Wednesday, April 29, 2009

כחל ולבן

My relationship with Israel is complicated. (As evidenced by a previous post and its drama.) The first time I was in Israel was the year I spent there in seminary. So, while I think of the Kotel and tiyulim and beautiful land when I think of Israel, the country is really associated for me with learning and growing and coming into my beliefs and the amazing people I met that year. Of course, I recognize that Torah learning takes place in all sorts of places that are not Israel and that some of my experience had more to do with being away from home and being able to re-evaluate my beliefs than with being in Israel, per se. But I also think Israel is a special place—that is a pretty basic tenet of Judaism.
When I say Israel, I mean the Biblical space, not the political state. Which is not to say that I do not support the state of Israel or recognize it as an amazing opportunity and of tremendous import. I am a Zionist. I am not, though, Rav Kook-ian in that I am not convinced the fact that we have the state of Israel is part and parcel of geulah. If I lived in Israel, I would certainly declare citizenship and send my sons to do hesder and my daughters to do sheirut le'umi. I think Yom Ha'Atzmaut is an important day, and I say Hallel without a bracha after davening, but I don't listen to live music or otherwise suspend sefirah because I have seen no compelling halachic reason to do so. 
I support the existence of the state of Israel but not all of its actions—much the same way I feel about the United States. I think Israel does far, far more good than bad, but I don't think we have to—or even should—accept everything Israel does as morally or religiously correct. I am endlessly frustrated with people who tell me they think the media are horribly biased toward Israel when what they mean is that sometimes Israel comes off poorly—or not like the superhero—in the media. Israel sometimes does things that deserve criticism. The intolerance Jews have for anyone who is not them in the Middle East is abhorrent. But at the same time, how can you think differently when your friends and family have been killed by this conflict. (Of course, the Palestinians could say the same thing.)
I want to live in Israel in the way that I believe Jews should all want to live in the holy land. What use is it to have Israel, to fly our blue-and-white flags and march in the Israeli Day Parade and eat cupcakes with white frosting and blue sprinkles on Yom Ha'Atzmaut if we don't live there? What does it mean to be a Zionist who lives in America? How can we have the opportunity to live in the holiest land and ignore it? I don't want to forever be a tourist in my homeland. And yet, America is comfortable. America feels like home. I don't know what my life would look like in Israel. I don't know what I would do professionally there. I'm only fooling myself if I say I'm ready to pick up and move there tomorrow. Mostly, I want to want to live in Israel more.
In seminary, I took a class with a lot of Shana Bet-ers who were leaving midway through the year. The teacher gave out this essay, "Goodbye Wall" by Meir Kahane, right before they went back. A cruel move perhaps, and certainly Kahane was an extremist, but I remember being moved by the essay, which included this:
I suppose that it is all this that finds most people leaving Israel without saying goodbye to [the Kotel]. I suppose that especially the ones whose heart and conscience are not as stone, cannot say to the Wall whose stones are as hearts: Goodbye, I am violating a basic tenet of Judaism; I betray my land; I go back to the fleshpots and materialism of the Exile and thus forsake you.


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