If you believe that things can get worse, why not believe they can get better

Categories: Letters From Leadership

I was asked earlier this week what I thought of Jay Michaelson’s article in a recent edition of the Forward entitled, “How I’m losing my Love for Israel.”  Having read and mulled it over several times, the only words I could think of in response were “disheartening.”

It has never been a lonelier time to support Israel as a peace-builder, in words alone, let alone though actions.  Those of us devoted to bridging the ever growing gap between a Zionist identity and builders of a just world for all inhabitants often seem like the shrinking minority.  Michaelson speaks frankly about the polarization effect this middle space has left him.  All his reasons for despair are justifiable.  His loss of love for Israel stings precisely because of this familiar identification with that experience of being yanked apart by opposing forces: in this case the “Israel bashers” versus the “Israel no-question askers.”   For one to honestly care about the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians takes courage and an unusual amount of risk.   And the pressure to choose sides or to disengage completely is mounting.

These choices offered by Michaelson are disheartening, yet it is obvious that he is too tortured to make the final decision.  Thank G-d for that.   I am not ready to make that decision either.  In lieu of this state of indecision, allow me to take the liberty of asking the next logical set of question:  For those of us who refuse to be seduced by “reality” and choose a less polarized understanding of the conflict, how can we trudge onward with this gigantic burden of the middle ground?   How many more times can we sing Od Yavoh Shalom and believe it?   These questions require more than just cognitive faculties.  It makes a spiritual demand to believe in what we do not see.  We must ask ourselves if we have the inner capacity to hold our beliefs intact. How many more storms of massive polarization can we weather?   Choose your metaphor here.  How many more years can our clichéd mantras like “my destiny is inextricable from your destiny” keep us together?   In real terms, how much are we willing to put on the line?

I do not believe all these questions need to be answered at once.   But the first step in fortifying our souls to avoid polarization is to reexamine our attitudes.  I do not fault anyone who despairs from a seemingly hopeless situation.   But your soul should be strong enough to say to your breaking heart at some point, “Is that the best you got?”

I find my latest inspiration to come from a Rebbe Nachman quote that I rediscovered on Yom Kippur.   Loosely translated, “If you believe that things can get worse, why not believe they can get better.”   Why not believe that?  Why not?  I have to believe it because embracing the alternative would be asking me to throw away my entire world view that I’ve spent my life cultivating.   And I’m not ready to do that.  No matter how seemingly impossible it may appear from our limited vantage point, something as immovable and intractable as the middle east conflict, with enough work, love and G-d’s help, can get better.   I plan on contributing my part.   What are you waiting for?

About Ezra Weinberg

Ezra Weinberg was a member of Workshop 43 and was Rosh Galil in 1999 and 2000 and was the first Director of the Habonim Dror Foundation. He was a member of Kvutsat Yovel and continues to live in Israel. Ezra is currently finishing his second year of Rabbinical School at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Ezra holds a Masters in conflict Transformation from the School of International Training
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