This past week the Jewish Federations of North America and the united institutions of the Conservative Movement both released public messages weighing in directly on the debate, and the uproar, in Israel over so-called “judicial reform,” as did the World Mizrahi Movement, an Orthodox network. These messages communicate that we are in what could be fairly characterized as an unprecedented moment for Jewish Diaspora relations with the government of Israel.
This has not gone unnoticed—both within and beyond our Jewish community—especially when one considers that these public messages are not on a matter of religious pluralism, an issue which many of these institutions have weighed in on in the past.
I am being asked by many, including our civic partners, what all of this means for my, and our, bonds with Israel.
For me, as I think is true for the vast majority of us Jewish Americans, Israel is not our “home,” but it is a “homeland” for us—a place where our people’s national identity begins, and where our national aspirations are centered. But home—where we live, where we plan to always live, to raise our families and build our future, is here. While I certainly have friends who have and who aspire to make aliyah, I personally have no plans to live in Israel. Home for me is Boston (well, Cambridge, really), and when I retire—not for a long time, please, God—maybe New Mexico or some similar locale.
I am profoundly grateful that Israel exists as a refuge for persecuted Jews around the world. I’m also aware and grateful that it exists as a refuge for me if things in our country ever get so awful that Jewish American safety comes to an end—a notion that no longer seems quite as far-fetched as it did not too long ago. But my future is here. That’s true, regardless of who is in the White House, controls Congress, or is running roughshod over our rights in the courts. I’m invested in the future of this place, Boston, that I call home, for all its people. I care about the quality of our schools, the accessibility of affordable housing, addressing the real and persistent racial inequities in this town. I want this to be a great place for me and my neighbors. I want this to continue to be a safe place to live openly and proudly as a visible Jew.
My bonds to the citizens of Israel will also remain strong. They, too, are a part of my family. Half of the world’s very small Jewish population lives in Israel. I cannot imagine a strong Jewish identity for me that doesn’t include remaining deeply connected and committed to them as part of my people. And beyond peoplehood, I have personal friendships with Israelis—both Jewish and Arab—that I am not able, nor would I want, to foreswear. I share their hopes and their fears, their desire for a better future and for their children to live in peace and prosperity. I am invested in their work and their struggles. That’s true regardless of whichever parties are forming a government, passing legislation, or overriding the courts.
There are bonds that tie us to each other, and it is these bonds that have weighed on us in recent weeks as so many of our leaders and institutions have tried to navigate the best ways to express their discomfort with friends, neighbors, and governments. How we invest in strengthening bonds between people across differences, both here at home and with our friends in our homeland, is for me and for us at JCRC, the work ahead.
Now is not the time to disengage. Not from the challenges that our friends and partners in Israel face, nor from the challenges our neighbors and partners face here at home. And we need you to be part of this work with us.
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