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Where will you find your place?

In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post (March 5, 2024), Noah Feldman wrote a thoughtful analysis of the abandonment of Israel by some progressive American Jews, especially Gen Z’s. Feldman explains that Gen Z’s cannot reconcile the policies and very existence of the State of Israel with their deeply held Jewish beliefs about social justice. Indeed these beliefs about social justice define and qualify their Jewishness. Feldman writes: “….for sincere, committed progressive Jews, it would be a betrayal of their Jewish commitments to remain Zionists if Israel does not match the ideals of liberal democracy…… They feel no commitment to the existing state. But they do feel a particular need to criticize Israel because it matters to their worldview as Jews.”

I know these young Jews. They are the children who grew up with my adult children and the children of my friends and family. The fragmented Jewishness that informs their lives is familiar to me, as is their fluency with the language of tikkun olam. Yet Feldman’s sympathetic explanation begs a question for me: Did the concept of peoplehood bypass these deeply moral Jews in the formation of their Jewish consciousness? Does the notion of the connection among Jews throughout the world, and throughout Jewish history not earn a point or two on the Israel balance sheet ? Are these caring Jews who are disturbed by the killing in Gaza also bothered by the horrific murders, rapes, beheadings, and burning that Hamas wrought on the people of Israel ? Does the familial connection to the Jewish people not earn an extra dose of empathy? And do these Gen Z’s know that had they—even accidentally—been in that place at that time, it would be them that we would be mourning among our Jewish people. It would be their faces on the posters, and it would be for their sake that we would be demonstrating to make sure they are remembered, and to pray that they would be returned to our people. Because these progressive American Jews are part of our people. Am Yisrael, the People of Israel.

That Israel represents a deeply felt conflict for progressive Jews in America is a perspective I can understand. The Jews in America have never experienced a war on American soil, never had to worry about lethal rockets falling on their homes, never had to spend time in safe rooms or shelters guarding their children from an enemy who wants to kill them. And since all the news about Israel is always about war and fighting and conflict, it’s not unreasonable to conceive of Israel as a warmongering, violent place that does not want peace. Unless, that is, your connection as part of the People of Israel moves you to read, to watch, to listen, to genuinely consider the case Israel makes every day to defend itself. Did you know that among the kidnapped and murdered Jews were mostly left-leaning peaceniks who decried the policies of the Israeli government and shared your deeply held Jewish values. It didn’t save them; the Hamas executioners didn’t ask.

When my husband and I made aliyah 5 years ago, we came as American retirees.  What did we know of war? Only history. And our experiences over many decades visiting and learning here during the Yom Kippur War and the intifadas. This time we came to participate in the great project of the Jewish people that is the State of Israel, to help contribute to that project in whatever small ways we might. We came to throw our lot in with our people, and little did we know that as a country we would we fighting for our lives.  The Jihadist ideas that feed Hamas’s terrorism were not in our minds. I never heard of From the River to The Sea. Instead, All Israel is responsible for one another was our inspiration. Am Yisrael Chai (The People of Israel Lives) is our prayer and our song.

We do not want war. It is terrifying living under the looming threat of more war. Still, I am grateful that we have a country and an army, and I pray for our soldiers who are prepared to die to protect our people. And although we know that many people in the world –including some of our Progressive Jewish brothers and sisters in America—would like us to disappear, we have no other country, as Golda famously said. The single most painful aspect of enduring this war for us is the readiness of many American Jews to forsake Israel, to forsake the family connection.

There is no other place on earth that stands for the Jewish People–its right to exist, and its right to a future. The dazzling array of tribes, countries of origin, and races that compose this People makes us unique in the world. Our sense of caring for each other, of supporting each other through these painful times—in all of our diversity– is what keeps us going. The loss of so many of our own sons and fathers and brothers is so profound, and their sacrifice reminds us why we are here: for the future of the Jewish people. I would ask my fellow Jews in America: If or when the left leaning thinkers in America marginalize you as Jews, or worse, if or when they attack you as Jews—regardless of your disconnection from all things Israel—how will you deny the connection that is 4,000 years old in your DNA, and where will you find your place?

Next week as we Jews around the world gather to celebrate Passover, we recite a narrative from the Haggadah about our wandering ancestor.

My ancestor was a wandering Aramean. He descended to Egypt and resided there in small numbers. He became a nation—great, powerful and numerous. The Egyptians treated us badly. They persecuted us and put us under hard labor. We cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors. God heard our voice. God saw our persecution, our toil and oppression. God too us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, signs, and wonders. God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land of milk and honey……

Perhaps in your own journey, as you search for your place, you might find it among your People.

About the Author
Judy is an olah to Israel from Chicago. She is a retired CEO of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning and a Jewish educator for more than 40 years in the US.
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