Open Letter to Danny Gordis
I write to you on the Friday before 9 Av, 5775. I have spent this past week in Cape Cod, where I have been absorbing world events while cushioned by the natural beauty of the land that gave birth to American democracy. As one of your Wexner Heritage students (Cleveland 2), I take very seriously your prediction that this Av could be known in our history as the Av that marks the beginning of the end of the modern State of Israel. In response to that assertion, I write this open letter to you, sharing my thoughts on current events.
To begin, I note those areas of our lives that are somewhat similar but yet fundamentally different. You have made aliyah which makes you an Israeli of American origin. You and your wife have raised your three children in both the US and Israel, but they have come of age as loud and proud Israelis in a very scary Israel. As you have shared, when you awoke from having your appendix removed during Rosh Hashana 2000, the entire Israeli-Palestinian landscape had changed from the one that had just won your heart over. The Second Intifada had started and nothing would ever be the same for Israelis, Palestinians and as events have unfolded, the entire Middle East. In a badly deteriorating neighborhood, your three children have served in the Israel Defense Forces, giving you and Ilana and your loyal readers, many sleepless nights and nightmares. Given all those stories over the years, how nice to read that your daughter has gotten married. A huge mazel tov to your daughter upon her Masorti Marriage. I also congratulate you, her proud abba, the Masorti Rabbi who broke Israeli law when he performed his daughter’s marriage ceremony under a chuppah. I wonder if the Western Wall Heritage Rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovich, would have arrested you if you had performed that ritual act at the Western Wall Plaza? I am sure you are aware that a board member of WOW was arrested on 1 Av, last week, for the crime of holding a Torah in the Women’s Section of the Kotel Plaza. I wondered why you neglected to list that offense in your essay about the abuse of state-sanctioned ultra-Orthodox rabbinic power? Excuse my digression, but I am wondering what makes Danny Gordis so different in the eyes of the law from Rachel Cohen-Yeshurun?
Returning to our compare and contrast, I am a citizen of the US. While I am not an Israeli citizen, I have been a Foreign Resident since May, of 1999 when I purchased a wonderful apartment in the German Colony of Jerusalem. I was fortunate to raise my three children in Cleveland, Ohio, sending them to Jewish day schools, Jewish summer camps and immersing them in the magic of six weeks in southern Jerusalem. However, as you well know, only our first summer, that of 2000, was truly joyous. Like you, I thought I was bringing my children to a Jewish State that was on the verge of a new chapter in Jewish history, the one that Yitzhak Rabin dared to imagine, the one that Bill Clinton had enough hope in to work for, and of course, the one that Yasser Arafat hijacked from the Palestinian people. That dream was blown up in the Second Intifada’s wave of terror. While I haven’t lived with the same level of fear and anxiety, I know I have had sufficient personal experience to empathize fully.
Thanks in large measure to you and the rest of the faculty of TWF, all three of my children are loud and proud American Jewish Zionists, as well as my son-in-law and granddaughter! In the 20 years since I graduated from the Wexner program, I have had many profound experiences, many of them as a pro-Israel activist within Israel. Having relocated to the Upper West Side of New York, I am now embracing the vibrant, creative Judaism I once enjoyed in Jerusalem. After years of community-based Israel activism, I have cultivated my niche within our Jewish community. I believe I have shared with you the nature of The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, which has as our mission supporting a healthy, modern Jewish democracy. As I recall, one of the main reasons your heart trumped your mind back in 2000 is that you wanted to be an Israeli citizen with strong Western democratic values rather than an American Jew who is a passionate Zionist. My particular circumstances have made me that passionate Zionist you might have been.
Have you seen the new Pixar movie “Inside Out?” If so, I hope you appreciated as I did that the movie creatively illustrates the five core emotions that live within each of us – joy, sadness, disgust, anger and fear. I have drawn on this simple teaching many times over the past week as I have wrestled with the Jewish communal fallout over the Iran agreement. Fear, disgust and anger are the overwhelming emotions of many who are certain that the Iran Agreement is the beginning of the end of the Third Commonwealth. In your Tisha B’Av essay, you eloquently explain why this should be the case during the summer of 2015. There is good reason for fear to be the overwhelming emotion in Israel today. Given the turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere, fear and terror continue to reign supreme for many around the world. Yet, from where I sit this summer, far from the fog of fear, I find myself thinking this, that while the Iran Agreement may be the beginning of the end, it may also be the beginning of a new chapter in world history.
Anticipating essays about the Iran agreement that referenced our contemporary observance of 9 Av, I read yours with great interest. As I read your historical account, I was disturbed by a flaw in your argument. Unlike your list of failed treaties, Israel is NOT a party to the Iran Agreement. In fact, Israel vehemently opposes this agreement. Through AIPAC, Israel is asking me, as an American citizen, to lobby my elected representatives to oppose my President on an agreement that in his administration’s estimation, is a good deal. This is far from the first time AIPAC has made such a request of the American Jewish community. I remember well when the pro-Israel lobby opposed the President on loan guarantees and arm sales to Saudi Arabia. This time, however, the agreement the United States has made with Iran is with Iran and 6 other world powers. AIPAC, doing Bibi’s bidding, is asking me to not only second guess my President but to urge Congress to oppose the Executive Branch on a world stage on a matter of foreign policy. In the dark shadow of the Holocaust, I, as a loud, proud and empowered American Jewish Zionist, would never hesitate to use my voice and political power to oppose my President on the world stage IF I thought this was in the best interest of the Jewish people. But Danny, from where I sit, with both my heart and mind firmly rooted in both my Jewish values, and my American Democratic values, I do not think that doing Bibi’s bidding is in the best interest of the Jewish People or the State of Israel. I understand that you see it differently. You have lived in the pressure cooker of the Promised Land for over sixteen years. Forgive me, but I think you have forgotten some of the complex dynamics of the American politic process. Or perhaps you have just been overwhelmed by the complexities of the dysfunctional parliamentary democracy you have found yourself stuck with.
From Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, another of my revered Wexner teachers, I learned about the miracle of modern Jewish power in the aftermath of the Holocaust. In the many years I spent as a lay leader in the Federation world, I marveled at what we have been able to achieve using that power as I partnered with Israelis to weave a stronger, healthier modern State of Israel. To now see that power squandered in America’s polluted partisan politics pains me. If only that power could be used to focus on what can reasonably be done going forward, given the facts on the ground. However, that requires the willingness to trust the Administration, as well as five other world powers. As we all know, trust requires a leap of faith and a degree of hope that all will be as promised by those in charge.
Clearly, you and many others do not have enough trust to take that leap of faith. Is that because our collective historical fear, reinforced by the present world situation, trumps any reasonable hope that world leaders have exercised power wisely? Is it because we are so filled with anger that world continues to tolerate anti-Semitism, blaming Israel for abuses of power in Gaza when 13,000 UN employees close their eyes to the terror infrastructure being built with their concrete? Is there too much disgust at work in our collective soul that after 68 years of independence the world still seems to hate us? Have you forgotten the joy that can be found when one has the courage to say despite the fear, I will have hope that tomorrow can be better. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that The Hope is our national anthem. But hope is not one of those core emotions. Rather it is a force that allows both our hearts and minds to overcome the fears, the anger, the disgust and the sadness. With a heart strengthened by joy and trust in political processes and a confidence that the world is fundamentally different in 2015, I look to the days ahead with guarded optimism. May my guarded optimism trump your emotional pessimism, and may we chant Echa together, in Jerusalem on 9 Av 5785.
With prayers for better days ahead and a meaningful fast for us all,
Fran Gordon (a Wexner Heritage Alum from Cleveland 2) can be reached at fmgordon32958.
The views expressed in The Wexner Foundation’s blog WexnerLEADS do not necessarily reflect those of The Wexner Foundation.