Lately I’ve felt like your bad-news rabbi.
For a few months I’ve been gathering links to helpful articles from a range of sources and working on a note to you about Israel. Now tens of thousands of Israelis are demonstrating in the streets, decrying the tactics and goals of the new ruling coalition. Waves of tragic violence have broken out and there is no end in sight. I don’t want to wait any longer, I’ll just send this short message with most current links first. I know that some of you follow Israeli news closely, but others do not have the time nor the interest. I hope this is helpful. Rabbi Naomi
In the spring of 2021 I felt hopeful for Israel. The “Change Government” had been elected, with numerous forward-thinking leaders part of a diverse coalition ready to tackle numerous urgent social, economic and environmental issues. I remember telling our choir: “Let’s go to Israel together. Let’s take our music and be part of the change we hope to see.”
Alas, hope was short-lived. Now the most right-wing government in Israel’s history has come to power in a deal wrought by once-again Prime Minister Netanyahu for his personal benefit; giving powerful ministerial portfolios to extremists in exchange for maneuvers to extricate Mr. Netanyahu from his legal woes.
We now have an Israeli government that includes unapologetic racists, homophobes and religious fanatics who set to work right away to undermine the Israeli Supreme Court. As American Jews, what are our obligations and our options? For too long many Jewish Americans have idealized Israeli culture, overlooking human rights offenses in the name of ethnic and religious solidarity. How do we find the strength to face painful realities both at home and in Israel?
Some say, “We have our own problems with race and religion in the US. Who are we to preach values to Israel?” Others say, “It’s far away. Why should we care about problems over there when we have pressing issues here?” At the extremes of opinion, some American Jews valorize Israelis, and some demonize them. I think that most of us reach for middle ground, trying to round the square, admiring or loving the tiny country of Israel while acknowledging the enormity of its problems.
Many years ago in my Redwood Rabbi days, I felt people weren’t listening to important warnings of impending climate disaster. Now they do. During my Clergy for Choice decades, I felt that people weren’t sufficiently concerned about access to reproductive healthcare. Now they are. And for quite a while I’ve fretted that people just didn’t want to hear about Israel’s slide into authoritarianism. Now it can’t be avoided.
As so many of us feared, a new round of violence has broken out. But tragically, the Israeli government officials who should be responsible for protecting the peace are some of the most extreme, strident agitators.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler - Most Senior Jewish Member of Congress
Nadler joins list of Jewish, pro-Israel Democrats to raise alarm over new government
Reform Jewish Leaders Respond to Israel’s Proposed Judicial Reforms
American Rabbis Respond to Extremists in Israeli Government
Analysis of new government in The Atlantic
American Jews Wonder: Is It Time to Declare Independence From Israel? - Opinion - Haaretz.com
Why this Zionist rabbi has stopped saying the Prayer for the State of Israel
Jewish Religious Left 972 Magazine
And finally, something optimistic from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who seems to expect that the neighboring Israel’s new relationship with neighboring Arab states will solve the region’s problems:
'I’ve never been more optimistic' about the Middle East, Gillibrand says after Abraham Accords trip
I’ll give the last word to my distinguished colleague Rabbi Jill Jacobs:
Like you, I welcomed Shabbat grieving the deaths of seven Israeli Jews, killed in a terror attack on Friday night. A day earlier, an IDF incursion into a Jenin refugee camp left 10 Palestinians dead, including an elderly woman. In response, the Palestinian Authority announced an end to security coordination with Israel, and Hamas fired rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. Meanwhile, over the weekend, settlers in the West Bank carried out violent raids on multiple Palestinian villages.
It’s a horrifyingly familiar pattern that we know can quickly escalate into a full-blown war.
This time, we have even more reason to fear escalation. Extremists control the Israeli government — though tens of thousands of Israelis have gathered weekly to protest rising fascism — and new armed groups have emerged in the West Bank, as the Palestinian Authority threatens to collapse.
Once again, we are faced with a choice: despair or hope.
We choose hope.
That’s why T’ruah’s annual Plant Two Trees (https://truah.org/plant-two-trees-for-justice-on-tubishvat/?eType=EmailB...) action is even more important this year.
Every year, T’ruah invites rabbinical and cantorial students spending their required year in Israel to mark Tu BiShvat by planting trees both in a threatened Palestinian village in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
This action is both symbolic and practical, a way of affirming Palestinian land rights and restoring trees all too frequently uprooted or destroyed by Israeli settlers.
Of course, you and I both know that planting trees can’t stop a war.
But planting a tree is an act of hope. We don’t know if a sapling will be uprooted by settlers or thwarted by climate change — or if it will grow and bloom, providing fruit and shade for generations.
That’s the hope we are choosing when we invest in the moral leadership of rabbinical and cantorial students. It’s why we bring them to the West Bank, to witness the human rights abuses of the occupation, and to build relationships with Israeli and Palestinian activists and with one another.
Naomi, this Tu BiShvat, I invite you to choose hope and plant two trees for justice.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs