Elke Weiss

An Open Letter to Congregation Tzedek Chicago

To Anti-Zionist Jews of Tzedek Synagogue,

What you are doing is wrong.

Now, here is the good news. No one is asking you to change your essential beliefs. You are free to believe that the state of Israel is not necessary for the Jewish people, that the state of Israel is a historical injustice and to feel sympathy and solidarity with Palestinians. That’s your belief and you have every right to it.

Here is the bad news. If you do not also have the safety of Israeli Jews paramount in your activism, you cannot claim to be acting in the name of Jewish values. There is no Jewish value that allows you to disregard the safety of innocent men, women and children living here.

Make no mistake. Israelis civilians do face a real threat of violence here. Here’s just a few named.

Chaya Zissel Braun. Age 8 months. Murdered.
Shalom Sherki. Age 25. Murdered.
Malachai Rosenfeld. Age 25. Murdered.
Danny Gonen. Age 25. Murdered.
Daniel Tragerman. Age 4. Murdered.

Yes, there is a power differential between Palestinians and Israelis, and it’s far more likely that the gravestone of a war victim will be in Arabic.  That is cold comfort to many Israeli families, who have seen their children buried in the ground far before their time.

Yes, Israel has bomb shelters to protect itself from Qassam missiles. That is cold comfort to the children who have been traumatized by the spree of rockets.  While many have dismissed it as toy rockets, I can assure you that the threat is quite real.  After one red alert, I vomited in terror and spent the night sobbing in a closet.

Yes, Israel makes mistakes and likely could do a better job in many areas. No country is perfect.

That doesn’t diminish the historical truth that Israel today is the biological reservoir of the Jewish people. With close to 50 percent of the world’s Jewish population living there, this is a significant portion of our community. We cannot turn our backs on them and call ourselves Jews.

We cannot be blind to real threats like the videos uploaded by Hamas, which speak of ethnic cleansing of all Jews, including those like my little cousins whose grandparents were born here. And let us make it clear, Hamas does support the ethnic cleansing of the country. Iran’s Ayatollah made it quite clear its goals to remove Israel by disenfranchising most of its citizens. How is this something Jewish values can be okay with?

You are free to quote “sim shalom” and “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof,” but you owe it to yourselves to at least quote these ideas in context. Judaism has some lovely universal ideas, but Halacha is quite clear that we cannot ignore our own brothers’ suffering.

There is no rabbinical authority, no Jewish text, no value that allows us to turn our backs on our fellow brethren.  The Prophetic tradition has no verse allowing for the abandonment of the people.

But you argue, a one state solution would be better for everyone, including Israeli Jews? In fact, when asked that very question, Edward Said, father of the One State solution had the following thought “it worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know.” I can’t call that reassuring.

I’m not saying you need to join the Likud party. Advocate for co-existence, for non-violence, bridge ties between two battered communities. Too much blood has been spilled and healing friendship would be very welcome. Advocate for fairer laws in laws, partner with groups that advocate peace, argue passionately at your Passover table that a comfortable life is exile is better for Jews.

Only do not throw Israeli Jews under the bus. Don’t ignore legitimate security fears of Israelis, the majority of whom just want to live a peaceful life as well. Don’t harass Friends of the IDF, who are tending to wounded soldiers. Don’t shout down speakers of Israel. Don’t be the token Jew that allows a fig leaf for Anti-Semitism. Don’t tolerate hateful libel and Nazi rhetoric because of solidarity.

You don’t have to support the state of Israel, but as Jews, you still have a duty to the people of Israel.

About the Author
Elke Weiss is currently an Israel Government Fellow, working in Biodiversity. In her spare time, she's the Content Director for Act For Israel, an Iengage Fellow for the Shalom Hartman Center, a Media Fellow for Chinese Media Center, a novelist and a rabble rouser.
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