One of my recurring frustrations as a member of the Atlanta Jewish community is our fellow Jews in places such as New York ignore or look down on us, as if Southern Jews are as rare as unicorns or as insignificant as Lilliputians.
We have amazing creativity and vibrancy and wrestle with ideas great and small. Atlanta ought to be seen as one of the pillars of American Jewry.
Then we turn something that should have been beautiful and unifying into a source of anger and division, and our perception as flyover territory for Jews traveling to and from Florida makes sense.
Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, known as Noa, took time out of her American tour to make a special stop in Kennesaw and perform free Sunday night, Feb. 14, to benefit the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which brings Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and others together to tackle issues of conservation and sustainability.
Nearly 350 people attended the concert, but others boycotted and cost the institute thousands of dollars in potential earnings.
At the center of the storm was Noa, who was born in Israel to a family that escaped Yemen, grew up in New York, then decided as a teenager to make aliyah. She is an Israeli by birth and by choice, and she loves her country.
She also has benefited Israel by projecting a positive image over a quarter-century of recording and touring, including representing Israel in the 2009 Eurovision contest and performing almost a dozen times at the Vatican.
Yet the news that she was coming to Atlanta sparked outrage. Nasty, defamatory claims about Noa spread by social media, email and phone. You’d think she sang the Hamas anthem instead of “Hatikvah,” endorsed BDS and called for Palestine to reach from the sea to the river.
Of course, none of that is true. When I asked her about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in January, Noa went on an anti-BDS rant. Trust me: She hates BDS.
Like most Jews in the United States and Israel, including the current prime minister, she believes in a two-state solution. Like many, she thinks Israel could do more to work toward peace. Like many, she is saddened and frustrated that Israel keeps getting sucked into wars. And like some, she questions the conduct of those wars.
You can disagree with her on any of those positions. You can get angry at her statements and the damage you think she is doing to Israel’s reputation. You can wish she would just sing and stay out of politics.
But why do legitimate disagreements coming from a shared desire for a peaceful, secure Israel have to descend into the nastiest of name-calling? Why do we who spend so much energy battling boycotts against Israel resort to that same bludgeon against our own people?
As Sunday’s concert, I kept thinking about the end of my interview with Noa. We had been talking for half an hour when she realized she had an immediate need to do something more important than her career or the Arava Institute: It was time to pick up her daughter from school.
That’s who she is: an Israeli mom who wants a safe future for her three children. It’s petty and demeaning of us in the Diaspora not to give her every benefit of the doubt and not to listen to her instead of rumors and innuendo.
She would have been justified as the boycott talk spread and the ticket sales slowed to cancel the show and enjoy a day off. Instead, she did the right thing and put on a great show.
In the process, she made us in Jewish Atlanta look small and not ready for the spotlight we’re so often denied.