Thirty members of our synagogue community are in Jerusalem, standing by the side of the road in Gilo, looking at the security barrier, Bethlehem and a new settlement in the distance. An educator from Ir Amim, which advocates for “a more viable and equitable city,” explains the horizon before us. We knock our heads against hard decisions and life-and-death choices, and even argue among ourselves about what the correct approach to Israeli safety and Palestinian rights ought to be.
Later that day, we get tangled up in the City of David, coming to terms with archaeological gardens of great significance to Jewish history and Palestinian infrastructure, like schools, water, garbage pick-up and electricity. That night, in West Jerusalem, we mingle with Israelis in stores and restaurants, living their lives and their dilemmas just like we do here in Brooklyn.
No op-ed in any newspaper about the knotty issues related to Israel, Zionism and Palestinian aspirations to their own state can come close to what it means to engage with Israel while actually being there. My approach to “talking about Israel from the pulpit ” is to make people deal with Israel and all its complexity up close. To reckon with its reality. To immerse oneself in its messiness. To appreciate — in the full measure of its borders, however they are defined — that a state that was merely a theory 100 years ago is a complex, beautiful, dynamic force in the world of more than 8 million Hebrew-speaking citizens. The living, breathing Israel has no easy answers.
Modeling for my community with our annual trips, engaging Israelis in Brooklyn in new and integrative ways, is the only way we can demonstrate that Israel’s questions and dilemmas, as well as its remarkable and unprecedented achievements, are the way to go.
In short: How do you deal with Israel from the pulpit? Insist that people visit, roll up their sleeves and dig in. Otherwise, it’s all just talk. And God knows there’s plenty of that to go around.
Andy Bachman is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim, in Brooklyn.
Read the rest of our special coverage of how rabbis talk — or don’t talk — about Israel in synagogue.
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