Dear PSJC, I recently attended a gathering of New York City Jewish leaders where I had the privilege of hearing an address by Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, just a day after his historic speech to a joint session of Congress.
I urge you to listen to this momentous address if you haven't already. It marked only the second time an Israeli president has received such an honor, the first being his father, then-President Chaim Herzog, 35 years ago.
There was a great deal of security in front of the site for his New York City visit. In order to enter the building, I had to cross Park Avenue and go up a block. As I was doing that, I looked to my right, to see, on the median of Park Avenue, a sea of Israeli flags with people singing: Kol HaOlam Kulo Gesher Tzar M’Od—(The whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid)—and chanting: Democratia— Democracy! I found myself drawn to the median, staying and singing and chanting with those protesters, people who want so desperately to change the direction of the current government of Israel, particularly the “Reasonableness Clause” bill that is likely to pass its final readings in Knesset next week.*
Then, I looked at my watch and realized I needed to cross the street, go through security and enter the building to join hundreds of New York City Jewish leaders to hear the President of Israel speak. And so I did.
I found the dichotomy deeply compelling—sitting in a room filled with Diaspora Jews deeply committed to Israel and her future, listening to an interview with the President of the State of Israel, while only a few yards away, dozens of Israelis were protesting because of their deep commitment to the future of the State of Israel.
I thought about this Shabbat, Shabbat Hazon (the Shabbat of Vision). This is the name given to the Shabbat immediately preceding Tisha B’Av, the darkest day of the Jewish calendar, a day of mourning and fasting that marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the end of Jewish sovereignty for two millennium...until the establishment of the State of Israel.
The current crisis in Israel, coming at the country’s 75th Anniversary, is, in many ways, the most significant crisis Israel has faced since the threat to its existence in the horrific Yom Kippur war 50 years ago. Today we see a battle, not with an external enemy, but a battle of competing visions for the future of the State of Israel from the people of Israel themselves. And the struggle is deep. It is passionate. It is real. And I personally have been inspired by the courage and commitment of the people of Israel, the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets, not once but for more than seven months straight to express their disapproval and their rage over the current government’s vision for the future of Israel and speaking clearly about a start of a different vision. The call to uphold checks and balances on government and to ensure that not just majority but minority voices, Jews and Palestinians alike, are heard and protected resonates deeply with me as an American Jew who is deeply committed to Israel and to justice.
But I also wonder about the vision needed to get through this crisis in Israel. I do not know who will step forward nor how this crisis will resolve, but I do know that a piece of the vision must be that the dispute—as passionate as it may get—must be guided by values and vision—even when those values and visions differ radically. The people of Israel today must avoid the trap of the People of Israel in Temple times. We are taught that the Temples were destroyed, the people exiled from the land, because the people turned on one another. Sinat Chinam (Baseless Hatred) is the phrase the Rabbis used to describe the underlying cause of the terrible losses of Tisha B’Av. Instead of looking for the humanity in the other, the Jewish people found hate and demonized the other. Even when we disagree on a fundamental level, we must not fall into this trap of Sinat Chinam. To argue, protest, passionately disagree, to scream and shout until our voices are ragged, that is is one thing. But we must never forget that the one with whom we disagree, who may be screaming and shouting at us, is a human being—and therefore must be treated with dignity. They should not be threatened with beatings or an expressed desire to “fill the hospitals with them”, nor should they be condemned for their being, as opposed to their actions.
To be sure, human beings, Jews, Israelis especially can and should disagree. (We’ve done it for millennia, it is our specialty.) Indeed, we must make our voices known, especially when the stakes are so high, when the direction of the country is on the line. We understand this in America as well.
As we approach Shabbat Hazon and Tisha B’Av , I invite all of us to reflect on the vision we hold for Israel in this critical moment. Let us remember the humanity and courage needed to move forward with this vision, embracing our differences while working towards a united future.
Rabbi Carie Carter