Reconnecting to Israel Through Social Justice

30 October 2019
By: William P. Becker

As a child, I learned of the brave refugees who enabled the return of Jewish sovereignty to the land of our ancestors, and my post-bar mitzvah visit in 1958 confirmed that understanding. Even when I spent eight weeks on Kibbutz Ein Gev in the summer of 1967, the mix of a Jewish State and a modern democracy seemed strong, viable, and credible.

But Israel’s policies in the decades since the Six Day War eroded much of my positive feelings and left me with greatly diminished emotional loyalty. I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile a positive identification with Israel with its actual policies, as exemplified by the West Bank settlement enterprise and the expanding control by the ultra-Orthodox over civil life.

During the same period, I committed myself to live according to the ethical principles of our tradition. I moved away from my attempts to discover the “truth” about God, and instead sought to learn and follow what most Jews accept as the word of God, the Torah. At the same time, I felt ever-more distant from what I understood to be the dominant political and religious culture of Israel.

In November 2018, I traveled to Israel on an NIF study tour with the hope of resolving this internal conflict. The actual experience far exceeded my expectations.

As a long-time NIF supporter, I already had a general awareness of the programs and organizations funded by NIF. But by visiting the programs and meeting the activists, not only did I increase my knowledge of the work, I also experienced an unexpected and most welcome emotional connection with Israel.

NIF’s work addresses the issues that are important to me. Its people ground their work in the same values that motivate me, and we share the same primary sources for guidance and inspiration. Just as I try to do my share to promote the realization of the vision of the founders of the United States, so does NIF promote the realization of an Israel as described in its Declaration of Independence:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL ….will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.

The determined women of Machsom Watch, who bear witness to the daily challenges endured by Palestinians who cross the separation barrier every day to reach their jobs in West Jerusalem; the dedicated teachers and students of Givat Haviva who insist that their Jewish and Arab students are fellow humans with equal rights; the courageous military veterans of Breaking the Silence who bear witness to the intrinsic humiliations of the endless occupation; the compassionate staff of ASSAF: Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers who protect the rights of the African refugees in Tel Aviv: these and all of NIF’s people are my people.

We are doing the same work, albeit in two different societies. For me, this trip was a revelation, and I am profoundly grateful for the experience.

photo of Bill Becker

William P. Becker

William P. Becker, a retired architect / project manager from Philadelphia, is a long-time supporter of NIF and other organizations dedicated to tikkun olam.