Dvar Torah – Difficult conversations

Written by Rabbi Hannah Kingston — 4 June 2018

On this day four years ago, I arrived home after my time living in Israel as a rabbinical student. I posted on Facebook; ‘The last months have been some of the most formative in my life. As I come to leave, I now realise that this country, despite all its challenges, has become a home.’ It was true for me in that moment, and it is still true to me today.

Which is why I was shaken the week after I arrived home, when rockets started to fall into parts of Northern Haifa, close to where I was living, and the friends I had made in my time living there spent the next few months in and out of bomb shelters. Like many of us at times of conflict in Israel I felt mixed. I was worried for my friends who had been my family whilst I was there. I was sad for the lives lost, both Israeli and Palestinian. And on top of it all I was angry. Angry that the country that was my home was acting in a way that did not represent the values upon which it was created; to extend the hand of peace and good neighbourliness to all the states around us and to their peoples.

When asked to explain my relationship with Israel, I can’t truly put it into words. I am in love with parts of it, whilst I hate others. I was deeply proud when Neta won Eurovision, and disheartened by the way conflict in Gaza has been handled both within Israel and here in the diaspora. My relationship with Israel is complicated, because it is intimate, and who has ever had an intimate relationship without complications!

Speaking the truth about this complicated relationship is daunting, because many of us feel uncomfortable when we hear opinions that are different to ours, especially when the subject being disputed is one so close to our hearts. But when issues are complex and emotional, we meet an even larger range of opinions, and we need to make it our responsibility to really hear those diverse views. Which is why I felt so challenged last week when I went to the Platinum celebration of Israel at 70 at the Royal Albert Hall. The event was buzzing with people. But as the evening unfolded I became increasingly uncomfortable. The speeches were celebratory and victorious. They held no ambiguity and there was no mention of the complexity of the situation that was unfolding in Gaza. I left feeling hard done by, because the Israel that is my home, the one that has both good and bad bits, was ignored.

There is a value here at Alyth, which is not to ignore challenging situations. Rather here, in the safeness of community that we know and trust, we aim to provide a space where we can talk openly and honestly about the challenge, and never to provide a platform where one voice reigns supreme. We are aware that strong opinions appear on both sides, and we hope to facilitate those views in reasoned debate, so that although the two sides may not be reconciled, they may at least reach an understanding of each other’s viewpoints, and learn to live with their differences. We aim to do this in our programming; It is what Rabbis Josh and Mark did when they took a group to Israel last year, and what we did this week at the Iftar, when Jews and Muslims sat down together to have open and honest dialogue. And It is why we, as community leaders did not go to the event held last week by young Jews, where Kaddish was recited for protestors killed in Gaza. But also, why we don’t condemn those members of our community who did go.

We must continue to strive to be a holy community of Jews even when our opinions differ and our voices our not unanimous. We need to not turn on each other when we disagree, or isolate those with alternative views, but rather to show a willingness to talk together with respect. And we need to understand, that just because someone disagrees with us, or with Israel, it doesn’t mean they don’t love it, for when have we not disagreed with those that we love? I look forward to many more years of difficult conversation.