If Iran were to attack Israel today, the Polish Jewish community would be deeply saddened. Most of us have family and friends currently living in Israel, and have been fortunate enough to develop a strong appreciation for Israel over the course of our lives. Moreover, for my age group, this would be the first war of our lifetimes in which we felt emotionally involved, adding to the potential impact of this war.
The following is a reflection from a recent AJC and Germany Close Up trip to Berlin. To take part in our next Germany experience this August, click here to apply!
As we passed one of the numerous stores that sold “I Love Berlin” t-shirts, I turned to a few other participants in the group and joked, “They should sell shirts that say ‘I visited Berlin and I’m still sorting out my feelings.’” I received a few empathetic laughs, or maybe my new friends were just trying to humor me.
Several months have elapsed since I returned from the week-long trip to Berlin, and I continue to sort out my feelings. The trip was organized by the AJC and a program called Germany Close Up. As a group of young Jewish professionals, we spent the week exploring the city and its history trying to find out how the country has dealt with its past while also learning about Jewish life in modern-day Germany and Germany’s current relationship with Israel.
It is obvious that a child is a human being that should be always offered protection, care and respect. No matter how one behaves, she or he deserves embracing and love. The case of Naama Margolese proves that this perception of childhood might be far from true in some societies.
The girl in question was spat on because she was considered to be dressed immodestly. Arguing what is provocative and what is not seems to be out of place in the context of a child who became a tool in a game of rancor between adults. Apparently, the tensions that have been covered under a thin coat of political correctness and deceptive gestures were released in a most unimaginable way. Naturally, the ultra orthodox tendencies have been present in discussions, they evoked various actions or protests, but the harassment of Naama might have opened a way to privately managed social anathema. From the perspective of a student living in the UK, this type of extremism channeled to an unprotected and evidently innocent being is simply unconceivable. The added religious background of the whole event makes it even more dreadful. What is more, some environments tend to argue that the harassing behavior of those spitting on a girl was an expression of religious emotions. No other logic can be more ludicrous.
In recent years many young people have been getting involved in Argentinian politics. This seems to be part of an interesting process taking form which is creating a new dynamic for both politics and young people in our country.
In this framework, some weeks ago a new young Jewish political group was created. The name of this group is Jews for Deepening Democracy. As stated on its site, http://jxpd.wordpress.com/ , the purpose of this group is to debate and to take part in the political arena by strengthening relationships with those who are actually building the path to justice, solidarity and equality. The objective is to contribute to the process of widening the democratic frontiers and creating a more robust civil society.
This article was originally published in New Voices on 3/11/11 and can be found on the New Voices Blog.
Like most New Voices editors before me, I’ve felt a compulsion to criticize the Jewish Establishment. And while I may not be as contrary as my predecessor, I–along with the rest of our writers–have had no problem admonishing Hillel, AIPAC, (of course) the ADL or any other large Jewish organization.
So when the American Jewish Committee invited me to an event last year about dissidents in Iran as part of their ACCESS program for young professionals, I was wary. After all, you can’t get more “Establishment” than the AJC. They have all of the criteria down:
Most of the people I meet are reasonable by nature. Most of them are genuinely searching for the right answers to the problems that are manifest all around, from Israel to determinations on budget cuts.
And most of them understand that we operate in a complex world, and that wearing ideological glasses colors our judgment without contributing to its wisdom.
But as I look around at our country and at our own Jewish community, which is not wanting for communal resources or intellect, I am at a loss to understand the incredible degree of polarization that is so evident.
Yes, people should be passionate in their convictions – I too hold deeply felt beliefs about some of the issues that make headlines – but why only preach to the choir? Why get worked up in a frenzy without engaging the other side?
To me, this doesn’t only seem useless, it seems counterproductive. If anything, when we enclose ourselves in like-minded circles, we build a fortress around our ideas, and we start assuming the worst about people who hold different ones. And of course that builds not only a sense of false confidence, but also the barriers against anyone who thinks differently.
And to top that off, “joining the group” means accepting positions on the full range of issues. Even if we ourselves feel strongly about specific policy matters, there is no reason to swallow an ideology with all its pre-made answers whole.
In part, the problem lies in a lack of “spaces” – both virtual and real. Where exactly are the fora where we can confront our views with others? Where is there dialogue taking place? Is it still possible to learn, or have that building block of enlightenment, indeed that fundamental assumption democratic society – that it is beneficial for opposing ideas to confront each other so that the best ideas emerge – seem hopelessly naive?
There are very few places left where left and right can meet, and where people who care can listen to thoughtfully articulated viewpoints and decide for themselves.
AJC is one of them.
Yes, AJC has positions, but the process of deciding is quite unique here.
The board room is a real place of exchange and debate – we hear some of the most articulate presentations of positions head to head with the opposing views: our terrorism expert and our interreligious voice, our international relations experts and our local advocates – and of course many people who understand something of all sides and who try to figure out, on a case by case basis, what is right and best.
Often, those debates happen behind closed doors. I’m thinking we need to get the word out better, and have people share in the debate and decision making, not only in the advocacy that comes later.
Next Thursday, March 17, we’ll be holding one of those discussions. Two top academics will be going head to head on the issue of Israel today, hope vs. fear, realism vs. idealism.
And at our ACCESS conference April 29-May 1 will do the same.
The Israel track, being organized with the Reut Institute, will offer a chance for people across the spectrum to join together in the fight against the most extreme and violent anti-Israel voices. Not everyone needs to take the same tact, but everyone needs to recognize, as Reut says, that there is room for every player in the orchestra, and indeed, a real part to play. Working on human rights in Israel and focusing on BDS all have a place inside the tent.
The Civility track will bring youth leaders in from different ethnic and religious groups, primarily in the U.S., but with a smattering of international representation. Here too, there will be a chance to confront different viewpoints – with the goal of recognizing that certain principles, such as keeping disagreements civil and not hitting below the belt, are in the interests of all.
I hope you’ll join us. And I hope you’ll get in the game. We need your voice as we move forward.