by Ira Wise, January 2019/Tevet – Shevat 5779
I love Israel. I hope you do to.
There is not a “but” or an “except” that follows that statement. That is the thing about love. When you love someone, you love them. You love them even though you know they are not perfect. You love them even though they make you sometimes want to be in a different physical space when they are doing or saying something. You love them even when they do things that fly in the face of everything they have always said they believe in. You even love them when they choose to believe something else.
I will not recap the news for you. The government of Israel has done a number of things that some of us wish they hadn’t. By the way, some of us wish they had done it sooner and with greater impact – that is the nature of family, we don’t always agree. On college campuses and in the leadership of several movements that some of us have felt drawn to, there have been profound attacks on Israel and those who believe in her.
Even some Jews have decided that the actions of the government make it impossible to support Israel at all. And there are certainly moments when I wish that many of those actions were different. And I still love Israel. I love Israelis. Not all of them, but I have a lot of friends and some family there. All of our shinshinim are there and I try to visit many of them whenever I visit.
I love the fact that I can walk the streets of Jerusalem and feel like I am not a tourist, but in my second home. I love that I am finally starting to explore Tel Aviv. I love the stories of the building of the nation and have had the privilege to meet some of the non-famous people who helped to build it. And I love that I feel it is mine. It is family.
And that means even when I am disappointed, I still love Israel.
In our curriculum, and with the help of our teachers and the shinshinim, we are trying to help our students find that kind of connection. That is why our Kitah Hey (5th grade) students have an ongoing relationship with their peers at the Nitzavim School in Roshon L’Tzion south of Tel Aviv. And that is why we encourage our teenagers and adults to travel to Israel.
For the past five summers I have chaperoned the NFTY L’dor Vador trips on their first leg through Eastern Europe on their way to Israel. We explore a thousand years of Jewish life in Europe and the yearning hose Jews had to return to Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel. We also explore the tragic end of most of those communities. Then I escort them to Israel as they begin a four week adventure, and hopefully turn their connection with Israel into a love affair.
We need your help. Read the news. If, like many American Jews you have avoided engaging in Israel because it is complicated and sometimes troubling, stop. Engage. Form an opinion that allows you to engage. I urge you not give up on Israel, but rise to the challenge of imagining a peaceful, complete Israel. And talk about it with your kids. We cannot make them love it if you don’t.
I hope you will note that I have not told you what opinions to have about Israel. That is not up to me. I just want you to engage and teach your children to engage. Because this is about family. I can remember signs that once said “America. Love it or leave it.” I hope that you will join me in loving Israel. Leaving it is unthinkable to me – even from this side of the Atlantic.
And talk to me or the rabbis about sending your child or your family to Israel. If not this summer then soon.
Ira J. Wise, D.J.R.E.
Director of Education