Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Passion I Never Knew I Had

Last night at dinner I found myself in a very unexpected and uncomfortable argument over the state of Israel and its role in the current Jewish world. This was not a discussion with my neighbor Joe who continues to deny the existence of the Holocaust, but instead it was with someone who was born a Jew and who has been a member of Temple Micah for longer than I have.

The conversation started when she commented that she thinks it inappropriate the we have the flag of Israel on the bimah at Temple Micah. Please tell me where there is a Jewish congregation that does not display the Israeli flag. Israel is after all the homeland of the Jewish people and has been for millennia.

She said she is thinking of dropping her membership at Temple Micah, primarily because of philosophical differences about the Israel with our rabbi Danny, who is the most ardent Zionist you could ever find. He absolutely loves the State of Israel and takes every opportunity to visit. He urges people to buy Israeli products and thereby support the Israeli economy. His eyes fill with tears every time he relates the story of how the modern pioneers of Israel made the dessert bloom and have defended the country with their lives and the lives of their children.

She surmised that because it was a religious state, non-Jews must be poorly treated. I asked her if she had ever traveled to Israel and recounted the fact that I had met Christians, Arabs, and Druse who would defend Israel, even by joining its army, rather than leave the country that provides them excellent health care, a good transportation system, culture, and many other things that they would probably not find just 50 miles outside the Israeli borders in any direction. She had never visited and seemed to have no interest in seeing firsthand.

Alright, I said. Danny is over the top with his zeal and enthusiasm, but what about the rest of the congregation? If ever there was a place where divergent opinions could flourish, it is Temple Micah. Our second rabbi, although she does love Israel, is much more focused on Jewish life in this country. We have members that cover the spectrum of beliefs and practices and no one is ever made to feel unwelcome because of her beliefs.

This went on and on and I could see none of my arguments were making any difference to her. She simply has it in her head that she is leaving this place that has provided classes, services, and most importantly a group of friends to do things with when she was lonely.

I’ve never found myself, a convert of 30 years, getting so worked up over a religion I was not even born into. Our other dinner partner, a less observant Jew, watched this argument unfold like watching a tennis ball get lobbed back and forth over the net. She did caution the unhappy woman to look at her alternatives before simply leaving this community that has provided such a richness to her life for so long.

At this point I don’t have dog in this fight. But it was a lesson to me that I care more about Israel than I would ever have imagined. Having been there four times and met countless delightful Israelis, I know firsthand the sacrifices these people have made to be able to have a State of Israel. I in no way agree with all the politics of Israel, but I cannot deny my support for this tiny country that sits on the edge of the sea with its enemies constantly licking their chops on every border.

I came home thinking that it was a good thing she had this conversation with me and not with my husband, who tends to be almost as Zionistic as our rabbi Danny. It would not have been good for either of their blood pressures!


Blogger Richard said...

The drive of tribal allegiance is a powerful force. Stripping people of any semblance of rationality. It binds one to the idea that there is nothing more vital than the good of the tribe (whether real or imagined). It views external forces and internal dissension as threats - though for different reasons. Internal dissension, whether it is a disagreement, a lack of conformity, or a desire to leave threatens the tribe with dissolution and a collective response rises against it.

I would advise your friend that she should carefully consider whether she really wants to leave. If she does, then bid her well and let her go freely.

People must be free to choose their own life. I think one of the fundamental rights of people is the right to freely leave their current circumstance.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- The issue is not so much one of whether she goes or stays, but more that her arguments are founded on truth. Of course she always has the option to leave and she certainly doesn't need my permission or blessing to do so. Most of the social activities we have been involved in have nothing to do with her membership in Temple Micah and they will continue whether she goes or stays.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I do have Jewish friends who are not Zionists and have learned to appreciate the difference between the religion and the state. I think it's a controversial topic for a number of people because that area is the part of three major religions, not one.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- There is no denying that this is the seat of many religions. In fact, the birthplace of the B'hai religion is in Haifa. One of the real ironies was that during the 2000 entifada, the one group that continued to come to Israel as tourists were the far-right conservative Christians, who are firm supporters of Israel as a country and as a homeland for the Jewish people. When you go to Israel, touring the Christian and Moslem holy sites is just as important and rewarding as touring the Jewish sites. And they are equally well-protected by the State of Israel. It's a very complicated place and I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do feel a sense of patriotism that surprises me toward this little country.

BTW, something else that is little known is the degree to which Israel is absorbing refugees from the Darfur conflict in Sudan and giving them a new home -- all expenses paid by the State.

11:35 AM  
Blogger media concepts said...

I wish that time could be rolled back and that Israel would have been created somewhere else, like in S. America. I wish time could be further rolled back and that the colonial power Great Britain, which held the territory in question and created the State of Israel, would not have been there in the first place because of oil. Then much of the mess we have today likely wouldn't exist. But history cannot be rolled back, and throughout history, many states and countries in the Middle East and elsewhere have been created out of thin air. Millions of refugees were displaced as a result. It's not fair but it is what it is. Somehow, most of them found their way to new lives wherever they could. I think that the use of Israel as a convenient enemy by the leaders of the surrounding states, all of whom are anti-democratic dictators and artificially installed monarchies to one degree or another, in order to distract their understandibly disaffected populations, who have no money and no rights, is one of the greatest tragedies in the Middle East. But don't get me started.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Ah! I misunderstood. I was under the impression you got passionate about her leaving over the display of the Israeli flag at the temple.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Matt -- Somehow Israel in the middle of Uganda or in South America just doesn't seem right. But if that were the case, I'm sure that's where my allegience would be. I think you are correct that making the best of the situation is all anyone can hope for these days. Peace seems to be an elusive word.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Jews lived and ruled the land in what is now the state of Israel for a 1000 years before the Roman conquest. They continued to live there although reduced in numbers for the next almost 2000 years even though under different rulers. During this 2000 years, they shared the land (which became a desolate desert for the most part) with Christians and Moslems. At the same time, the diaspora never forgot Israel and Jerusalem and prayed to return. When many Jews were finally able to leave Europe and Russia and began coming back to Israel in the 1800's and 1900's, a miracle occured and much of the dessert bloomed again.

After the WWII holocaust when no nation stepped in to help stop the the worst genocide of modern times (wiping out almost 40% of all the Jews in the world), and no nation would even accept Jewish refugees from Europe, the U.N. established 2 states - Israel and Palestine. The Jews were to have a safe haven and to have their own nation back. The neighboring Arab states would not accept the world's solution and attacked. Many Arabs living in Israel fled, thinking they would return in a few days after Israel was wiped off the map.

A Jewish homeland in S. America or Africa makes no sense given the historical, religious, political and cultural connection to this area. I can't even think of an analogy. It would like moving all of Ireland to Liberia.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

David -- One of the real issues in this conversation was whether Jews in the diaspora should feel any obligation to support Israel. The idea of a single religious state seems paralleled only by the Vatican, which is tiny by comparison. There are other countries that have a state religion -- England, Norway, Sweden, Moslem countries, but in each of these countries the government does not seem to be as inextricably connected to the religion. Even though a high percentage of Israelis are secular Jews, it's difficult to know if their primary identity is as Jews or Israelis.

10:46 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

David, you had me agreeing vigorously until your last paragraph. If everyone got to lay claim to his historic tribal homeland, then we must give back all (or at least a hell of a lot more) of the U.S. to the Native Americans. Assuming you are an American citizen, are you willing to do that? The same sense of realism that justifies Israel's place in the world of nations now (i.e., those who had the power to take the territory took it, and eventually gave some of it to the Jews)dictates that, once people are displaced from a country due to wars or other raw power, however unfair, their descendants don't have a right to go back to that spot hundreds or thousands of years later. What they do have is the right to get together and try to put together enough power, whether by force or by appeal to world opinion, to create pressure get some land. That's what the Zionists did in Palestine and were successful. Otherwise, it's California and Texas back to Mexico, Mexico back to the the original Indians, and otherwise trying to undo the gordian knot that is the world today. That would be totally unrealistic and frankly absurd.

Barbara, sorry if this strays too much from your original post.

2:30 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Media - glad we're on the same wavelength until the last paragraph. And, point well taken about the Indians. If the U.N. mandates we give back some of the U.S to them, I'm all for it.

Also, by your reasoning, Israel should not have to give back 1 square inch of Gaza, Sinai ( both of which they already yielded) to the Palestinians or Jordan who ruled the W. Bank up to 1967 and the West Bank. The rest of the world doesn't seem to see it that way, although your logic is sound.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Everything about Israel gets people worked up. Its existence is as provocative as the Torah.


8:53 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

We cannot go back to Adam and Eve to redress problems. Nor can we allow injustice to go uncorrected. Balancing the right of a forcibly displaced person to return to their home 40 years later, when people who are innocent of the act now occupy the home is difficult. Redressing one injustice by creating a new one is not the solution. The obvious solution is to never have caused the injustice in the first place. As for the right to borders ... I think I'll quote Isaiah Berlin, commenting on Zeno of Citium: "Men are rational, they do not need control; rational beings have no need of a state, or of money, or of law-courts, or of any organised, institutional life."

9:46 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

As I walked the labyrinth at the Church of the Epiphany this morning, I thought about all the points that you collectively have raised in this discussion and in additional e-mail messages. I was struck by how many legitimate paths there are to the practice of religion that all lead to virtually the same place, whereas there is only one path, albeit with many meanderings, in the labyrinth. This was an excellent exchange of ideas.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Aack! You've gone all zen.

4:11 PM  

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