Israel Solidarity Rally: The Speech I Didn’t Give

0714141822 (1)[Background note: The organizers of the July 14 Israel Solidarity Rally in Denver – co-sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and JEWISHcolorado – declined my request to speak at the event. They suggested that I speak in Boulder at an unplanned event that I could organize and they would support. I declined. Here are the remarks that I had hoped to give in Denver.]

Today, I stand in solidarity with Israel to say that the rocket fire from Gaza must be stopped. All of it. Immediately. And for as long as it continues, we should be here every Monday evening in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel. But I really don’t want to be doing this again two years, five years, ten years from now. Some say the answer to that is to go beyond the military operations of 2009 and 2012. I’m keeping in mind what Rabbi Daniel Gordis wrote just a few days ago –

“Never, ever have we been able to turn this place into an impregnable fortress. To live here means to accept that our walls can be breached. To live here means to live with periods of fear, with loss, with the knowledge that as soon as it is over, the clock will start ticking until the next round.” 

Yet, solidarity with Israel can also mean exploring ways to reduce those horrific periods of fear and loss to as close to zero as possible. That kind of solidarity includes a challenge beginning in this moment, as suggested by spiritual leader Amichai Lau-Lavie –

Can we extend solidarity “beyond the borders, to all who are suffering right now and all who yearn for a quiet night, a simple day, with no worries about sirens, rockets, terror, sudden death, a severed limb, a bombed out home. . . Can we pray for help to “transcend the current status quo…. [F]or the soldiers to come home alive … and wake up to better options.”

Better options. Solidarity with Israel can mean joining those Israelis and Palestinians who are laying a groundwork of knowledge and acceptance, to grow new options for mutual security and prosperity, free from the fist and fear of each other. My friend, Palestinian community leader Ali Abu Awwad, recently observed that “Whether you’re right wing or left wing, no one is going to disappear tomorrow. Everyone is trying to punish the other side for what he did, and make excuses for the crimes against one another. There is no other side, there is really only one side.”

I don’t know what those new options will look like, because changes on the ground call the existing assumptions and formulations into question. So I suggest this, particularly to our young people: Solidarity with Israel can mean working directly with people in the region to pioneer the future. That starts with a lot of time touring, living, learning the land and people, beyond the comfort zones of usual destinations. Spend time in Denver’s sister city Karmiel, JewishColorado’s partner Ramat HaNegev, and in Arad, Lod, Ramle, Hadera and Afula. Farther, to Nazareth, Sachnin and Arrabi; Akko, Shlomi and Shtula. Into Gush Etzion, Ariel and Itamar, and further still, to Hevron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus — to learn first hand, unfiltered, panim el panim. Israel is tiny in territory, but huge in complexity. It’s one of the world’s most diverse nations, and it becomes an even bigger, more diversified task to learn beyond its borders; necessary, if you want to play a constructive role.

Solidarity with Israel means becoming educated and experienced, and not succumbing to the drone of ‘we tried this and we tried that,’ in 1993, 2000-01, 2008 and 2014, when in fact, very few of them have personally tried at all. It means not accepting cultural generalizations from those who’ve never met a Palestinian and may not know Israelis much better. If we fault the Palestinians for perpetuating myth and stereotype about Jews and Israelis through their families, schools, media and mosques, while all we know about Palestinians and Israelis is through our families, schools, media and synagogues – then our message may be different, but our methodology is much the same.

Yes, solidarity, right now, means screaming out that the rain of rockets must end, the reign of terror must end, immediately. Beyond, solidarity includes many things, smooth and rough, tough to live, but nonetheless required of us with humility. As Reb Bob sang –

“And I’ll tell it and speak it and think it and breathe it

And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it

And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’

But I’ll know my song well before I start singing.”  [Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall]

Thank you for listening. Oseh shalom bimrumav; hu yaaseh shalom aleynu; v-al kol yisrael v’al kol yoshvei teyvel; v’imru – Amen.

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About Bruce Shaffer

From Jerusalem and Boulder, photographer/contributing writer Bruce Shaffer muses on Israel and things Jewish. Bruce photographs for several NGOs in Israel and the West Bank, and his work has been included in Ha’aretz, The Times of Israel, The Jewish Daily Forward and other publications, documentaries and organization websites. He leads combined Israeli and Palestinian Youth Photography Workshops in Israel and the West Bank, and freelances for feature writers, organizations, guides and tour operators in the region. In Colorado, Bruce leads Torah study at Bonai Shalom, is a member Storahtelling's Mile High Mavens and is of-counsel to Perlick Legal Counsel. During 2005-2010, he developed unique Israel trips for ByahadTREX, and he aquired Israeli citizenship in 2013. Visit www.hiddensparksphotogaphy.com

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6 comments

  1. Inspiring nd courageous message.
    It is time for broader fearless action into the reality that Israel and Palastine are here to stay.

  2. We have no other good choice. Thank you, Bruce. I don't think I've heard it expressed this well before. Yes, let's try to create the event for your speech in Boulder. In Solidarity and Complexity (vive la difference!)

  3. Amen, Reb Bruce. Waiting for you with open arms back in the Holy Land.

  4. I have an Israeli relative who says he would not defend the Jewish settlers, but he would defend Tel Aviv. He says Menachim Begin is the enemy. He is a leftist. I have seen Jews who support BDS, and hide their support, and Jews such as Peter Beinart that threaten to pull their support from Israel if Israel cannot satisfy American Jewish liberalism. I have seen Jews support the Democrats even though the last Democratic convention had to underhandedly gavel an embarrassing change to support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. By the rules, it did not pass, but was declared passed anyway. The Democrats are the main party of the left. The left has besmirched the settlers for years, and have failed to understand their point of view, voting and advocating against the settlers of Gush Katif as they were forced to withdraw (Judenrein) from Gaza, and I see no advocacy for resolving and understanding their continuing plight from this very same left. I am sorry but until I see an even-handed approach from the leftists, I will continue to balance that by advocating for the rightists. Where are the speakers from the settler community that have an opposing point of view to the left? When Mordecai Kedar, probably the best speaker, came to Boulder, all the usual leftists were no where to be seen. When Barry Rubin was in Denver, whom I've known since the 1960s, and probably the single best Middle East Scholar we had (he died recently), I saw no one from Boulder. And Bruce Shaffer wants to speak in Denver as though he is being cut out? Sorry, I cannot participate in the love fest, always with conditions, but I think it a higher calling to stand on principle and defend the settlers. The left cannot have peace on only its terms, it must listen to all points of view, if peace is to be possible. I don't think the left can stomach the cognitive dissonance.

  5. Bruce,

    With the abundance of Israel haters, the unbalanced media coverage, and the inaccurate nonsense described as historical fact by individuals who at best are naive and at worst anti-semitic, I understand the desire to circle the wagons. I wrestle with the issue of balance. I am always troubled by the argument that we need to keep it within the family and not criticize Israeli policies publically. A challenge of course is that it has never been clear to be what a safe, in-the-family forum is. In Boston I've experienced synagogues pressured to cancel inviations to Israeli speakers offering alternative points of view. Even more problematic is that Jews and Israeli do criticize Israeli policies, whereas I hear almost total silence on the other side. Fact: the Israelis who killed the Palestinian child have been arrested. The Palestinians who killed the three Isreli children have not. It's a tricky balancing act, that doesn't lend it self to clear black and white answers. The challenge is continuing to support Israel without abandoning the values and commitments to justice which make us love Israel.