via American Jewish liberals finding their voice on ‘J Street’ – TheHill.com.

I believe that a healthy debate about strategies for security and peace between Israel and her neighbors is long overdue. In the spirit of dialogue that is modeled in Jewish sacred texts, demonstrated by the sages of the Talmud, the the Jewish community can and should welcome differences of opinion. Surely, the sages stumbled when their views were too extreme for the mainstream, when their human foibles got in the way. In those moments, the rebukes, disrespectful comments and verbal attacks surely had consequences. And they taught us about this through the relationships they worked hard to maintain. Their lessons are a healthy caution to us, and certainly not a message that we should silence opposition.

In fact, the American Jewish community is struggling with its unfolding relationship with Israel. in 2004, the Jewish Agency launched an educational project, Makom, which seeks to address the growing disconnect between American Jews and the Jewish nation.  This is a tacit admission that there is a problem.  Makom’s tagline, “Hugging and Wrestling” with Israel, acknowledges that American Jews need a place to explore the challenges posed by Israel’s political challenges. They need a vehicle for developing their engagement with Israel on real terms — as a love for our people, our homeland and spiritual center, while honestly responding to the challenges of creating a democratic, Jewish nation in a hostile neighborhood.

At a conference sponsored by Makom and the Melton Center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in December, Israel educators explored principles and practices of Israel education.  One of the most striking things that I noted while sitting in a  session of the conference was the series of presentations about dealing honestly and openly with painful topics. A highlighted program was “Encounter”, which brings Jewish leaders to West Bank communities to learn about the lives and views of ordinary Palestinians.  Having journeyed to Bethlehem last year with Encounter, a day which I found both profoundly painful and significant for my own learning, I was very encouraged that this mainstream Israel education conference gave voice to the need to venture beyond our comfort zone.

JStreet pushes many Jews beyond their comfort zone as well. But I feel strongly that it is in the category of “arguments for the sake of heaven” and thus morally compelling. If we are willing to face our fears and refract them against our hopes, our dreams and ultimately, our values as Jews, we can help advance the cause of peace.

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