We’re Fighting for the Soul of Our Community

9 August 2011

The Washington Post published this weekend two articles related to Israel that, at first glance, may appear unrelated, but are as good as an example as I have seen of late of the disconnect between Israel and the American Jewish community.    

On Sunday, the Post ran “Israelis stage massive economic protests,” which details the strength of the public voice of debate and dissent in Israel.  Though opposition opinion has sadly been under siege of late in Israel, there nevertheless remains a culture in Israel that promotes and respects the airing of differing views.  In the picture that accompanies the story, one can see an Arabic language sign, indicating the willingness and ability of Israeli Arabs to participate in these protests.  Not only does this provide a remarkable juxtaposition with protests throughout the Arab world, but it also reminded me of an article from the previous day.

In Saturday’s “Theater J incident illustrates larger dialogue on Israel at Jewish institutions,” the Post demonstrated how the vibrant protests and debate underway in Israel are simply not possible in the American Jewish community.  Although Israelis were debating economic policy, rather than settlements, such political protests are also commonplace in Israel.  Yet in the American Jewish community, we no longer seem able to practice our Jewish religious (and artistic) heritage, which is rooted in honest debate and disagreement — indeed, the Hebrew word for “struggle” is at the core of the Hebrew word “Yisrael.”  

Theater J’s Director, Ari Roth, summed this issue up best in the Saturday article when he said, “Look at what we’re doing: We’re fighting for the soul of our community. We are enacting dramas, and the subject is the embattled soul of the Jewish people. It’s a community and a people that are split and torn, and we sit on the seams of that divide and we need to reflect that schism: that person who looks deeply at himself, and is divided.”  That is the essence of the word “struggle,” the core of what the community should be celebrating, not censoring.

Sadly, it would appear that those who have pushed to marginalize the Peace Cafe and other brave efforts byTheater J have abandoned both the teachings of their culture and the lessons being taught by Jews and Arabs in Israel: if you believe that what you stand for is just, you should not be afraid to defend it against those who disagree. Perhaps this indeed is the best evidence of all that the settlements and related policies put under the microscope by Theater J are simply indefensible.