This day after Purim 5776 finds me in my New York home, reveling in the colors and sounds of early spring. Not only have I been immersed in the miracle of spring outside, I have also found myself enchanted by the picture of spring being created on my kitchen table. In other words, while 18,000 Israel activists convened in Washington, D.C. this week for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, I consciously chose to stay home and work on a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
While I worked on the puzzle, I closely followed the news of the week – from the realization that the demagogue Mr. Trump would be addressing AIPAC, to the analysis of all the speeches of the candidates, to the horror of yet another ISIS mass terror attack on the West. I remembered Purim 2003/5763, when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a bus in my neighborhood in Jerusalem and another Purim, years earlier, when another Palestinian terrorist blew himself up in a crowd of people celebrating Purim in Tel Aviv. For the Jewish community of Brussels, this Purim takes on a similar dark motif. It is as if there is another scroll, another megillah being written right before our very eyes. Clearly, in our time, ISIS is evil Haman. The big difference in our Purim story and world events is now, not only are the Jews being threatened, it is the entire Western world and the culture that grows out of liberal, democratic values. If Paris was not enough evidence of this, Brussels most surely is.
In this new story, this new scroll, this new megillah, there are certain fundamental facts that no one person, group, community, nation or leader, whether demagogue, dictator, prince or president can change. However, within this new narrative, there are certain historical facts that have yet to be incorporated into the story. One of the main reasons I chose not to be among the 18,000 activists is because I believe that AIPAC, reflecting the stance of the Israeli government, has yet to incorporate certain historical facts and the corresponding attitudinal shift, in its policies and behaviors. In particular, I strongly object to the continuation of the cultivation of the Holocaust mentality. In 2016, the lessons of the Holocaust are different than the lessons the world needed to learn in the 1960’s. Despite Holocaust deniers and the frightening proliferation of Nazi ideology in our time, 70 years after the Shoah the Jewish People and the State of Israel have fundamentally changed the facts on the ground. The fact that the State of Israel is a nuclear power has changed the facts on the ground. That the American Jewish community is the most powerful and affluent Jewish community ever changes the facts on the ground. That Israel is an amazing economic success story changes the facts on the ground.
However, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to invoke Holocaust imagery and mentality to justify his opposition to the Iran deal which is, as they say, a done deal. He leads the pack of those who continue to see Iran as the Haman of our time, clearly a merger of history and current events that is difficult to resist. However, I am among those who believe that the biggest threat is the ISIS terrorist, so similar in style and approach to the Palestinian terrorists that preferred bombs to knives. I also believe that the Jewish People must speak up loud and clear as fear driven discrimination against the Muslim community invades our society through crude and crass political conversation.
In the new narrative, the new scroll, the new megillah, Israel and the Jewish People move forward with eyes wide open, secure in the knowledge that the IDF is guarding the population, yet looking for opportunities to change the status quo. The real fear for personal safety makes trusting in a different future most difficult. For all those who care about the well being of both the People and the State of Israel, changing the status quo with respect to the Palestinians seems like an unsolvable jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps that is why the Israeli government continues to focus on Iran despite the done deal – the puzzle pieces seem more clear and solvable. Yet it is the puzzle of how to resolve the almost 70 year old conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people that truly matters. Israel’s role as a Light Unto the Nations, as an Or l’Goyim, commands us to continue to work on this puzzle.
We need to remember that the scourge of terrorist suicide bombings came out of the Palestinians territories in the early 2000’s. For reasons we all know too well, the world was not outraged when the target was the Jewish State. However, now, the target is the Western World. While the Palestinian leadership fails to move beyond its own outdated story, ISIS terrorists pose an even greater threat to the world, eclipsing the plight of the Palestinians, yet again. In the 1990’s, I caught a glimpse of what a modern Palestinian society could look like in a visit to Jenin. Without a fundamental change in Palestinian leadership however, official progress of any kind will be stalled. Yet there are those on the ground who continue to build personal relationships between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, doing the grassroots work that is the essence of social change. In the absence of a political frame, people of good will in the Middle East and beyond are working in different arenas to, piece by piece, create a new picture out of the puzzle of their complex conflict.
I want to believe that being a Light Unto the Nations means something in 2016. I want to believe that if we model courageous, caring and creative ways to engage with the Other on the Land, such behaviors and attitudinal shifts will emanate from there to other corners of the world. While this is a most difficult puzzle to solve, failure to do so is a capitulation to the victim narrative of our past rather than a belief in a new narrative of strength and confidence. While AIPAC is excited to highlight the mighty Start-Up Nation as a show of strength and confidence, when it comes to the big security issues, AIPAC follows the lead of Bibi and continues to use the Holocaust as its frame. In my opinion, using the Holocaust as our frame in 5776/2016 weakens the power of our once mighty AIPAC. Not to mention the disgusting display of Trumpism for which AIPAC officially apologized. I am sure others found it ironic that Trump appeared before AIPAC just a few days before Purim. It’s one of those real facts that just seems to bizarre to be true, a masquerade of reality, so to speak.
Which brings me back to the jigsaw puzzle on my kitchen table, waiting to be glued together, framed and then hung on the wall in my New York home. When the facts of the world seem too overwhelming, getting involved with a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle gives one a sense of control. In a similar way, supporting organizations and activists in Israel working to rebalance Public Jewish Law and democratic values within the society allows me to work in a realm in which I can have some impact. As I have often said, I cannot change Hamas, Fatah or those who deny Israel’s legitimate right to exist as a Jewish State. Yet I can work to make changes within Israel’s political and legal culture that make Israel a healthier, stronger modern Jewish democracy. By presenting Concerts of Concern that address domestic issues that threaten the security of the State in a very different way, I am not so overwhelmed over the future of the Jewish State. And while AIPAC continues to engage Zionists through its traditional form of activism, the Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project aims to empower creative activists to help write a new narrative, a new story, a new megillah for the 21st century, the 5770’s and beyond.