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Israel - A Moment in the Sun?

Rabbi Mark Shapiro
Friday, March 11, 2016


Maybe it was only "a moment in the sun."
Maybe the exhilaration I shared with you in two postings from my recent trip to Israel could only sustain itself briefly. I wrote about the power of visiting Rawabi, a model city being built by and for Palestinians on the West Bank. I came away from Rawabi wondering about breaking the stereotypes we all have about Palestinians as angry and backwards.
I also wrote about the power of visiting the Israeli Knesset where we rabbis of the CCAR heard a number of Knesset members speak out for the promise of pluralism in the Jewish state.
And I was so impressed by the spirit and energy that suffused the Tel Aviv Marathon. I told you this was Israel at its "normal" every day best.
But maybe it was only "a moment in the sun."
Because, to tell the full truth, only days before we Reform rabbis visited the Knesset to hear praise for progressive Judaism, a poster appeared in the Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem that read in part - "We are shamed…The Reform movement intends to sink its claws in the Wall of Jerusalem…We must hurry and fight the Lord's battle against this hemlock and wormwood movement…They bring chaos into the world and increase the power of Satan(!)"
An Orthodox member of the Knesset summed up this approach by explaining that Reform Jews are mentally deranged!
And only this past week sunny Tel Aviv was fouled by another stabbing. A Palestinian ran amuck in Jaffa and Tel Aviv on streets that Marsha and I visited less than two weeks ago. One American tourist was murdered; at least ten Israelis were hurt. (And the incident started in Jaffa, which is supposed to be a model for Arab-Israel rapprochement.)
How can we understand these kinds of hatred?
How can we warm to Israel if life there can be coarse and violent?
Friends, if these are your questions, let me assure you they are also mine.
And here is how I respond in part to the aspects of Israel that make me so uncomfortable.
First, I remind myself that Israel is complicated.
Like America, Israel is not monolithic. Travel from Mississippi to Massachusetts and then hop over to Iowa. Talk to people in each setting and, although there will be much in common, there will be so much that is different. Trump, Rubio, Sanders, Clinton. Who speaks for America? Whose vision of America rings most true to who we are?
By the same token, Israel is a mosaic of people and beliefs.
I read recently that one way to understand Israel is to recognize that there may be two "states" within the one state.
There is the inspiring "state" of Jerusalem" with its historic and modern sites alongside an outspoken right-wing Orthodox contingent. Some of these people want the real Jerusalem to be a Jewish kingdom replacing the democratic Jewish state of Israel.
On the other hand, there is a second "state" of Israel. You might call it the "State of Tel Aviv," which is composed of middle-left Israelis who value democracy and openness. In Tel Aviv, modernity thrives, differences between people and cultures are celebrated, women are treated with respect, Reform and secular Jews live in consonance with Israel's Declaration of Independence.
My Israel is a combination of these two "states." I want some of Jerusalem's depth and spirituality while also value Tel Aviv's spunk and creativity.
My Israel knows that the streets in Jerusalem are messy. For that matter, there is great poverty in shining Tel Aviv. But my Israel also knows it's too soon for a perfect blend of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. If America can't claim to be a perfected story after 240 years, I just can't expect Israel to have got it all right after less than 70 years.
But there is an additional way I approach Israel when Israel breaks my heart.
It's the way approach life in general.
That is to say, when life goes wrong, when the sun is hidden by rain clouds, I hold on to the memory of life at its best.
So it is that when some elements of Israel spew venom against Reform Judaism, I remember that not all Israelis are consumed with vitriol. When some speak hate, I choose to remember times of love and inspiration. I choose to hold onto the positive.
I think about the service at the Wall a few weeks ago when we Reform rabbis did pray as men and women together. It was a gorgeous morning and, even if the posters were already defaming us elsewhere in Jerusalem, we were together in our space sanctifying life.
That is where I found "my Israel" in Jerusalem.
Similarly, even if Tel Aviv was blackened by the stabbing this week, I know there are many Arab Israelis who decry what took place. Plus I remember that Marathon I encountered in Tel Aviv. Those energetic, active Israelis out in the sun a few weeks ago represent the other side of what Israel can be. They are the positive, living Israel I insist on recalling.
So was the goodness I described for you in earlier settings only "a moment in the sun?"
In a way it was.
But that's life, my friends.
In a way, you might say much of the life we love is only "a moment in the sun." And we can know that and despair. Or we can know that and grab the best with all our hearts and souls.
There's an expression in Israel - "B'Yisrael ye-ush lo optsia - In Israel, despair is not an option."
I believe that is true about Israel; I believe that is true about life.
To make it work, you need to hold up the best. You have to see - even search - for what is positive and never let it go.
A moment in the sun?
Is that all I had in Israel? Is that all we get in life?
I don't believe so.
I believe we have a grand moment in the sun!
We've got it in Israel; we've got in life itself.

Shabbat Shalom.

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