Dear Israeli Family,
I write to you in advance of Tuesday’s election in Israel, with the hope that I may convince you to vote for new leadership for our State of Israel. After writing a letter to a dear friend from childhood who made Aliyah back in the early 1990’s, I realized I should also reach out to my many cousins throughout the State of Israel. We are related through the Wilensky, Zilneker, Perlmutter, Nadler and Drori families. From my first trip to Israel in the summer of 1979 when I was greeted at Ben Gurion airport by Pop’s first cousin, Zvi and his wonderful wife, Guela Nadler, I have felt the loving embrace of Pop’s family in the Holy Land. It is from this place of love that I wrote this heartfelt letter to my mother’s father’s family on the eve the Israeli election.
Some of you may recall that I had become very active with the Nashot Hakotel, the Women of the Wall years ago and that I created a project addressing the issues of religion and state. From 2010 to 2016, I produced concerts of original songs that raised concern about the monopoly of the ultra-Orthodox over matters of personal life. Once the Israeli government made a deal to expand the Kotel with leaders of Diaspora Jewry and then bowed to the pressure of the Religious parties to break the deal, I retired my project as the issue was now on the public agenda. While I retired my project, I was able to continue my Israeli activism when I moved to New York in 2015. Knowing of my expertise in this area, I was asked to join the Israeli Judaism committee of the UJA-Federation of New York which financially supports exactly the type of work I was trying to support on my own.
Some of you may also recall that I owned an apartment in Jerusalem. Last year, after 19 years of being a foreign resident, I sold the apartment. The family had outgrown the space and my oldest daughter Rachel made it very clear that when she and husband make Aliyah with their family (I have 3 grandchildren), they want to be able to choose their own home. What she knows however, based on her experiences over her many years in Israel, is that she needs to live in a neighborhood where she feels safe. In other words, she will not raise her family in the Gush. She, like so many, remains traumatized from so many years of trauma by terror.
I will never forget how it felt to return to Cleveland after the very difficult summer of 2001. Some of you were with us at our Hanukat HaBayit in July of 2000 when we celebrated our new Jerusalem home, during that summer when a new future really felt possible. A year later, after the tense weeks in Jerusalem, I remember saying that “Cleveland is my vacation home.” Then, the September 11 attacks happened and all of a sudden, I became an expert on living with terrorism. Those days filled with hope seem so long ago.
While from where you sit in Israel it may seem that Donald Trump is “good for Israel,” please know that he has had a horrible impact on American society and politics. The anti-Semitic terrorist attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway have shaken the American Jewish community to our core. There are guards at our synagogue doors on Shabbat and we go through metal detectors at our Matnasim, our Jewish community centers.. Donald Trump has unleashed a wave of racism and hatred that I thought I would never see in America. Since September 11 the fear of Islamic terrorism exists with the reality of gun violence in our public places. I never thought I would see American democracy so challenged. Nor did I ever think I would see a blatantly racist party, Otzma Yehudit, be in a position to become a part of the government of the modern Jewish democratic state.
When I read about Itamar Ben Gvir, the head of the extreme-right party Otzma Yehudit, demanding a Cabinet seat in exchange for his party being a part of Netanyahu’s coalition, I was truly distressed. What was once considered out of bounds in Israeli politics, racism and political violence, now seems to be acceptable to enough of the population to give followers of Meir Kahane seats in the Knesset. This racism exploits the fear, anxiety and uncertainty left over from the Second Intifada. Family, the Jewish People are so much better than that. We, who have been the subject of so much discrimination, cannot tolerate racism in our public leaders. This flies in the face of what it means to be Jewish. Yet, I understand how fear and racism go hand in hand. Yet, I want to believe that the Israeli public can step back and frankly assess the security situation, and the find the courage to move on from those dark and fearful days.
On the other hand, the stories about just how Jewish – and whose idea of Jewish – the Jewish state should be have been of great interest to me. Nine years ago I identified exactly this issue and asked a series of related questions, through music, in “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song.” As some of you know, I have worked very hard at building a strong Jewish identity and ensuring that my 3 children have strong Jewish identities. At the same time, as a result of my Israeli activism and my life in Jerusalem, I became very aware of the how the religious/state “status quo” no longer serves the best interests of the State of Israel or the Jewish People.
In other words, family, you do realize that if Netanyahu puts together a government, it will be with the Religious Parties that just don’t care about my status as a Jew, right? You are aware that the population from Russia is fed up with being told they are second class citizens by the religious establishment? Please know that despite being granted the right to pray at the Western Wall in a court case in 2013 decided by Judge Moshe Sobel, the ultra-Orthodox community continues to protest the Women of the Wall’s guaranteed right of religious expression. Doesn’t it bother you that Jews have less religious freedom in the Jewish State than we do in other places in the world? If there is a National Unity government, the Jewish State can finally respect the rights of All Jews. It is time for the Religious parties to be out of power, don’t you agree?
Family, I know that we have lost loved ones in the many wars Israel had had to fight in her 71 years. I vividly remember Safta Guela taking me to the memorial in Petah Tikvah to share with me our family’s heroes. Today, while Israel has a nuclear weapon, the threats remain real despite diplomatic progress. I don’t know what your views are on Iran but I know we can agree that the threat must be contained. So, my simple question is is: Do you really think that given Israel’s military capabilities, Netanyahu is the only one who can keep the State of Israel safe?
In several years, Rachel and Raffi will establish their home in Israel and raise their children where my grandfather was born. The big question before us Family is this: What kind of Israel will our children and grandchildren be living in if Netanyahu is given yet another chance to lead the government of the State of Israel? What kind of society allows a coalition that embraces the racist Otzma Yehudit party? What kind of Jewish State disregards the spiritual civil rights of a majority of both Jewish Israelis and Diaspora Jews? What kind of nuclear-armed modern Jewish democracy ignores the demographic realities of a Palestinian population that has been so misled by its own leadership? Wouldn’t a National Unity government, one that empowers the moderates in the middle to set the course for the future of Our People, our Jewish State, our families be better?
In closing, because I am a Jewish musician, I turn to the words of a familiar Hebrew song written by the late Ehud Manor and Nurit Hirsh, Od Tireh. By changing just one word, I offer a prayer that change for the Greater Good will come THIS YEAR, 2019, and not some year in the future.
Od tireh, od tireh, kama tov, yiheyeh, bashana, bashana……HAZOT.
You will yet see, you will yet see, how good it will be THIS year.
With much love,