Monday, June 23, 2014

Having a Conversation about Israel

Midway through last week, I sat at the kitchen table with my boys.

That very day, my denomination was in the throes of some really tough decision-making about disengaging from businesses profiting from the peculiar military/correctional mess in Gaza and the West Bank.  I'd pitched in my two cents here on the blog, and I felt the need to sound my perspective off my boys.  It was just the three of us, as my wife had gone with my mother-in-law to sit shiva that evening with the family of the rabbi of our synagogue, who'd lost his father.

So that night it was Presbyterian pastor dad at table, having a dinner meal with his Jewish sons.

There are plenty of calls to have conversations to rebuild relationships between the Jewish community following the General Assembly, and I'm obviously in an unusual position to have such a conversation.  Judaism isn't just an abstract community for me, folks I know from meetings and gatherings.  It's not just that I "have Jewish friends."

It's the woman that I love.  It's the flesh and the blood of our children.

We chose, early on, not to do the half-and-half thing.  They would be raised Jewish.  Period.  And so, having made that nontrivial decision, I've had a nontrivial hand in their Jewish upbringing.  I found the mohel and made the arrangements for their brises.  I schlepped them for years to synagogue for Hebrew School, through the worst traffic in the United States.  I stood with them on the bema, and watched proudly as they were mitzvahed.

So I started in, asking them for their perspective.

Here's what we might be doing and why, I told them, laying it out as objectively as I could.  Here are the three American corporations we would no longer be investing church resources in, here are the specific products and services they are providing, and here is why we feel we can't be part of that.

What do you think?  Are we being unfair?  Is my church picking on Israel, or being anti-Semitic?

At sixteen and thirteen, neither of my sons are particularly shy about telling their father when they think he's being an idiot.  Believe me.  Not. Shy. At. All.   God help me.

My thirteen year old piped up first.  "Not even close," he said.  "Not everything that Israel does is right.  Why would you have to agree with everything they do?  Why would I?"  And then, because he is every once in a while prone to *cough* vigorously expressing his opinion, he went into a schpiel about how weird he thought it was that a Jewish state should have a large ethnic community within its borders that are unwillingly walled in.

"You know what that is," he opined after describing the West Bank and Gaza, gesticulating and raising his voice.  "You know what you call that?  You call that a ghetto.  It's a freakin' ghetto.  It's like Israel is turning into the freakin' Nazis.  If anyone should know better than that, it's we Jews.  Why is Israel acting like a bunch of freakin' Nazis?"

My older son, more inward, more measured, was a little more circumspect.  "That's not really a fair description.  What Israel is doing is not good, sure.  But it's not like the Holocaust.  They aren't being systematically slaughtered.  Israel's not like the Nazis.  It's just not the same."  He thought for a moment.

"It's more like what America did to the Native Americans.  It's like they've been kicked off their land and forced to live on reservations.  Israel isn't getting all Nazi with the Palestinians.  They're getting American on them."

There was more back and forth, with some of the heat and debate that always comes when my sons get into something, but after surprisingly little bickering, both agreed:

Israel is just being like America in one of her less proud moments, and it does not look good, and it was not anti-Israel or anti-Jewish to both point that out and to choose not to validate it.

And then they were off, disappearing into their rooms and their screens.

It was an interesting talk.