Lovers of Israel, Take a Stand!

The following is a transcript of Episode 64 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: Hi, my name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project. Major support for For Heaven’s Sake comes from the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation. Our theme for today is the new role of the diaspora lover of Israel. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel in the Jewish world. And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue.

This taping is a little different because we’re all here in Jerusalem together. 160 or 70 college students from all across America are here at the Institute. And so Elana flew in to teach. And so this is, I think one of the first times the three of us have ever been in the room together. 

Yossi: Elana live. Elana live.

Elana: I love it. It’s wonderful. 

Donniel: It’s a nice, literally nice to see all of you. Let’s dive right in. 

The tension in the relationship between liberal North American Jews and Israel is not new. Despite these difficulties, north American Jews have maintained a delicate balancing act between their commitment to Israel on the one hand, and their commitment to liberal Jewish values and liberal values in general.

The way in which American Jews have managed that balancing act was by recognizing the complexity of Israel’s dilemmas. For example, yes, the occupation threatens basic moral assumptions about Jewishness and Jewish values. But what choice did Israel have in the absence of a credible Palestinian peace partner? Many and even most American Jews tacitly accept the status quo and give Israel the benefit of the doubt. And we see this very often in missions that come to Israel where the educational goal, successful educational Israeli intervention is so that everybody should understand that it’s complicated. It’s complicated. A person said it’s complicated, they got the message. 

But the new Israeli government, what’s really changing today, is that it seems that the current reality or the new policies, it’s testing that balancing act to the breaking point. As we just saw in light of the coalition agreements and the provocative anti-democratic statements by leading members of the new government, and we have to make a distinction, it’s important to remember coalition agreements, provocative statements aren’t the same as policy and, and law, but they do require a response. 

The challenge and what’s really changed is that it doesn’t seem appropriate to use the term complxity. Some of these positions aren’t complicated, they’re simply wrong. Now, in this reality, what should a lover of Israel do? What would we do? Here, we’re in Israel and, and everybody, you know, you can vote, but between elections, everybody is semi-disempowered. But still, like if we lived six to 10,000 miles away, what would we do? What’s an appropriate response? How do you express discomfort and fight for the Israel you want? How do you say no without breaking a relationship? What does it mean and what does it look like? 

Now recently, one example or one model chosen by a large group of over 300 rabbis was to sign what they called a call to action for clergy, which essentially declared their intent to boycott two of the more extreme leaders of, uh, the religious Zionist parties, Ben Gvir and Smotritch, to ban them from their institutions, to not invite them, to not give them platforms and to protest whenever they’re given a platform, precisely because of these individuals, anti-democratic, anti LGBTQ, anti-liberal Jewish platforms.

Now, is this the way to go? Is there another way to go? Is it relevant to ask what’s helpful or not helpful? We’re gonna be in for a challenging time, and one of the premises of our podcast, one of the premises of the Hartman Institute, is that there is a deep partnership and that there is a demand of a deep relationship. But how do you express disagreement, um, at this time?

Yossi? 

Yossi: Yeah. You know, right now I think there’s a partnership of angst between Israeli liberals and American Jewish liberals. 

Donniel: That’s funny. I called it, the partnership of the horrified.

Yossi: Yeah. It’s, it’s stronger. It’s stronger than angst. And I mean, we’ve all been in situations as Israeli voters where the outcome of an election is not what we hoped for. But I’ve never experienced a situation where I feel that the government of Israel is antithetical to just about everything that I believe in, about Israel, about what Israel should be.

And this is a new situation. I feel like I’m in deep waters and we’ve spoken about this in previous podcasts. But you know what’s so interesting, Donniel, is that the more time that passes, the deeper that sense of disorientation. It’s like part of me is just refusing to get used to it.

Donniel: I appreciate that. I appreciate that. So now imagine you’re 6 to 10,000 miles away, right? Israel’s an integral part of your identity, but you’re fighting very often against currents who are saying, just forget about it. Like, what do I need this for?

It’s 6 to 10,000 miles away. I don’t, like, what advice could we give? If you want to, you could start with the letter as an example, even though that’s just one small example. Do you have any advice that we could give to people? 

Yossi: Look, the first thing that I, I want to say to diaspora lovers of Israel is be concerned.

Don’t let the wishful thinkers lull you into believing that it’s not as bad as your intuition tells you. It is. It is as bad. And we’re facing a major crisis. And, no, no. 

Donniel: Holy. And now thank you for making me feel worse. 

Yossi: But that’s the starting point. 

Donniel: That’s the point. Yeah. 

Yossi: That’s the starting point, is to validate, they have the right to be outraged. They have the responsibility to be outraged. But that’s only the starting point. What do you do with outrage? How do you channel it? And that’s the question. Now, it’s not quite my strong suit as it is yours, to come up with practical suggestions.

My sense generally is that this is a moment when centrist Israelis and centrist American Jews desperately need to seek each other out. And this is the time for us to act as Jewish grownups and to own our shared sense of responsibility for the Israel that we love and the Israel that we’re committed to.

And how that plays out, I don’t know, but that’s what I feel. I need to be with diaspora lovers of Israel who are as anguished and outraged as I am.

Donniel: I wanna offer not, and again, I think one of the challenges we face and I don’t, is that we really have never developed a serious mechanism of intervention for world Jewry in Israel.

And in Israel, we’ve been really uncomfortable with it because as a democratic country, those who live here, those who vote, they should have interventions, principally in elections. But not only cause opposition has a serious responsibility, and we’ve never developed a scalable methodology for a Diaspora Jew to say, this is the way I get involved. Unless it has to do with money. It’s not enough. It’s not enough to say that only the wealthy, and it’s only, contribute to the institutions. We’ve never fully developed it. But let’s start with putting together a couple of rules. I wanna start there and then let’s see if we can move forward. 

The first rule needs to be that you can’t critique somebody’s response by saying it’s not helpful. It’s very, very hard for a Diaspora Jew to be helpful. So for example, in this letter, do you think Smotrich or Ben Gvir are losing any sleep? It got almost no play in Israel. And quite to the contrary, part of their whole ideology is to thrive on us-them moments and when someone outs them or create, they’re just, oh, I told you it’s us, it’s them.

So they don’t lose sleep quite to the country. They probably even tweet it to their own followers. I told you so. You know, the liberals, it’s us, we’re the lovers, and the liberals. 

Yossi: So the first criterion is not whether this is effective, it’s, but whether you need to express

Donniel: It’s to give, it’s that there is, and this, I want, picking up on what you said. You have to express yourself. In whatever way you have. And it could be in, there’s no such thing as public and private anymore, so let’s just throw that outta the conversation. Anything you put on your little feed somewhere is, it’s, everything is public now.

Yossi: No, we, we, we are living in a transparent Jewish, 

Donniel: Completely transparent, every, you have to talk. So the first thing we need to do is find your voices. And it could be you’ll try once this letter and it could be that that will work and you’ll feel good and you’ll feel, yes, I felt that I did something. I need to talk.

I need to express my angst because talking, this is the primary way in which we protest. You don’t have to protest by going into the street. That’s not the only way. 

Yossi: Look, the letter there, there was a, I think a much more effective letter that came out yesterday, which was signed by the heads of the Jewish Agency, the Federation, the core of the Zionist diaspora establishment. 

Donniel: But you know why they’re doing that? Now here, but this is a good example because you, okay, so that’s six people running different institutions. That’s fine. But how does the average rabbi, how does the average lover of Israel do something? You can’t, so sometimes the they’ll, you’ll write like the letter.

No doubt, by the way, this response is also is feeding on the fact that many Jews around the world have chosen voice over silence. I’m talking, when they are writing their letter, the heads of the Jewish agency, 

Yossi: No, they’re responding to what they feel is happening in the public. 

Donniel: To what they’ve heard. And this is not a psych, this is not a subjective feeling. They’re getting the emails. So the first part is, and here this is, talk. And don’t be frightened by claims it’s not effective. And don’t be frightened by getting it wrong because we always get it wrong. There’s no such thing as helpful criticism. Let’s get real. Nobody likes it. It’s always hard.

It threatens, it creates relationship. It undermines relationship. It’s always complicated. It’s never simple. It’s like there’s this model of therapy called Imago where you don’t criticize. And there you say it’s nothing that you did. I know that it comes from my history, but you know, this is not what you did, but it’s what I feel. It’s the way I exper, like at some point it’s just, you know, it’s like, here, this is not what I’m just feeling. No, this, this is real. It’s talk. Criticism is hard. 

So the first thing, operationally, find your voices. Because what we know for sure is that the worst thing is apathy. Apathy is this close, this close, to walk away, there are so many people who are trying to get what we call the troubled committed to be the troubled uncommitted. It’s like sharks. They’re dancing. You have nothing to defend anymore. You have no more defenses. Now it’s time for your troubleness to lead to uncommitted.

So the first operational thing, whether I agree with the letter or that’s not the point. It’s not, we’re not. I understand it. And these types of letters are pos, find your voices, stand up, and just like in this letter, you know, find the lines which you don’t wanna cross or do wanna cross. And where do you wanna speak? Who who is the person who you wanna participate? 

Yossi: I like, I like that very much. Because what you’re really saying to diaspora Jews is that we’re serious. Israel really belongs to the Jewish people. Own it. 

Donniel: Even if you can’t, even if the way you own it is by, having voice is not the same as determining policy. And I’m okay with that. But voice is heard and people will have to think. And just like, you know, uh, well probably God willing, we won’t have to have a podcast about this, but just this morning, Ben Gvir goes up to the Temple Mount and because he says I refuse to let Hamas influence Israeli policy, which is something which on the one hand I can understand. And on the other hand, 

Yossi: That, that, what’s so awful, I know part of me is cheering him on. Right. You know, the other part of me is horrified. What are you going to risk a war,

Donniel: For what? Like, so these are, but, like, voice is important. And world Jewry, Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, declares that at the very minimum world Jewry have a voice. A voice that we need to listen to. 

But then there’s a second point, which I want to, I want to, here, slightly disagree with something that you said beforehand. I’m very frightened of, on the one hand, I appreciate what you said is that don’t belittle the danger we’re facing, but we’re making the prediction of the danger into the danger itself. 

It’s like the day before, we Jews know that when dangers occur or when you have to speak up. That’s the way we act, you know, um, dog whistles of antisemitism. Um, that’s a term you taught me. I don’t still fully understand it, but I think I understand it. Dog whistles need to be responded to, not just pogroms.

So we’re a people that takes words very, very seriously. Our tradition gives to words profound significance. And so when someone says something, you respond now, you don’t just wait, but at the same time, will there be some inner checks and balances within this government? Will everything fall apart? Will a LGBTQ rights be undermined? I actually don’t think they will. 

Yossi: No, I think that on that particular issue, Netanyahu is backing down precisely because there was an outcry all over the Jewish world. So that’s, and thats something you have, you have to take into consideration Donniel, that the outcry is part of the checks and balances.

Donniel: I hear you. I hear you. You know, so you know what? You’re right. First of all, I accept, I accept, I accept, 

Yossi: I, I pocket the, uh, the victory.

Donniel: You’re right. But how do we, you know, it’s like, um, but you’re right, but. I’m not. I’m not like with think, I’m just, you’re right. But you are right. Period. There’s a victory to be pocketed. And I think, and I wanna internalize that, that you’re right. 

Yossi: I love this podcast. I really, I really do. I just, you know, it’s, it’s just such a pleasure to talk about issues of literal life and death issues that, that, that you feel sometimes you can’t breathe. And then I come in here and we have this conversation and suddenly it, it just all seems a little bit more manageable.

So thank you for that. 

Donniel: So, but maybe this is, first of all, you know, it’s, uh, thank you. Because you’ve already corrected something that I’ve been talking about that I think I need to incorporate into the conversation. And that is, it’s precisely because some overreaction or prior reaction to events is what might change the outcome. And if you wait till later, so number one, that’s very, very important. 

Yossi: And it’s so interesting Donniel, because uh, I didn’t tell you this, but I’m working on a very long essay about this and I have you in my head all the time. I’m saying, Donniel’s not gonna like this, it’s too negative. He’s going to say, no, you, you shouldn’t write that, it’s not educational. And I know what I wanna say in response. And this podcast is really clarifying.

Donniel: Is clarifying. Bcause the essence, what’s coming out is that the essence of protest, and we’re talking about voice, is to talk, not to wait just for an event to happen, but to try to change its outcome beforehand.

But at the same time, while agreeing with you, I still need a little but. Just a little but just to make me feel. And I might have said this on this podcast, I don’t remember, and I’ve definitely said it in various forums in, when I, I just came back from North America.

I am very frightened of the fear capturing us, and, and I’m very frightened of over exaggeration also. Very frightened of over exaggeration. Not every single thing that this government is gonna do is going to be bad for liberal Jewish values and not every single thing that Ben Gvir and Smotritch and Haredi parties, or by the way, it’s important to remember their Likud supporters who aren’t just enabling, there are many members of the Likud party who aren’t just enablers. They’re friends of, huggers of, they’re the ones who establshed and legitimized much of this. 

Not everything that they’re gonna do is gonna be destructive. Not everything they’re is gonna do is gonna be some end of day scenario. And how do we break a cycle of responding to comments as if the comments themselves have already become um, policy. So we need to protest, to say yes, and I imagine they’re where they call them trial balloons. They’re throwing out statements to see how we respond. And if we don’t respond, they’ll say, oh, that’s okay. So I realize we have to respond. 

But at the same time, part of the way politicians live is by creating provocative statements. They want attention. It doesn’t even matter. It’s like when a law passes in Israel, it requires three readings. There’s the first reading, which is the public articulation of the law, very often motivated by the public relations of the individual who puts forth the law. Then it goes back to committee for an adjustment. It comes to second vote, goes back to the committee, comes back to the third, and by the third a whole slew of corrections have taken place.

But in the, very often in public discourse, nobody knows about the third, the actual iteration of the law, what really comes, they’re, only the first, so we need to protest, but I feel we’re going to exhaust ourselves because they’re gonna play with us. There’s an attention setting and also, I’ll put one last thing deep down. I don’t wanna give them that much attention. They don’t own my Israel. I can’t stand it that Ben Gvir and Smotritch get so much attention. I can’t stand it. 

There’s other decent members of this coalition there. Not forget even the opposition, even within this coalition, people who are gonna go to work and who care and are gonna do sometimes bad things, but there’s a lot of good things and it’s just, it’s, there’s a self-defeating process and so I hate balance cause you know, I hate it. I can’t stand it, but, is this and that, and find the right balance. That’s like, nauseating, doesn’t work. You can’t, you always have to go back and forth. But there is a danger to some of this process.

Yossi: Okay, you are worried about alarmism and I understand that. I’m worried about complacency.

And if we look first of all, words have power, especially when spoken by politicians. We’re educators. I’m terrified of the impact of those words on young Israelis. There’s already an atmosphere being created where Kahanism Lite is now part of young people’s world.

Donniel: It’s kosher. It’s kosher. 

Yossi: And especially among young religious Zionists.

So words are already shaping Israel educationally. The second thing is, let’s look at the actions that have already happened. Donniel, if I had told you six months ago, Ben Gvir is going to be the minister in charge of the police, Netanyahu is going to break off the border police, which is the unit that’s the most sensitive in terms of relations with Palestinian civilians, and hand it to the control of Ben Gvir as if it were his own private militia.

You would’ve said to me, come on. That’s what I would’ve said. Let’s not get hysterical. I feel like we have crossed so many red lines in the last two months before this government was even created. There were red lines, unthinkable red lines. That today I feel like I’m in a war, and I use that, I’ve never used that word before,

Donniel: I appreciate that. But I don’t know, like you take, you’re right, they are red lines and no minister in the history of Israel has had direct control over their own police force.

Yossi: And Ben Gvir? Of all politicians.

Donniel: I appreciate that. Part of me wants to see what’s gonna play out. I don’t wanna sit Shiva beforehand. So many people have been sitting Shiva on Israel for so long, and there are corrective forces that limit things. You know, just the Not Netanyahu created a boundary around Netanyahu for a whole slew of reason. And while personally he’s not my favorite prime minister of Israel, his history has been as a responsible prime minister. 

So what I’m trying to say is that there might be checks and balances, and you already see some of them. Now I’m with you. I know that when these red lines are crossing are being crossed, we have to protest and only the protest will create the possibility of them listening and saying, okay, this is a red line.

And if we don’t talk, then we’re saying it’s not a red line. But at the same time, maybe Yossi, because it’s so bad, we have to begin to adjust and, and pick our battles like every single tweet do, and now this is whole pressure. One second, someone said something. Did you respond? Like I don’t want rabbis and Jewish leaders in America to feel pressured, did you respond? Your friend responded. Your friend responded. He condemned. I wanna know your condemnation.

And then, there’s something destructive about it. I want us to more positively talk about the Israel. There’s something maybe too utopian at this moment. Is this the moment for protest? The answer is yes, but in the moment for protest, it also needs to focus on which protest, on how bad you declare it to be. And what level of energy do you still allow within your soul to say, excuse me, Ben Gvir and Smotritch, you’re not my Israel. Excuse me. You’re not my Israel. You might control the border police, but you don’t control the soul of Israel.

And I don’t wanna get myself into that dynamic. And I know, I don’t know how to balance it. And that’s part of maybe what I said before, and that we’re gonna get it wrong. And I respect people, there’s gonna be people who go more to the more protest side. Maybe people will go to the more silent side, maybe to the waiting side, I don’t know. But there’s something, it’s not a balance that I’m looking for, but it’s a diversity. 

Yossi: The one thing we agree with is that the message to diaspora Jews needs to be don’t sit Shiva, that’s for sure. And um, but between Shiva and wait and see, there’s not, there’s a spectrum. 

Donniel: And we also agree that you have to talk, that voice is critical and that there has to be a trial and error. And that the notion that we

Yossi: We need to give space, space to diaspora Jews to work this out.

Donniel: Just to talk, by the way. Just for us too. Like when we talk, what words we’re gonna use, when we hear Ben, when we see something that’s unacceptable, what names are we gonna call it? Sometimes we’re gonna, oh, oh, don’t use that name. Like, everybody’s gonna be pouncing all the time. 

Yossi: In, in this essay I’m writing. I called it the Coalition of churban, of destruction, and I took that out. Beause  I had you in my head.

Donniel: Call it the Horrified ? You could use it. I, it’s just between me and you. No, you could just take it. No one will know. It’s yours. Um, so I appreciate that diversity of voices that need to be found. 

Um, Yossi, let’s take a short break and then Elana will join us.

Hi, Elana. 

Elana: Hi. Great to be here, in person.

Donniel: Nice to see you.

Elana: Um, it’s been really interesting actually to be in Israel this week with the installment of the new government, um, and watching protests and hearing what people have to say. I was in a cab the other day and we were going through, it was Thursdaym the day of the installation of the new government, and there were protests where we were driving and taxi driver goes, “protest, just not on a day that I’m trying to work.” And I was like that, it just like captures it. 

But I have to say that as I’m listening to you, you know what I have in my head. Um, one of the things that’s so nice about the work that we do around North America is that we hear what people are thinking about, right? We give messages, but we also hear what people are thinking about. And one of the rabbis I was talking to, he said to me, you don’t understand, when I say something about what’s currently happening in Israel, it’s not about changing Israel and improving Israel. It’s about letting my parishioners know, and my interfaith partners know that I don’t think this is what Judaism is.

And I think what’s interesting is yes there, there’s definitely the political question of, how do you actually make a difference, right? You raise your voice, you’re gonna negotiate, you’re gonna do all these different things. But I think as I’m listening to the two of you, what I’m realizing is, you know, if one of you is worried about alarmism and the other one’s worried about complacency, I kind of worried about religion. I’m worried about religious ideology. 

And I thought I was gonna say one thing on this podcast, and I’m actually now gonna say something different, which is I, I really think that as people who care about Judaism as both a people and as a religion, for those who do, we need to actually be thinking about, articulating, and supporting an understanding of religion and Zionism that go together in a way that we find morally responsible. And so I, I, I wanna share a little bit of that now, even though that’s not what I originally thought I was gonna do, but as I’m listening that, that’s what I’m feeling right now. 

Donniel: So first of all, I love it. And I just wanna officially say, even before you’ve continued to say anything, that my position is now gonna be the, the amalgamation of everything that everybody else said here too. So I’m all in. I love it. Go. 

Elana: So basically, you know, years ago, and, and I’ve been beating the drum on this, I just spoke to our 160 college students about this. Years ago I read this gorgeous book by Jon Levenson called Sinai and Zion, little small academic book, and what he suggests is that you have two covenants that are described throughout the Bible, the covenant of Sinai, the revelation at Sinai, and the covenant of Tzion, of Zion, which he describes as the Davidic dynasty. But I’m gonna say even the promise of the land of Israel. And he opened my eyes for the first time to how much these stand in tension with each other. And I wanna just share a few verses on each as kind of a prototype for people to think about. 

On the covenant of Zion. Let’s go to Genesis 13, verse 14. What do we have? The Lord said to Abraham after Lot had parted from him: raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north, to the south, to the east, to the west, for I give all the land that you see to you and to your offspring forever. 

So first of all, you have a covenant that’s described by what you can see. You’re immersed in it. You look around the natural world. This is your covenant. This is your promise. Second of all, the covenant is about a gift and entitlement. This is what you’re gonna get. Third of all, I hear no conditionality here. This is forever. It’s for you and your offspring forever. And more than that, I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, almost the same way this physical land, the promise will be physical, like the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring too shouldn’t be counted. 

And then comes the next piece. And now, human being Abraham, do something up, walk about the land through its length and its breadth before I give it to you. Get up there, move, go. This covenant, what we’re entitled to, what we get, politics, because there are other people living there, there’s gonna be politics, right? Get up and go. 

I wanna contrast that with the covenant of Sinai, and I’m gonna use here again, prototypical, I’m gonna use Exodus 3, not the big theophany, the big revelation. But God meeting Moses at Sinai, when Moses is running after his father-in-law’s sheep, and sees a burning bush, and here we have it. Exodus 3. Now Moses tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midyan, drove the flock into the wilderness and came to Chorev, another name for Sinai, the mountain of God.

First of all, where is Sinai? You tell me. Is it part of Midyan? Do human beings actually have sovereignty over it? It’s described as in the wilderness beyond human sovereignty. It’s God’s mountain. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He looked, I always laugh like, what did he see in the desert?

He saw JTS’ insignia right, the burning bush, right? He gazed and there was a bush, all of flame. Yet the bush was not consumed. He saw something that he can’t do. He saw something that is beyond him. That’s what he saw, okay. And Moses says, oh, I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn up?

And when the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to look, God called him out of the bush, Moses, Moses, and God. And, and Moses answered, here I am. And God says, not put on your shoes and walk the land. Take off your shoes. Have some humility. And God said, don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. It’s not yours, it’s mine. You don’t get to walk it and own it. You have to hold yourself back and be limited. 

And moreover, what happens next? I am, God says, the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. And Moses hides his face because he’s afraid to look at God. And what Levenson points out is that here you have these two covenants, one covenant, you’re entitled to this. It’s your gift. It’s forever. Go take it. Politics, power.

And the other. You have this covenant that says it’s beyond politics. It’s not about politics. God sovereign, you’re not sovereign. It’s about humility. Stand back. It’s about your responsibilities, ultimately, once we come to the revelation, what you have to do, and in fact when you get to the revelation, it’s conditional. If you do XYZ, then great. You have responsibilities. 

And to me, I wanna see more conversation, I wanna see more education across the spectrum, more support for such education. That says, just because there is a party called Religious Zionism, that does not mean that that is the only way that religion and Zionism interact. Religion should be take the limitations, the responsibility, the humility that is supposed to be telling you at Sinai, you are not God and apply it to an experience of the covenant of Zion where you have power and you have the land, and you have politics. 

That’s what I want to see. It’s not gonna solve anything today, I know, but that’s a long play because religion to me, shouldn’t be synonymous with provocation, and it shouldn’t be synonymous with corruption, and it shouldn’t be synonymous with hatred. And that’s my interest right now. 

Donniel: First of all. Amen. I hear you. And um, the importance of voice is not merely the importance of talking about Israeli politics, but it’s talking about the intersection of Judaism and politics and what our religion stands for. And that is so important. And you know, through your words, I understand the letter of the rabbis differently.

Because I read the letter and I said, why are you picking on Smotritch and Ben Gvir. Okay. There’s good to pick on, but there’s others. It’s interesting you’re not mentioning ultra-Orthodox even cause maybe because they’re not coming to America anyway. But you’re not picking some of the Likud members who are just as bad.

And what they’re really saying is, rabbis in America, we are responsible for Judaism and those who are advocating for a different type of Judaism, not for a different type of politics. That’s where we have to stand and give voice. And I think that is such an important, um, point. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your addition. I’m sorry. Yes, please.

Elana:  And I wanna add, it was published in the Washington Post, which means it’s a clarion call for any Jew who is affiliated or not affiliated. For any non-Jew who wants to understand what Judaism is and isn’t. This is not our Judaism. That’s what they were saying.

Donniel: Powerful. Yossi?

Yossi: Jews who are anguished by what this government is doing to the good name of Torah, the good name of the Jewish people, the good name of the state of Israel, need to maintain their outrage, but the outrage has to be grounded in love. I think of something your father said once, criticize Israel, but don’t, criticize us like a mother and not a mother-in-law. Now I happen to love my mother-in-law,

Elana: I love my mother-in-law, 

Yossi: But I understand, but I understand the sentiment. 

Elana: I love my mother-in-law and I’m gonna be a great, 

Donniel: Everybody who says that joke always 

Elana: And I’m gonna be a great mother-in-law, I will add. One day. One day.

Yossi: But, but

Donniel: Just for the record,you don’t get to determine that your status in this, there’s somebody else who I have to speak to. 

Elana: Shoot. Shoot. It’s a fair point. It’s a fair point. A fair point. 

Yossi: But if we take the spirit of what your father was trying to tell us is that if we remain grounded in love, then we’ll be protected from making a fatal misstep. We won’t harm Israel if it’s really coming from that deep place of love. 

Donniel: It might, but what, but I mean you’ll never know.

Yossi: I mean, I mean really hurting Israel, 

Donniel: But, but, I, that’s correct. But, but it’s a love of Israel, a love of Judaism, 

Yossi: and it has to come, if it comes from that place, 

Donniel: Why else would it come? These people, if you think about it, there’s so many people who are just advocating for silence. Now, it’s true, there are the troubled uncommitted, but they’re distinct. So in most cases it comes out of a real concern to wanna claim a place. So I want that, but I trust world Jewry. I trust North American Jewish leadership. I trust their love. They’ve proven it for so long. 

And so we just have to be a little careful not to use this. Cause some people say, ah, you did this, but you don’t. You’re like, then we’re gonna have the love police. I like the criteria of love, but I don’t know how to objectively measure it. And then that gives power to some people to be the love police. You’re not the lover. Um, this one is a lover. And if you were a lover, you would’ve said this or that. So I’m with you that that’s, but I wanna tell you, that’s probably where it comes from, most of it comes from.

Yossi: I think you’re right. I think you’re right and I wish your father were here to defend his argument.

But you know, I think that it’s coming from this place of deep fear that we’re going to lose part of the diaspora. We already are losing part of the diaspora. And I know that that’s the fear among diaspora Jews who are so deeply connected to Israel. They’re afraid of this. They’re afraid of opening this.

And the question then, and maybe we’ll leave it for now as an open question, is how do we trust each other? How do we affirm that we’re all part of the same conversation?This is about, oh look what Israel is doing. This is us. This is all of us.

Donniel: That’s, now maybe I would suggest that the default has to be, not how do we trust each other, but that the leap of faith is to trust until trust is broken. And part of the process of trying to figure out which voice and how to talk is that we don’t know how to do this. But I would add one last thing, and I wanna leave it as a challenge for the three of us, and, and I wanna leave it as an institutional challenge.

How do we increase the empowerment of the voice of world Jewry, not to determine policy. But to influence 

Yossi: Sensibility, not policy.

Elana: Even, or just so Israel has them in mind, that they’re, they’re part of the calculations.

Donniel: Correct. How do we increase the possibility. Like, even now I’m in opposition. Opposition is not a, it feels disempowered, but it actually is not very disempowered because the truth is, is that governments actually have very limited control over the day. They can determine allocations, but life is, is there’s life forces that they don’t get to determine.

Governments come and go, but protest, voice, conversation, discussion, and how do we increase the possibility? Not just of the heads of the Jewish Agency and the other organizations or, but especially people who represent grassroots Judaism, rabbis, communal professionals, educators, teachers, principals, and the average lay people. Not just the people who have so much money that, that they can speak, call Herzog directly.

How do we add, and maybe social media today is giving us that answer. How do we democratize this process? Cause at the end of the day, that voice, whether it’s right or wrong, it’s the way we want, is gonna be critical. It’s gonna be critical because people here are listening and it’s gonna be critical for who represents Judaism, and it’s gonna be critical for people to feel that I still have a play. 

Last word, Yos.

Yossi: This is a test for the maturation of the Israeli diaspora relationship. It’s a test for us in Israel for our capacity to not only tolerate criticism, but welcome it. And it’s a test for diaspora Jews. How do they find their voice? And I so much appreciate the way you began this, of trying to establish some principles. But it’s really hard and I don’t know that we can at this point establish hard and fast rules. We’re going to, to play it as it comes.

Donniel: And with that, Elana and Yossi, a pleasure and thank you so much. Um, I don’t know what clarity, but I’m feeling a little better. 

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute was produced by David Zvi Kalman with support from Michal Taylor. Our audio engineer for this episode was Yoav Friedman. It was edited by Gareth Hobbs and Corey Choi at Silver Sound NYC. Our managing producers M Louis Gordon. Major funding for For Heaven’s Sake is provided by the Diane and and Guilford Glazer Foundation of Los Angeles because of our shared commitment to strengthen the connection between Jews in North America and Israel.

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