Sent to the USA Today, September 4, 2020
Jews the world over have entered the month of Elul, the month preceding the "High Holidays" of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Elul is the only month in the Jewish calendar that does not contain a festival, a fact generally attributed to the intensity of preparation for the most important 10-day period of the year. The primary themes of the month are, accordingly, self-assessment and repentance. Importantly, these themes of self-assessment and repentance apply to both individual and community. Seldom in our collective history has self-assessment and repentance been more critical.
But a significant percentage of American Jews are not using the month of Elul solely to prepare for the High Holidays; they are instead preparing for a massive "Solidarity with Israel" rally to take place in New York City on September 23. Unfortunately, it does not appear that this rally will take into account the lessons of the month of Elul, but will instead focus on applauding the painful self-righteousness of Israel's present policies.
This rally is scheduled to feature numerous speakers who will urge the assembled to loudly proclaim that the current Israeli policy of Occupation is justified and necessary to preserve notions of "security." Although I am not involved in preparing the program for the Rally, I have attended similar events in the past and read all advance press for this Rally, and expect to again see not one moment of communal self-reflection, only bitter defiance at the criticisms currently being heaped upon Israel. Yet again, attendees will hear, Israel and the Jewish community is under deadly attack, and we must stand strong in order to preserve our individual and collective futures. Without Jewish solidarity supporting Israeli Occupation, the end will surely follow.
But many within the Jewish community are beginning to question these notions. As such, there will be at least two Jewish counter-rallies in New York on September 23. Are these "self-hating" or traitorous Jews unwilling to defend Israel or stand by their Judaism? Certainly not. But if not, how can Jews protest solidarity with Israel?
Nearly all Jews (and non-Jews, leaving aside extremists on each side who seek to eradicate the other) can agree that the violence must end. The disagreement is over how to end it. Israel and its supporters hold the position that the answer to violence is with stronger, more precise, and more persistent violence. To be sure, policies such as targeted killings, F-16 attacks, tank invasions, settlement expansion, by-pass roads, checkpoint pressures, tree uprooting, strict border control, denial of economic viability, choking off water supply and other utilities, are all forms of violence. And in the end, this violence not only guarantees that violence against Israel will continue, it violates some of the most sacred Judaic values.
Those who will participate in the counter-rallies believe that the commandments to view all humanity in the image of God, pursue justice, act kindly unto others and remember when we were strangers in the land of Egypt are not conditional. Rather than blindly accept and implicitly condone the continued violence, we seek to engage in communal self-assessment and repentance. For the current violence implicates all Jews as a violation of our core principles. We cannot pick and choose our time for adherence to the ethics set forth in our traditions. When we see suffering, we must intervene, as Jews have done so bravely throughout history; all the more so when we are, in any manner or degree, its cause. This means that the Occupation must end.
However, I do not believe it necessary for all Jews to share my beliefs in order for there to be peace. My views, like everyone else's, are shaped by my particular experiences. No, I do not expect that all will or need to view the above actions as human rights violations or indefensible violence. By the same token, I still have much to learn from those on the "other side." But what is necessary for progress is what the month of Elul teaches: to look inside, to develop the willingness to challenge yourself and others, and to change when necessary. This Elul, rather than rely on present strength, I implore all potential Solidarity Rally attendees, and all others who read or hear about it, to engage calmly and judiciously with others in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities who disagree with you, to embrace the spirit of self-assessment and repentance, and to help us forge-togetherthe path to peace and justice that has thus far eluded us.
Brad Rubin, Washington, DC