I’ve been writing this blog for about 10 months now, and here’s a little insight into how the process works: either I’ve had an experience in the week gone by or am anticipating one that I think might be of interest to someone other than my immediate family (or sometimes you might find it more interesting than they do!) or something is happening in the Jewish world that impacts me personally that I want to share. Sometimes an idea materializes unbidden and I’m simply compelled to write, whether or not anyone else might care. In any event, at some point on a Sunday or Monday (and sometimes on Tuesday, all apologies to the wonderful staff who make sure this gets published!), I sit down at Leslie’s Laptop so that this blog appears in your mailbox and on the front page of our website. Until around noon today, I had a couple of ideas I was thinking about.
I thought I might write about my experiences at the Jewish Federation of North America Board of Trustees meeting and the National Women’s Philanthropy Board retreat, which took place last Sunday through Wednesday. It was an exhilarating three and a half days, and I was especially interested in learning more about JFNA’s participation in addressing the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement and in hearing from three twenty-something women who spoke to us from their perspective about how they “do” philanthropy and tikkun olam. Maybe another time.
I thought I might write about UJC MetroWest’s Annual Meeting this past Thursday, which showcased our six partnership communities in Israel. It was like being in two places at once, having so many people I care about in the same room – I’m used to being in Israel with groups of people from MetroWest, but it was beyond great to have so many Israelis I’ve known for so long with us in Whippany. Maybe another time.
But not tonight, not since my email inbox started receiving message after message this afternoon about what unfolded off the coast of Gaza this morning. I was somewhat vaguely aware that there was a “freedom flotilla” of six ships headed toward the Gaza coast from Turkey and that this flotilla was planning on attempting to run the Israeli blockade in order to deliver humanitarian aid. The blockade of Gaza is intended to prevent weapons from entering; humanitarian aid enters Gaza every day from Israel and in this instance, the aid could have been delivered either by transferring it to Israeli naval ships or by coming into Ashdod. I didn’t have a good feeling about what was going to happen, because there was so clearly the opportunity for the Israeli soldiers to be forced into a bad situation, once again exposed to condemnation for defending their country.
My fears were confirmed. I started seeing TV news reports of Israeli soldiers boarding the boats. Five of the six boats in the flotilla were boarded and inspected without incident of any kind. On the sixth ship, I think the best I can say is that things went terribly, terribly wrong. The Israeli soldiers rappelling onto the ship were attacked with knives, and beaten with metal rods and had their own weapons turned against them. Forced to return fire, at least ten people from the ship were killed. As of this writing, I have no additional information on any casualties. But once again, the drumbeats of Israel as the bad actor are banging through the internet, blogosphere and so on. Surprisingly, however, is the response I am seeing from Israel and the organized Jewish world. I feel as if I am seeing a real-time, pro-active response that isn’t going to let the usual Israel-bashing go unremarked.
But mostly, I’m just sad. Sad that people died and were injured. Sad that things seem to be getting worse, spurred on by actors seeking to delegitimize the only true democracy in the Middle East. All I really wanted to do on this beautiful Memorial Day is to get on a plane and be in Israel. There’s nothing I could do there, other than to be with my friends in a land that I love. I didn’t get on a plane – yet - but I am writing, to speak out and stand up.
And here’s what I’ve realized as I was writing – the things I wanted to write about originally are actually related to this breaking news story. The BDS (boycott, divestment and sanction) movement that JFNA is preparing to address is fed by planned events such as the “freedom flotilla.” We must learn more, prepare better and be ready to confront this well-orchestrated and articulate effort. And we need to speak with – and listen to – our young people in their twenties and thirties so we can share our viewpoints and our passion for the Jewish world. It is only through open-minded dialogue that we can possibly hope to convey my generation’s fears and concerns for Israel’s safety and future to a generation that sees Israel as strong, perhaps too strong, in their opinion. But it is the kind of sustained partnership and encounters that the UJC MetroWest Annual Meeting represented that is truly the answer to both the BDS movement and to engaging our millenials in meaningful conversation. Meeting actual Israelis, working on meaningful projects that have an effect here and in Israel, sharing meals and relaxing together allow us to see the daily challenges and complexities of Israeli society, going beyond the headlines and rhetoric. Israel is not a perfect place, nor is it a perfect country. It is, however, the ancient and modern home of my people, founded on compelling ideals, based on the timeless tenets of Torah. We must engage with Israel; we must engage with our children about Israel; we must prepare to engage with those who oppose us.
In memory of those who served this country of which I am so proud and in sorrow for continuing strife in a place I love