Parents who so adeptly speak to their children about drug abuse, sexual consent, or gun violence, sometimes fail to find the words to speak about Israel. Even if we have the words, we often rely on stock phrases like, “Well, it’s complicated.” Yes, Israel is complicated, but that does not mean it’s incomprehensible to an adult or a child.
What we must do is talk. We will start from what we feel or what we know, and then we will build. We will talk about what we yearn for, and then, perhaps, we will discover what we, as our bravest selves, would do. There are no short answers or fact-sheets to hand out that could answer all of our questions (but they could answer some, and I do have fact-sheets if you have a quick question); rather, there is only an evolving dialogue which brings us to greater depths (or heights) of understanding.
Israel is an existential part of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, but it is not an either/or proposition. Whether we are speaking about Israel the land, state, or people, we are meant to struggle with this part of us. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard people—smart, intentional, and thoughtful people—shy away from conversations about Israel when they will freely offer their opinions on any number of subjects going on in the headlines.
After attending my fifth national policy conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) I am convinced that we need more voices in the conversation. I love that at AIPAC I hear from speakers from across the political and religious spectrum. I step outside of my bubble, and I share that vulnerability with the speakers and my fellow attendees; however, I still believe that the conversation around Israel needs even greater variety. I need the people who care, but don’t know where to start.
Any fear or reticence we may express about engaging in this conversation is a real feeling, but we must create risk-free space for us to grow into an opinion. We need a place where someone can say, “I don’t know,” or, “I don’t understand.” The caring-about-Israel club isn’t only open to those people who are from Israel or who have visited umpteen times. Our conversation is open to conservatives and progressives, Israelis and Americans, people who care about the rights of Palestinians and people who want to make sure Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state.
This year, as with the last five, I left with more questions than answers. I am already looking forward to what the next year will bring when I go back to AIPAC. I feel more determined in my love for Israel, and more frustrated that Israel has not yet fulfilled its highest potential. Yet, I know that the same feelings are there for America, a place that I love deeply and a place that is a grand work in progress.
We do not have all the answers. If we knew what to say, then there wouldn’t be much point in having the discussion. What we must do instead is come in with our questions, the questions that show our curiosity, our vulnerability, and our desire to find peace. I hope you’ll join me in asking the questions that bring us a little bit closer as a community. I believe that through these conversations we will not only find greater kinship, but we will also find a community that supports our differences and helps us live together. I want you, the person reading this, to take me up on this offer to meet for coffee or tea. We can meet at Temple Emanu-El, your home, your office, or your favorite Waffle House. The point is that this conversation can and should begin anywhere, and the only way we can build this dialogue is together.