On Jan. 7, 35 religious leaders from across the United States representing Christian denominations — including Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics — signed a letter to President Obama urging him to make peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians a priority. The good news? They recognized that it is an Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they clearly want a two-state solution. They also wrote that recent rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel are a “morally unjustifiable use of indiscriminate force against civilians.”
However, they also stressed that Israeli occupation and expansion in the West Bank “compromise the territorial viability of a future Palestinian state.” And there is no mention that Israel has no partner for peace, as the Palestinians are coming not to the peace table but to the UN, and that Hamas and others in the Arab world are working against establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel.
Also in January, over 400 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations signed on to a letter to the president that blatantly blames only Israel for the lack of peace and calls for an end to the “siege of Gaza,” an end to the U.S. veto at the UN protecting Israel, an end to the “occupation,” etc., etc., etc. See endtheoccupation.org and prepare for your blood pressure to rise.
Finally, the Palestinian Authority’s secretary for religious affairs declared soon after Hanukka that Jews had no religious connection to the Western Wall until the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
I offer these three news items to make the case that you and I are needed more than ever in the battle for the hearts and minds of our friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and elected officials.
We must do more than read and write to each other and wring our hands in frustration. We need to help others understand Israel — its size, its diversity, its story, its accomplishments, and its challenges (both from within and from outside). We must understand Israel’s efforts for peace.
Last year members of over 40 congregations in our area participated in Step Up For Israel programs coordinated by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Some were learning the history for the first time. Some were reinforcing what they already knew, so that the facts could be at the ready when needed. Some were learning how to share their feelings and knowledge with Christians who either don’t care or don’t know much about Israel.
The goal must be to reach out to others, whether in a casual conversation at work, a meeting with your member of Congress, a family gathering, or a dialogue with a local church.
We at Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael participated in SUFI last year with a series of talks and activities. As a result, our community became more empowered to speak out on Israel and more activated in the community at large. Our members sponsored a booth about the synagogue and Israel at the Morristown Fall Festival on the Green. Some congregants will travel to Washington for the annual AIPAC conference. And, in 2013, some will reach out to our neighboring churches.
Join us on Sunday, Feb. 3, at the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany when the CRC and the American Jewish Committee cosponsor the second Step Up For Israel Advocacy Summit. You will hear Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, whose group brought to light the PA official’s quote about Israel. You will hear Michael Curtis, Rutgers professor and author of Should Israel Exist? A Sovereign Nation Under Attack by the International Community. Representatives of more than a half-dozen Israel advocacy groups will also participate.
You will be with hundreds of others who care about Israel, and you will learn skills and facts from experts for your own advocacy efforts. The program, which will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., is an interactive one that will afford you the opportunity to engage with the speakers.
“If not now, when?” I know, I know. The phrase from Hillel has become almost trite. But it really is time for each of us to take some action other than writing a check and sending e-mails to each other. We must do what we can in our own backyard.