For several years I have heard and witnessed stories about Israel (dis)engagement. Everyone asks how to stem a distancing from Israel.
My anecdotes, more than 100, come from the classroom, rabbis, parents and many audience members I had never met.
Students and parents who raise some aspect of Israel as an issue are mostly Jewish, some with a day school background, others engaged in major Jewish organizations, with more or less in their arsenals of Jewish and Israel knowledge.
Israeli-Palestinian politics and leadership are the main issues. Most questions pertain to the territories, the settlements and Israel’s nature in a quarter-century. Most people seek positive reinforcement for what they believe or want their children to believe.
In front of the 200-plus assembled at a Washington forum recently, a father asked: “Where did I go wrong with her? Why is she in the streets loudly protesting now against the very organization that I have belonged to and have supported for two decades?”
A young, brash, opinionated, left-of-center rabbi in San Francisco could not contain herself when a rabbi a bit older said her congregants did not have time to study or learn the nuances of Israel and the territories and were more concerned about health care and immigration. The older rabbi said her congregants are apathetic about Israel.
“No,” the younger rabbi said, “I beg to differ with you. Your congregants are estranged and alienated from Israel, not apathetic.”
“How can you possibly know what my congregants are feeling?” the older rabbi said. “They don’t care one way or another.”
The younger rabbi left my seminar on Israel five minutes later, I suppose because her view that Diaspora Jews must be alienated or estranged from Israel was not accepted by a peer.
Hundreds of students have to read articles faculty members choose to rip at Israel as a democracy. Many times, those students don’t speak up; they tell me it is better to leave a budding controversy undisturbed, get a good grade and move on.
Is that what we have taught our children, not to question when you know there is another view? Each parent and child must answer that individually.
This is long topic for a short space. In context, we all should step back as we hit the 50th anniversary of the June 1967 war.
Today, an overwhelming number of Arabs and Israelis care much less about the future of the territories and whether Jewish and democratic Israel is on the brink of existential disaster and much more about whether the Arab state system will survive, statelets will replace Syria, and Iran will have a proxy on Israel’s northern border.
Of course it matters what goes on in the synagogue, in the classroom, in our Jewish organizations, with the non-Jewish world, at our seders, and in people’s hearts and minds.
What matters most, however, is that perspectives in all things are valid. The only common Rx for all four children on Passover is to tell them the story.
Not just the one you want them to hear because it reflects your preferred view or their level of interest. Tell everyone the whole story about the good and bad on the long road to peoplehood, self-determination, liberation and freedom.
The seder will withstand distancing.
Ken Stein is the president of the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org), the director of the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel, and an Emory professor of Middle Eastern history, political science and Israel studies.