Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Yes, And: A Framework For Thinking About Israel Engagement

If you know anything about improv, you know the first rule is ‘yes-and’. Improv is all about collaboration, and telling a story together. “Yes” accepts the reality our partner is creating; “and” gives us the opportunity to share ourselves in the process.

The idea of improv, the playfulness of improv, the value of “yes-and”, informs my approach to Judaism. Judaism, at its best, is an opportunity for playfulness, a chance for members of a community to create and enhance one another’s stories. Our best moments as a community, as a people, are when we are able to engage in “yes-and”. The joy of "yes-and" is that they are affirming, inclusive, and participatory not merely from an obligatory but from an invitational stance as well. 

I bring this up mere moments after attending this year’s AIPAC policy conference in Washington DC, the same day Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu gave ‘THE SPEECH’, one that has wrung out our collective kishkes for months.  This, on top of Israel’s elections, the increasingly shrill voice of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) movement, and the World Zionist Elections, may lead us to a sense of ambivalence or fatigue on Israel. There may be a sense that Israel’s story is not our story, or there is no room for our story in Israel’s story; the role of settlers, the ultra-orthodox, the extremist right, the politically manipulative all give us pause.

And, regardless of our feelings about various individual political leaders, we have an obligation to maintain our relationship with the Jewish state; through Israel Bonds, and our own travel.

And, we must use our voice to speak to our legislators so that our country’s relationship with Israel is affirmed and sustained, and the real, existential threats to Israel are kept at bay.

And, we must deepen our commitment to the Israel we believe in by voting for ARZA in the World Zionist Congress elections, and supporting the Reform Movement in Israel, always remembering that Jewish and democratic are not oxymorons, but complementary ideals.

And, we must teach our children to cultivate their own meaningful relationship with Israel, and give them the tools to respond to anti-zionism and anti-semitism whenever and wherever they encounter it, including in the classroom and the campus.

And, we must remember that we are not witnesses to history, but actors. That we have an opportunity to teach those around us about what Israel means to us, and why we support and sustain it.

I won’t claim that AIPAC is a conference filled with opportunities for nuanced discussion. Nor will I claim it’s apolitical; it is, by definition, political, in the best sense of the word. 

And, it is the best opportunity for we as Jews to learn about Israel, advocate for Israel, and deepen our commitment to Israel. 

And, participation does not preclude our commitment to J-Street, ARZA, or IRAC; the latter two are present at AIPAC, and our voice is increasingly heard in the AIPAC community. Rick Jacobs, David Saperstein, Jonah Pesner and Rick Block were all present, along with 160 Reform rabbis and rabbinic students. Donniel Hartman of the Hartman institute, a progressive organization committed to reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians, was present. Ari Shavit, who we heard from some months ago in Delaware, was present. We as progressives have a voice at AIPAC, a chance to add our story to theirs, to make it one story of our support for Israel. But only if we make the commitment to be present.

I have already registered for AIPAC 2016. I would encourage  you to join me next year. And, I hope you will seek out every opportunity to support the Jewish State, and help dream and realize the Israel we want to see; a truly Jewish, democratic and progressive country in every way. 

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