Making a Turn Onto J Street

Opinion

By Hadar Susskind

Published September 09, 2009, issue of September 18, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I was born in Israel, on Kibbutz Nachshon. Driving from Nachshon on the road up to Jerusalem, you pass Latrun, where Joshua defeated the Amorites, Judah Maccabee won his first battle and Ariel Sharon fought to break the 1948 blockade of the holy city. History is everywhere in Israel, and it’s very much alive.

In 1975, when I was 2, my parents moved to America, where I would spend most of my childhood. At age 18, I made what was, in retrospect, the first adult decision of my life: Instead of going to college with my friends, I chose to make aliyah, to join the Israeli army. I did so not out a sense of adventure or gung-ho militarism, but out of a deep commitment to Israel’s security and a willingness to put myself at risk to defend that security. I served with the Givati Brigade, seeing combat in Lebanon, and was proud to become a part of that living history.

Recently I took another kind of risk, but for the very same reason.

I chose to leave a great job as the Washington director for a wonderful and well-respected organization, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, to join the new pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group J Street. Not everyone in the Jewish community, my professional home for more than a decade, is familiar with J Street yet, and some are uncomfortable with it.

But I take this step with tremendous conviction, because I believe that we are living at a critical moment for Israel and that we must — I must — do everything possible to work toward achieving the still-elusive peace that is unquestionably necessary to bringing her real security and prosperity.

There is strong support for Israel here in the United States. But there are also legitimate questions that deserve thoughtful answers.

In the past year in particular I’ve heard a recurring question from pulpit rabbis and federation executives, student leaders and the unaffiliated. They are grappling with the question of how to reconcile their love and support for Israel with their discomfort about settlement policy and other political realities. Their heads support a strong American role in helping Israel make peace with its neighbors, but their kishkes are uncomfortable with the idea of anyone “telling Israel what to do.”

But we’re in a unique moment with President Obama in the White House. Here is a strongly pro-Israel leader who understands that the Arab-Israeli conflict must be actively resolved, not treated as a zero-sum game or an acceptable status quo to be managed.

Indeed, there really isn’t such a thing as a “status quo” — there is moving forward, or moving backward. There is moving toward a better tomorrow, or sliding back toward greater violence, more tears, more pain. Every additional death makes a solution less possible; every rocket fired and every settlement expansion builds hatred and mistrust and moves us further from peace.

What President Obama understands best, however, is that we’re running out of time. If we want to see Israel secure and thriving, we have to act quickly. If we don’t start moving forward with real urgency, we’re likely to move so far backward that a two-state solution will be impossible.

I’m not telling Israel what to do. What I am trying to do by joining J Street is to create the political support in this country for Israel to finally do what its citizens, soldiers and supporters have always longed for: make peace with its neighbors, and disperse the clouds of war that for so long have darkened its horizons.

It’s time for the American Jewish community to step out of the Israel closet and say: “We love Israel, but that doesn’t mean we’ll remain silent when we disagree.” It’s time for all of us who grew up loving Israel and praying for peace to stop letting the mythical notion that American Jews speak with a single voice keep us from supporting Israel’s security and future by calling for peace.

My 7-year-old son asked me to explain the difference between my old job and my new job. When I finished and asked him if he understood, he said, “Abba, your old job was to try and help people who need help for all kinds of things. Now you’re going to help Israel so that no one else has to fight in wars like you did.”

Sometimes it takes a child’s wisdom to really make things clear.

Hadar Susskind is the incoming director of policy and strategy at J Street.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.