I am the member of your congregation trying to decide if I will stay this year. I am not your colleague and I am not your fellow member of the rabbinate. However, I have been a full-time Jewish professional and a lifelong member of Jewish communities. I have studied Jewish text, and Hebrew, and Israel.
This summer, I walked out of synagogue for the first time. Listening to a rabbi give her Friday night sermon, I watched in horror as she pivoted from the Torah portion to her support of legislation against the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement. In a logical jump, she rambled about Israel as a scapegoat and the importance of anti-BDS legislation.
I am not a supporter of BDS. I am currently sitting in Jerusalem sipping Israeli coffee next to my Israeli backpack and my cell phone with my Israeli SIM card. There are 27 members of my family who are in the Israeli workforce and rely on this country’s economy. I have yet to be convinced that a boycott, divestment, or diplomatic sanction is an appropriate response to Israeli occupation and or human rights violations.
[pullquote align=left] And yet, as someone who does not support BDS, I am supportive of those who do.
[/pullquote]And yet, as someone who does not support BDS, I am supportive of those who do. I have friends, cherished colleagues, and respected classmates who do. These people are not outliers. They are full members of our Jewish community. Their beliefs come from a Jewish place of social justice and should be respected as such. I don’t agree with my friends who support BDS, but that political, strategic, financial disagreement merits conversation, not disengagement. I am broadened and strengthened by encountering and loving those who hold views that oppose my own.
I find the treatment of BDSers in our congregations and in legislation supported by the institutional Jewish community to be abhorrent and counter to the fundamental Jewish beliefs with which I was raised. Our historical tradition of text-based study relies on moving towards truths through engaging with diverse ideologies. Inclusion is embedded in our text and at the center of our practice. Why, then, when we talk about Israel, do we draw bright lines and initiate witch hunts against heretical ideologies? We are not a community that has a robust history of excommunication. Now is not the time to start.
[pullquote align=right] We are not a community that has a robust history of excommunication. Now is not the time to start.
[/pullquote]This year, as the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions grows, many a rabbi will be tempted to condemn it in their High Holy Day sermons. They should know: Each myopically anti-BDS sermon will send a progressive young Jew out the door. On the eve of the New Year, here are a few alternative sermon ideas to make your community more cohesive and inclusive, not less:
1. Inclusion of Jews of Color
Write a sermon about the importance or recognizing and lifting up the voices of Jews of color in your community. This would also be a good opportunity to read the Black Lives Matter platform and consider where your values overlap. Do not talk about BDS in this sermon.
2. Inclusion of Multi-Faith Families
Consider how to connect the High Holy Days across lines of faith. Remember that not all members of your congregation (Jews by birth, Jews by choice, and non-Jews) marked the High Holy Days with their families growing up. Do not talk about BDS in this sermon.
3. Inclusion of non-Ashkenazim/Jews of non-European Descent
Incorporate some Mizrachi and Sephardi traditions into your service and in your sermon. Look into some “non-traditional” (i.e. non-Ashkenazi) scholars. Do not talk about BDS in this sermon.
4. Inclusion of Jews With Disabilities
There may be members of your congregation who aren’t comfortable sitting down for long periods of time. It is also possible that there are some who aren’t great with auditory-only information. Think about how to transmit your interpretation of the text through other modes, like visual images, song, written word, and conversation in the pews. Consider offering congregants a chance to stretch. Do not talk about BDS in this sermon.
5. The Environment.
A very important topic. Do not talk about BDS in this sermon.
Another very important topic. Do not talk about BDS in this sermon.
But what about Israel? If your congregation is eager to talk about Israel, here are a few additional ideas that do not relate to the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement:
7. Egalitarianism in Israel
It is likely that in your congregation men and women pray together. It is likely that you know and respect a woman rabbi or two. It’s possible that you are a woman rabbi. In Israel, women and men are not allowed to pray together at the Western Wall. There are also communities in Israel with segregated buses and modesty rules for women in public space. This is all in the name of Judaism. Do not talk about BDS in this sermon.
8. “Diaspora Affairs” in Israel
The Israeli Department of Diaspora Affairs recently allocated 65 million dollars to Olami, Chabad, and Hillel to bolster “Judaism abroad.” Maybe you find it troubling that the Israeli government would have a place in determining what Jewish work abroad is deserving of money. Maybe you feel that the close relationship between certain kinds of religious practice (namely, Orthodox Judaism) and the State of Israel undermines the important work of the Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Renewal, and non-denominational Jewish life that you participate in. Do not talk about BDS in this sermon.
9. The Occupation
Here’s a tricky one: You could talk to your congregation about the difficulties we, as an ethical, thoughtful, values-based community face in Israel. You could talk about what it means when atrocities are done in our name in a state we, as North American Jews, don’t vote in. You could talk about the occupation of Palestinian land. You could talk about the ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes, lives, and communal infrastructure by the Israeli government. You could even talk about the difficulties we face in our community understanding each other.
You can talk about BDS in this sermon. But don’t talk about your opposition to it. Don’t talk draw a line between “us” and “them.” Don’t narrow the scope of those who feel comfortable coming to High Holy Day services to start the Jewish New Year in a Jewish community.
Instead, think about the Jews like me who are sitting at the back, trying to decide if we can be feel at home in a Jewish community without supporting the occupation. Speak to the plurality of views in the room. Listen to the voices at the margins of your congregation and widen your “Jewish communal tent.” Stretch. Empathize.
In general, unless you have something new, and thoughtful, and radically inclusive to say, don’t talk about BDS in your sermon.