educational integrity.
This rabbi has helped educate numerous children who eventually went on to make aliyah and join the Israeli army, my younger sister being one of them. Madi is the epitome of what I thought our congregation represents — curiosity, experiential learning and open mindedness toward Judaism.
If she wants to learn about something, she will go out and experience it herself. Madi has now spent the past two years in her army uniform, guarded the Iron Dome with her watch dog in the middle of the night during the war last summer, and works every day to become more immersed within Israeli society. Because of this, Madi’s voice deserves to be heard. Her views are her own but they’re based on true experience, knowledge and her established Israeli roots.
When she speaks of Israel and the challenges the country faces, she chooses her words carefully, as she knows that her audience outside of Israel can’t truly know what she’s speaking about. They could never really grasp what it’s like to have mere seconds to run for shelter while rockets are falling. They can’t imagine how it feels to be in constant fear of their neighbors. Just as much, they can’t picture an Israeli military where every type of Israeli citizen, Arabs included, fight together in order to secure a more peaceful reality for its civilians.
All of that is okay. It’s alright for Marin Jews not to understand, and I encourage them not to, in fear of creating a skewed, black and white and judgmental depiction of what’s really going on. A rabbi especially, someone who has dedicated his spiritual and professional life to a practice that at its core is a love for Israel, should choose his words carefully in front of an audience who knows nothing better than to listen.
I head back to Tel Aviv in a few days with a great deal of concern for this community, especially for the children who sit in that sanctuary every week and look up to the synagogue’s leadership wide eyed and full of admiration. I was that kid once and I know what it’s like. Now that I’m an adult and am able to see the direction and journey the clergy has embarked on, I find it to be a miracle that I managed to reject these messages and still decided to go discover Israel for myself. Now as an American-Israeli, someone who votes in Israeli elections, has loved ones in the IDF and has learned side by side with Israelis from all backgrounds, I am so grateful that I escaped this brainwashing agenda that is blanketed as liberal normality. For this new year, my greatest hope is that others within this community find the internal strength to do the same.