Writing a post on election day makes it almost impossible to avoid politics, and yet I am going to try to dance around things as much as I can.
No matter who you are voting for today, one thing is abundantly clear… how truly divided this country is. Anger and frustration have given way to divisiveness. And while sometimes it is okay to let anger fuel us, we must never let it rule us. Making a decision from a place of anger, bitterness and confusion rarely results in the best action and resolution.
This election cycle has politicized way too many issues that should NOT be politicized… like respect, decency, honesty, sexual assault, etc., … and unfortunately, America’s support for Israel now seems to fall along party lines and politicians.
The result is a fracture within our very own community.
I have mentioned before that I feel like I am a man without a political party… dwelling in the Center and trying to see what works and does not work on both sides. I feel the same when it comes to my Judaism… and at present, I am a man without a Shul. I grew up Conservative, became Reform… and now study with Chabad and Orthodox Rabbis… and I see great and amazing value, and also immense challenges in all.
I do not remember which issue of the Jewish Journal it was in… as sadly I have stock piled them for months, and am only now “catching up” with the huge stack… but was saddened to read how little importance Jewish voters place on Israel.
I was also dismayed at a comment a Rabbi (whose name I will not mention) made during their High Holy Day sermon. What they said was deeply polarizing and troubling, and reflected a very strong, one-sided opinion about how they view Israel. While I am, of course, open to dialogue and debate (which is the Jewish way), when a comment comes from the Bima (Bimah, Bema), I am extra sensitive… especially because it is NOT a discussion or dialogue. Words have immense power (see this current election cycle for too many examples… Oy!) and in the sermon format they take on that extra, “sermon like” truth. No debate… just a statement. And too many of us take it as the “Gospel truth.” So does it represent that one Rabbi or the temple as a whole? I physically whipped around to see if anyone else had the visceral and uncomfortable reaction I did… but saw most people sitting in acceptance and resolve. Hmmm.
Frustratingly, offense was the first thing to hit me… and a rational understanding of her point or at least an attempt to do so came later.
On a car ride home from a different service and a different Shul, a gentleman who I had just met, said he wished so much that Judaism and Israel could be separate, as it would be easier for him to accept Judaism if that was the case.
I fluctuate back and forth as to whether to think of Israel as a parent or child, and find value in both analogies. We must always LOVE Israel. And while she may do things that challenge us, and frustrate us… the love must never evaporate. She is our ancestral homeland, and understanding our connection to her is essential. This is so evident in UNESCO’s disgusting attempt to eliminate any Jewish (or Christian for that matter) connection and right to the holiest sites in all of Jerusalem… if not the world. Our very existence as a people and religion is literally at stake. So being divided amongst ourselves is not going to help with anything.
Assimilation HAS resulted in a loss or altering of traditions and beliefs… and while expanding and keeping practical certain things are key to having people stay in the fold, and connected to Judaism, we MUST honor and respect our own culture and tradition, and that of those who came before us.
To quote Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (Oral Tradition) from Day 287 in Kabbalah 365 : “Tradition is a marker we leave behind us in our previous lives so that when we come back we have some notion of where we left off. We need to look at tradition, therefore, not as a relic of the past, but as a catalyst for the future.”
This hit me especially hard when I was in the Mea She’arim (ultra Orthodox area of Jerusalem). I was pushed and pulled in my own mind. I felt at one moment as if I was caught in a time machine, so acutely out-of-place… and at the other totally enthralled, empowered and invigorated. I was happy that a group of people were keeping these amazing traditions alive… and yet guilty that I was allowing them to do it, and not embracing it myself.
Israel is a place all Jews must love and respect, or at the very least, not dismiss… and while our opinions of her politics may differ, it is absolutely vital that we recognize her spiritual and religious value. Ironically it took me over 40 years of being lost and wandering in my own, self-made, mental desert to get there… but when I did see her for myself in 2014, the power and connection was life-changing. It is essential for every Jew to do the same… to be on the actual ground, to touch the soil… and to see, hear and smell things as they are… to understand the realities and let her connect with all of our senses. We must not rely on the news and must go beyond the biases… and the media IS biased… as is the UN, who would have us believe that Israel is the WORST country in the entire universe in terms of human rights, villainy, etc.
While will not have the same reaction, connection or feelings… and that is fine… the journey must be made. If we put Israel back in a place of importance for all of us, think about how much deeper and more meaningful the conversations will be. The discussion from both sides will be far more productive, because the goal will always be to keep Israel safe and to make her the best country she can possibly be.
I understand that the most immediate concerns we have are those in our very own backyard… that affect our children and families… our friends and ourselves… our wallets and minds. But as Jews, the connection to Israel… to Hashem… and to our own, Jewish community is something we need to keep strong and alive.
This is how we will survive… how we will combat the rise of anti-Semitism. This is how we will make the world a better place… by embracing Israel and the ideals that make her and our own Judaism so remarkable and powerful and life affirming… The notion of knowledge and debate, Chesed, Kindness and Tikkun Olam. Things that other religions have accepted and made part of their own systems as well.
When our family and friends need us… when the world calls out for help… let us recall Abraham and answer… “Here I Am.” This is what Israel does. This is what Jews do. This is what we must all do together…
Hineni… Here I Am. Here WE Are!