Earlier this week I joined with some 2000 people in Washington for the annual Conference of the American Jewish Committee. I believe that this is the most effective Jewish organization in promoting the well-being of Jewish people throughout the world, and trying to instill in world leaders an appreciation for the realities that Israel confronts.
The Conference included political representatives from more than thirty countries, journalists, and an array of guest speakers. Among the most touching experiences were the comments of two women. One was from Iraq, and spoke of her heroic efforts to protect the women and children from the violence and bloodshed that has overtaken that country. The other was a young, non-Jewish woman who spoke of her experience in visiting Israel and her realization that the “real,” everyday Israel is quite different than what is portrayed in the media. Rather than experience war, oppression and cruelty, she discovered a country that is vibrant, democratic, and a population of people that is determined to pursue life, and progress, and personal fulfillment, in spite of the challenges that come with living in Israel. She spoke of feelings that “these are my people, and this is my country.” Those words captured her feelings of respect and admiration for the people of Israel, and their refusal to identify themselves as “victims” who face profound challenges and rejection from much of the world.
No, peace is not around the corner, even as the people of Israel continue to long for peace. But it will not happen until a generation emerges that is taught a new narrative: Not “hate” your neighbor; but try to understand and respect your neighbor, (and his/her thoughts and feelings) and choose to build a better world together.
As I write these words, I have just learned about the terrorist shooting in Tel Aviv. Four innocent people have lost their lives and many have been wounded. As two demented people dressed as Chasidic Jews carried out what they believe to be a holy act. As we mourn for these people and their families, we can only hope for a time when all people will recognize the sanctity of every human life and when minds will become enlightened to realize that co-existence is far better than living with hatred.
Just one other conclusion about the conference: After speaking with Jewish representatives from countries throughout the world, it is apparent that they feel great apprehension about the future of Jewish life in their respective countries. Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic feelings have been morphed together, and the Jews of Europe especially question what the future will bring, especially at a time when there is such turmoil in our world.
Let us cherish our identity as Jews, and let us appreciate the values and ideals for which we continue to stand. We may not be able to bring about the peace that we wish for Israel at the present time, and we may not be able to squelch the rising tide of Anti-Semitism throughout the world. But we can and we must be informed, and we must search a little bit deeper for our own Jewish Identities, and for our connection to Jewish people throughout the world.
Rabbi David Greenberg