Op-Ed by Rachel Black
My Jewish journey first began when I was consecrated at my Reform synagogue in Central Massachusetts. I had the standard Reform Jewish education; I attended biweekly classes and services at my synagogue, I became a Bat Mitzvah, and I was later confirmed. But the purpose of this blog is not to tell you about my education on the Torah or my proficiency in Hebrew.
Growing up as a child in Massachusetts, one would imagine the significant influence of liberal values and politics and how they shaped my political identity. It was always puzzling to me that many of my non-Jewish friends, who shared similar beliefs of mine were not in support of Israel. Despite this, my ideologies remained progressive and very much left-wing, and my AP Government teacher even likened me to a “pinko commie.” I quickly realized there was one inconsistency with my left-wing views—my undoubted support for Israel.
All throughout my Hebrew School education (kindergarten through twelfth grade), I was taught a one sided, incomplete narrative that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was a protection force. I was told that the IDF was meant to defend the land we as a people had been given by God, which was later legally and politically granted to the Jewish people in the wake of the Holocaust and World War II. I was taught to believe that the IDF was justified in their acts of “protection,” without ever really being told what that “protection” looked like, and what their methods were to secure the land.
I spent a few summers at a Jewish overnight camp, and in my third summer of 2014, I was made aware of the rockets being launched. At camp, we were told that Israel was the target of these rockets, but not that Hamas was responsible for launching them, or that Israel had retaliated by increasing security (IDF soldiers) on the Gaza border. To be fair it could be argued that we were not old enough to grasp the impact of what was occurring, so perhaps there was not a need to expand on the events that had just occurred. However, I had very limited knowledge of Israel and the conflict at this time, and the launching of these rockets increased my perception of violence among the states, specifically the violence targeting Israel, perpetuating the narrative that Israel was in the right and constantly in a position that justified its defense of the region.
The hardest part about confronting and examining your own education in these Jewish spaces, is that there is an extreme sense of community and belonging. This sense of belonging stems in part from the fact that it exists through the knowledge of continued persecution our people have encountered since the beginning of time, as well as the environment in which congregates individuals of shared identity. Questioning what you had been told your entire life is not something that initially comes to mind, because these communities are your families, and you trust them, and therefore instill your utmost belief in the validity of their statements.
The first time I questioned the IDF’s motives and what I had been told about them is hard to pinpoint exactly, but I do remember thinking that if they were a defense force, what characteristics differentiate an army that is defending, from an army that is initiating the violence, where is the line drawn? What specifically constitutes protection? This was not a turning point for me, albeit a defining moment in my life. The crux of my transition in thought was actually when a friend I was close with posted information regarding the IDF’s latest interactions with Syria. This friend made accusations against Israel and their war efforts, painting them as the perpetrators of the violence. I had never seen the IDF portrayed this way, and I remember thinking how could my friend possibly attack Israel? I also remember countering back with, but both sides are responsible.
After that point, I began to question what I learned about in my Jewish spaces regarding the conflict, and Israel’s relationship with its bordering countries, asking myself, could this friend be right? My and this friend’s values and beliefs are fairly similar, and I began to question whether or not I had been incorrect in my assumptions. I began to Google news articles detailing Israel’s violence with other countries, and ultimately what life was like on the opposite end of things, and the forms of violence that Palestinian individuals were experiencing. The results I was faced with were not reassuring, but it was the closure I needed in order to begin my acceptance and education on Israel’s actions in order to embark on the next chapter of my Jewish journey.