Where else can I be six thousand miles from my house and yet be home? Stepping out of Ben Gurion Airport in Israel feels like coming home. The feeling lasts through the tedious arrival process and traffic to Jerusalem. Here I’m both happy and guilt-ridden . . . just like home.
Traveling with eight rabbis, we came to learn about the refugees coming to Israel. We will also explore the internal conflicts between Israelis, Arab and Jewish. This is a tall order for just three- and one-half days.
We began with dinner at our hotel and a discussion of Israeli political theory. Both were amazing. Our guest speaker described different currents of thought, from early Zionist proto-nationalism to multi-culturalism to individual rights advocacy. This presentation was a doorway to the Israeli house in which I feel so comfortable. The mezuzah on this doorway is my affinity to all children of Israel. Yet, I am a progressive, Ashkenazi Jew differing in dress and customs from many other Jewish groups. And I am also deeply concerned for all people who are also created by God. I am here to learn how to align myself within an ethnic sub-grouping, to advance rights and opportunities for all people. That’s a tall order.
Why does this matter? It matters if you prioritize one group over another, let’s say admitting Ukrainian Jewish refugees to Israel over Ukranian not Jewish refugees. Or if you prioritize Ukrainian refugees over Ethiopian refugees. You make choices based upon your approach to your Jewish identity as a political construct.
And why was I feeling guilt? Because I was enjoying the most delicious dinner in a beautiful courtyard at a wonderful hotel in Jerusalem. I tell myself it’s a Jewish thing. We celebrate a wedding and we break a glass. I gobble down salatim (salads), scarf down a delicious sea bream, and then eagerly await the meat course. While listening to the speaker, I have to figure out how to get a scoop of the mushroom casserole from across the table. In the next moment, I’m pondering how my Jewish political identity impacts the plight of refugees desperate for safety and freedom. Sometimes it is difficult to live in my brain but I tell myself that many of you are just as complicated as I am. And I never got to taste the mushroom dish.
But please, tell me more about the Israeli political scene and pass the chicken. It feels like home.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame
(And thank you to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington for making this trip possible).