Why young US rabbis lean to the left on Israel

We are not the generation of rabbis hoping to abandon Israel. We are the generation of rabbis who hope to be peacemakers.

American Israel flag kippa 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
American Israel flag kippa 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
There is a growing impression that young American rabbis come out of seminary to the Left on Israel. It isn’t just Rabbi Daniel Gordis’s recent column (“Of sermons and strategies,” April 1). Synagogue lay leaders talk about how young rabbis are remarkably dovish. Their opinions often put them at odds with their congregations.
Being one of the new generation, I want to explain why this is so. There is only one caveat: rabbis are not famous for agreeing with each other. Many colleagues will disagree, and are, of course, allowed to do so.
I am easily described as pro-Israel. I am a passionate Zionist. The day Israel was established was a miracle, not a tragedy. I speak Hebrew fluently. I read Israeli authors, and travel to Israel regularly. I have protested Palestinian terror, and even join countless Facebook groups calling for the end of other Facebook groups calling for the end of something having to do with Israel. I think that any organization calling for BDS, Jewish or otherwise, has no place in the Israel conversation. I agree that the UN hates Israel.
I am also easily described as left-wing. Though I rarely agree with George Soros and opposed the recent UN policy, I am a member of J Street’s rabbinic cabinet. I voted for Obama and will do so again (I wonder, which is the more heinous crime in the eyes of the American Jewish Right?). When searching for humous, I choose the Arab places in Tel Aviv over their Israeli counterparts (that, however, is just good common sense).
I have joined Hillel marches and yelled at Palestinian counter-protesters. I have also been across the checkpoints into Bethlehem and Hebron to listen to the Palestinian narrative and protested home demolitions in Jerusalem.
I am pro-Israel and pro-peace, no matter silly semantic claims that such is impossible.
I readily concede that there is a decided slant to the left of center in most of our seminaries with which those to the Right on Israel feel at odds.
But people misunderstand the nature of this slant.
We are not the generation of rabbis hoping to abandon Israel. We are the generation of rabbis who hope that God will give us the merit to be peacemakers.
There is a desperate need for peacemakers in the Jewish community, whether American or Israeli.
One day the opportunity to make real peace will come – not simpering, phony, television talk-show peace, nor a nation-state-lines-drawn-by-the-UN-asif- that-meant-something peace, but real peace. And when that day comes, we will need the peacemakers to make sure that it never, never slips away, for we are all tired of war.
But who will make that peace? I don’t mean signing a peace treaty. I mean convincing people that peace is worthwhile – something human beings forget with impressive abandon.
Will it be the voices in the American Jewish community? Not if they are the voices that I hear. Not if it’s the ZOA, doing everything they can to stop a Californian Jewish-Muslim dialogue called the Olive-Tree Initiative, funded by the Federation of Orange County. Not if it’s the Newton community that prevented J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami from even speaking. Not if it’s the fact that, these days, sermons about Israel from any political perspective produce enraged congregants. We American rabbis even have a term for it now: death by Israel sermon.
It certainly will not be the Israeli religious community.
I won’t bother to put an interrogative into that sentiment. My favorite book store in the genteel German colony displays Meir Kahane’s writings as a featured purchase, not to be missed. A nine-year-old Chabad kid called me a coward when I told him that burning furniture on street corners was a bad way to protest the disengagement. Posters on the streets of Jerusalem celebrate Baruch Goldstein as a hero. Rav Ovadia Yosef (who, unfortunately, wrote very brilliant halacha) believes that mercy to the Palestinians is forbidden. I do not need to convince anyone that the Israeli voices for Torah are often not voices for peace.
Gordis aptly noted that this Palestinian spring has become the winter of our discontent; atrocities not seen for a decade have come to pierce Israel again. Yes, we understand that there is no possibility of peace, not when a family lies murdered and anti-tank missiles hit school buses. We are not so foolish. Yes, we get that the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be solved with a coke and a smile. We are not so naïve. We are angry too. And, though so many have tried to convince us that we are somehow confused, that we don’t really mean it, we love Israel.
But one day, one day far off, the time for peace will come. And someone will have to know what it is like to talk to an enemy as a human being. Someone will need to remember that small changes, things like housing and zoning laws, or checkpoint policy, have huge implications for human dignity and reconciliation.
Someone will have to step up and remind people that all the Torah’s ways are peace, when others will certainly claim a Torah of war (written on bumper stickers all around Jerusalem).
These are the people that we, the young rabbis, hope to be. We are waiting for the moment when peace becomes a possibility. And though its coming is delayed, we have perfect faith that it will arrive.
We were taught that working toward redemption, though its arrival seems impossible, is the highest aspiration a Jew can have.
The writer is a pulpit rabbi living in Los Angeles, and a graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. A frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, Rabbi Perlo was ordained in 2008.