Leah Bieler

Compromising all my convictions, save one

Maybe I just never noticed them before. I’ve been spending more time writing on my covered front porch, having recently acquired some comfy outdoor seating. It seems there are at least four birds’ nests in my field of vision from my own cushy perch. Likely there are more. I shouldn’t be surprised, living out here in the wilderness nearly 25(!) minutes outside of Boston. We have deer – sometimes as many as 15 or 20 at a time, foxes, wild turkeys, groundhogs, owls. It’s a regular wild kingdom. Most of them keep a small but respectable distance from the front door.

The birds, though, have a little more chutzpah. They fly directly over my head as they journey from nest to nest, some atop the porch pillars themselves, feeding the babies whose beaks peek out of the top, spread wide open ready to accept their bounty.

If you think this sounds idyllic, then maybe I didn’t describe it correctly. The birds are flying right above my head.

I hate birds. Some combination of the Alfred Hitchcock film and the fact that a friend was pecked in the face by a chicken when we were little, and I watched in horror as her parents whisked her off to the emergency room for stitches. My neighbors proudly show off their Pinterest ready chicken coops, and I pretend to find them simply adorable. But in my head I’m thinking – why would you invite even more birds into your yard, then voluntarily clean up their poop?

So now, these birds and I, we live in a kind of tenuous stalemate – me aware that I have invaded what they saw as their space, them knowing I have nearly all the power in this relationship. There’s no point removing their nests, even when they encroach on what is clearly mine, not having gotten the proper permits from the town inspector. But I fantasize about getting rid of them nonetheless, or at least keeping them from entering my space, on which I pay ever-increasing property taxes, and a hefty mortgage payment. When they start contributing, I think, then they can talk to me about a renovation that includes ‘bird-friendly’ decor. It’s possible I’m anthropomorphizing.

These days nearly everything feels like a metaphor for the twin dramas which were unfolding last week in Israel. If you’re looking for solutions, or validations for your point of view, feel free to move on. I have little to offer. Instead, I want to highlight something that doesn’t show up in the triumphalist narrative of the Jerusalem celebrations, nor is it evident in the furious accusations as the body count in Gaza flashed across the screen, numbers climbing nearly indistinguishable from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the corner.

I want to talk about the sadness. The sadness that has overtaken friends who have spent their entire lives dedicated to the Jewish People and to Israel. Let me begin by saying this. Among these people there is no question about where the capital of Israel sits. It’s Jerusalem. The Knesset is in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister lives in Jerusalem. The President’s residence is in Jerusalem. The national mourning on Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron takes place in Jerusalem. The national celebration on Yom Haatzmaut happens on Har Hertzl in Jerusalem. Jews have been praying for more than 1500 years for our return to Jerusalem.

Anyone who knows anything about politics knows that this week’s pomp and circumstance had little to do with those facts, upon which all of us agree. But Americans (and Israelis) who opposed the timing of this move are suddenly being demonized as anti-Zionists, even though fully 8o percent of American Jews were against the move happening without it being part of a larger negotiation. The question is – how many times can a Jew who has spent their life dedicated to Israel, to the Jewish people, be called anti-Zionist – before they start to believe it?

And so, last week I have heard true, deep anguish from the very people the Jewish State should be desperate to keep on its side. As they watched the ceremonies surrounding the embassy move, it was as though the two camps were watching a completely different show. Most Israelis, and plenty of Americans, filled with excitement, seem to have witnessed a set of powerful United States representatives declaring their love for/solidarity with Israel, a validation of their very existence. But others seemed to be witnessing it all through another lens.

Here’s what they saw. They saw the US ambassador to Israel, a man who referred to liberal Jews as “kapos,” triumphantly flaunting his victory. They saw evangelical ministers who have openly declared that they believe all Jews are going to hell given prominent airtime. And they saw signs all over the city praising a man who came to political prominence on the backs of white supremacists, who touts anti Semitic dog whistling conspiracy theories, and who is sympathetic to the “good people” among actual Nazis. And the message was loud and clear – you’re either with us or against us.

The problem with that ‘with us or against us’ gambit is that sometimes, when people feel they are presented with an untenable choice, they may end up picking option B. The heartache I’m hearing from politically liberal Jews, lovers of Israel, tireless workers for the community, is real. In order to prove their bona fides, do they have to abandon nearly everything they believe in, compromise all of their convictions, save one?

Even sadder has been watching friends and loved ones hit a breaking point, feeling like they no longer have a place in the Jewish community. Like they’ve already been written off. I saw a friend just today – one of the sweetest, purest people I know, who has dedicated his life to engaging Jews in Judaism, imbuing them with a love of Israel – chastised for the sin of admitting he wasn’t sure how to react to last week’s events. He was called a “self-loathing Jew” and invited to “Go board the train.

I thought I understood the metaphor the birds were providing. But I was dead wrong. There are indeed strong powerful forces, and we’ve been trying to get along for years. But it seems we’re finally more trouble than we’re worth. If I express an unpopular opinion, I risk having my nest turned upside down in the street. It turns out, as much as I can’t stand those feathered nuisances, what I didn’t realize, was that I was the bird all along.

About the Author
Leah Bieler has an MA in Talmud and Rabbinics. She teaches Talmud to students of all ages and backgrounds. Leah spends the school year in Massachusetts and summers in Jerusalem with her husband and four children. Sometimes she writes to get a break from them. The children, that is.
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