My New Ground experience has helped me to grow in my conscientiousness regarding the conflicts in the Middle East and in my recent choice to pursue a career in the rabbinate. Id like to share one of my Rabbinical School application essays with you as it explores many of the tensions that came to light in my New Ground experience. While this essay is not an account of any explicit New Ground experience, my essay strongly reflects the understanding that New Ground fosters. I have also added translations to some terms that may be unknown:
Over the centuries, the Jewish destiny has been defined by the integration of religious faith and national identity. What role does choseness, peoplehood, and community play in your personal quest for spiritual meaning and how is Israel a part of your journey?
Perhaps the most difficult command of God in Torah is the divine instruction to occupy the land of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel,) then inhabited by Canaanites, Hittites, Emorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites. A pshat (simple or plain) reading of the Ki Tissa text (Exodus 34:11-14) indicates a command for the chosen people to commit genocide, aided by our Jealous God against these peoples and to tear down their religious sites and structures. Textual apologists interpret away this claim, suggesting that these nations practiced depraved rituals and deserved to suffer or suggesting that the command was merely to convert or displace these clans such that the Israelite nation could thrive in the Promised Land. None of these explanations, however, address the apparent contradiction between the One God being the primary moral force in the universe and Gods most unjust instruction.
The reality of the modern state of Israel is far from just. We (the Jewish people) now fulfill Gods instruction to occupy and thrive in the Land, but do so at the cost of exiling and subjugating many Palestinian people, who too were created betzelem elokim, in the image of God.
In my search for ultimate reality and spiritual understanding, choseness, peoplehood and community manifest:
Choseness - Choseness is Jewish burden. From among the nations, God chose the Israelite people to become enslaved in Mitzrayim (Egypt), to receive the yoke of Torah (Gods commandments), and to occupy the Land. Being an adherent of process theology, I do not believe that God chose the Jewish people to suffer the destructions of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Pogroms, and the Holocaust. However, God chose the Jewish people to choose God, and in light of the great despair and suffering witnessed by the Jewish people, too often I confess that it has been difficult for Jews to choose God.
Peoplehood - Peoplehood is Jewish love. I love all Jews, those that I know and those that I do not know. I care for them without bound or reason, pray for their success, long for their teshuva (repentance), hope for their relief, sympathize with their circumstance, and disagree with them, as only one who loves them can.
Community Community is Jewish observance. We require a minyan, a community of ten Jews to engage fully in prayer. We feast in community, rest in community, and mourn in community. The cycles of Jewish life, Jewish holiday, and Jewish week retain meaning precisely because they are infused with community. Even for those rituals practiced in solitude, the knowledge of others performing the same ritual upon the same circumstance creates the recognition of community in observance.
In light of choseness, I recognize the burdens of the state and people of Israel: the burdens of terrorism, marginalization of non-Orthodox religious voices, water, hunger, poverty, and occupation. In light of peoplehood, I love with all its weaknesses, the modern democratic Jewish state: the cradle of innovation responsible for my cell phone and instant messaging, the Holy Land of the sites holiest to my religion and to many others, and the home of a military inclusive of women and open homosexuals. In light of community, I observe with the State of Israel from the Diaspora: reflection and gratitude on Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), shofar blasts and joyous celebration on Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), and further praise on Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Reunification Day).
Ive traveled to the Land of Israel three times. On USY Israel Pilgrimage, I spent six weeks exploring holy sites, tourist traps, and teenage melodrama. Then, on Hillels Pluralism Leadership Mission, I enjoyed ten days of interdenominational discussion, community service, and collegiate melodrama. At Ohr Someyach, I experienced kiruv (Orthodox Jewish outreach work designed to encourage less observant Jews to take on greater degrees of observance), Orthodox anti-Zionism, and Arab taxi drivers. Upon my return from each trip, I recognized that this Israel is far from our messianic vision and that I vastly prefer Diaspora Judaism to the religious extremes of Israels Jews. For this reason I recite the word Shetehei (It should be) before Reishit Tzmichat Geulateinu (The flowering of the dawn of our Redemption) when referring to the State of Israel, as Im far from convinced. Lshana habaa byerushalayim, habenuya. (Next year in Jerusalem, Mended/Rebuilt)