The past two weeks have been agonizing, terrifying and humbling. As we have watched the violence in Israel and in Gaza escalate, it has been hard not to feel angry, sad and worst of all powerless.
Rallies have traditionally been our community’s answer to moments like these – for good reason. We want to come together as a community to comfort each other and to feel a little less alone. We want to express our support when Israelis face such tremendous fear and peril. And we want our friends and family in Israel to know that they are not alone – that there is a community standing with them and behind them.
Rallies can have down sides, too. While they’re often billed as community-wide, the message does not always reflect the beliefs and emotions felt by a large part of the pro-Israel community. In great zeal to make clear of support for support Israel in a time of war, language at rallies often fails to emphasize the need for peace or a two-state solution or an end to violence. In an effort to show support for Israel, there is little or no acknowledgement of the loss of life of innocent Palestinians. And in an effort to show strength and unwavering allegiance, there is little room for somberness, vulnerability or questions.
So many of us in the pro-Israel pro-peace community want a space in this moment to stand with our fellow Jews. We also want a space to be genuinely sad, a space to mourn the loss of life of Israelis, and Palestinians, too – over 100 of them are children. We want space to call for peace and to make clear that calling for peace is not a betrayal of those fighting, but a genuine effort to seek a way for them to return to their families safely.
We want a space for some doubt, for some humility. Space to ask difficult questions that are hard to hear in times of war because the stakes are so very high, but nevertheless need to be asked. Will a military solution end this conflict? How can the conflict be resolved? Is there something we should be doing now to end it?
We want space for complexity. Not simply a narrative of "we're good, they're evil" and "they started it," but space to acknowledge the nuances, to reflect on how we got to this point and to seek out solutions – even when they’re not simple ones that make us feel good. We don’t really want a rally. We want a vigil. We want a prayer.
So when our community rallies behind Israel – a position we support – but uses rhetoric that does not create the space we need for mourning, for doubt, for reflection and for questions, what do we do? We try to navigate. We try to find ways to create that space within that rally.
When that’s not possible, sometimes we go anyway and stand, dissatisfied, sometimes disappointed, sometimes angry, sometimes deeply hurt and alienated in solidarity despite our disagreements. Sometimes we have to sit it out and find other ways to express our solidarity by creating our own expressions of connection, care and concern, by reaching out to our family and friends in Israel and telling them we’re here for them, by contributing to causes and organizations seeking to help those suffering under rocket fire and violence.
We do the best we can to act responsibly, sensitively and in accordance with our values as Jews and as human beings.
Every Passover we gather as a community to re-experience and imagine our liberation as a people. But even in our most joyous time, our tradition tells us to spill some of our wine in memory of the lost lives of our Egyptian oppressors. Our tradition calls on us to consider the suffering of others even as we are commanded to protect ourselves. Our tradition commands us to seek peace and pursue it, even as it lays out justifications for necessary wars.
We need to rethink how we approach rallies and each other during these difficult times. As a community, we should seek ways to come together and give voice to the tensions present in our community as well as the principles that unite us. And if we cannot, we should at least attempt to understand and respect each others modes of reaction and expression at moments of danger and sorrow – without judgment, without smears and name calling, without attacks. It is vital – for Israel and for the sake of or own community – that we become a bit more generous with one another.
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Rachel Lerner is J Street’s senior vice president for community relations