To my fellow Jewish millennials, it’s time we talk about Israel. Not as the Birthright State or as Iran’s biggest enemy or the place with that city with the great beaches, but rather as a State we can call our own. I’m ready to start the conversation and I hope you’ll join me, because it’s wrong that so many of us think the State of Israel has no relevance in our day-to-day lives.
To suggest that there is no Jewish need for the State of Israel in 2014/5774 is akin to saying that the synagogue is irrelevant in Jewish life. For many, neither the synagogue nor Israel is a meaningful outlet for expressing or participating in their personal Judaism, but that makes neither irrelevant. Such a worldview is a personal approach to Judaism that is a consequence of the Jewish community’s past inability to think creatively about engagement. In no way should a disinterest in Israel or a synagogue automatically diminish the value of Judaism to the individual, but it does change the concept of where one goes to express their Judaism, and how they do it once there.
Both Israel and the synagogue, as collectives of individuals, have the unique and unfettered ability to create a Jewish collage that not only lifts up each of the individuals, but also those who surround them – their community. They both allow us to “do Judaism” on a macro level. The Jewish commitment to tikkun olam, as only one example, can be magnified tremendously when we act as communities, not as individuals. Many would correctly argue that you can participate in tikkun olam outside of a Jewish community, but it can only be the actions of our community and its leadership that show we care and we “do” because we are Jewish. Yes, an individual can do good regardless of their status within the Jewish community, but is it not their Jewish upbringing and Jewish values that – even in the smallest part – guide them to do good? It must be, for the vast majority of Jews do acts of righteousness because it is the Jewish thing to do, not because it is “the thing” to do. Israel, as our State, is one of the few places where a person can go in order to act Jewishly and with intent among a community of other Jews. This magnifies and multiplies the products of our action, and we must use this power as an opportunity to do right.
Israel, as a State, also presents us with the opportunity to share the international stage with nations of other faiths and values. At first glance this might appear meaningless, but nations are uniquely positioned to lead their people to act in accordance with a certain set of values. For one, Israel’s standing peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan demonstrate that the political divides in the Middle East are not founded on religious differences between Jews and Muslims, despite what extremists on either side might preach. These treaties provide us with inspiration to pursue common ground in our own communities, in order that we might find peace globally. Along the same lines, when the Jewish State chooses to intervene in any situation in the global arena, it does so in the name of Judaism. This, too, is a tremendous right and responsibility, and one that, when taken with good intention, serves to lift up the Jewish people as a righteous group. In short, there is both an opportunity and a responsibility for the State to lead the Jewish people. Simultaneously, however, it falls on the Jewish people to ensure that those who represent us and act on our behalf in the name of the State are acting with the best intent, and that their actions demonstrate the Jewish values which we hold most dear.
If only one thing is agreed upon, it must be that too often, the politics of Israel’s relations, both domestic and foreign, cloud our understanding of the critical role the State plays in our peoples’ ability to not only survive, but thrive. When we are able to appreciate the State for what in can offer – as opposed to what it does – and when we advocate and insist that the State must live up to the highest of Jewish standards, we have limitless potential to strengthen both our communities and ourselves as Jews.
Isaac Nuell currently serves as the Religious Action Center’s Manager of Congregational Social Action.