Surround yourself in us: A response to a response

Last Friday the always eloquent and thought-provoking columnist, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post decrying the increasingly pervasive anti-Zionist sentiments infiltrating our rabbinical schools. On Sunday, Dan Kaiman, a rabbinic student whom Gordis had used as an example for his argument, wrote a rebuttal to Gordis’s claims, emphasizing that his decision to celebrate his birthday in a bar in Ramallah was intended to “honor, respect and value the relationships I have built with a people and place I care deeply about.” Mr. Kaiman pointed to his status as “an American Jew living in Jerusalem” allowing him a “unique position.”
I too am an American born Jew living in Israel, and I too have a unique perspective on the matter. I am in no way intending to speak for Rabbi Gordis. This is my own personal response to Mr. Kaiman’s words and actions.
Like Rabbi Gordis and Mr. Kaiman, I lived in Los Angeles before coming to Israel. As I am sure they would both attest, Los Angeles is a tough place to leave. I was ensconced by wonderful family and friends and a vibrant Jewish community. I was raised as an avid Zionist, even running the Los Angeles chapter of Bnei Akiva (an international Zionist youth group). However, despite all of this, I found myself feeling mentally and spiritually distant from the Jewish people. I constantly asked myself how I could really connect with the nation of Israel when I was so far from the epicenter of Jewish life and culture. I had surrounded myself with people in exile, and while many of them are tremendous and honorable people, I decided that, for me, it was not the correct atmosphere. I wanted to be encircled in an ambiance of Jewish pride, unity, and eternal greatness. I wanted to be among the people who fight daily for the right to live in the land G-d promised us. I wanted to wrap myself in Israel.
I am sharing all this in order to accentuate the fact that who, and what, a person surrounds himself with, at all times, matters. This is a lesson almost every new teenager learns as he chooses his “crew” for the next few years. Perhaps Mr. Kaiman is one of the few who slipped through the cracks. Surrounding oneself in a bar where there are “posters extolling violence against the Jewish state” is certainly significant. Mr. Kaiman purports that he is willing to place himself in these uncomfortable situations because “feeling uncomfortable is not an invitation to disengage, close myself off or stop listening (or, in my specific case, celebrating). I find that by engaging those with whom I may not agree, I am provided with opportunities to learn about myself and others, and begin to transform discomfort into opportunity. It is here where real, valuable and meaningful learning and partnerships can emerge.” However, what Mr. Kaiman, and those of a like mind, fails to understand is that there are simply some people who cannot and will not be engaged in partnership.
Last April the Palestinian Authority decided to rename a square in Ramallah after the infamous terrorist Yehiyeh Ayash. The streets of Ramallah were at full capacity for the dedication. People who glorify the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children are not potential partners in peace. Groups whose charter explicitly states their slogan as “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the case of Allah its most sublime belief,” are not a source of “meaningful learning.” It is time to recognize that not every person on this earth is virtuous. There is evil in this world and we must face it.
Now, to the question of why the case of Mr. Kaiman is so important, I offer the following story. A friend told me that last week she was speaking to a peer in America and when she mentioned Gilad Schalit the American asked, “Oh is he still being held captive?” This is not to imply that every Jewish American is so grossly misinformed, but it surely is an ominous sign that our education system is failing in this regard.
Mr. Kaiman, you are training to become one of the molders of our next generation of Jews. I implore you to surround yourself with your own people. Share “meaningful learning” experiences with the next leaders of the Jewish nation. Help to find a "partnership" between our far too fractious Jewish communities. We are fighting for our existence and we need you on our side. I am sure that if you desire to be embraced by the Jewish people they will accept you with open arms. Please consider your power to be an architect of our future and not the wrecking ball. Surrounding yourself in the warmth and comfort of the Jewish people, as opposed to its sworn enemies, will be a significant step in the right direction.