When the American Jewish establishment went after Simone Zimmerman, Bernie Sanders’s recent pick as his liaison to the Jewish community and a longtime social justice activist and organizer, it made a clear statement to an entire generation of young Jews: If you dare to depart from our position on Israel, you are not welcome in our fold.
While the Sanders campaign may have caved to these regressive voices when it suspended Simone, we salute her for her willingness to criticize the divisive, destructive policies of Benjamin Netanyahu with righteous anger and passion. And on the eve of Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrating our liberation from slavery, we in IfNotNow are asking our community a question: Are you willing to stand up for freedom and dignity for all people, or will you limit your notion of liberation to only yourselves?
The leaders of the Jewish establishment think that they can speak for the entirety of the American Jewish community. They think that the only way to ensure Jewish safety is to stand in uncompromising support of the occupation of the Palestinian territories. They reject any conception of Tikkun Olam — the Jewish value of “repairing the world” — if it contains any criticism of Israel. According to their logic, our community needs to stand united no matter what, regardless of a system of state violence that poses daily, nightmarish obstacles to Palestinian life.
But this year, young Jews are coming together and saying dayenu, enough!
The American Jewish establishment is wrong. Our generation speaks for itself and our Judaism stands for the freedom and dignity of all people — Israelis and Palestinians alike. We are building a Jewish community that speaks out against injustice in our own community and stands up for justice everywhere.
Over and over again, leaders in the Jewish community marginalize voices speaking out against the suffering and destruction wrought by the ongoing Israeli occupation, just as they did to Simone. What these leaders don’t recognize is that by silencing and ostracizing those voices, they are also alienating an entire generation of young Jews. They are forcing young Jews to chose between Jewish identity and their own moral compass.
Growing up, we were taught that the equality of all people was a core value of our Jewish tradition. We were encouraged by our tradition to question conventional authority. Simone is only one of the many members of our generation who are living that lesson to its fullest. We will not turn a blind eye to the abuses our community supports.
Next week, this line will be read aloud at Passover seders across the country and across the world: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt — now we are free.”
The Passover story of liberation inspires us to imagine that we too were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. We are taught to remember both the bitterness of slavery and the joy of liberation. We recall the many “Egypts” we’ve left through the stories of our persecution and resilience. And we ask how we can continue to fight for the liberation and renewal that the holiday celebrates.
This Passover, our generation is coming together to tell the Jewish establishment that we are committed to the fight for liberation that our tradition demands. This week, in Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, IfNotNow members will be coming together to protest; standing up with righteous anger, with passion and with a deep love and respect for our tradition, demanding that the organizations and institutions that claim to speak for us end their support of the occupation.
IfNotNow will be raising our voices this Passover to show that we are united in an effort to move the Jewish community toward a path of justice and liberation because our generation knows that the exodus from Egypt cannot be complete until we cease to support a system that denies others’ humanity, dignity and freedom.
We refuse to accept threats of fear and isolation from above. We refuse to continue down a path that encourages war and separation. We will come together to face our future with bravery and integrity. We will emerge from our past traumas through work on behalf of a vibrant, flourishing Judaism that stands for freedom and dignity for all people. Leaders like Simone are already charting that path. Will we follow in their footsteps to a bright, liberated future, or continue supporting the never-ending occupation? The choice is ours.
Ethan Miller, 24, lives in Washington D.C. Sara Sandmel, 25, lives in Chicago, IL. Ethan and Sara are both leaders in IfNotNow, an emerging movement of young Jews working to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation.
This Passover, We’re Joining Simone Zimmerman To Fight for Freedom for All