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Below are Sam’s and my [Lily] thoughts/feelings about moments of crisis in both America and Israel.
When Donald Trump was elected, our whole garin was in a state of despair. We felt similar feelings of shock, disappointment, and fear, but it hit each of us differently. For some of us, it was really hard to feel so disconnected. It made people feel powerless to be so far away when they felt like it was their responsibility to join the communities they were part of in the United States in resisting.
That makes total sense, but I felt almost the opposite. For me, Trump’s election only confirmed the reasons I already felt alienated in the US and didn’t want to part of that society. America was never meant for me. Bibi Netanyahu is no better than Trump, and Israeli society’s in no better shape than America, but at least I feel like I know what I’m doing here. Israel is a society I want to take responsibility for in a way that America wasn’t. As fractured and unjust as it is and as much as it feels like my vision is nowhere close to that of most Israelis, I’d rather be here.
But that only means that I’d rather be here. It doesn’t mean I feel like I’m at the center of society, or that I’m sure I’m making a difference, or that I’m satisfied with where the movement here is at. I’m pretty deeply unsure about all of those things. I’m also hopeful about the resistance happening in America, and think if it continues at this pace it could actually be a mass movement that will be really significant in American history.
But it’s hard to know how to relate to that. How much attention is it worth paying to protests I won’t be able to join? Or to each new action taken to spread hate in a society that I intentionally chose to leave, but will always feel a connection to? My mission right now is to become part of Israeli society, to learn Hebrew, to understand how this world works. Isn’t worrying about American politics a distraction from that?
– Sam Edelman
It’s hard to know where to even begin in trying to write about the events of the past few weeks. Two weeks ago was El HaMerchav. It was intense and amazing and one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done. Last week, Trump signed his immigration order banning refugees from predominantly Muslim countries and a massive backlash in the US ensued and is still unfolding. 17 Jewish community centers were targeted in a third wave of bomb threats, part of a scary rise of anti-Semitism. The Israeli government forcibly evicted Jewish settlers from the settlement Amona, and passed a law that would retroactively legalize the seizure of private Palestinian property for 16 large settlements in the West Bank.
I’ve been feeling a lot of things in the days since the seminar ended. One of the strongest feelings I’ve been feeling is dissonance. I’m nauseous and angry and frightened about what’s happening in the US. It feels like things are beginning to spiral completely out of control, just weeks into Trump’s presidency. My life, at this moment, feels much more tied to America, to my home and my family and my friends here, than to the tenuous life I’m still in the process of building here. I feel both inspired and motivated by the seminar, and shocked and horrified about what’s happening in the world. Somehow, I can’t seem to draw the connection between the two. I can’t seem to channel the challenges and inspirations of being in the movement to help me feel grounded in my work here against oppression and injustice that seems to be mounting in the world. I feel like I’m losing myself a little in the gap.
I want to explain a bit more about the El HaMerchav seminar, and what it meant for me. I’ve been on the tzevet (staff) for the seminar, specifically working on content related to Judaism and Zionism, for several months. Everything about being on the tzevet has been insanely difficult, from attending several seminars all in Hebrew, to planning and running peulot in both Hebrew and English, to bringing my experiences as an American olah to a space dominated by tzabarim (Israelis born here). The content of the peulot was interesting and challenging, and meeting lots of new people felt amazing, but sometimes things felt too hard to continue the process. About a week before the seminar started, I was feeling incredibly stressed out about all the expectations and all the work I had to do for the seminar. I told my madrich that I didn’t want to do it anymore, but I felt like I had to. He told me something unexpected: that if I wanted, I could stop now. I could be a chanicha (participant) in the seminar instead of a madricha. I thought about that option pretty seriously for a few days, before finally deciding to continue to lead. I felt it was a challenge I wanted to tackle, and I also wanted to be there for the other olim, to help shape an experience that made them feel safe and empowered them. I think that considering the option of stepping back made my commitment to my choice even stronger in the end.
The seminar itself feels like a blur. The peulot were intense, challenging, and personal in a way I wasn’t expecting. Many people asked themselves hard questions and shared really vulnerable dilemmas from their lives. What I do know is that this seminar felt like a sea-change moment for the movement in terms of recognizing its place in the Jewish people. I think it became much clearer to a lot of people that we (the olim) had made huge decisions about our lives primarily based on our Jewish identities and our Zionism. Our participation in the seminar really challenged movement members to see their work in the movement as toward the entire Jewish people, not just Israeli society. We were able to make strong demands of each other and inspire each other to continue the work in partnership.
I came away from the seminar with many realizations about my life and the movement, some of them hard. One of the biggest realizations was that so many of us in this movement share struggles. I sometimes feel very alone, but it’s so reassuring to know that I share many of the same dilemmas with people across shichvah and tafkid. I also realized that I need to make demands of people to carve out a space for myself and my needs. I learned from experience that I can’t assume that the movement here will automatically accommodate me – it’s on me to speak up and self-advocate, and those are skills I’ve gained in this process. I also realized that my garin and my relationship with my madrichim are two of the hardest things I’m grappling with in the movement right now. Overall, I’m starting to really understand that nothing about the movement will be easy. Living a movement life will be difficult and it will continue to demand the most of me.
El HaMerchav has been my primary messimah (movement mission), and now that it’s over, it has been a jarring experience to return to my life of Ulpan (Hebrew classes) and the garin. Ulpan is especially hard, because I feel my Hebrew has improved more from two weeks of seminar than from 3 months of classes, and because it’s a praxis (way of living) that doesn’t feel connected to the movement. It’s just weird to go from talking intensely about our lives in the movement, to living a life that feels separate from the movement. The disconnect has been difficult this week, but I hope to be getting more involved in finding a movement messimah in the upcoming weeks.
Dealing with what’s been going on in both America and Israel has also been very difficult. I’ve been feeling paralyzed with shock and fear and anger. The most confusing thing is trying to understand how the movement meets what’s going on. I understand that the movement is an educational, not primarily political, and is dealing with the big picture – the long term. But it’s also hard for me to see so many huge, amazing rallies on my Facebook newsfeed, and to understand that there’s a movement of resistance rising in America that my friends and partners are helping to lead, that I’m not a part of. I truly do believe that what the movement here and in the diaspora is revolutionary. I think that we’re doing is a long term project of building – building an alternative Jewish socialist society that can hold many and be the center of Israel. And in some ways, building something alternative is harder and less satisfying than resisting oppression – while both are vital. But in this moment of chaos, it’s easy to feel like that’s too slow to address urgent dilemmas currently unfolding.
In particular, I’ve been asking hard questions of myself and of my madrichim about the occupation and how the movement addresses it. It’s frustrating to me that the movement as a whole appears to take no stance on the land-grab legalization bill, even though I think that the majority of movement members oppose it. It’s also hard to think that the settler movement has had so much more of an impact on society than it feels like we have – although maybe it’s just that the negative things are easier to see. I ask myself: are we as a movement choosing to shape history? Or are we letting history shape us?
The one thing I have realized in the midst of all this confusion and despair is that I truly do believe in what I’ve chosen to center my life around: Jewish peoplehood and liberation. And I believe that now, more than ever, is the time we as Jews in Israel, in America and around the world, need to fight for ourselves, our people and for a deeply just society. I feel myself just beginning to build up the strength and partnership necessary to do that work here in Israel.
– Lily Sieradzki