I’m at a conference this week on Israel education, run by the Center for Israel Education (CIE). The overall gist of the conference is fairly balanced, but of course there is inevitably some bias. I’m sure you can guess which way it leans. In all, the last few days have left me somewhat mentally tormented. Before I go into that, maybe it’s best to give you a bit of background on myself.
Raised as a conservative Jew, I attended supplementary Hebrew school (twice a week after school one weekday, and on Sunday morning), Jewish sleep-away camp from age 8 to age 15, was bat mitzvahed, and attended temple on the high holidays (the equivalent of Christmas, Easter, etc.). Around age 14 or so I began questioning my religious beliefs and within a year or so, decided I was agnostic. And so I have remained for twenty years, and at this point I think it’s doubtful that will ever change. I continued to consider myself Jewish, but didn’t do much or really anything about that. My support of Israel was nonexistent, overshadowed by memories of having context-less Zionism crammed down my throat at camp.
A few years ago I accidentally got a job at a Jewish day school, which turned into what is now the longest job I’ve had in my life (at three years, kind of pathetic, but that’s apparently one of the things ADD will do to you). My view of Israel ranged from indifferent, to mildly positive, like one might view a powdered-sugar munchkin (which, as everyone knows, is the least popular kind, but you might eat one if it’s the only kind left and it’s a few hours since lunch), to somewhat critical. I really didn’t know much about it.
Training for and teaching a Holocaust-centered class this past year exposed me to the extremely long and depressing history of antisemitism, which has existed basically since Jews came into existence. This convinced me of the need for Israel, a safe haven for Jews, although I remained dubious about the details.
I am still dubious about the details. However, I am weighted down by the realities of the world we live in. Although the Jewish part of my identity is just not that integral to my view of myself, I recognize that for many others it is equivalent to the way I feel about being a woman, or a human being with certain inalienable rights. Without the part of their identity that is Jewish, such people wouldn’t even know who they were. People who feel that way about being Jewish need the state of Israel, much like the citizens of the many other dozens of countries that have come into existence over the last century as colonization almost entirely wound down. They also need it for the aforementioned reason of enduring and relentless antisemitism.
And, if you educate yourself about the topic, you will see that Israel’s treatment by the rest of the world can basically be compared to how a gay person with AIDS in the 1980s was treated. As a human being with feelings, if one examines what has happened in an objective way, one feels like throwing one’s hands up in the air, climbing into a grave, and slowly burying oneself. The facts of Israel’s history and current situation are undeniably awful.
On the other hand, the early Zionists and Israeli citizens fucked up. They were humans with a cause, and as many humans with causes do, they made decisions that weren’t the best. They distorted facts and created narratives to benefit themselves. And, sometimes, they continue to do that. These realities should not be left out of the story of Israel that is disseminated to the public or in Israel education.
Basically, this is my highly personal take-away. Mostly, getting older and exiting that first exciting, scary part of adulthood is wonderful. The improved confidence, knowledge, and experience with which one confronts the world makes life better. For once, money isn’t the primary struggle. For many, the joys of romantic partnership and children add a new dimension to life. All of that being said, the more you learn and see, the more you realize how fucking grey everything is. There is a reason why the Middle East conflict will not go to bed: it’s ridiculously complicated and nuanced. Both sides have stories layered like sloppy lasagna with truth and fiction. The solution isn’t easy and isn’t something that one can conceptualize easily. All I can do is continue to educate myself, stand up when I see injustice or inaccuracy, and help to continue dialogues about difficult issues.