Monday, July 11, 2011

Talie Says That We Need to Stop Thinking about Israel in Binary Terms

Please note that portions of the following post is an abridged form of part of
a lecture for a graduate school course I am teaching on Methodologies for
Teaching about Israel.

So, here I am at Café Hillel on Emek Refaim sitting across the table from my 23 year old daughter Talie, whom I admire so much (and she is definitely part of our younger generation filled with hope and new ideas and energy for our world). She has lived in Israel three times, once in high school, for the gap year between high school and college, and now for four years of Medical School at Ben Gurion University, in addition to joining our family with our ongoing commute here twice each year. She is educated, observant, and dedicated and committed to Israel and really amazing! We should all be able to feel this way towards our children. Amen!.

We always talk about and consider our connections to Israel in our family. Obviously, as Talie and I are together in Israel for three weeks and spending lots of time together, we are having these discussions constantly with each other as well as including others. One of the things that I am very aware of right now is the effect generational differences and various narratives have on how we each see and consider Israel in our lives. In addition to this being an ongoing thought that occupies me generally, it is a hot topic of discussion amongst my colleagues in my seminar at Machon Hartman. My frustration is that I think that too many people see Israel as black or white, right or wrong, having to be solely concerned about external security or internal human rights practices, and so on. Too many of us think of Israel in binary either/or terms. I am, as you well know by now a both/and person so I often joke that I spend half my time defending Position A (Whatever that is) to people who hold Position B (Which is against A) and the other half of my time defending holders of Position B to those who subscribe to Position A.

Regarding this, Talie says that she wants all of us to know that:

I find it kind of unfair for your generation (that’s me and the rest of us, who are parents of these aged children and younger) to be critical of people in my generation for taking on critical positions in the Israel conversation and not feeling as connected as you do to a place that often falls short of the values and expectations we have been taught to have; to respect and view everyone as made in the image of God, to comfort and provide for the vulnerable in our society, to understand that conflicts are complex and should never be reduced to a black and white depiction and to constructively challenge when we see wrongs.

She says this while acknowledging where my generation and those before me come from, because for us Israel was not a reality and there were so many threats against both Israel and Jews constantly being made. She accepts and is grateful for the fact that as she has grown up and matured, Israel has never been a question mark but rather a given reality – that is, an exclamation point! Here is, I think, what allows Talie and her contemporaries to speak of and think about and feel loyalties to Israel in other than a binary system.

So, she has the luxury of loving and caring for Israel while simultaneously being honest and reminding all of us of the ideals and values on which Israel was founded and that these need to be reclaimed and present in the Israel of today.

I get this! Do all of you? As for myself, I have always encouraged my children and my students and those around me to look at and consider all sides of a given concern, and while doing so, remember to be the best they can be and to ask this of those around them. So, this response from my daughter is a direct result of this orientation and I own it as well. I guess sometimes, I might just be in the wrong generation. I suppose this is not the only issue that makes me feel this way.

Further, Talie knows fully well and offers as a disclaimer that “for me Israel has always been a given” and that she has always grown up and experienced (from both sides of the pond) Israel as a strong leader in the world and in the “power seat” so to speak. Our parents and former generations who approach Israel through the prism of pogroms and Holocaust experiences do not have the luxury of this viewpoint. Those of us who lived through the fears and threats of war in 1967, 1973 (as well as before and after) and questions regarding the viability of Israel often do have fears and concerns about Israel that inform how we approach this place; I think it is stamped onto our souls. These are our “war wounds” so to speak. Our children, both for good and perhaps naïve reasons, do not see this and do not feel this. THE STRONG ISRAEL THAT IS THAT EXCLAMATION MARK FOR THEM has many responsibilities and possibilities regarding their place in the world and in helping those in need that older generations only dared to hope could be part of our expectations of Israel.

One of the coordinators of our seminar, Rabbi Dr. Rachel Shabbat Beit Halachmi stated the other night with simultaneous simplicity and profound insight, “I am so proud of Israel 95% of the time and 5% of the time, I am not and expect so much more from Israel.” This statement has been repeated in many different venues around many different discussions these two weeks in this place of honest exploration and discussions about Israel – what it is and what it should be! As for me, I agree both with Talie (who would by the way argue with the actual %s given) and Rachel – I am so proud AND I want so much more for Israel! I hope that those of us that can hold this BOTH/AND position can forge ahead in a way that Israel deserves and that Israel can work towards being the place that all those connected to it in an honest and genuine way deserve.

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