The following is adapted from a speech delivered on Sunday at a rally for Israeli democracy in Washington Square Park in New York City.
Shalom. My name is Esther Sperber and I am here because I am very worried.
I was born in Jerusalem, the oldest of ten children. I studied architecture at the Technion and came to New York to do a master’s degree at Columbia where I met my husband Bruce. Together, we raise our two daughters, who attend a Jewish Day School and we belong to a liberal Orthodox synagogue on the Upper West Side.
I am here because I am worried for Israel and I am worried for my own family.
The political is personal.
I have the most incredible and diverse family (you couldn’t make this up if you tried).
I am worried for my father.
My father, Rabbi Daniel Sperber, is an esteemed professor, Israel Prize Winner, and eminent Torah scholar. He believes in the value of K’vod Habriyot’, the dignity of every human. On this basis, he formed an independent Beit Din – religious court – to free women who were not able to get a divorce under the Israeli rabbinical court.
I am worried for my father because under the new laws, women’s rights will not be protected.
I am worried for my mother.
My mother made Aliya in 1969, bringing with her a deep American commitment to civil rights and feminism.
I am worried for my mother because under the new laws, minority rights will not be protected.
I am worried for my sister Avigail.
Avigail lives in Tel Aviv. She is a talented documentary filmmaker and a proud lesbian mother of two sons. In 2005 she founded Bat Kol, an organization for Orthodox and formerly Orthodox lesbians and non-binary people.
I am worried for Avigail because the freedom of artists and LGBTQ people will not be protected.
I am worried for my brother David.
David lives in Jerusalem with his wife Noa and their four young sons. David has a PhD in Art History and is studying at HUC to become a reform rabbi. David, Noa and their children celebrate their Judaism in their Reform community.
I worry for David and Noa because religious rights and pluralism will not be protected.
I am worried for my brother Yossi.
Yossi spent many years as an officer in the Israeli army and is now the principal of an Israeli secular high school.
I am worried for Yossi because the rights of secular Israelis will not be protected.
And I am worried about Yotam, his oldest son, who will be drafted into the army at a time of so much instability.
I can go on, and tell you how much I worry about my sister, Shoshi, who is on the far left, and my adopted sister Ariella who needs a lot of welfare support.
Because their rights, too, will not be protected.
But I will end with my sister Sara.
Sara and her family live in a small settlement by the Dead Sea. She is a centrist religious Zionist and although there is much we disagree on, we love and respect each other.
I worry for Sara because the rush to pass these terrifying laws is tearing Israeli society apart, bringing unprecedented financial instability, and rocking the always precarious security in the region.
But, I am also worried about my sisters and brother here in the American Jewish Community.
Why are you silent? Why is this not the center of our conversations at the dinner table, in our synagogue, at our Jewish schools?
We American Jews have something unique to contribute.
To paraphrase the song:
Sometimes דברים שרואים מכאן לא רואים משם.
Sometimes things you can see from here, in the US, you cannot see from there.
The Jewish community in America knows what it means to be a minority and to be protected by the law. We have been on the front lines calling out hate speech and hate crimes, protecting the separation of church and state, fighting women’s rights, voting rights, minority rights, and supporting immigrants and asylum seekers.
We hold these values dearly.
This is not a time to be polite or deferential. We Jews in America who love Israel should be proud of our values and speak up clearly.
Speaking up at a time like this is supporting Israel.
I am sure that you too are worried.
For your family. For your friends. For Palestinians, Reform and Conservative and Orthodox Jews, foreign workers, journalists, women, LGBTQ people.
Let’s fight together for our friends and family in Israel.
Let’s fight for my parents, for Avigail, for David, for Yossi and Sara and Shoshi and Shuli and Ariella.
We must be worried.
We must speak up.
And must support democracy in Israel.