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Not avoiding...

March 3, 2023 - 10th of Adar 5783 - Parashat Tetzaveh 5783 / פָּרָשַׁת תְּצַוֶּה


Dear Beit Rabban Community,


Needless to say, these are tense and difficult times in Israel. Jewish Israelis and a Jewish American have been killed in terrorist attacks; the Palestinian village of Hawara was terrorized and a Paelistian was killed; and over a hundred thousand Israelis protested in the streets and highways against the Judicial reform bill, many of whom faced stun grenades from police.


Frankly, I have been avoiding addressing the situation with staff or students, and I am not proud of that. I am very emotional about and overwhelmed by what is happening, and I am at a loss for words. Anyone who cares about Israel has been on a roller coaster ride of emotions for their entire lives, and sometimes you feel that whatever you do or say is irrelevant.


And these are the times that the wisdom of one of my mentors, Ruth Messinger, haunts me and inspires me. Her refrain is, "we do not have the luxury of being overwhelmed." In other words, when you have an obligation to care, you cannot give in to being debilitated by how much you care.


So, I finally spoke with our staff on Wednesday, and I want to share a few words with you today.


As American Jews, we relate to Israel with different degrees of engagement, either because of how we choose to relate or because our proximity does not allow a choice. Our community includes Israelis; people with immediate family members or friends who are like family in Israel; and people for whom Israel is part of their personal history or future. For me, Israel is and has always been a huge part of my consciousness, and living in deep relationship with Israel is central to my identity. Irrespective of my personal experience or that of any of us individually, I believe that the realities of Israel, and for that matter the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are an unavoidable part of what it means to be part of the Jewish people. We are implicated as Jews, for better or worse whether we choose to or not. Like most Jewish communities, we celebrate with Israel, we mourn with Israel, we are proud of Israel, and we are sometimes ashamed of Israel. At times Israel aligns with our vision for the country and the project of Zionism overall, and sometimes it does not. This is true whatever your vision for the country is.


And this is heavy. Sometimes debilitatingly so.


We also must care for the Jewish people and Israel, the place where half of our people live. At this moment, I am struggling to figure out what caring for Israel means and demands of me. I suspect many of you feel the same. I am also struggling to figure out what caring for Israel demands of me as a Jewish educator. Is it teaching facts? Is it helping students to understand the complexities? Is it encouraging students to feel connected and do something? If so, what?


I am clear on two things that can guide us in navigating this as Jewish educators. First, being part of the Jewish people means Israel is our responsibility. Second, when something is your responsibility you do not have the luxury of being overwhelmed, and definitely not of avoiding it.


With those guiding principles in mind, we will be speaking with our students in the older grades about the situation in Israel over the coming weeks. We will help them contextualize what is happening and what they are hearing, and we will try to answer their questions. Most importantly, we will be making it clear that this is not a topic to be avoided, it is too close to us even if it is physically distant. And, we will do what Jews do-when they know what to do and when they do not know what to do- we will pray.


For all those in our community whose only choice is to follow the news in Israel closely and to feel every moment personally-- because their families are in Israel or for other reasons-- please know that we are in this together and we are here for each other.


Praying for quiet, safety, and justice.


Shabbat Shalom,

Stephanie

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