October 30, 2009
Lekh Lekha and JStreet
Reading Lekh Lekha in the wake of JStreet‘s first conference, Driving Change, Securing Peace, is an interesting exercise. Even from far away I was energized by the thought of so many people gathering out of shared commitments to peace and to Israel. Living in Israel has convinced me that the status quo is, ultimately, unsustainable, and that the work ahead will be in finding a way out that honors the humanity and the history of everyone sharing this tiny piece of earth. I think a two-state solution comes closest to this vision, and I’m glad that there are people working to make it a reality.
But wow, Lekh Lekha. If I had to point to the one part of the Bible that most explicitly articulated the Jewish people’s spiritual/mythic/emotional/ancestral connection with the Land of Israel, this would be it. God says, over and over and over again, that S/He is giving this land to Abraham and his descendants, forever and ever.
On the one hand, I can read this through my Reconstructionist lens and say that I don’t believe in a God who acts in history, that the stories in Tanakh are holy simply because they are our stories, and not because they document real events or constitute legally binding contracts. My historical-critical brain supports this, and tells me that stories like these were probably written as political propaganda, designed to cement the ascendancy of one group over another.
However. If that’s all I see when I read this, I think I lose something. In college I called myself a ‘spiritual Zionist’, and talked about the way my soul and heart just felt different in Israel (n.b. At this point, my only exposure to Israel was a 10-day tour I’d been on with my mother’s family, which was designed to push every emotional/affective button it possibly could). After I fell in love with an Israeli and was making the decision to move here to be with her, I had friends who jokingly called me a ‘sexual Zionist’. Israeli citizenship notwithstanding, I’m not sure what kind of Zionist I am these days, if I am one at all. And whatever kind of Zionist I am, I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of a vibrant and strong Diaspora. In many, many, ways the Diaspora is much more my home. But so, on some level, is Israel.
I grew up on the West Coast of the United States, 3000 miles from all of my grandparents. Going back another generation, I actually do have roots in the city I was raised in, but as a white girl I know my ‘real’ roots are in Ireland, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands and a couple of other European countries that I’m forgetting. And also, my roots are here. I want to be able to hold on to the magic and miracle of spiritual rootedness in Israel, to revel in the Hebrew revival (we took a dead language and brought it back to life, how cool is that?), to walk over the roads and stones that some of my ancestors did and feel connected to their stories and I want to be able to do all that without stealing. Without the destruction of the soul that comes with being on hegemonic side of hegemony. Without needing my stories to be the only stories told.