About Me

I'm the Rabbi of B'nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield, MI, a highly-participatory, traditional, egalitarian synagogue.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Flotilla Sails Away

Every once in a while, on our American Jewish journeys, we regard a teetering calm abroad as if it lives here at home. Invariably, it falls and breaks. Bad news from Israel.

We stop at the edge of the debris. Our hearts are pierced. We cringe, cry, whimper. We are angry, flabbergasted, befuddled.

The emotions dull as the news fades, as we remove to a safer place along our narratives. We hear and see little more. Until the next time.

We are witnessing such an episode now, the Mavi Marmara, and debris is everywhere. A decidedly non-humanitarian humanitarian boat. People ready for battle. Israel, to our shock, not. The stench of bloodshed. The larger context – the blockade of Gaza, Israel’s security needs, relations between Israel and Turkey, Israel’s dangerously diminishing standing in the world, the occupation of the West Bank, our relationship with the Palestinians – trembling in the foreground.

This episode may not recede as quickly as the others, and maybe that’s appropriate. In the eyes of the world, and many Jews too (this one included), Israel crossed a line – of brazenness, incompetence, sheer stupidity, depending on one’s perspective. As did the IHH, with its bare-faced abuse of the humanitarian flag.

Still, it will recede, ever so surely, to the “back pages” of the American media. Our attention, our concern – as well.

In contrast, the attention of Israelis began to shift from the minute we woke up that morning of May 31. Daily life in Israel – all the way down to its incessant car honking – is a reality check that reminds us that the sky is not falling. It quells the existential angst. It stabilizes the queasy ride into the moral realm. It gives flesh to Israel’s existence and diversity.

Consciousness of our country, it goes without saying, is not dependent on the news or the media. That’s a refreshing change for me as an oleh chadash, new immigrant, to Israel – one year removed from America.

Each day, I take my kids to a school where they speak Hebrew. We spend Shabbat on a kibbutz with a breathtaking view of the Jezreel Valley. With imagination, I can see King Ahab chasing Elijah through it. I watch quizzically as a whole nation gears up for a soccer tournament where they’ll celebrate a 0-0 tie.

True, I cannot get far from the debris of the Mavi Marmara. I hear it churn every time I turn on the radio. The din is audible in most conversations that I have, as if it’s inappropriate not to be with the nation at all moments.

And I can’t escape the moral challenge of the larger context, particularly our distorted relationship with the Palestinians. Every day, I see the corrosive power imbalance at work. Palestinian construction workers build and beautify my city, not their own. The ubiquitous walls, fences and checkpoints along the road from here to Jerusalem keep us safe but imprison Palestinians in their own local nightmares. Construction in the settlements digs us even deeper into places we can’t be if we are going to survive as a Jewish state.

But, yes, we Israelis live on, with the undercurrent of conflict, almost immediately. In a way that’s so difficult for American Jews – in their brief acute moments of paralytic shock -- to understand.

The flotilla is here. At the same time, it sails away. Depending on your perspective.

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