December 27, 2019
By Carol Brick-Turin, JCRC Director of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation
It is with profound gratitude to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that I share some reflections about a unique opportunity to have engaged in a five day mission with like-hearted leadership. The week was filled with inspirational and thought provoking conversations across a wide spectrum of complex issues with Israeli influencers, policy makers and activists. To have also had the chance to witness and dialogue about the Christian and Palestinian narratives added a level of deepened understanding and nuance to the conversation and experience.
Learning about the courage and candor of ordinary Israelis who have risen to the occasion was particularly impactful; hearing from those who stepped out of their comfort zones to purse their passion and purpose was enormously inspirational. The Israeli and Arab women who, hand-in-hand, “wage peace” on the Gaza border through grassroots efforts; the Haredi feminist who successfully demanded a voice on her shul’s board; the transgender kibbutznick who publicly came out while serving as an IDF officer; the Ethiopian activist who works on behalf of the new generation of Israelis of Ethiopian origin to raise awareness and demand full equality; the progressive Zionist who is creating new space in the political arena; and the world renowned author who underscores the fundamental urgency to engage with “the other”—all provide a pathway to forward movement in what often seems to be an impossibly difficult region in which to draw hope.
Current politics and challenging status of the Israeli legislature aside, the underpinnings of a healthy and robust society were evident daily. The themes that were lifted up in my mind throughout the week were the unwavering acknowledgement that Israeli society is a developing and imperfect mosaic; that the ability and willingness by both activists and policy makers to identify its flaws and to do something constructive about them are foundational to creating change and bettering the lives of its citizens; and that the move toward a more centrist-based Israeli political landscape is becoming a reality.
Tensions between maintaining the Zionist dream of a Jewish, democratic home, while assuring the security of its citizenry, are not a deterrent to, nor an excuse for, inaction or hopelessness. On the contrary—70 years of developing the only democracy in the Middle East is rife with examples of men and women striving toward reconciliation and peace.
Fulfilling Hatikvah’s quintisential words — L’hiyot am chofshi b’artzenu — to be a free people in our land — will always be a guiding principle for me, coming to the conversation with a deep love for Israel in my heart. And yet, recognizing that one can hold both the Palestinian and Israeli narratives simultaneously, that there is no zero-sum game in human relations and building both bridges and peace, was another recurring theme. To have had this reality fortified through multiple conversations with Arab activists equipped us with the tools to engage in more credible and nuanced dialogue with our colleagues of all faiths in our home communities.
Deep and ongoing vulnerabilities facing our Jewish world and identity, whether from rising anti-Semitic attacks and murders at home, or the existential threats to Israel from Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIL and Iran, are a constant reminder that the world can be a terrifying place.
And then I watch my daughter, son-in-law and three Israeli grandchildren in Modiin, keeping alive our Zionist dream. They personify Klal Yisrael through merely living their every day lives in which their default language connects back to our ancestors, their pluralistic school teaches the weekly parsha and they strive to be the best possible versions of themselves by raising their family in our evolving and beloved homeland. It gives me hope for our people’s future. As far as the Iranian threat, let us pray for an eternally strong Israeli military, fortified by collaboration with the U.S. and Israel’s strategic neighbors…and perhaps a miracle.