Audrey N. Glickman
My grandfather, Harry Levite, was a young Zionist in the 1910s, long before the founding of the Israeli state, long before the Holocaust, before World War I in which Chaim Weizmann would save England with artificially produced acetone to make saltpeter for munitions — the swap which helped to secure a location for a Jewish homeland. In the before times, my grandfather was an active Zionist.
My grandpa was raised in the United States, having arrived here with his family before the age of five, and would visit Palestine in the 1920s. He wrote a lot, and he reported that those who resided there lived together cooperatively, in collegiality, in friendship. The work was hard and cooperation made for a smoother life.
Grandpa was a brilliant and sweet man, fun and pious and well-read in many fields of study. He was a macher in his Orthodox synagogue, yet when he moved to Israel in the 1960s, after his beloved wife passed away, he seemed to grow into the modern scene there. The idea of a secular Jew, of using Hebrew to converse, of feeling really free to be a Jew – any Jew – seemed to envigorate him, maybe slowly at first but quite fully later on, it seems, as I read his writings.
He had cousins there whose family had gone directly to Palestine from Skitl outside Kiev, rather than to the United States. Israel to Harry Levite became a second home, a home of a different kind. He had pressed consistently for the founding and development of Israel, had raised money, influenced policy and people, had written and spoken. Yes, some considered him to be an older man in a younger nation, but he seemed determined to overlook that sentiment.
I’ve been reflecting on my grandfather lately, as I don’t think he would have been proud of the current state of affairs of the Jewish people. I intend to continue to read what he wrote and learn more of what he thought, as maybe I will find potential answers.
Meanwhile, I believe I have identified a part of the question. Here we are, with a giant image problem both around the world and in the government of Israel. Regardless what the truth is, we Jews are seeming to the world to be unfeeling, uncaring self-important bullies. And appearance is everything.
I can’t say the world is fully wrong – when I look at our democratic, free Middle-Eastern homeland, I, too, see a place where I would not be as free as I would wish. As a Conservative Jew, I wouldn’t be considered Jewish enough to have full rights. I would have to go somewhere else to get married. I would have to follow a different set of rules at the Wall than I do at my home shul. I would face a government seeming to be bent on taking away rights rather than opening them up. A government burdened by dogma rather than open to modern thought.
And as much as right-wing politics carry sway – almost to an autocracy, requiring an intricate plot to disengage the autocrat – so do repressive and regressive religious attitudes.
Shame on us! We are not only appearing to hate others, we are appearing to hate ourselves.
Some Evangelical Christians, by the way – certainly in America – find this conflict useful, because, they say, Jews are only the holders of the real estate needed for the End Times.
Why are we as a global people standing for this? Why can’t we wrest control of Israel’s government from the holier-than-thou Torah thumpers and get it into the hands of persons who actually question our roles and who strive to follow the moral and ethical path laid out for us in Scripture? Why can’t we actively seek the peace that we pray for every day? The Palestinians are people, they do deserve basic human rights. We are all people.
About four years ago when Israel sent its military to destroy and carry away solar panels donated by a Dutch NGO to a struggling Palestinian community to power refrigerators and cell phones, I knew for certain Israel was on the wrong path. But I have a steep learning curve to figure out how to influence policy and action in Israel. I look at history – my grandfather, and Chaim Weizmann (cousin of a friend), for instance – and try to learn. I wonder where we are going. We are a people with a specific burden, a task to perform for the planet. It is our job to teach what is right and good and to save the world, yet we can’t even find unity among ourselves.
Maybe instead of mere unconditional love for Israel, it is time to add some tough love. I am certainly not alone in my objection to the self-righteousness and supercilious attitude that besmirches our image worldwide. We have a PR problem nearly everywhere, and people are attacking us ever more often for no good reason. We certainly need to be above perpetrating this sort of attack. We are the last people who should be emulating irrational hatred against a group of people. (Instead, why don’t we offer them something better?) If we must fight, we should fight from a position of hopeful defense rather than justified over-retaliation. If our enemies are fighting a dirty war, we should call it out to the world at that moment, and before we strike back with seemingly dirtier tactics. We need the world to be on our side going forward.
If only we could all be on just one “side,” the side of peace.
I want to say to the wonderful people of Israel that the way the world views you and us drives how the “battle” is perceived. (There really should be no battle at all.) You, the citizens of the country we have been supporting, the country we dream of, the country we need, are contributing to our loss in the battle of public opinion by stooping lower than anyone thought you or we would go.
Acting like a bully is never right. Whether or not what you are doing can be justified, we are not collectively comporting our Jewish selves in a way that shows the world how to behave in humble control of a situation, how to reach for holiness or even decency, how to propagate peace.
If Israel continues to empower repressive regressives and if Palestinians continue to favor Hamas or other militant groups, we are headed neither toward peace nor toward egalitarianism. We are all certainly failing to achieve holiness: we are losing not only Jewish ethics but the world’s support of the Jewish state.