Guest Post by Rabbi Lizz Goldstein.
Unlike a lot of American Jews, I was not raised to be a Zionist. Throughout 1998, my Hebrew school sang Hatikvah during every prayer service in honor of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel. One day, my teacher started to yell about how we all needed to show more respect for our homeland, for Israel. My dad, who had been sitting in the back of the room, yelled right back. For him, we were American, Connecticut was our homeland, and there would be no teaching dual loyalties to his children. At first, it was mostly an apathy to Israel and my dad’s need to defend his American patriotism, but I think it gave us a clearer starting point to begin to recognize the damage Israel commits and our responsibility as Jews to call out the continuing human rights abuses in the Occupied territories.
During my undergraduate college years, I reasoned I had to go to Israel for the sake of my rabbinical school applications. I chose to go to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies because I had some sense that a program for Israelis, Palestinians, and international students seemed much more likely to give me the space to encounter Israel on my own terms than the typical study abroad options.
While at the Arava Institute, I heard heartbreaking stories about how the Occupation affects the everyday lives of Israelis and Palestinians. I witnessed new cross-cultural friendships form and hopes for the future bloom (but not like how Israelis made the desert bloom, because that was an ecological disaster and this program was for environmentalists so they would only bloom in natural and healthy ways).
Despite the apathy I had once felt and the relative lack of Zionist indoctrination I had received growing up, I still somehow felt so betrayed by Israel’s actions once I learned the extent of the ongoing horror of the Occupation.
When I returned, I joined my college’s Students for Justice in Palestine, just in time for the school to boast of becoming the first American college to divest from the Occupation. I wanted to do whatever I could to help my new Palestinian friends and their people. I wrote my undergraduate senior thesis on the role of the environment in the Arab-Israeli conflicts. At the time, I was trying so hard to sound unbiased. Years later, during rabbinical school, a time in which I felt I did have to overlook a lot of unquestioning support for the Occupation, I reread my undergraduate thesis. It was not nearly as unbiased as I thought, and the anger I felt at confronting the moral crisis of Jews in power was palpable in the papers.
Since then, my involvement in anti-Occupation work has ebbed and flowed. It’s not always easy to be a rabbinical student or a rabbi and to be openly anti-Occupation. IfNotNow has given me a space to be unapologetically my whole self, a rabbi who wants her community to stop supporting the living nightmare of the Occupation.
Although the Torah commands that in 50 year cycles the lands in Israel should return to their original owners, it seems unlikely that we will see such a solution this year. However, I am hopeful that IfNotNow is making progress in its endeavors to end American Jewish support for the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, and that by the end of this 50th year of the Occupation, the American Jewish discourse on Israel will look much different.
It’s been a windy road to where I am now in anti-Occupation work, but I’m still here because I believe that we will win.