The Lost Summer

Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.

This year, the summer warmth never seemed to arrive in New England. Normally, I’m rather pleased; the fall is always my favorite time of year. My birthday falls in September. I have always enjoyed the return of the academic calendar, the changing of the leaves, and World Series baseball. This fall was met with a different sense of urgency and welcomed unlike any other year.

In July, my reserve unit was mobilized to Hebron in response to hostiles in the West Bank. Although far from the chaos of Gaza, unrest in the West Bank is no picnic. This was the first reserve mobilization I failed to attend as I have been spending the last year in the U.S. visiting friends, reconnecting with family, and attending to my father’s health concerns. My army buddies, Gilad and Nadav, comforted me during my absence, “David, you’re not missing much. You’re better off back home.” That’s funny; I thought Israel was my home. They said all the right things, but it was of little reassurance. Legally, Israelis abroad are not required to return during war, but there is always a social responsibility and a moral dilemma that afflicts everyone missing from service. I debated, agonized, and struggled all summer as the war in the entire region raged on. Sadly, too many other horrors occurring in the Ukraine, Ferguson, and with Ebola offered me little solace.

The anxiety and misery that encompassed this summer reached a climax when two American-Israeli soldiers were killed inside Gaza. Never have I felt so inadequately helpless as a Jew, Israeli, and a soldier. What difference could I make to help ensure Israel’s security while ending the senseless death of innocent Palestinians? One night while watching CNN’s coverage of the conflict, I scoured the internet for the cheapest flights back to Israel. Divine Intervention ensued when the U.S. cancelled all flights to Tel Aviv and my father appropriately remarked, “Son, I hope you’re not thinking of doing anything silly. Your place isn’t in Gaza but here with us.”

My father was right; my place was not in Israel, at least not now. My place belongs in the U.S. trying to educate and empower people, specifically within the Jewish and Muslim communities, to better understand each other as we work towards a peaceful and sustainable end to this conflict. The world doesn’t need another Israeli soldier, although I will always be proud of my service, but rather it needs young, innovative leaders to help foster interfaith dialogue, respect, and understanding. Many within the Jewish community either fail to appreciate Israel’s unique security concerns or overcompensate by blindly supporting the country’s immoral policies in the West Bank. We must aim for cultural compassion and common ground in creating a viable, two state solution and not aim rockets towards civilian populations or bullets towards mosques. I am committed to building relationships with my Muslim cousins because I am tired of lost summers and autumns that cant arr ive soon enough.

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4 thoughts on “The Lost Summer

  1. Cousin David!

    Thank you for your reflection. I agree with your choice of staying here, knowing that you are both a good soldier and a good interfaith interlocutor. But while there are other good soldiers doing the job back home, only a few ambassadors of peace can do your job here. I am happy to learn that you are working on strengthening the relations with Muslims. We need people like you. If you ever visit Dallas, Texas, I will be glad to have you speak to our community.

    1. Thank you Dina for your response,

      I would be honored to speak in your Dallas community if the opportunity ever presents itself. I believe that a large part of my rabbinic ministry will focus on interfaith work (partially due to the high percentage of Christian-Jewish intermarriage) as well as interfaith dialogue which has more to do with the ability to better comprehend multi-faith relationships as religion and the politics associated with it become more and more diverse in this country over the next generation.

      While drawing parallels from your last written piece, in reference to extremism, we in the American Jewish community need to be more pragmatic in our expectations and demands from Israel. We need to hold the Israeli government more accountable for its policies in the West Bank. The illegal acquisition of more West Bank territory only encourages and emboldens the extremists that we too have in Judaism. I think a strong, unified American Jewish-Muslim approach would send a reinforced message towards the powers to be in America, the West Bank, and Israel that the status-quo is unacceptable.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience and your goals! After attending the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, I’m more aware of the critical role that American Christians play in the perpetuation of unjust aggression against Palestinian Muslims. This has me reflecting on what exactly is my need to speak up. I’m struggling right now with profound cynicism about the possibility of a two-state solution. I feel like this gets thrown out all the time, but there is no viable political effort to make it happen. Do you think it is possible? If so, how can we make it a viable political option?

    1. Your comments are much appreciated Kathryn,

      I think you’re starting in the right place, with contemplative reflection bordering on activism. Although I am often overwhelmed by the love and undying support that American Christians show towards our Jewish State, there does not seem to be enough tough love and accountability when it comes to policies which exasperate the occupation and fail to bring about peace and a Palestinian State. More American Christians and American voters need to question where their church donations and election campaign checks go to when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

      The solution is fairly easy, create a free, independent Palestinian State, and the way to achieve this has more or less been understood and agreed upon since the early 90’s when Prime Minister Rabin acknowledged the difficult but necessary compromises that needed to be made, on both sides. The challenge exists when there is no political will on either side to make this possibility a reality, which you are so right to mention.

      I don’t know how political I am allowed to be in this forum, but I believe we crossed that line a while ago. After this summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, Israeli politicians (from the far left to the far right who were mostly in agreement about the war) have even less appetite to renew the precious peace talks with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. Although the actions of Hamas in Gaza do not reflect the views of the overwhelming peaceful Palestinians, it still reflects poorly on those living under occupation in the West Bank.

      Moderate Israeli politicians and the Israelis who elect them are scared of two very fundamental fears: the occupation will never end AND the occupation will end. Many including myself fear that a Palestinian state will never exist, and yet we are also afraid of what happens when said state comes into existence. It is an extremely difficult but not impossible situation that demands a strong, calculated individual, like Rabin or even Begin at Camp David, to make the necessary concessions and take the necessary risks. Israelis are afraid of the known unknows. We know that an immoral and an illegal occupation is unsustainable but every time Israel has disengaged from territory (Sinai, Southern Lebanon and Gaza), the land has been used as a launching point either for terrorism or even worse, war. Israel, and to some extent correctly, has always viewed occupation whether it was in the Sinai Desert, Golan Heights, south of the Litani River in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank as security buffers much like the Soviet Union viewed their satellite states in Eastern Europe as a means to defend the Mother Land. Nobody can predict what type of neighbor the Palestinians will be once they finally move into the neighborhood, but don’t they deserve the chance at home ownership?

      The answer is yes. Israelis owe it to Palestinians to create a peaceful, viable two state, one that embraces Democracy and dare I say a functioning economic system that raises the standard of living among many poor Arabs. I believe in Bonds not bombs. There is far more money to be made in peace than there is to be made in war. If Israel and the future West Bank state, thanks in part to foreign investment from I.M.F and the World Bank, started building hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, desalination plants, and created more social services, we would not only see another state bloom alongside Israel’s modern miracle, but perhaps miracles might also begin happening in Gaza. Good behavior must be adamantly rewarded and bad behavior should be punished. Hamas has been punished for its bad behavior time and again, but why hasn’t the good behavior of the West Bank been rewarded?

      Palestinians also owe it to themselves to unify, renounce terrorism, and take control of their destiny. The Palestinian leadership is also incredibly weak and lacks the backbone to make painful if not rational concessions. Specifically, the Palestinian right of return is a major stumbling block to negotiations with Israel. In order for a Jewish state to remain Jewish, which was the entire point of creating a strong safe haven for the World’s Jews after the horrors of the Holocaust; Israel must maintain a Jewish majority. If Palestinians were allowed to resettle in Israel proper,( I.E.Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beer Sheva), then eventually due to Israel’s demographic nature, there would be more Palestinians than Jews living in a Jewish state and due to Israel’s democratic nature, elections would vote out Jewish politicians and Palestinians would gain control of the Parliament. If a Jewish state sounds racist and exclusionary, you’re not wrong to ask why don’t the Jews just learn to live in a majority based Palestinian country? However, history which has never been kind to the Jewish people would show that Jews really need a country of their own to ensure safety and security.

      Although I would love to see Hamas put down their weapons, renounce terrorism, recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and return to negotiations, I am not naive. Sadly, I believe that life might become worse in Gaza for the Palestinian people before it becomes better and blame must rest solely on the shoulder of the Hamas leadership for failing to look after the safety and well-being of their own citizens. War with Israel doesn’t bring glory, and it certainly doesn’t put more food on the table for a family of 8 in Gaza City or help create more jobs for a failing economy.

      More importantly, Israelis owe it to Israelis to create a peaceful, viable two state, if not for the Palestinians then for themselves. The Israeli government needs to also grow a backbone and stand up to the religious Jewish fundamentalists in the West Bank who encourage and expect illegal and immoral settlement expansion. Eventually an even tougher but essential leadership decision must be made to uproot and evacuate Israeli settlements in most of the West Bank, but there is absolutely no political will in Jerusalem to commit the political suicide needed to forcibly remove Jews from territory the government encouraged in the first place. However, how wonderful would it be if: we spent less money on building illegal settlements, told our young men and women that the West Bank would be one less territory they would need to serve in during their military careers, the international community stopped treating Israel like a social pariah, Israel’s future as a vibrant democratic and Jewish state would no longer be in question, and Jews from across the World would embrace Israel. Ok, I don’t know about that last dream. We hardly agree on anything in the Jewish world, but I think you understand my point.

      In answering your question, you’re not wrong in your cynicism, but it is not a foregone conclusion that a two state solution will never exist; more pressure needs to be made on all sides of the political spectrum, and I believe it starts in America with you and me. We need to be more fair, accurate, and balanced in our criticism of Israel. We must do this in a way without being anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli, but in a way that demonstrates we want peace and are tired of war; questioning the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank IS NOT the same as questioning Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish State or question Israel’s right to defend itself against suicide bombers and rocket attacks towards civilian populations. No other country has to justify its existence or national security. There is an illegal occupation but it’s not in Gaza; Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

      We need to hold our own politicians accountable for the carte blanche, laisse-faire foreign policy approach that Washington uses towards Israel and even towards the Palestinian leadership. Foreign aid should be cut back and eventual cut off if Israel and the Palestinian leadership can’t even sit down and negotiate, let alone agree to a final state solution. With elections on the horizon, the 2016 presidential campaign would be a perfect time to force our politicians to have a stronger, more comprehensive position on the conflict and resolution.

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