Magazine article Tikkun

Why My Jewishness Compels Me to Stand for Justice in Palestine

Magazine article Tikkun

Why My Jewishness Compels Me to Stand for Justice in Palestine

Article excerpt

This past july i risked arrest alongside dozens of Jews and Palestinians in Hebron as we attempted to build the city's only movie theater in the remnants of a Palestinian-owned metal factory. Hauling rubble and singing songs of freedom in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, I felt more grounded in my Jewishness than I ever have in my life.

The action, which we called #CinemaHebron, was the most profound demonstration yet of my reinvigorated rootedness in Jewish heritage and values. A renewed energy and dedication that came after a long and painful journey navigating the intersection of Judaism, personal and historical trauma, and my relationship with Israel.

That journey culminated with a choice: succumb to a Judaism of xenophobia and fear or embrace a Jewish tradition rooted in social justice and loving-kindness.

Young Jewish Americans are increasingly aware of a schism on Israel/Palestine in the American Jewish community and, like me, recognize that it is our Jewishness that compels us to pursue justice for Palestinians. Older generations and the current Jewish establishment must understand this or risk losing legitimacy with my generation. Though my Jewish story only speaks for my experience, I do believe that my story can help illuminate why more and more young Jews are standing up for freedom and dignity in Israel and Palestine.

My childhood was deeply rooted in Jewish community life. Growing up, I cherished Friday night Shabbat dinners and went to synagogue every Saturday morning. My parents-a gentle and compassionate cantor at our shul and a fierce and loving psychotherapist and professor-taught my siblings and me the value of tikkun olam, to strive to shape the world for the better. As I entered high school, I felt connected to Judaism but wanted more, so I decided to join a two-week journey to Poland and Israel called March of the Living, a program funded by the Jewish Federation. With thousands of other diaspora youth, I walked from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I became a witness to genocide. My bones chilled thinking of my great-great grandparents; had they stayed in Poland, my family would likely not be alive. Walking through the death camps, I saw the ghosts of Jewish ancestors suffering unimaginable horrors.

One night, strolling through downtown Warsaw after visiting Majdanek, a completely intact death camp abandoned at the end of World War II, I watched in horror as a Polish teenage girl was hit by a car while crossing the street. Her body landed at my feet, limp. From a sheltered childhood in the Minneapolis suburbs, I was suddenly wrestling with both the insurmountable terror of genocide and the intimate anguish of a single death. Even though I didn't know the girl who lost her life at my feet, I longed to know her story, and I ached to think of her family, her community, her hopes and dreams for life lost. We left Poland. I was traumatized. That moment-the intertwining of one death at my feet and millions weighing on my shoulders-completely shifted the trajectory of my life.

We landed in Israel at sunrise days before Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, which is followed by Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. The message was broadcast to us bright as a billboard: out of genocide, Israel was born as the Jewish homeland. The trip was rich with ceremony and packed with stops at Israel's most majestic sights. The Jewish Federation met its goal for participants to, according to the March of the Living website, "understand the importance of Israel . . . through the lesson that Jews will never again allow themselves to be defenseless." Out of oppression came sweet liberation. Israel swiftly became the nucleus of my Jewish identity, an experience I shared with so many of my peers.

Upon returning from March of the Living, with only death on my mind, I entered a period of confusion and depression. I had flashbacks of the concentration camps and the teenage girl's death. …

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