Learning about 'normalcy and complexity' in Israel

A few weeks prior to the Israel Action Network Interfaith Leadership trip to the Holy Land on which I would be serving asRabbinic Scholar, I met with three Chicago Presbyterian Commissioners - the Rev. Judy Watt, Fourth Presbyterian Church,Chicago; the Rev. Jay Moses, First Presbyterian Church, Wheaton;and Dr. Kenneth Sawyer, McCormick Theological Seminary - who would be participating.

"What is the purpose of the mission?  What do you hope forus to learn?" one of the commissioners asked.

"Normalcy and complexity," I responded. Normalcy means that beyond all the sensational headlines (generated by the fact that there are more foreign correspondents posted to Israel than to any other country) there is a normal, wonderful, and vibrant life that goes on in Israel. Mommies and daddies get up in the morning, give their children breakfast, send them off to school, and go off to myriad jobs, professions and vocations. And in those jobs, professions and vocations they encounter Jews from more than a hundred countries, including Ethiopian Jews, the only Africans brought to a modern Western country not in slave-chains. And it all works. 

As for complexity, I said, if you leave Israel with far more questions about the Israel-Palestinian conflict than when you arrived, we will have been successful. Complexity means recognizing that, on the one hand, the security barrier - 95% fence, 5% wall -is disruptive to the daily lives of some Palestinians, and yet, at the very same time, saves Jewish, Muslim and Christian lives. Israel is a place where complexity means learning moralcalculus.

Additionally, while acknowledging the legitimacy of concernsabout the circumstance of the Palestinians, I said to thecommissioners, "If you want to take part in our greatest difficulties, then first you have to participate in our greatest joys.  First, celebrate the Jewish people's success in returning to sovereignty in the ancient homeland and building a great Jewish civilization. And when you have shared our greatest joy, then we can invite you to participate in some of our most difficult pains."

Rabbi Yehiel Poupko is the Rabbinic Scholar of the JewishUnited Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

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