Please, Natalie Portman, don’t abandon Israel. Engage with its peacemakers.


NEW YORK (JTA) — Dear Natalie Portman,

I was looking forward to seeing you receive your Genesis Prize in our homeland, and disappointed upon hearing the news that you would not travel to Israel to receive what some call the “Jewish Nobel” because you found recent events there “distressing.”

When one of the Children of Israel is crying about something going on in our homeland, I am sure that God cries along with them. I get that you want to use this moment to register disappointment and frustration either with Israel herself or the way the relationship between the United States and Israel is going. It is unclear which actions are making you uncomfortable about accepting the prize in Israel. Hard times at the Gaza border may be part of the equation, and from what you have expressed before I sense frustration about policies regarding Israel’s military and African asylum seekers wanting a home there.

It is not easy to love the people you love all the time. And for sure it is not easy to turn to them and be there — physically and emotionally — when they let you down.

That is why I want to encourage you to “be a light” where you can shine, in Israel.

Turn toward the ones you love and not away. Go to Jerusalem. In fact, go to the Gaza border! Use your fame, smarts and leadership to speak to the Gaza crowds. Help the Israelis and Palestinians express their readiness for a two-state solution. Launch an initiative: “#READY4-2!” Bring friends of yours from the Hollywood and arts community and stage a first Film and Music Festival for Two States. In a moment when the dream, or plan, of sharing the land is dwindling, help us see it again. Help organize artists and poets, musicians and filmmakers, to turn Gaza, among other things, into a moviemaking mecca. Urge Palestinian musicians and Israeli artists, filmmakers and the like to cooperate.

If it is the fate of African migrants that you find distressing, engage with them and Israelis on all sides of the issue to encourage dialogue and seek humane solutions.

Your movie about Israel in its formative years, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” recalled how we as a people had no place to go when millions of our family were still embers in the Nazis’ ovens. Now you can write the script for channeling anger into artistry, and replacing burning tires on the borders with the words and music of hope.

When we turn toward the people and places we love, it is like letting Elijah the Prophet into our lives — the Elijah of whom it is is said, “He will turn the hearts of the parents through their children and the hearts of the children through their parents.” By engaging instead of staying away, you have the opportunity to turn the hearts of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Despite disappointments and any frustration you feel, you may be an Esther in this unfolding drama.

As a rabbi, I want to tell you that it possible to live Talmudically: It is possible to say yesterday “I am not going” and today to say “Of course I am going!”

Love Israel. Accept her with her warts. Go accept your prize, and agree to share it with the Palestinians and Israelis who share a vision of two states. I believe that the Palestinian and Israeli leadership will speak with you. Please don’t be selfish and stay out of a mission that needs you. Go get your real prize and help the people you love live the dream.

(Rabbi Scott Bolton is rabbi of Congregation Or Zarua, a traditional, participatory and egalitarian Conservative synagogue in Manhattan.)

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