Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Knesset event honoring the 100 year connection of American Jewry and Israel .
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
I consider myself a liberal, although some would say not that liberal anymore. Michael Savage once called liberalism a mental disorder, but then few of us walk around with perfect vision and can see the world through clear lenses.
Once upon a time I resided in a safe upper middle class haven that enabled my parents to choose to send me to a private school.
The school happened to be run by Quakers. I was 13 and it was 1968. The high school, from 8th grade through 12th, had about 300 students, which meant classes were small. On a sunny fall day we were asked to participate in a school photo. Some 285 or so students formed a peace sign, which was photographed from the third floor. Off to the side, out of view of the camera were the other dozen or so students, standing together with an American flag. I was with the second group.
Gradually I opened my eyes, or rather circumstances opened them for me, and I saw more and more tragedy in Vietnam and less reason for being there. By the time I got my draft card as a freshman in college, the war had ended. The official number of Americans who died in Vietnam is 58,196 (their names appear on the Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC). Tens of thousands more came home wounded. America is not so sure of itself since we left Vietnam.
That insecurity was overcome, however, in the aftermath of 9/11.
We went to Afghanistan on a mission to destroy al-Qaida and bring to justice its leader, Osama bin-Laden.
And then the politicians and the generals decided to impose democracy on the Middle East, beginning with Iraq. They would destroy another hostile dictator, Saddam Hussein, and replace him with Democracy. Pundits were encouraged to follow the President’s lead along with that of the secretary of state; Colin Powell (an unimpeachable source). The American people acquiesced and followed their leaders into another war, chasing weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there, and the price in American lives was high – we’re still paying it.
Twenty-something years ago I landed in a new synagogue and found my way back to disorganized religion. The synagogue was Kehilat HaNahar; the Little Shul By the River, a Reconstructionist enterprise with a brand new rabbi, who grew with our shul. I was young enough then to be active and when a dear friend and key pillar of the congregation died unexpectedly I inherited his responsibility as Social Action Chair, and they were crazy enough to name me VP to boot, because they saw me as both highly involved and stable.
I dove into the Israel-Palestinian conflict because neither I nor my congregation had any relationship to it and within a year put on “An Educational Forum for Peace & Understanding” with a panel discussion led by the Israeli consul general and the deputy chief representative of the PLO. I dove deep enough that some 17 years later I still haven’t come up for air, and I have managed to meet quite a few others along the way. I’m not the same person who went to the Holy Land in 2001 with eyes and mouth wide open and a deer-in-the-headlights shock at nearly everything our listening tour encountered in Israel and the West Bank. My skin has grown tougher and I find I argue almost as much with those on my Left as on my Right. But I’m still looking for a solution.
Rabbi Brant Rosen, whom many see as an iconic figure of the Jewish Left, was in fact forced by his own politics to leave his beloved synagogue in Evanston, Illinois, during the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel. According to The Chicago Tribune he issued his resignation because “There are members of the congregation who are deeply pained by what I say and do.... This issue is very upsetting, very personal. It’s been very hard for them. That has been affecting the environment in the congregation, and it has been affecting me too.”
I believe the growing chorus of American Jews against Israel is made up largely of people who are tired of war and who, like me, voted twice for Obama to bring our troops home. We are now dividing between those choosing to don rose-colored glasses and see only the occupation and those willing to take the full measure of how far the United States has fallen from its perch as the major keeper of peace in our world. It takes time and the will to face unpleasant truths to gain a modicum of wisdom.The author is president of ICMEP, the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in suburban Philadelphia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.