When I first found out about Israel’s decision to expel asylum-seekers, I was devastated, as a Jew and a Zionist. To me, the decision was an indication of our failure to build a state informed by Jewish history* and based on Jewish values** -which is a large part of what Zionism means to me.
But the Israeli public’s response has proved that I was wrong: Since the government’s decision, Israel has been full of rallies and protests to pressure the government to change its policy. There have been art exhibits dedicated to raising awareness about Israel’s African refugees, days of learning dedicated to exploring how Jewish ethics intersect with modern asylum seeker policy, and initiatives to host Eritrean and Sudanese refugees at Passover Seders across the country. Additionally, many people, including prominent Rabbi Susan Silverman and MK Ilan Gilon, have publicly pledged to take in asylum seekers if and when Israel’s expulsion policy is implemented, and kibutzim have begun taking in refugees. Additionally, a slew of legal challenges by different Israeli human rights organizations have put the policy on temporary hold, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling. Tonight, in Tel Aviv, 20,000 people gathered to send a clear message: We, the Israeli people, are a nation founded by refugees, and we must provide shelter to the refugees among us. We will take the traumas of the Holocaust and the moral teachings of the Exodus story and demand that our leaders apply those lessons today. To me, that is the pinnacle of Zionism, and the fact that so many people from across Israel’s political and religious spectrum came together to send this message gives me hope.
Similarly, when Donald Trump won the presidential election, I was devastated. I felt that all the American values I had been raised on were being violated. I was in London at the time, and wound up accidentally spilling coffee on an innocent Londoner the next morning, while sobbing hysterically about how I was so sorry but Donald Trump had won and everything was terrible. The coffee-shop owner felt so bad for me that he gave me a new cup of coffee for free.***
But since Donald Trump’s election, I have seen good people across the United States galvanized into action: From the Women’s March, to protests at airports, to the March for Our Lives, Americans of all different background are joining together to protect American democracy. There have also been thousands of individuals inspired to take action on a local level, whether it’s signing a petition or running for office. Looking at all of the activism gives me great hope for America’s future, and makes me want to start reciting one of my favorite Langston Hughes poems: “Let America be America Again.”****
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above…..
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
Both Israel and America are countries of dreamers, founded on ideals of freedom. The power of those dreams is those countries’ greatest strength, even when they fall short of reality. The recent political activism in Israel and in America shows that those dreams are thriving, and the dreamers are marching forwards to turn their visions into reality.
And that’s why, tonight, when I go to sleep, I do so full of hope, and dream of pleasant days ahead.
*like the Holocaust
* *like the Torah commandment of not oppressing the stranger, because we were slaves in Egypt
***British people are so nice! And the Tube doesn’t have rats -only mice, and you imagine that when they squeek, they do so in Cockney accents, like Eliza Doolittle, and next thing you know, you’re singing songs from My Fair Lady.
**** Or, let America be America, because, as Langston Hughes notes, “America never was America for me”. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/let-america-be-america-again