I write you these words from the holy land, where I am here leading another Momentum trip as one of the educators. My daughter Hindy and I traveled together through Amsterdam, spending the day there on Thursday, and then landing here in Israel on Friday morning.
On our flight from Amsterdam to Israel, I was seated next to two 30-year-old Israeli men who had just spent time traveling and touring in Amsterdam as well. Litetally the moment I sat down, one of them asked me if I was American. I answered in the affirmative, whereupon he proceeded to ask me my opinion regarding the protests surrounding the judicial reform in Israel (welcome to life with Israelis).
I told him that I was most concerned about the fracture within the Jewish nation, and that it almost felt like an unfolding Civil War. He told me that many young secular Israelis that he knows also have citizenship to other countries just in case they feel that Israel is inhospitable to them, and that he himself carried citizenship to Germany where his grandfather was from.
I can’t describe to you how sad this made me, and I told him that when Americans start to feel that America is inhospitable to Jews, they update their passports and some even apply for Israeli citizenship. What an ironic dichotomy! He told me that he felt that the only solution is to have two separate countries: one for the religious Jews, and one for the secular Jews. I told him that I thought that was the saddest thing I had ever heard.
When he asked me why, I started to tell him that half our kids are religious and half our kids are not, and yet we regularly sit around the table and share a meal enjoying each other‘s company, and focusing on what unites us, and not on what divides us. I may be an incurable optimist and some might say wildly unrealistic, but I believe that the same thing can and must be done with the Jewish nation in Israel.
I told him that we are unable to control what other people say and do and that we can only control our responses to what they say and do. I told him that we have an expression in America that goes like this: There are two kinds of business: my business and none of my business. He laughed and said, “What an American phrase! Here in Israel, everything is my business!”
I can understand that the American motto of “live and let live” doesn’t really work in Israel. In Israel, everyone is in your business because you are their family and they care about you, and they just can’t let what you do pass without a reaction. But I told him that I still believed that since Jewish people are a family, we have to be able to coexist and figure out a way to be civil with one another without stepping on each other’s toes all the time.
Just as we were in the middle of having this, a video call came in on my phone (right, we hadn’t even taken off yet and we were already embroiled in this completely personal and emotional conversation). On the phone was my husband and one of my kids who definitely does not look like a religious woman’s child. I was so proud to show my new friends the video screen of my husband with our son sitting together in the front seat and schmoozing with one another and going out for ice cream together.
I have to say that my two new Israeli friends were pretty surprised to see the camaraderie and the obvious affection between my husband and my son.
Here we are in Israel and the protests continue. And I will continue to protest as well. I will protest the notion that we can’t get along. I will protest the notion that there is no solution. And I will embrace every conversation I have with someone who is different from me.
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu yaaseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol yisrael, vinomar Amen.
May He who makes peace in the heavens, bring peace upon us, and on all of Israel, and let us say Amen.