We don’t talk about Israel, no, no, no!*
*With credit to Lin Manuel Miranda
We liberal Jews rush to embrace just causes. Liberal Jews are committed to eradicating all manner of racial discrimination, and to fighting for benign racial preferences in higher education. Liberal Jews embraced Black Lives Matter despite BLM leadership not embracing us. Liberal Jews jumped to support friends in the LGBTQ+ community, with many Jews themselves members. Liberal Jews fought for marriage equality. Liberal Jews embraced the Asian-American community, defending against racist accusations of their having somehow brought Covid-19. Liberal Jews defended Latinos when Donald Trump accused Mexico of sending rapists and murderers across the border and proposed building a wall. Liberal Jews rallied with Muslims against the Trump travel ban and in decrying Islamophobia.
We liberal Jews have attended meetings to support these and countless other causes, often knowing that when we do, many in the room, physical or virtual, disdain something deeply embedded in our hearts and souls.
We don’t talk about Israel, no, no, no!
In speaking with Jewish law students, and several Jewish faculty, I've seen young women and men crying, lamenting that even their dearest friends hadn’t reached out, producing a sense of isolation and despair. I am painfully reminded of countless social media posts claiming a “balanced” or “even handed” presentation even in the face of Hamas deliberately targeting for mass murder and abductions 1300 Jews as Jews on Israel’s southern border, including a peace rally celebrating the end of the high holidays and several Kibbutzim and other communities. Victims included the elderly, women, children, and babies. None were spared unimaginable abject brutality. One father of an eight-year-old girl expressed unfathomable relief upon learning his daughter, who had slept at a friend’s home on their kibbutz the night before, was killed. He said abduction would have been far worse. I just can’t wrap my mind around that.
Still, we go to work, classes, meetings, and countless other events knowing so many present, even some of our own, fail to grasp our pain at having lost a piece of our souls.
We don’t talk about Israel, no, no, no!
So many advocates for other just causes, causes we too rush to embrace, seem viscerally incapable of distinguishing the deliberate targeting, mass murder, and abduction of innocent Israeli civilians, including elderly, women, children, and babies, from the inevitable horrors that we liberal Jews too will lament with equal or greater pain certainly than Hamas who insists, despite Israeli warnings, that their own people remain in place as human shields, along with abducted Israelis against the announced and planned retaliation, which is entirely certain to succeed. In a world lacking such basic moral clarity, we don’t talk about Israel, no, no, no!
When we see accounts of rising antisemitism across the US and around the globe, with rallies chanting Gas the Jews in Sydney, and rallies in the Arab world celebrating the mass murder of innocent Israeli citizens, we liberal Jews are viscerally drawn ever closer to a tiny homeland, the size of New Jersey. Still. We don’t talk about Israel, no, no, no!
The scale of tragedy is too great for this one mind to process. But amidst all of it, there’s another I fear. How many liberal Jews will turn inward? How many will develop a callous sense that if the world doesn’t care about us, why should we embrace their suffering, their pain? Tikkun Olam. To them, and to the world, I say, because that’s our job.
But right now, in this moment, our job is to talk about Israel. For those who haven’t reached out to their Jewish friends, please do so. They are hurting. Find it in your hearts to understand that our people, this minuscule population on the world stage, has just lost numbers on a scale that for other, larger nations, religions, or ethnicities would translate to the hundreds of thousands. Please know that Israelis are at most just two degrees of separation from someone who has been slaughtered or abducted. And your American Jewish friends, at most, are just one more degree, if even that.
Israel is not beyond criticism. The Israeli protests against Netanyahu overwhelm in proportion those against Trump in the US. No, Israel’s not beyond criticism. Neither is the United States. Nor any other nation in the world.
There’s a time and a place for everything. Now is the time for us liberal Jews to talk about Israel. And it’s time for friends here and around the world to exhibit compassion for the profound pain we are experiencing. But only if you can do so with moral clarity, absent whataboutism or some claimed need for balance.
A spoiler. Every character featured in Encanto (save one) has been bestowed a magical gift. Despite that, the village suffers a terrible calamity, removing the special powers and threatening the village’s survival. Bruno has long been in hiding, masking his singular gift of seeing the future. "We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no, no!” Ultimately the village is restored, along with everyone’s magical powers.
I loved Encanto. Just not the ending. The magic of humanity is humanity, not magic.
Only a clear vision of humanity lets us recognize what’s brutal and inhumane. We liberal Jews aren’t asking for magic. Just humanity.
I ordinarily invite comments. This is an exception. Thank you.