Like you, I could not help but be affected by the news this past Monday that a U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem, officially declaring Jerusalem, according to the United States, the capital of the State of Israel. I imagine many of us will be approached by our friends, Jew and non-Jew alike, and asked how we feel about such a controversial move for U.S. policy and the Middle East. When I am asked about my own relationship with Israel, I usually fall back on the explanation that I view Israel as a member of my family: I love it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like everything it does all the time. I, like most Jews, support the existence of our Jewish State, and its right to defend itself against war, threats of annihilation, terrorism, and antisemitic rhetoric blasting from countries near and far; at the same time, I am troubled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attitude towards the Palestinians and the settlements, as well as certain actions by the IDF, which, no matter where you stand on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, bring added complications to the table. Further, I think all of us can agree that the choice of religious leaders invited to provide benedictions for the opening of the embassy, pastors John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, speaks to the continued cognitive dissonance of President Trump’s evangelical base, somehow being extremely pro-Israel but vehemently anti-Jewish.
With many in our congregation, I’m certain, struggling as to what to think about this multifaceted event, I thought it appropriate to share what was written in the last Reform Judaism Platform, adopted in Pittsburgh in 1999, called “A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism,” in regards to the State of Israel:
“We are committed to Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, and rejoice in its accomplishments. We affirm the unique qualities of living in Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, and encourage aliyah, immigration to Israel. We are committed to a vision of the State of Israel that promotes full civil, human and religious rights for all its inhabitants and that strives for a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. We are committed to promoting and strengthening Progressive Judaism in Israel, which will enrich the spiritual life of the Jewish state and its people. We affirm that both Israeli and Diaspora Jewry should remain vibrant and interdependent communities. As we urge Jews who reside outside Israel to learn Hebrew as a living language and to make periodic visits to Israel in order to study and to deepen their relationship to the Land and its people, so do we affirm that Israeli Jews have much to learn from the religious life of Diaspora Jewish communities.”
In other words, Reform Judaism believes strongly in Israel’s right to exist. It also recognizes that Israel as it was then, and remains now, is not idyllic. Indeed, Reform Judaism is concerned about Israel not only because of a stalled and fleeting peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, but also because of its disregard for Jewish pluralism. Given these challenges, and given that the name Israel literally means “one who wrestles with God,” all Jews should take comfort that it is only natural to wrestle with their thoughts about the State of Israel.
Yes, the Reform Movement strongly supports the existence of the State of Israel, the accomplishments of the State, and acknowledges that we as diaspora Jews should incorporate the beauty of that place into our lives. However, we also wish the same things for Israel that we wish for America, or any other diaspora location: the presence of justice, peace, and human rights. While it is certainly easy to point fingers at Hamas, the IDF, the PLO, Hezbollah, the UN, and any other number of entities, what we must remember is that behind the talking points of the media, and the skewed pictures from both Al–Jazeera and Haaretz, there are living, breathing people— Jews, Muslims, Christians, trying to survive, to live, to raise their families in safety.
My heart breaks this week as I see the pictures coming out of a country I hold so dear. I cannot reconcile the images of smiling, laughing US representatives unveiling an embassy in Jerusalem while two vocal anti-Semitic preachers offer prayers while dozens of Palestinians are injured or killed at the Gaza border. How does one begin to reconcile such imagery? And if one can, what does that say about us as a people? The Jewish Diaspora has been let down. The Palestinian population has been let down. The Israeli population has been let down. Make no mistake. No one is blameless in this conflict. And while we could argue, easily, that blame lay with one party more than another, what is the advantage of a tally when blame is everywhere?
I carry so much worry and pain for the men, women, and children who are caught in the firefights of such age-old hatred, and pray for leadership on all sides to wake up this morning realizing there can be another way. That there must be another way. As Reform Jews, our call is for tikkun olam and social justice, not just in our own community, not just for Jews, but for everywhere and everyone, including Israelis and Palestinians. May calm come swiftly to the land of Israel and its surrounding countries, and may our leadership find the strength to carry restraint and empathy as they engage in further talks towards peace.