As I attempt to write these lines whilst sitting in a train traveling North from Alicante to Barcelona in Spain, my home country, I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of the land of the region of Valencia. To my left, endless fields of orange, pine and palm tress with arid and rough mountains in the background. To my right, the Mediterranean Sea, source of food, life and inspiration for generations. And above all, a peaceful blue sky, only crossed by unconcerned birds, maybe seagulls. My mind drifts away intentionally towards Eretz Israel, where, under the same sky and sun and along the coasts bathed by our beloved Mediterranean, a dreadful war of fire and human hatred prevents longed promises of security and peace for all its inhabitants.
As we all know, Sfarad was at a time a true light to the European kingdoms throughout the dark Middle-Ages, where medicine, literature, poetry, science and philosophy flourished in the fertile ground of a relative peaceful coexistence of the three monotheistic religions present in the peninsula: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The expulsion of the Sefardic Jews in 1492 was interpreted by some Kabbalists of the time as a cosmic drama, a new episode of Shevirat ha-Kelim (the breaking of the vessels) with the dispersion of the shards of light represented by the individual Jews who went on exile along the Mediterranean basin. The town of Sfat received some of these exiled Kabbalists and the wisdom of the Zohar would continue to enlighten the Torah with a specific Mediterranean way of conceiving hope, reunion and redemption.
From the darkest events of the 20th century for European Jewry, Zionism emerged with the promise of hope and redemption for scattered and oppressed Jews throughout a hostile continent. Many were those who embraced the new project since the beginning of the century, some on a voluntary basis, some as the last recourse to preserve their lives and their families’ or to restart a new life where the land flows milk and honey, far away from a European land that was still wet with blood. Palestine, Eretz Israel, welcomed them all, providing not only shelter and protection, but also human dignity, a Jewish life where secular and religious sensitivities would be respected and encouraged, a Jewish present and a Jewish future ledor vador.
As a Progressive Sionist Jew living in Diaspora, I am committed to the realization of the Zionist vision, and the accomplishment of the ideals of the founders of the State of Israel. However, I could not envisage my own commitment if it was not put within the framework of the current challenges being faced by my own generation: the on-going conflict with the Palestinian people and the subsequent territorial disputes, Israel’s recognition by its neighbouring countries, the growing tensions within Israeli society between religious and secular conceptions of modern life, civil rights and responsibilities, economic disparities and lack of opportunities for the youth and marginalized sectors of the society, a fair approach to the issue of immigration and inclusion of minorities, but to name a few. For most of the challenges evoked above, the Israeli society has shown innovative and unique expressions of dealing with them in a constructive manner, however the antagonist positions of the political spheres make progressive and daring solutions seem slow to come, limited and insufficient. Yet I believe that tensions in every human community are necessary and healthy. They mobilize forces, energy and passions by its individuals that otherwise would become stagnant and therefore unproductive, unfertile. Our Zionist history has shown us that more difficult challenges were overcome when the right doses of idealism and pragmatism were applied.
As a Progressive Religious Jew, I believe that the realization of the Zionist project and the prerogatives of the Jewish State of Israel need to be based and inspired on the high ethical standards and values that our Fathers, Mothers and Prophets envisaged for the Jewish people, which were preserved and transmitted from generation to generation. But it is necessary that they are interpreted and put into action according to the challenges and opportunities of modern times. I realize that this is not an easy task, however every generation is illuminated with individuals and communities whom, by sharing a unified vision, can work towards this accomplishment. I have found in the Reform and Progressive Movement, both in Israel and in Diaspora, and in organizations such as ARZENU, the living expression of the moral responsibilities we share as Jews. Help building and developing together a fair, inclusive and progressive State of Israel where justice, peace and prosperity prevail for all Jews and all its inhabitants, should become our priority – this is the only way we can become legitimate, inheritants of our tradition and the land we were promised.
My train is arriving at its final destination, the beautiful city of Barcelona, which counts the oldest synagogue in Europe amongst its treasures. In this city, a young and vibrant community of Reform Jews will meet again this Friday evening to pray for peace among Israelis and Palestinians. Standing for our Israeli friends in these difficult times, we will stand to the final verses of Lekha Dodi and will welcome Shabbat as our Kabbalist sages taught us to do. And as every night, I will pray facing Jerusalem, on the other side of the Mediterranean, asking for divine protection to all Israel and all humanity, wishing that only white clouds and the fragrance of the flowers of the orange trees will cross the blue sky and the songs of birds will be heard. May the thought of Zion direct our hearts and our spirits towards justice and love.
Jose Luis Martin is a member of Bet Shalom, a Progressive Jewish community in Barcelona, Spain.