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Landing in Tinseltown

“So, like, I know that there’s no occupation. Like no one’s allowed to admit that there’s an occupation. Except a lot of people are saying that there is an occupation. More than a lot of people. Like nearly everyone is screaming that there’s an occupation. So maybe, I’m thinking, there must be like, a little bit of occupation going on? It can’t be like everyone is 100% wrong, can it?”

Ah, but how does one find out what is true and what is not true in this world? From this tongue-in-cheek questioner at the Hillel Global Assembly in Orlando, to the rarefied world of Jewish artists in Los Angeles, the truth is hard to come by. And no one can be trusted.

“America is source of disinformation in the world, and it leads people to lose themselves. We need to free ourselves from all these systems, and work from the inside. From the heart-response. I mean, 97% of our DNA is not being used. We’re not being allowed to be our full selves.” Yes, I know. After a long flight, I’d landed in California.

While wondering which 3% of my DNA I felt lucky enough to be using, I was left struck by two Angelinos who were pulling in the opposite direction of my inclusivity mentors of the previous day. Here my artist friends rejected the “victim culture”, and the only person whose voice could be trusted by these folks who trusted nothing and no one, was, you guessed it, Donald Trump. This guy is nothing if not a lightning rod.

Here in LA, sitting in a kosher joint next to “Bibi’s Bakery and Café”, the world was both unknowable (due to the media) and all too familiar. Anti-semitism is on the rise, Islamic extremists threaten to destroy us, and all the bleeding hearts do is attack Israel. Following on from the music producer and the painter, the actress who sat down with me next, summed up the place of Israel in a way that surprised even herself.

“Israel is like this disease that part of you doesn’t want to deal with, and part of you can’t stop talking about it. Oh no, please don’t write that in your blog. Don’t say I said Israel is a disease. It’s not. Of course it’s not. But it’s like your Mom is sick, and one sibling just goes on and on about it, and the other sibling just wants him to shut up.”

The underlying theme would seem to be about pain. When thoughtless people speak derogatively about Israel, my LA friends feel a secret, almost shameful pain inside. Their loved one is being attacked. And together with this pain, they feel betrayed by the progressive establishment that outlaws giving offence – even unintentional offence – while consistently condoning the offence caused when criticizing Israel unfairly.

I was reminded of the chat I had a couple of days ago, back in New York. After completing facilitator training in Israel conversations for a major synagogue, a young professional admitted to me with intrigued acceptance: “When you drill down to it, every conversation about Israel ends up being a conversation about themselves.”

At Makom, the Israel Education Lab of the Jewish Agency, we always argue about whether you can talk about Israel without first talking about the learners themselves. I’ve always been impatient with this “me-centered” approach to adult education. But these past few days are teaching me that the self, and the sensitivity of the inner pain of the learner – this prism through which Israel is experienced – must be embraced, since it cannot be avoided.

But I’m still left with the lingering question: If it’s so much about the self, how come everyone talks about “we” all the time?

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