Israel & Yisrael… It’s Complicated

Note: This is Hevria’s first guest post.  Please welcome Andrea, and expect many more from many more people.

“I am Jewish, and I stand with Israel!”

Isn’t this what every Jew feels deep down?  Israel.  The dream that bonds us.  Atheist Jews.  Conservative Jews.  Reform.  Orthodox.  The blue and white banner that is our pride and joy.  The one subject you can bring up amongst all your Jewish friends and strangers alike without fear of disagreement.  Our land.  Our people.  Our nation.  The promised home for all of us.

No matter how cynical a person may be, this is something that makes every single one of us an idealist.

Both in the holy land and the diaspora, you’ll find Jews that seemingly have nothing tying them together. Except Israel.  This is the one thing we can always count on.

Right?

Andrea, what are you doing?  Are you seeking to shatter this notion?  The one fragile thing that seems to bond us?  The one subject we can discuss and connect over, no matter what stream of Judaism we come from?  Israel: the one way that us Jews can feel like we are doing something in light of the plight that the world is facing right now.

I’m not.  I’m really not.  I’m only hoping to remove the bandage so the wound can get the oxygen it needs to heal.

In truth, this really isn’t the best time for what I’m about to write.

Why?  Because right now a surge of terror is gripping those that live in the land of Israel.  My friends are doing acts of bravery by walking down their neighbourhood streets and sending their children to school.  Our facebook newsfeeds are flooded with dismay and horror.  Everyone is emotional, scared, and clinging to each other for solidarity and support.

Yet it is the right time.  Because now more than ever, we need each other.  And we need to understand the vast and intricate tapestry that makes up our people.  We need to learn how to connect over what really matters, what really binds us.  We need to separate the physical from the spiritual.  The connective from the divisive.

And we need to learn to love our fellow Jews, regardless of where they stand politically or religiously in terms of Israel.  Because often we love what it means to us so much that we’re even willing to lose each other over it.  The irony is that when this happens, it is Israel itself that we lose: the place and the people.  Subsequently, when we love each other despite these differences, it is what truly defines us as the Jewish people, and it is Israel that we gain.  Our sages teach us that it is because of Sinat Chinam, the baseless hatred between us, that we don’t have our holy land in the way that it is meant to be.  It is the biggest reason why we haven’t merited the redemption of the world.  The land of Israel is a central goal in the Torah, but we have learned time and time again throughout Tanach that it is only through being a unified nation, loving and caring for one another, that we will merit our holy land in its purest form.

***

Here’s the truth.

I am not the person that should be writing this.

I am not a historian, intellectual, sociologist, politician, or Torah scholar.  I am certainly not an activist… at least, not by the generally accepted definition of activist.  My only qualifications are a deep passion for my creator’s creations, and a naive yet firm belief that love, only love, is going to save the world.

Yes, I really believe this.  More than anything else.

Yet here I am, typing away.  Scared like I’ve never been scared before, but a wry smile smack in the middle of my face because I know Hashem is having a good laugh at me, and pushing me to places I said I’d ‘never’ go, like always.

Never say never.  Seriously folks.  Unless you really want to do that thing.

Who am I?

My name is Andrea Grinberg.  I am a wife, mother, Jewish woman, and professional cellist.  I was born in Canada, made Aliyah in 2011, am a Baalat Teshuva, and currently am living in Baltimore while my Israeli husband is doing his doctorate.

I remember being on the plane during my first trip to Israel, waking up with a jolt upon landing, crying tears that came from a part of my soul that I did not know needed to be awakened, knowing that I had arrived home.  I remember huddling with my forty new friends at 6am on the top of Masada, screaming “I Love Israel!!!” with all the air in my lungs, hearing my words echo, and feeling the land vibrate beneath me, knowing that my true Neshama had finally spoken.  Eretz Yisrael is the lover’s arms that I ran to, the child that I yearn to protect, and the parent’s arms that promise to love me, always.

As Jews there are no words to describe our love for Eretz Yisrael.  It is beyond logic, beyond this world.  It is what resonates in the deepest well of our souls, and what connects me to all of you; Jews that I haven’t even met yet.

I seek to do only this:  To help us separate what is political and alienating from what is true.  To help us discover why we care so much.  To prevent us from engaging in acts of Sinat Chinam without even realizing it.  I hope that we will take away something real, what really binds us.

I merely strive to show you the mess of Galut and perhaps give us some tools to wade through it.  And hopefully not hurt our brothers and sisters along our way.

Israel is so much more than a state and nation to us.  It is so much more than politics.  And this is why it’s so important that we learn to separate what is political from what isn’t.  Having a fiery love for the blue and white flag and the nation of Israel is beautiful, but it is not the universal truth for all Jews.  The problem is that since we all feel so deeply about this place, our homeland, we often fail to see what is actually real and universal amongst us, and separate it what is fleeting and divisive.

And when that happens, our words can become knives without our even realizing.

I only hope that you can forgive me for not knowing all this years ago.  I know that I hurt and alienated people in my passionate Baalat Teshuva, Aliyah-making zeal.  While I am still an idealistic Israel lover, I now know more about the intricate tapestry of our people, and know how to separate my political ideals from what really connects us.  Writing this is part of my Teshuva, because I hope that I might prevent someone from making the same mistakes that I made.

In this article I am going to be speaking in my voice as a Shomeret Mitzvot Jewess that believes in the be all, end all importance of remaining unified as a people.  Jews that believe otherwise are beyond the scope of what I can hope to cover here, but they might find this interesting too 🙂

Deep breath.

Let’s start with a little overview first.  These are things that many of us diaspora Jews don’t know nor acknowledge.  I must emphasize that even if we don’t agree with these ideas that they are true Torah, even though they may contradict with other true Torah.  That’s what being a Jew is all about: holding the contradictions of this world and thriving through their vibrating harmony.

Here’s the deal:

There is a difference between loving the state of Israel and loving Am & Eretz Yisrael.  One is political.  The other is Torah.

The state is the Zionist movement, the IDF, Taglit, the blue and white flag, Kupat Cholim, and everything nationalist that comes with that.

Eretz Yisrael is the yearning of the Jewish people, the klal, the holy land.  It’s Am Yisrael.  It’s Yerushalayim.  It’s the vision of Moshiach and the Beit Hamikdash.  It’s the light of the world.  It’s the promise of better days, if we Jews could just get our act together.  It’s what we all agree on.

The problem is that even though these things are separate, they are also completely connected.  We are talking about the same place, and the same people.  But there is a difference, and we need to learn these differences in order to come together and bring the world to a better place.

Being a good, proud Jew does not necessarily mean standing with the state of Israel.  It does not necessarily mean wearing blue and white, waving your flag, and making aliyah.  It can mean those things, but it can also mean many other things, some of which are contradictory to those things.

Confused yet?

Here’s what I hope to do:  I hope to show you some opinions that are held about Eretz Yisrael and the state of Israel.  Many of us are simply don’t know about these ideas and therefore often fail to be considerate of the people that hold by them.  These are the ideologies that I am aware of; I am sure that there are more.  These are religious Jewish standpoints, with valid Torah sources to back all of them up.  You might not agree with them, but Chazal teach us that there are seventy faces of the Torah, and the mystics expand on this idea to six hundred thousand (or two million), as everyone that stood at Har Sinai heard their own unique version of the Torah.   Hopefully they will open your eyes and not close your heart.

There are those that believe the Holocaust was the bloody war that needed to happen before the coming of Moshiach.  The establishment of the state of Israel then, was the miracle needed in order to usher in our first political Moshiach, who has not come yet (but will!)  All the Jews making Aliyah and moving to Israel, therefore, is a part of the process that will bring world peace.  Many that believe this consequently believe that those who hate the state of Israel are Amalek, and need to be destroyed.

Though actually, there are also those that believe that the era of Moshiach has already started.

Complicated enough?  Stay with me.

There are those that live in the land and are vehemently against the establishment of the state of Israel.  Many of these Jews lived there long before it was established.  They firmly believe that no state should be established until Moshiach comes, and that by doing so, the Jewish people are subsequently delaying the arrival of world peace.  They pray for the dismantlement of the state.  There are more of these people than we would assume; they are not just ‘those crazy extremists’ that we hear about in passing.  They are much quieter than the religious Zionists and often don’t utilize the power of social media.  But they are there, living in the land and some of them even refusing to take anything from the state, health care included.

There are those that live in the diaspora that don’t believe that there is any value in moving to the land until the arrival of Moshiach.  These Jews are also much quieter because of the ever shouting “I Stand With Israel” voice in the diaspora.  Most are silent and in order to keep the fragile peace.

There are the idealistic Zionists that are passionate about the state of Israel being in existence, but against how it’s taking place currently.

And then there are those that don’t fall into any of these categories.  The silent Jews.  The scared Jews.  The ones that agree with some things but not with everything.  The Jews I didn’t even know existed until very recently.

In short, do we say Tachnun or Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut?

The funny thing is, people don’t recognize that this matter is as disputed in Halachah as how a woman choses to cover her head (or not).

Why am I writing?

Even though I have known a lot of this for a while, a recent event made it painfully clear to me how much this needs to be said.

I happen to have had the awesome privilege of leading the creation of a community that brings over ten thousand women together from every crevice of the world to share a love for each other and of hair wrapping.  Yes.  Tichel tying.  Mitpachot.  What began as a simple desire to help married Jewish women enjoy a difficult Mitzvah now spans to cover all major religions, cultures, creeds, and Hashkafas, for health, spirituality, fashion, or simply practicality.  It is the miracle that I never dared hope for for, because I feared that it was too big, too naive, too much.  But it’s here, staring me in the face every day.

It was while doing this work that I realized I need to write this.

It comes a no surprise that given the vast scope of the aforementioned community that political discussions aren’t allowed in our forums.  Over the years we’ve had to remind each other to not bring world events into an environment that is so personal yet broad, but of course, since political events affect us personally, it’s sometimes hard to make the distinction.

Due to a flood of posts supporting Israel necessitating a discussion asking community members to refrain from political speech, my eyes were opened.  I realized what fragile ground we are treading as Jews.  When we don’t understand the myriad that makes up our people, our beautifully intricate tapestry quickly turns into sharp knives and severed threads.  We all know that Sinat Chinam is the reason for our Galut, but many of us don’t even realize what we’re doing to contribute to it continuation.

As you can probably imagine, I received quite a few messages about this.  And amongst the support and/or disagreement, there were the voices that made me realize that something needs to be done to bring our people back together.  To help us truly see each other.

These were the people calling me instead of writing, so their words wouldn’t be screen shotted by me and used against them.  They were scared.  Of me.  These were the cryptic messages, the “Thank you so much for stopping those political posts.  It was tearing me apart because I simply don’t agree with them, even though I am a proud, Orthodox Jew.  Please don’t tell anyone that this is how I feel.”

Why are they so scared?  Because they know that if they show even the slightest hint of questioning or disagreement with something that the state of Israel does, they’ll be outcast.  They’ll be called anti semites, the reason the Holocaust happened, and traitors to the Jewish people.  To their horror, they will be called “Israel haters”, even though they love Eretz Yisrael as much as you and I.

How horrible is that?  Can you imagine how that must feel?

Even worse, almost every single person that was posting ‘political’ slogans and statements didn’t even realize that these phrases were political!  They had no idea that their words were hurting other Jews.  They were simply sharing what they knew.  They asked: “How is it political for me to state support of my homeland, my birthright?  How is it political for me to stand by the place that all my Kiruv Rabbis told me is my obligation as a Jew support and live in?  How is waving my blue and white flag a political or divisive statement, when I’ve been taught that every self loving Jew should be proud of everything that Israel does?”

The last thing we want to do is further divide our people over something like this.  It is fine and actually beautiful to discuss and differentiate, but only with the goal of bettering ourselves and making the world a brighter place.  What I hope you’ll realize, is that certain things we are saying are actually political and not universal amongst all religious Jews.  We say these things as common ‘truths’ without even realizing that they are pushing our family away.  And if we are going to hate our Jewish brothers and sisters because of our political differences, then it’s no wonder why the Beit Hamikdash continues to burn.

I now know this:

Being a proud Jew and loving the state of Israel do not necessarily go hand in hand.  Loving the land of Israel with all your might does not necessarily mean agreeing to everything the government there does.  I know this now and I’m so sorry to all those that I alienated when I didn’t know.  It has become so plainly clear to me, that we, as media savvy Jews aren’t being taught this simple distinction.

Simple, but not so simple.  Because every single one of these things is connected.  The blue and white flag, while political, bears a six-pointed symbol that isn’t.  The current Zionist movement, while political, holds within it many ideals are that eternal.  Every single Jew is, of course, taught to yearn for Zion every single day.

What do I want?  To confuse you?

No.  Yes.  Maybe a little confusion is the humility that we need to put ourselves back together.  What I do know is that we need to take a look at the mess of Galut surrounding us.  My deepest and most desperate hope is for us to hold hands and weep together for the ruin that is our people.  I want us to survey the tattered tapestry in all its beautiful complexity, and then help each other mend it.  I want to look into the eyes of another Jew who holds a completely different view from myself and say, “I love you because we are one people.”  I don’t want others to be afraid anymore.

If we can’t see each other through empathetic eyes, and be understanding of other Jews’ perspectives then we can’t hope for more than what we have today: a holy land bereft of its crowning glory.  A kingdom without its king.

But I know that we can.  I know that we can because through my tiny little window I am seeing us take steps forward every single day.  For each word that severs, there are two more that heal.  Eretz Yisrael may now be a kingdom without its king, but I know that when we come together and banish Sinat Chinam for good, that he will soon ascend to the helm and our people can shine together as we’re meant to be.