If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
Every year, our tradition teaches us to remember both the bitterness of slavery and the joy of liberation. We recall the narrow places we’ve left through stories of persecution and resilience, in our own lives and in our people’s history.
We carry the imprint of ancestors who struggled for thousands of years to preserve our tradition, who lit candles in the darkness, sang songs in their native tongues, built vibrant homes and communities with their neighbors and refused to dwell in despair. We remember the pain and brokenness that accompanied the light, and the sublime art and timeless wisdom that sustained our people in these times. The resilience of our people and our tradition is a gift we pass from generation to generation.
We live our Judaism in diverse ways. We are Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi, secular and religious, queer and Jews of color - each of us using the freedom our people have fought for to decide what being Jewish means for us.
The Jewish tradition has flourished across continents and centuries because each generation of Jews has kept its flame alive by adapting and renewing it for their time and place. Today, our generation is called to reinterpret the tradition so that we too may continue the struggle for Jewish liberation in our age, and so that we may pass the tradition onto the next generation.
If I am only for myself, what am I?
As we were dehumanized by the oppression we faced, we are now dehumanized by that which we are inflicting. Our elders told many of us that because of our history, we should oppose oppression in all the places it lives, whether it preys upon us or others. But generations of American Jews have now watched as Israel enforces its occupation: a system of violence and separation that deprives Palestinians of civil, political and economic rights. We have watched as the leadership of the American Jewish community has, for decades, offered only justification and excuses for the ongoing denial of the basic freedom and dignity to Palestinians.
The occupation is a daily nightmare for those who live under it and a moral disaster for those who support and administer it. The sufferings of Jews and Palestinians are not equal or comparable. And yet, they are deeply intertwined.
We know that as long as both peoples are caught in a cycle of violence, neither of us will be safe. That as long as as young Israeli men and women are sent into battle every two years, to kill and be killed, we are not free. That so long as Palestinians cannot walk or drive on the same streets as their Israeli neighbors, or live in constant fear that they may not be able to receive adequate medical attention when their families are sick, peace is but a rhetorical mask for injustice. That as long as a fearful American Jewish community ostracizes those who see the Palestinians as human beings, deserving of the same things we wish for ourselves, we cannot live with dignity.
The out-of-touch leadership of the American Jewish establishment tells us - young Jews who believe all people should have freedom and dignity - that our values are incompatible with our tradition. They tell us that our commitment to justice must not extend beyond our shores. We know their view of Israel and the Palestinians is shaped by the history of Jewish oppression and Jewish suffering and Jewish death. We also know that those who act as if we are a people without power condemn us to accepting what we cannot accept: that we must always live by the sword, that we will always be hated, that we are condemned to live in conflict for all eternity. Their pain has curdled from fear into hate.
We too are scarred by our people’s trauma. Our families are their families, and our grandparents their parents. We understand how trauma has caused some in our community to interpret history to mean that the world is against us. But we interpret our past differently - as a lesson that our freedom cannot be achieved absent the freedom of our neighbors.
If not now, when?
Today, the Jewish community is faced with a choice. Will we choose a Judaism that supports freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians, or will we let the leadership of the establishment define our tradition as incompatible with our values?
Will we continue down the path of isolation and fear that’s destroying the lives of millions of Palestinians and alienating a generation of young Jews? Or, will we create a vibrant Judaism that emerges from the trauma of our past to bring our tradition to life in the present?
We have chosen. We are building a Jewish community that recognizes we cannot be free absent the freedom of Palestinians. No longer will our community be used by American politicians and the American public to justify the violation of Palestinian rights. Like those born wandering in the desert, we are rising from our people’s trauma in order to move us toward the ongoing promise of liberation.
We will be the generation to transform our community’s support for the occupation into a call for freedom and dignity for all.