A Lonely Jew on Purim

Today on Taanit Esther, as on all fast days, we read the Anenu prayer and say “answer us, O Lord, answer us, for we are in deep distress.”  Coming home from synagogue, my email account was flooded with appeals for me to respond:   Supporters of PM Netanyahu and his speech, friends who know I’m a strong Zionist and a lover of Israel are begging me to stand with them, and condemn President Obama and the Democrats who boycotted the PM.  At the same time,  Democratic party leaders, Move On, and other liberal groups, knowing my lifelong connection to their agenda are asking that I condemn Mr. Netanyahu as a warmonger and that I support my President.  My former students write to me from college campuses, some asking that I join them in BDS, others that I take a hard no-prisoners approach in backing Bibi.

I’m stuck, in deep distress, for I don’t know how to answer.  I would imagine many politically progressive American Jews, like me, find ourselves without a party, unable to marry either extreme, wishing that some Monty Hall would arise to offer us Door Number 3.

As a Jewish American I feel betrayed by my President and by Nancy Pelosi, less for their positions on Iran, which I can understand, than for the animus and venom which they and their spokespeople show to Israel, more consistently than toward any other foreign nation.  While Bibi may not speak for me, and has contributed more than his share of the blunders that led to this deep freeze, his concerns, Israel’s concerns are real, and need to be heard, respected, even if one rejects his solutions.

As an American Jew, my heart turns to Zion, constantly.  And I feel betrayed by Israeli politicians who forget the Zionist dream, and maintain status quo at all costs, unable to explore creative and  just solutions with Palestinians, to hear the cries of Israelis unable to afford housing, to reach across the divides between dati and lo- dati, rich and poor, Sefardi and Ashkenaz. And no, were I Israeli, I wouldn’t be a BIbi voter.  But I was proud of his speech,  of his daring to say- in defiance of political correctness- “yes, but my family, my people needs to be protected too.”

So how shall I answer?  I will not, like so many of my friends, turn my back on my political and social beliefs in the name of Israel.  Nor can I ever, ever  stop seeking the welfare of Jerusalem, in the name of any universal value.  I may continue to be lonely but – thinking of both the US and Israel- I will answers all comers with the words of the 19th century American politician Carl Schurz– “my country right or wrong – if right to be kept right – and if wrong, to be set right.” These extremes are not the only way.  Hate mongering should not be either the Jewish or the American way.  I’m with Abraham Lincoln who 150 years ago today, asked us to live “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Tomorrow after the megillah, I’ll make a stab at answering the emails though I don’t have real answers. I’ll tell my friends to fight the Hamans and Hitlers, but to be certain to identify them carefully; not everyone who disagrees is necessarily Haman.  I’ll ask them to listen more consciously; Hillel taught us long ago not to condemn another until we understand his position.  I’ll stay on Esther and Mordechai’s tightrope as diaspora Jews always have, seeking the best for America and for Israel.

Tomorrow  I’ll say “the Jews had light and joy, gladness and honor.”  But this moment, caught in my correspondents’ rage and outrage, I feel lonely, very lonely.

About the Author
Rabbi Richard Fagan is an education consultant, interested in creative practices in Jewish teaching and curriculum. After service in the pulpit, he worked with the Central Agency for Jewish Education in Philadelphia and as a National Consultant for PELIE. An Orthodox Jew with background in the other movements, he enjoys teaching, mentoring and storytelling across the Jewish spectrum.
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