Jerusalem, if I forget you…

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If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill…

-Psalm 137:5

I had a conversation this evening with an Israeli war hero  about Israel and its importance, in contrast to the diaspora, for global Jewry. I argued that the connection Jews have to this land is real, but he minimized the difference in Jewish value & history between Israel and the Diaspora. His claim seemed to be that while Israel is beautiful and important and sacred, the history and places of Diaspora Jewish communities are equally as central to Jewish peoplehood. I disagreed, though I could see his point.

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(me on the roof of our apartment in Nahlaot)

One thought I didn’t have while we were talking, but that just now occurred to me in the shower, is that perhaps I and other Diaspora Jews still place strong significance on Israel and the holy land because we have yet to live in it. Sure, we visit, and develop stronger connections to our identity, and stronger aversion to the social and political ills of the place, but we don’t ever really get to claim it as our own. Our opinions and hopes are, at best, received as suggestions rather than normative claims. Our critiques are cast off as ignorance. Our knowledge only skims the surface of the tanakh because we, unlike Israelis, don’t get to set foot the dirt our ancestors walked on each and every day, nor can we point at a tree in our backyard and explain its significance. We don’t know how to navigate the desert, nor fly planes into Lebanon on heroic missions with a bravery that only comes from mandatory civil service and a mandate to protect your country at all costs.

We only know how to clutch on to the past, and reimagine the future, to adapt, filter, and modify the traditions of our ancestors. We rarely touch anything directly. We empathize with Palestinians but support Israelis out of loyalty, and never really feel the conflict in a way that impacts our immediate safety or well-being. We try nobly to keep the Shabbat, but our country does not provide us with the moral support, that deliciously quiet hour where the siren rings and everyone slips out into the silent streets to walk to shul, or sing, and feel the peace of the Sabbath. Maybe we need our chance to make the desert bloom, and give our Sabra friends a break from carrying the weight of Israel on their shoulders. Country swap, anyone?

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