Embracing an Evolving Israel

Those dedicated to Israel’s bright future will not be deterred by senseless violence, like the recent attack in Elad on Thursday night, during a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. As we mourn those lost in this most recent tragedy and every hostile action and pray for the swift recovery of those injured, we must continue to forge ahead together and overcome the many challenges in front of us.

Earlier this week, Israel commemorated two important days – Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). For me, these days of commemoration and celebration are pointed reminders of Israel’s place at the core of my identity, where it significantly defines my sense of Jewishness and my connection to global Jewish peoplehood.

Some of you know that I lived in Israel for seven years, from ages three to ten, after my parents made Aliyah (immigrated) following the Six Day War. They did so with two children under six in tow (my sister was later born in Israel). Many of my strongest memories are from the streets and neighborhoods of Jerusalem. When I graduated high school, I returned to Israel on a gap year program with friends from around the United States. Even though Israel was struggling economically, politically, and socially, no challenge seemed out of reach.

I recently spoke with Dr. Eilon Schwartz, a friend who lives in Israel, and our discussion left me thinking more about this, and about my current relationship to and perception of Israel. Eilon noted that, as a Zionist who made Aliyah many years ago, he was in love with the Israel he knew in the 1970s – an Israel that seemed to be secular, Ashkenazi, and liberal.

Today, however, he is in love with an Israel that is multi-ethnic, diverse in its religious outlook, and home to people with seemingly diametric views about the future. An Israel that is building something new rather than simply reflecting the cultures of its citizens. This Israel includes people from all over the world, with a significant number of Jews, Muslims, and Christians each playing a role in shaping its future. In his role as the CEO of Shaharit, Eilon is “seeking to nurture a new social partnership among all of Israel’s communities, building a future rooted in the common good.”

Israel is, in fact, a radical effort to build a new, vibrant Jewish country and culture, uniting Jews from all over the world with significantly distinct ways of expressing their Judaism and building a new country.

In the modern world, we all recognize that it is difficult to bring diverse groups together to build something new. Yet this is precisely what Israel is working towards and celebrating on its 74th Independence Day. As an American Jewish community, I believe that it is our responsibility to both articulate our hopes and aspirations for Israel and simultaneously open our eyes and hearts to the incredible country that Israelis are building that may not be what we have imagined in the past.

In a little over a week, I will lead Federation’s Rabbis Mission to Israel, traveling with several of Greater Washington’s local rabbis, with representatives across multiple denominations. I look forward to once again embracing this diverse, exciting, and sometimes challenging Israel as it seeks to build a truly modern, Jewish, democratic state for all its citizens and for the global Jewish community. I hope you’ll stay tuned for the reflections from our journey.

Shabbat Shalom,


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