We Have Real Obstacles; Time to Leave Fear Behind

Ninety minutes to go before the Gala Reception, “a Ticketed Event.” I’ve spent the day puzzling, processing and arguing, a workout my brain hasn’t gotten in years. An event like this carries risk. You come here passionate, and your world views can be challenged. More than that: they will be challenged, try though you might to keep that part of your brain closed.
That’s partly because of the issue. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of history’s deepest mucks, and the two-state solution (which J Street does its best to promote, envision and implement) is a pair of quality all-weather shoes, but it is by no means a magic pair of shoes. It does not make the muck go away.
Everywhere we go is muck. We come here, a generation of high-energy, high-technology know-it-alls; we who elected a black President and invented Facebook and fought selflessly in Iraq and Afghanistan; and we pile over one another to get in the door and puzzle over this quagmire. For well over one hundred fifty years, two peoples have been nudging each other across a land, then being bought, carved up and turned violently against each other by Western empires, and finally making noises about trying to annihilate each other. We high-energy Millenials halfway around the world want nothing more than to make this problem go away, and we’re tenacious bastards.
But we’ve found ourselves trying to balance identity with justice, and that’s quite the Jewish conundrum. Kids my age like solutions, which is why we try so hard – we’re not used to failing with effort. The Jew in us wants to find the right away, and the Millenial in us JUST WANTS TO GO THERE GODDAMN NOW. Neither side will rest until it’s done.

So that’s nice and all. But it still leaves us with a Rubik’s cube. Every Jew sees this cube a little differently, and we all have to turn it and solve it somehow, together, using our 27 million or so hands. You can see the film of frustration, that special frustration that consensus requires, around every drop of hope. The reality is that we are just as seriously responsible for Israel’s very nature, as were its founders and forerunners. And the questions, on everything from our very right to do all this in the first place, to the nuances of interstate relations, still hang in the air unanswered from the time of Chaim Weitzmann.
Rabbi Donniel Hartman gave an interesting speech at the 3:50 Plenary last night. He talked about his spiritual connection to Eretz Yisrael, about his and our religious imperative to make it better; he spoke of shrinking ourselves. God, he said, shrunk Godsself to make room for us, made as we are in God’s image. So if we can shrink a little, to allow other options on the table, to allow other people to exist… then we can stop, maybe, attacking each other so much, as we do now, for we have as yet no room for each other.
But here my organizer brain jumps right back in and rips apart all this talk of talk. We do need all options on the table, but people are dying, for God’s sake. They’re dying in the name of our respective tribes, so their blood is, whether we like it or not, on our hands.
Aziz Abu Sarah, who has lost one brother and four cousins to the Israeli Occupation, shared his formula with us last night, learned from years of resentment followed by hard lessons in cooperation when he discovered that the Palestinians had Jewish supporters. If your house is on fire, Abu Sarah said, you have three options: you can run away, which most people do most of the time. You can form a committee of culpability, to see who was responsible for lighting the house on fire, while the fire burns your house down and probably sets your neighbors’ houses on fire as well.
Or you can take a bucket and pour on some water, then grab a few friends and THEIR buckets, and you can, maybe, save the house. And if you’re going to be a righteous person, you don’t wait for your neighbor to grab his bucket first. Former US-Israel Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer implored us today to “expect – and demand – leadership from Washington, when there is no leadership from the region… This is the moment to take risks for peace,” said the Ambassador. “We can’t worry we might fail. We do this for the intrinsic importance of trying to succeed.”
I think that’s the key. We must not be afraid to contract AND to expand again, to back down from pointless attacks on our allies AND to be the first to act when there is a vacuum. Because people aren’t predictable, and they will be a partner for peace only if you’re not measuring their peaceable impulses every day with a yardstick, but rather restructuring their environment to make peace attractive. We’re dealing with humans here, and humans are unreliable. So we cannot be too human. We must be reliable.
My girlfriend is from West Bengal, India. She introduced me this year to the works of Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize-winning composer of both India’s and Bangladesh’s national anthems. His most famous poem is called Ekla Chalo Re – “Walk Alone.” Here it is:

If they answer not to thy call walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
open thy mind and speak out alone.
If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou unlucky one,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.
If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone.

I was at a conference this weekend of thousands of American Jews who paid anywhere from $36 to $5000 for the privilege of finding some direction to walk from here. Because this fight is old, and we are sick of it. Most of all, we are sick of supposedly holy people accepting their own human fallibility and vilifying everyone else’s.
We cannot be intimidated by AIPAC, by Bibi Netanyahu, nor by the Americans who say we are wasting our time and resources. We cannot be scared that the other side will not meet us halfway; sometimes, we may have to walk three-quarters. We cannot allow anyone to say that Israel has no partner for peace; because we are that partner.
Resistance to change among the old is predictable and we are meant to fight it. This is where evolution and God come together and whose purpose it is no longer matters. We must strip away the old paradigm through re-dedication of ourselves to solving this, once and for all. We can’t dishonor the dead every day by talking and calling it action.
We have an obligation to create a permanent peace. I could write for hours on the speakers I heard (and they were fantastic); but I’d rather call those people whose business cards I got, the ones who created Israel’s protest movement and who are working to make it an institutional protest, a change in Israel herself.
We are Israel and Israel is us – if not by birth, then by the fact that no one will ever be more her keeper than we. Let’s go heal our country, by contracting where we must, and by expanding where we can. Let’s build an unconditional peace by force, whether Israel’s leaders want one now or not. I care less about Bibi’s re-election, and more about my childrens’ ability to live in Israel with their heads held high. Let’s be arrogant Americans. It’s what we do best, and I don’t think our Israeli friends will mind, at the end of the day.
Lilah tov,
– Josh

2 thoughts on “We Have Real Obstacles; Time to Leave Fear Behind

  1. I care less about Bibi’s re-election, and more about my childrens’ ability to live in Israel with their heads held high.
    Since your children live in Israel, just tell them not to vote for Bibi in the upcoming election (even if your children are stuck in the army on election day, ballots will be set up for them at the base.)

  2. Hi Josh. It’s not about making peace more attractive. Peace is very, very attractive to me and everyone I know. It’s about making peace a realistic possibility if risks are taken. I’m afraid I just don’t see it. “Taking risks for peace” is a nice catch phrase, but when the risks are my children’s lives and the chances of those risks paying off are unlikely, then “taking risks for peace” becomes something more ominious.
    I’m also sorry to say that you lose some credibility when you continue to say things like “making noises about trying to annihilate each other” as if mainstream (or even on the right) Israel finds it acceptable to talk about annihilating Palestinians, as if Israel celebrates the death of Palestinians. It’s just not an accurate picture.

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