I’m traveling to Israel today because AIPAC honored me with an invitation to join 19 other rabbis from Reform and Conservative congregations to explore Israel from multiple vantage points. We will be meeting with Knesset members, activists on the West Bank, Arab and Palestinian leaders, religious and secular Jews, Muslims, and Christians. They all reflect the rich diversity of Israeli society. I’m eager for the exposure to opinions and ideas I may or may not agree with. I’m grateful to AIPAC for its willingness to present truths and facts it may or may not agree with. I begin this journey with eyes wide open but also with a heart full of love and commitment for Israel.
Our own country has ideals it works to promote: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to name a few, are manifest in magnificent ways. It makes me proud to be an American. We know, however, if we scratch the surface, dirty truths lie underneath. Inequality, racism, sexism, poverty, hunger, and a scorched earth from overuse and drought are just a few of our challenges. Yet, we also know that as citizens, we are stewards of our wellbeing to bring justice and fairness. To condemn, to judge myopically, or to dismiss without asking questions and seeking solutions would only bring further deterioration and pull our country apart. The obligation to work for our welfare rests on all of us.
Israel is no different in this respect. Founded on ideals and values, she, too, must strive to overcome significant difficulties. Ultra-religious dominance, societal prejudices, inequality, and injustices abound. It is not just issues surrounding the West Bank and Gaza; reaching any accord from the prevailing discord is an entangled conundrum. Yet, innovative attitudes and tenacity permeate its existence as well. Unlike us in the United States, the neighborhood also presents life-threatening trials. Israel’s strength, vitality, and health matter not only to the Jewish people and all of her citizens but also strategically to the world order.
It is an auspicious time to be there. US negotiations with Iran to control its nuclear potential are still in play and hover close to reaching a deal. Comments by the Minister of Religious Services, David Azoulay, disrespecting Reform Judaism by saying he doesn’t consider us Jews infuriates us and undermines a core tenet of Israel as a place for all Jews. In contrast, weeks ago in Tel Aviv, hundreds of thousands gathered for a Pride celebration and the Israel military changed a policy that gay or lesbian parents do not both have to serve in the reserves at the same time, a small but significant act of recognition of equal marriage. We are going to meet the people who are treating Syrians injured by war. And still there is more. Israel is complicated by its complexity. It certainly isn’t a melting pot and may be more like a simmering cauldron but I feel inextricably linked to its past, present, and future.
I travel toward the land with many questions but not with apprehension. I feel charged to challenge what I know even as I seek to learn more from perspectives not my own. I look forward to sharing with you what I discover, what unnerves and surprises me and to deepen understanding as a bridge from one home to another.
Rabbi Elaine Zecher