Thursday, July 14, 2011

No Israel Trip This Summer

Since it is now public that I am not going to be the next executive director at JCRC, I thought I might check in and share a few choice thoughts.

I won't be going to Israel this summer.  It makes me sad, but it made no sense to go when my employment status at JCRC is so unclear.  I've made no decisions and closed no doors, but it seemed imprudent to have me invest in new long term relationships.

So what am I thinking about these days?  Well, on the Israel front it is the new anti-boycott law and other measures that, in my humble opinion (remember, not necessarily the positions of my employers) hurt Israel's ability to make the case that it is the bastion of democracy in the middle east.  On the home front, I am looking forward to our trip to California this summer, albeit to take G-Dubbs to his new adventure at Pitzer college.  We will miss him terribly but I am very excited to see what this next chapter of his life will bring.  Pretty banal stuff, I admit.  But family is really the only important thing -- as I have learned far too well in the last month and a half.  

So what does the future hold for me?  Doors are opening and new possibilities await.  JCRC will be in good hands whether I am there or not.  The Jewish people will continue to survive and thrive even if I am not there professionally.  No one is irreplaceable but only a small few are irrepressible.  I am the latter.

So, at 44, it's time to turn a page.  Should I go the easy way out and stick around, or find something in my "wheelhouse"?  Or should I explore the great unknown?  Maybe I can find a way to do both... 

I will be writing more, that's for sure.  I'm going to try to get a few articles published... so you can look for those.  Something will be coming out soon... Just waiting for my co-author to come back from vacation.

Stay tuned... it's going to be a hell of a ride and as Lady Macbeth said "Screw your courage to the sticking place and we'll not fail."

And, by the way, I'd love suggestions and any good advice you have.

So here I go.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On the Elimination of Bin Laden

We all have our 9/11 stories.  For me, they revolve around two visiting Israeli anti-terrorism experts who were sharing breakfast with me and a journalist friend the morning the attacks took place.  It was one of the only times that I had left my cell phone in the car.  As we left breakfast, I noticed that I had more than 5 messages from my office.  Normally, since 2001 was a year in which the 2nd intifada was raging, I would've thought that something horrible happened in Israel.  On the 6th try, my boss finally reached me and told me about the attacks.  When I first heard her, I thought that a small plane had crashed into the towers.

Obviously, none of us anticipated what happened that day.  And it is an understatement and a cliché to say that it changed our lives forever.

I spent the rest of the day shuttling these Israeli experts TV stations to newspapers so that they could share their expertise with our local community.  Over and over again, they said that the media's response to this was counterproductive.  That showing the pictures of the towers being hit by the planes and the Pentagon burning would further traumatize the population – especially children.  In Israel, they explained that the media coverage focuses on ways that people could find out about the disposition of their family and friends that they could not locate.

Finally, at the end of the day, I spoke with my boss and realized that we had not heard anything from civic or religious leaders about a service or gathering.  We reached out to the Cardinal and the mayor and within 24 hours organized the interfaith service that took place at City Hall Plaza.  25,000 people showed up that day including pilots and flight attendants and employees of American and United Airlines who marched into the ceremony, unannounced, in full uniform.  No one in attendance will ever forget that poignant moment.

Several months later I met someone who had a friend who was killed at the World Trade Center.  Their grief was as raw in March as it had been in September.  I'll never forget those days, oscillating between rage and sadness.

Which brings me to the elimination of Osama bin Laden.

This is an important moment in American history.  While the demise of bin Laden will not eliminate Al Qaeda or end the threat of global Jihad, it sends a message to everyone about the ability of the United States, despite a complex world situation, to act decisively and pursue justice thoughtfully when necessary.

But I must confess that I am disturbed by the reaction of many well-meaning people in our country that took to the streets and celebrated with cheers and music.  I am not one who is predisposed to being circumspect during a victory.  However, in this case, it seems to me that the memory of all those people who've been killed by Al Qaeda over the years required acknowledgment that their lives were the reason that we pursued bin Laden in the first place.  This was an opportunity to mourn and reflect and pray for their families to receive comfort.  It just seems to me that the time for chanting and celebrating is more appropriate at a ballgame then it is for the killing of a terrorist.

It would also been an opportunity to contrast our values with those of the radical Islamists who support bin Laden and his cause.  Often you'll find them in the streets, handing out candy when innocent people are killed.  Hamas today mourned Osama bin Laden and seeks to use him as a martyr in its campaign of jihad against the West.  I'm not drawing any moral equivalence between well-meaning Americans expressing their joy over the elimination of a vicious terrorist but I am hopeful that the next few days will be a time of reflection and memory without the need to resort to slogans.

That was one of the hallmarks of the American response to 9/11 in the 1st place we are angry and were anguished.  So, with our joy today we need to remember just what we were fighting for and the victims that suffered so much at the hands of Al Qaeda.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I know it is satire, but still….

Since taking a look at this video yesterday, I can’t stop thinking about it. Not only because it is hysterical (The Norwegians killed the Salmon), but because it is so sad.  It comes from "Eretz Nehederet," an Israeli political satire program and has spread across the internet among those of us who care deeply about Israel.

As we struggle with making the case for Israel, too often our dialogue and approach resembles that of the kindergarteners in this video.

Fixated on our echo chamber (there it is again), we delude ourselves into thinking that a binary view of the world will suffice in communicating Israel’s message to anyone outside of the bubble. We struggle with the incredibly difficult position in which Israel finds itself and the seemingly endless pressure it deals with. Without “skin in the game”, we have been told for decades, our role is to support and defend. However, we are faced with an interesting dilemma.

On one hand, we experience many of those in the “Peter Beinart” generation who not only do not have “skin in the game” but aren’t connected at all – despite what the “studies” tell us. Despite the miracle of Taglit-Birthright, many of our institutions do not confront the dilemmas of supporting Israel in a complex world. And, certainly do not approach the question of when it is appropriate to question the decisions of one government or another.

I recall one Tisha B’av, at a rally to support victims of terror, I exhorted the crowd to pressure the Israeli government to act decisively on behalf of the people of Sderot region. (I admit that I asked the Israeli Consul, who was in attendance that day, if it would be ok. She graciously agreed). So there I was, in front of hundreds of people, activists and community leaders, urging the crowd to do something I had never asked before – to put pressure on the democratically elected government of Israel to take action on a matter of peace and security. After the speech a well-known community activist and gadfly in his own right approached me and said – “How about that from Ronkin! I toned down my remarks and you came out and finally said it!”

And, do we not have “skin in the game?” No, we don’t fight in the army or pay taxes (however, many Israelis don’t either – but that’s a topic for another time), but we put ourselves out there every day – organizationally and personally – on behalf of Israel, and by extension, the Jewish people. Increasingly, the Jewish people are being held accountable for Israel’s behavior. This is true in Seattle where a wonderful Jewish professional was murdered at the beginning of the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon and in numerous incidents across Europe. While I firmly believe that not all critique of Israel is anti-Semitism, I think that we are all susceptible when anti-Zionism leads to extremist rhetoric or worse.

So, where are we today?

Honestly, I am not sure.

Many of us, myself included, have strong opinions about which policy alternative makes most sense. Some of us speak out. Some of us speak privately to those whom we think we can influence. And others keep their mouths shut.
So, what’s a committed Zionist (or Zionist organization) to do? How do we stay relevant and create a space for the discussion. And, more importantly, how do we make a real difference, because ultimately, talk is cheap if it has no impact.
Let’s discuss!

About Me

Brookline, MA, United States
Thought provoking discussion or musings of a kid from the other side of the tracks...