The State of Israel is a modern-day miracle. It is the culmination of thousands of years of striving, decades of political action, and now 75 years of achievement, hard work, joys, and tribulations. We, the Jewish people of the 21st century, are blessed by its existence in ways our ancestors could never have imagined.
For this reason, all who care about Israel but are troubled by its current trajectory have a responsibility to cultivate three simultaneous orientations right now. I will call them “For the Sake of Judaism,” “For the Sake of the Jewish People,” and “For the Sake of the Jewish State.” Each orientation has something deep to offer, but none is enough on its own.
“For the Sake of Judaism” is an orientation of protest: we cannot afford to look the other way when people do things in the name of Judaism that we find reprehensible. The Torah concept of hanifah (flattery) is a key idea in this orientation. Hanifah means letting people off the hook for doing something bad because they are influential, because they are family, because you need something they have, whatever the reason. A “For the Sake of Judaism” orientation rejects hanifah. It says we dare not let people off the hook when Judaism is perverted. We must call them out. Though this may ultimately be for their own good, the focus of this orientation is to establish the purity of our ideology, in this case, Judaism.
“For the Sake of the Jewish People” is an orientation that pushes us toward solidarity with our people. This is not a stance of finger wagging or condemnation, but a stance of mutual recognition and acceptance. We, as American Jews, must accept that Israeli Jews are different from us: they have different experiences, pressures, and ideologies. We cannot try to reshape them into our image of what they should be. And Israeli Jews must accept this about American Jews as well. To be part of a global people is to acknowledge that we all need each other, that we share a common history and fate, that we impact one another, and that therefore we must actually accept one another as essential partners, as we are.
“For the Sake of the Jewish State” is an orientation of curiosity and of being willing to play a helping, rather than a lead, role. Instead of deciding how to make Israel better, we ask our allies in Israel how we can help. They give us the inside view, and we respond. Our allies include those who are ideologically aligned with us on the other side of the pond. But this orientation may also mean finding the moderates among those with whom we disagree and asking them how we can strengthen the non-extremist members of their group. A “For the Sake of the Jewish State” approach recognizes that our role is neither to call out nor to accept, but to let the changemakers within Israel take the lead and help us understand what we can do.
Different times and different challenges call for different orientations. As Israel turns 75, we, as American Jews, must mature in our relationship to the country. In cultivating all three of these orientations and finding balance among them, we will develop the resilience and honesty that an ongoing relationship requires.
This essay is from a special Yom Ha’atzmaut edition of Tamuz, an online magazine of the The David H Sonabend Center for Israel at the Marlene Meyerson JCC, presented in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute.