This past Friday night I spoke at dinner about a topic that is very close to my heart. I spoke in a way that was sincere, but also intentionally provocative. The provocation seems to have worked. I have received a lot of feedback about my speech, both positive and negative, and it has led to several thoughtful conversations. I’d like to continue that conversation here.
So what did I say? I said that I am passionate about Israel. I said that I love the country, that I love the lifestyle, and that I hope to make aliyah and live there. I said that I don’t want to stand on the sidelines of the Jewish world advocating for Israel from the diaspora. I want to be in Israel, in the centre of the battle, working to build a Jewish society in our homeland. I said that every moment that I am not yet living in Israel I am longing to be there. And I said that I would rather be living in Israel than here in Ottawa.
Before I go on, let me clarify one issue here that was a cause of concern for several people. I LOVE LIVING IN OTTAWA. I really really do. I love this city. I love these people. I love the warmth of the community that we have built around the Glebe Shul. I love my life here, and I feel truly blessed to have so many wonderful friends here in the Nation’s Capital. The objective of my words on Friday night was not to disrespect this city or the beautiful people who live here. Quite the opposite. The objective was to say that I long to live in Israel, but that the primary reason why I do not live there is because we love the work that we do here in Ottawa, and the people that we have the privilege and pleasure of interacting with and hosting in our home on a regular basis. If not for my love of Ottawa and our friends here, moving to Israel would be an obvious choice. The root of this internal struggle is that we are torn between two places that we love.
The other concern that people brought up on Friday night was that I was showing a lack of commitment to the Ottawa and Glebe Shul communities. If we are planning on leaving town in the next number of years, then how can we be building relationships with people now? Isn’t that just a tease?
There are two responses to this question. The first is that I too share that exact concern. It’s unsettling knowing that I hope to leave this community at some point in the future, and I’m not sure exactly how to balance that knowledge with my desire to interact with and learn from all of the dear friends we have here in Ottawa.
The second response is that despite that concern, I feel that it is critically important for us to speak about Israel not only from a political perspective, but also from an emotional perspective. We live in a time where there is great emphasis in the Jewish community on Israel advocacy and hasbara. We are encouraged to learn the political arguments and familiarize ourselves with the talking points on Israel’s legitimacy and moral justness. This emphasis on advocacy is critically important. However, we should remember that it is not a replacement for a more thoughtful look at Israel and the deeper connection of the Jewish People to that land.
Hasbara is a fantastic tool for interactions with those outside of the Jewish community, but we shouldn’t allow those talking points to become the sole focus of our conversations about Israel within the Jewish community. There is an emotional component to the relationship that the Jewish People have with the Land of Israel, and it is critical that we maintain a passion for that relationship. Without that passion, Israel is just another political zone like any other in the world. But Israel is about so much more than just political arguments on University campuses. Israel is about a Jewish land that has been the focus and longing of Jews for thousands of years. Israel is the centre of Jewish history, it is the land of Bible, and it is the focus of our prayers on a daily basis. We are privileged enough to be living in an era where we are able to fulfill that longing and actually live in the Holy Land. Our connection to Israel ought to be rooted in a passion that goes well beyond the hasbara. If that passion is going to be maintained, we need to talk about it, publicize it, and normalize it.
By speaking about my passion for Israel, I was hoping to normalize that emotional connection. I don’t expect everyone in that room to suddenly feel the pull to make aliyah. However, I do expect that people listening to me will see the sincerity of my passion and the nature of my emotional connection to Israel, and I hope that seeing that in me will enable them to give themselves permission to connect with Israel on a deeper level than they have in the past.
That’s my take on the matter. What about you? Does what I’m saying resonate with you? Does it rub you the wrong way? What are your thoughts? Email me at email@example.com, or post your comments here on the blog. I think that this is an important conversation for us to be having. What’s your take?