I just left Hebrew College at half-past midnight, and despite needing to be back there in about eight hours for work, I’m so excited about what was taking place I need to share it with you all here.
I was motivated to show up at my place of employment on a Saturday night to hear one of my favorite authors, Etgar Keret, read some stories and speak. That program in itself was pretty terrific, drawing a crowd of about 150 or so people, ranging in age from high school students to senior citizens. But that’s not what I’m so excited about right now.
Etgar KeretLet me back up. In the week leading up to tonight’s program, I found myself thinking about Keret’s work a lot. Most of his stories are so short, they can sneak up on you, stun you, and conclude before you’ve really had time to process what they’re saying. But this week I had a big “aha!” moment when I figured out why they resonate for me. Many of Keret’s stories deal with individuals who get whatever it is they wanted, only to find out that what they wanted isn’t what they thought it was. So for example, there’s the boy who wants a doll, but gets a piggy bank instead (so he can save up for a doll), but he ends up loving the pig as a doll and refusing to crack it open to spend the money. Or there’s the man whose girlfriend has a secret: at night she turns into a fat, hairy, foul-mouthed man. So, the protagonist makes the best of it and has great sex in the afternoon and a hell of a drinking buddy at night. And so on… What I realized about this theme is that it sums up my relationship to the modern state of Israel. Israel sure hasn’t turned out how I (or, I’d assume, anyone) imagined it would. But I make the best of it. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish she didn’t turn into a fat, hairy, foul-mouthed man — or that I don’t hope the man at least will lose some weight and learn some manners — but that doesn’t undo the positives either. If my facebook page had a spot for relationship to Israel, you know it would say “it’s complicated.”
Makom: Renewing Israel Engagement, A Jewish Communities/Jewish Agency NetworkBut I was telling you about the very exciting part of the night. That came afterward, when I was part of an interview conducted by the Jewish Conversation Project under the auspices of Makom. I had never heard about Makom until their logo showed up on the flier for tonight’s program, but it apparently has been around since 2004, when the Jewish Agency decided they wanted to adopt a new approach towards Israel education in the United States.
So, according to the fellow representing Makom tonight, that approach now is to encourage Federations to back off from the “Israel right or wrong” approach in favor of “engaging with Israel.” To put it in layman’s terms, people in the young adult age demographic don’t like being talked down to, and the Jewish establishment is alienating us but narrowly defining the conversations around Israel. The Jewish Agency thinks that maybe we’d be better off encountering a broad range of realities about Israel and having the opportunity to form and share and reform our opinions. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Where does the Jewish Conversation Project come in? They’re working with Makom to develop a documentary film of real, live American young adults talking about our relationships to Israel and what we think of the Israel programming we’ve seen. Let me tell you, there was no mincing of words tonight. We were upfront about what we love about Israel, what troubles us about Israel, and why we’re tired of flag-waving, falafel-eating keg parties and political rallies as the only programming available. Makom intends to use the film to show Federations what we think, straight from the horses’ mouths.
Tonight was the first set of interviews in a process that will stretch across the country and last through the summer. I’m really interested in seeing the final product, and even more interested in how Federations will react. And I’m thankful that the Jewish Agency understands that open, honest, in-depth engagement with Israel, warts-and-all, is ultimately good for the Jewish people.