On Friday afternoon I went to get a gel manicure. Still here in Beachwood, I’ve been using the manicurist my daughter uses. This was the first time Stacey and I sat across from each other unmasked. I’ve enjoyed the intelligent conversations we would have over the big issues of the day: Black Lives Matter, Trumpism, January 6th. There was no way I could avoid discussing the tragic events unfolding in Israel and Gaza. Especially given Michael Oren’s plea at the end of Tuesday’s Jewish Agency sponsored zoom call, as the sirens wailed and the Iron Dome lit up the sky outside his window, DEFEND US. What was revealed, in our first conversation without masks, was shocking, to say the least.
I learned that Stacey holds the belief that the Jews have no right to be in the Land of Israel, at all. In my effort to explain that there is no other way than coexistence between Arab and Jew, I offended the owner of the salon, who is said to be Turkish. As the foils were coming off my nails, the manicure abruptly ended and I was told to leave the salon with only one of my ten fingers cleaned from the old blue polish. In short, because of my passionate Zionism, which includes my strongly held belief that both People have a right to live in the Holy Land, I was denied service. That is a form of discrimination. The owner of a private business has every right to deny me a manicure because of what I believe. The true violation for me was the utter lack of common ground and the refusal to engage to try to find it, here in the bucolic eastern suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Most disturbing is that many Americans feel the same way Stacey does. It is so clear we have a war of words to fight on this front. It is the least we can do.
Readers of my blog know that I do not shy away from difficult conversations or confrontations. Right now, I will take every opportunity to have a conversation of substance about the right of the State of Israel to exist. Especially now, when She has been sickened from within and bombarded from beyond with weapons of hatred, racism, intolerance, violence and terror in ways unprecedented since Her establishment. It is shocking to the core for those of us who love Israel with every fiber of our being to witness the burning and fraying of the civil society. Those of us who know why the People of Israel returned to the Land of Israel are horrified that a small minority of citizens of the State of Israel have been sickened by the virus of hatred and racism that always lurks in the heart of humanity. The whole point of the Holy Land was to build a place where morality could flourish. This dream is what the return to Zion is all about, for all who are Her residents, Jew, Arab and Other. Remember, We were once slaves in Egypt. We are obligated to treat the Other in the Divine Image .
These basic core beliefs are almost impossible to cling to in the midst of an all out war against the very existence of the State of Israel. Yet, for those of us whose Home is not in the Homeland, safe from the rockets, rocks and riots, now is the time to cling to the vision of what the modern Jewish democratic State of Israel is meant to be. The status quo of violence, false narratives and failure to reckon with the mistakes of the past must give way to a better future for everyone who lives in the Holy Land. If Arab and Jew can’t find a way to coexist in the place where the sense of Western morality was born, I have grave fears for the future of humanity. After all, we were charged with being a Light Unto the Nations. And it is time for the United Nations to acknowledge its concrete role in the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinian people.
There are times when sacred text screams out to us, if we are willing to listen. On the second day of Shavuot, those of us in the Diaspora will be reading the 3rd chapter of the minor prophet Habakkuk. I am reading this Haftarah at Ansche Chesed in New York City, finally returning to the physical structure of my spiritual home and our vibrant egalitarian Conservative community. I didn’t focus on the text until this week. I am shaken to my core that these words are being read on Shavuot 5781, but NOT in Israel, as obviously, there is no Second Day. As my Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky (a fellow TOI blogger) described the reading, “This is a richly apocalyptic passage about a scarred prophet. By the midrash, Habakkuk was the child resurrected by Elisha in II Kings, 4:1-37. Imagine what resurrection from death enables you to see!”
As I delved into the text of this minor Prophet’s vision, “I heard and my bowels quaked, my lips quivered at the sound; Rot entered into my bone, I trembled where I stood. Yet I wait calmly for the day of distress, for a people to come to attack us.” While that is a direct quote from Habakkuk 3:16, it also describes how I am feeling, not only at reading the news from Israel and Gaza but also at the sacred synchronicity of this apocalyptic vision being so spot on for the moment. Verses 11- 14 read: “Sun (and) moon stand still on high as Your arrows fly in brightness, Your flashing spear in brilliance. You tread the earth in rage, You trample nations in fury. You have come forth to deliver Your people, to deliver Your anointed. You will smash the roof of the villains’s house, raze it from foundation to top. You will crack (his) skull with Your bludgeon; blown away shall be his warriors, whose delight is to crush me suddenly, to devour a poor man in an ambush.”
It doesn’t require a close reading of this biblical text to see the vivid description of the current weapons of war that are being used to defend as well as to destroy. Nor is it an overstatement to describe the current state of affairs in Israel and Gaza as apocalyptic. For those of us who know that Jew and Arab can live together in the State of Israel, for those of us who believe that the Palestinians deserve competent leadership and a state of their own, for those of us who have invested our souls in the survival of this modern day miracle, following the events is gut wrenching. All we can do from here is raise our voices loudly and attempt to set the historical record straight. While we are not prophets, we can be change agents, supporting those who live in the Holy Land by defending Her in the court of public opinion. Even if it means being kicked out of a nail salon with nine nails raw and unclean. There are many other nail salons in Pepper Pike, Ohio. There is only one State of Israel.
I close this blog the same way I closed my first blog, with a poem. The first blog was inspired by my encounter with ultra-Orthodox men who didn’t want to sit next to me on a flight to Israel because I am a woman, discriminating on the basis of gender. Once again, it is an act of discrimination, this time because I am a loud and proud Zionist, that prompts both this blog and the sharing of this poem, written to express my hope in the midst of despair.
There are too many doves out my window today, the air is too cold for the month of May.
Yet, here in the Village all is well while the Holy Land descends into Hell
For all who want to live in peace.
Will this fighting ever cease?
Perhaps the doves can take wing and soar, flying East demanding more
Than this violent fate. As their helpers let us state
That our destiny lies in the work of our hands.
We must learn to share these Holy Lands.