Along with the sweltering summer heat, many of us wish that the “Israel conversation” would simply disappear. But it’s wishful thinking to expect this discussion to take a vacation. And for those of us who love Israel, it’s hardly the right approach.
Several months ago, Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary called for American Jews to do a better job of talking with one another about Israel, “Appreciating, And Learning To Talk About, Israel” (Jewish Week, May 3).
Chancellor Eisen’s remarks were published in anticipation of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. But I’d like to suggest we also look towards Tu b’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, when we celebrate the festive holiday of love.
According to tradition, on Tu b’Av the daughters of Jerusalem would dress in white and dance in the vineyards in the hope of finding a mate and building a family. “And what did they say, ‘Young man, lift up thine eyes and see what thou wilt select for thyself.”’ [Mishna, Taanit 4:8]
In Israel, Tu b’Av is a popular day for weddings, song festivals, and matchmaking. In America, the holiday gets far less attention. But when it comes to Israel, American Jews must also learn to speak the language of love on Tu b’Av.
Instead, our conversations about Israel remain stuck on raw emotions. Somehow Israel gnaws at our deepest needs and fears, while we tenaciously hold on to preconceived ideas and patterns of behavior. Sadly, the most strident voices often come from those who have never visited Israel, save perhaps a brief tour, and possess little knowledge of its history, politics, and society.
A better approach: Why don’t we broaden the meaning of Tu b’Av? Let’s transform the holiday of love into the day for an honest and open community-wide conversation about Israel. Tu b’Av becomes the day when we ask each other, “Why does Israel matter to you? What do you mean when you say you love Israel? How do you demonstrate your love? How else do you see people expressing their love for Israel?”
Imagine this scenario: On Tu b’Av, in communities across America, members of synagogues and other Jewish community groups come together to engage in authentic talk about Israel. Jews on the right and the left, political and cultural Zionists, religious and secular alike voice their opinions without fear of censure, ostracism, or repercussions. In the informal summer atmosphere, we sit in circles, risk sharing our feelings, and, most important, we listen, even if we don’t agree. Pure and simple.
As we all know, the American Jewish community is not doing a good job in engaging about Israel. While we may express our love for Israel in our daily prayers, in reality we find it difficult to articulate our love.
Frustration is mounting on all sides. The shouting gets louder and louder and we keep going around in circles. We conveniently label each other as AIPAC or J Street supporters but don’t take the time to hear or even care what our fellow Jews have to say. In Boston, some individuals and groups still harbor hard feelings about the recent decision by the Jewish Community Relations Council to retain J Street’s membership.
We cannot afford to remain mired in the same unproductive conversations of “You’re wrong, I’m right,” or even worse, total disengagement from active discussion. How many of us have engaged in the same heated arguments at the kiddush table about the settlements or Israeli government policies without ever stopping to listen? Even worse is when we fail to say anything when we see friends withdraw from synagogue and community life because their views do not reflect conventional thinking.
Tradition also teaches that Tu b’Av was the day on which the ban was lifted on the generation of the desert, divine communication was restored to Moses, and a new generation could prepare to enter the Land of Israel.
It’s now time for 21st-century American Jews to let go of our old patterns of behavior. It’s unhealthy for us as individuals, for the Jewish community, and, importantly, for the future of the State of Israel.
Tu b’Av falls during the seven-week period when we read the Haftarot of consolation leading up to Rosh HaShanah. It’s a time for introspection when we express our joy and confidence in the future of Zion, while looking ahead to the New Year and spiritual renewal.
If we love Israel, American Jews must learn to speak the language of love. Like the daughters of Jerusalem, we too can dance to a positive future. On Tu b’Av, let’s rekindle our love for Israel and learn to dance a new dance.
Paula Jacobs is a Massachusetts-based writer, teacher and consultant.