Yom Ha’atzmaut always makes me feel very happy. I am proud to celebrate the flowering of the Israel, alive with creativity, Jewish culture, scientific innovation, outstanding scholarship, and success in building a nation. I think warmly and longingly of my many visits to Israel, walking the streets, breathing the air, surrounded by history, holiness and wonderful Israeli friends.

 

Yet, Yom Ha’atzmaut also makes me sad.  Our beloved homeland, the only Jewish national home, anticipated so longingly for so many centuries, is not at peace.  The challenge of living in a “hostile neighborhood” continues to strain Israel’s resources — emotionally, spiritually, physically and materially.  As a result, the tensions in Israeli society and the Jewish world are manifold, seeping into our consciousness like an electric current.

 

A frightening manifestation of this tension is the deepening and widening set of divisions in the Jewish community when we talk about Israel.  Who is a (real) Zionist? (and who is not?) Who is for peace? (and who is not?)  Who is a Jew? (and who is not?)  Who is an Israeli? (and who is not?) Who is our enemy (and who is not?)  In an environment of “us” and “them”, insiders and outsiders, the nuances and complexities of these challenges are too often dismissed in favor of platitudes. Our internal Jewish dialogue is marred by dismissive reactions to those who hold opinions different from our own. These tensions course through the American Jewish community, sometimes with much hostility.

 

Out of love for Israel, so many of us worry about her future.  We are passionate about contributing to her strength and sustenance. We all want Israel to Israel to thrive as a secure, Jewish democratic nation at peace with her neighbors! Just when we need to share our concerns and ideas, collecting our energies and talents  for mutual strength, we find it is difficult to have civil, respectful and productive conversations about Israel.

 

Israel’s challenges can surely feel overwhelming to any of us. Try as we might to exert our influence, we can’t control what happens.  But one thing each of us can control, one area where we can have direct and immediate impact, is in the internal relationships within our Jewish community. We can resolve to have difficult conversations together, to respect different views regarding Israel and to hear one another with openness. We can resolve to tolerate alternative narratives, even when we disagree.

 

Our people have lots of experience with discussion, debate and inclusive discourse. It’s the way of our rabbinic tradition, codified in the Talmud and centuries of commentary on sacred texts. Jewish scholarship has long embraced an appreciation for a variety of views and this has shaped Jewish culture for centuries. “Two Jews, three opinions,” we like to say, with a pride in our multi-voiced communal culture.

 

There is something very powerful in the Talmudic model, where minority views are preserved and discussed along with what ultimately became majority opinions. The mind sharpening reasoning of the Talmud is empowering. If, instead of acrimonious name-calling, labeling, accusations and dismissal, we choose to honor difference of opinions, we could accomplish so much more — in both focus and internal strength.  We need each other. The key is to facilitate an environment where we can all express our views, while listening and reasoning with each other.

 

Fortunately, there are good tools to help us conduct these emotionally-charged conversations respectfully in our communities. One example is the Jewish Dialogue Group, which offers training, guides, tools and consultations. Books such as “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” can offer practical advice.

 

This Yom Ha’atzmaut, let us resolve to celebrate Israel with a renewed commitment to the Jewish people. Let us reclaim the inclusive spirit of unity that has been such a great source of resilience in challenging times in our past.  In this way, we can strengthen our people and our beloved national homeland.

 

Master of peace,

Sovereign of peace,

make peace among your people Israel

and increase peace among all

who inhabit the earth

so that there will be no

hatred, jealousy, competition or victory

between individuals,

so that only love and a great peace prevail

among us all.

And may everyone know the love of the other,

so that we can all

join together and gather as one,

each person and his fellow,

and we will all speak to one another

and tell each other the truth.

O God – you are peace

and your name is peace.

Master of peace, bless us with peace.

Amen.

This prayer is adapted from Nahman of Bratzlav. (From Kehillah Kol Haneshama, Jerusalem)

This column was published in the Orchard, the journal of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federation of North America, Spring 2011

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