Empowering centrists to ensure Israel’s survival

Left and Right bashing have completely alienated many factions that need to be talking with one another.

June 12, 2013 22:51
3 minute read.
Jews in synagogue

Jews in synagogue 521. (photo credit: Dana Evan Kaplan)

All studies and polls show that the Jewish community is deeply divided on so many issues and levels, and moving away from centrist positions to more extreme and entrenched ones. These divisions are challenging our very existence as much as any external threat.

Religiously, politically, ethnically and socioeconomically we have become so diverse in our political sensitivities, our observance practices (or lack there of) and understandings of ourselves that we have become intolerant and hostile not toward the outside world, but toward each other, and it is quite ugly and counter-productive.

What was once reasoned and disciplined Talmudic argument over Jewish law and practice has turned into gangland turf protection and street fights among our people in the areas of religious practices, political understandings and ethnic tolerance.

The hostility and rage we should feel for the enemies of our people is being turned inward into a friendly-fire firing squad, and we are harming our own people.

When asked about myself in terms of Jewish identity, I tell people that I consider myself a “transdenominational” Jew, in that while I maintain affiliations primarily in egalitarian conservative and reform institutions, I am able to value the richness and beauty of observances of much of the many forms of Judaism revolving around interpretation and understanding of Jewish laws.

I support four congregations, in Harrisburg, Middletown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in Israel, as well as the JCC and Federation in Harrisburg.

I am a “big tent” Jew and believe that for us to survive as a people, we must see ourselves as a distinct, but diverse multicultural minority with a collective self-respect to allow for the richness of our fabric to be appreciated by all of us.

I find that many of my fellow Jews have great trouble with this because of the need to declare your affiliation and the resentment from others if you choose the “wrong” affiliation. I see this especially in such arenas as social networking, organizational and political affiliations. It is inconceivable for many Jews that a Jew can be a progressive social liberal and yet a strong defender of Israel.

Left- and Right-bashing have completely alienated many factions that need to be talking with one another. Excommunication and shunning has resurfaced in our community, as people will not talk to one another to try to hammer out solutions to complex problems. We are deeply divided and suspicious of each other and the others’ motives. It is ugly and destructive, and our enemies know and capitalize on it as they become more solid in their identities and proclaim their disdain for us and hope to drive us into the sea.

The joke among us is that when you have 10 Jews in a room discussing an issue, there are 15 opinions present. What makes this joke endearing and enduring as opposed to worrisome and counterproductive is whether or not the 10 people really respect one another. For if they don’t nothing good is happening. If they do, there is a richness of expressiveness and expansion of thought.

I write these observations from experience and fear for future generations. I have been in the midst of the friendly-fire firing squad and have seen the devastation of well-intentioned comrades who have had to take a bullet for the team. I have taken several bullets myself over the years.

The strength of our people depends on our ability to continue the Talmudic dialogues rather than snuff out those who disagree with us. There is too much of this going on in the Diaspora and Israeli world and we must demand better of our political and organizational leaders; to listen to the voices of centrist reason and not extremist hatred, paranoia and intolerance. The truths, promises and justice we all seek stands a better chance of becoming accomplished when all voices are heard and included and not when many are vanquished by one extreme.

Right now, the Jewish people can be their own worst enemy and that is sadder than any threat by Israel’s neighbors or anti-Semitism in the Diaspora.

The author is a retired counselor and psychologist educator, and the co-founder and president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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