Sara Klein Wagner
Many of us have seen and experienced the beauty and vibrant spirit of Israel. Like you, I have felt the pride of this young nation and have celebrated her numerous accomplishments. From the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, the first city built on a hill, to the calm and charm of the Western Galilee, Louisville shares a partnership with Israel that has built countless relationships.
How can one not be fascinated and enamored with this complicated, noisy, special place – a place with so much diversity, history and raucous democracy? Of all of Israel’s many wonders, Jerusalem is always among the most memorable.
Just a few weeks ago, I noticed Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem day) approaching on the calendar. This day marks the Israeli reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. We have celebrated even here in Louisville. We even marked the 25th anniversary by welcoming retired General Uzi Narkiss who led the IDF into Jerusalem.
As Yom Yerushalayim 2021 approached, we watched tensions rise in Jerusalem. The city that has brought comfort and dreams to reality for so many has still not yet unified all. As the world watched, the real-life strains and tensions erupted into thousands of rockets launched at Israeli citizens. The IDF responded, as it must, with precise retaliation targeting Hamas.
Over the past two weeks, we have watched the news and social media share compelling, moving and incomplete stories about the conflict. The layers of complexity are profound and simply cannot be conveyed in memes and tweets or fully in articles like the one I am writing.
Here is what should not be complex: As Jews, we yearn for peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. A two-state solution is the answer for the Palestinian people, and yet the road there feels so far away.
Sadly, these complexities are some of the least covered aspects of this conflict. Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to ridding the world of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. While Hamas does not equal all Palestinian people, how might Israel make peace with a neighbor committed to its destruction?
Will the cycle change this time? Michael Aaronson, a former co-chair of our partnership with the Western Galilee, joined our JCL board meeting by zoom to share what is different this time. Michael shared that, for decades, so much work has taken place in mixed cities like Akko to foster genuine coexistence between Jews and Israeli Arabs. The painful change this time is the fighting within Israel between Arab Israelis and Israeli Jews, a new battlefront for which no one was prepared.
In the old city of Akko, most Jewish-owned businesses were burned and destroyed. Thankfully, there were also heartening examples of Arab leaders in the partnership region calling for rioters to stop, and examples of Jewish and Arab women standing together for peace within their community.
As American Jews, we each have unique and individual experiences that form our personal relationship with Israel and Jewish life. Israel has filled our cups with wonder and awe. It is during difficult times that we are reminded just how fragile and complicated it sometimes feels. Israeli lives were saved each time the Iron Dome intercepted a rocket from Gaza and this safeguard cannot be taken for granted.
Far away from Jerusalem and Gaza, in the United States and around the globe, anti-Semitism is on the rise. The conflict in Israel has led to anti-Semitic hate attacks in everyday life. As a Jewish community, we need to be able to share with our friends and neighbors what it feels like in this moment. We need to listen to opinions that we may not share and be comfortable sharing our individual voices while always rejecting hate in any form.
There is clearly courageous work to be done between Israelis and Palestinians, and tough conversations for us to have here in the U.S. Even with all of the opinions, complex feelings and serious questions, we must also proudly continue to express our wonder, awe and love for Israel and all of her people.
Listening and sharing with each other is essential. While emotional and very personal for many of us, including me. I welcome you to contact me to reach out with your thoughts, comments and questions. I can be reached at email@example.com or 502-238-2779.
(Sara Klein Wagner is the president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville.)