While reading Francine Klagsbrun’s new Golda Meir biography, I was struck by how, since Israel’s inception, the Jewish people have been in heated debate about what should be the nature and character of our Jewish State. People do and have argued passionately about Israel. Yet another troubling trend has also arisen: as people become more conflict averse, or choose to surround themselves with like-minded people, some no longer take the time to argue about our beloved Jewish State.
I have been heartened these past two years to see how many people want to come out for our Hot Topics series (in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Harry & Samson Family Jewish Community Center) and have a respectful debate. Thanks to a very skilled facilitator, Dr. Keren Fraiman people read fundamental texts and expressed differing opinions in a safe, respectful and expertly moderated space. I want to create more opportunities for dialogue and debate this upcoming year.
A few weeks ago Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove spoke in Milwaukee about how we educate kids about Israel, and his remarks should not just be limited to kids, but to anyone who did not live through Israel’s founding. Rabbi Cosgrove said it’s not meaningful to view support for Israel through the negative paradigm that we need Israel because of Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Instead, we should educate about Israel in a deep, rich, positive way, without shying away from the history of multiple perspectives.
The idea of teaching Israel in its historic complexity feels authentically Jewish. When we teach Jewish law, rarely is it in the form of a prescriptive one-liner. We learn Jewish law as a debate. In the Talmud, we read through a multitude of opinions about how and why the Jewish people have different practices. That’s what makes out tradition rich, and perhaps the secret of our survival since ancient times. Our Torah is not in heaven, it is living here with its sacred people, in every time.
The multitude of events to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday and commemorate those who gave their lives to make this anniversary possible also serves a diverse set of audiences. On April 18th, we will commemorate Yom HaZikaron at the JCC and afterwards gather for an Israeli tradition of singing to honor the fallen. April 19th, Milwaukee will celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday with a proclamation by Mayor Barrett. April 20th, our youth have planned Teen Israel Fest for 8th-12th graders of all backgrounds, and April 22nd we will gather to walk and celebrate at the JCC. (For more information about any or all of these events, contact Rabbi Hannah, firstname.lastname@example.org)
For me, the existence the State of Israel is particularly sacred, including the diverse array of opinions about the State. We should celebrate her, teach about her, argue about her and visit her. I hope you will join me in our Yamim commemorations and celebrations and at the many opportunities this year we have to deepen our knowledge of, connection to and love for Israel.
Rabbi Hannah Wallick currently serves as the Vice President of Outreach, Israel and Overseas for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Prior to re-entering organizational work, Rabbi Hannah served in two congregations, the Jewish Community Project in Tribeca and Congregation Beth Israel in southern Maryland. Rabbi Hannah’s professional work focuses on outreach and out-of-the box Judaism. She has worked at the JCC of Manhattan, the 92nd Street Y, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and at the Jewish Outreach Institute, and organization which advocates for a big tent approach to Judaism. Rabbi Hannah holds a BA in Jewish Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, a Masters in Education from the William Davidson Graduate School of Education and Rabbinic Ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary.