Stumping for Israel in Seattle
Due to a technical error – this piece did not run in August. My Apologies!
At the start of my visit to Seattle I read the following poem translated from the Yiddish:
Great, O great is the land of my people.
The tiniest path is endless as God.
A sunrise is like the eternal Burning Bush.
Great, O great is the little land of my people.
A first ray is a light-giving prophet of long ago.
Every step is new, of tomorrow’s generations.
Greater than all lands is the little land of my people.
The tiniest path is endless as God.
Spending two days with the Jewish community in Seattle was a very inspiring time. I met a cross section of the Jewish community —almost 80 organizations — during the Community Festival, and the following day during a program sponsored by the Young Leadership Division of the Federation. David Broza headlined the festival, and gave an inspirational solo performance that left us dizzy. This was not Carnegie Hall, but a field in suburban Seattle. No matter. The Festival ended on the highest note thanks to his masterful and inspiring performance.
My presentation was packed. There was not a seat in the tent. Well I also turned out to be the warm-up speaker for Ambassador Dennis Ross. I was honored at this prospect and plan on using that in my resume :-). I dug into my theatrical past and decided to do some Zionist-Slam-Poetry. I recited some Zionist poetry originally written in Yiddish a century ago by Mankel. Then I read the poem by one of my former students, Yentapunker aka Rachel Schiff about the Holocaust and on-campus antisemitism. After the slam poetry I read blog pieces I had written about what was going on at UC Irvine, and communal responses. The audience were very receptive. The crowd of mostly middle aged, and older, clapped heartily after this experimental (for me) rendition. But pieces and reflections hit a chord. The place was full of passionate Jews who care about Israel and the Jewish people, and they appreciated the heartfelt words of the poetry. It was a time for all of us – including myself- to be inspired by our ancient calling to return and rebuild our destroyed homeland.
On Monday, to a full room at the Montlake Community Center, I spoke candidly about new ways of approaching Israel Activism. The event was well publicized and arranged entirely by the Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division.
For the first part of my presentation, I spoke about anti-Israel speakers and their role in the general campaign against Israel. We did case studies of a trio of well known figures, one a professor, a “rabbi”, and an imam. Secondly, we discussed what I term New Israel Activism.
The concept behind this is that we cannot hope that simply identifying Israel as a democracy in the middle east, and a great ally of the USA, will bring people to see the conflict differently. We cannot hope that by showing the “good” side of Israel (i.e. cell phone technology, medical breakthroughs), people will see the conflict differently. We cannot hope that by strumming the sad song of our terrible suffering at the hands of the Germans and Europeans who slaughtered European Jewry, people will see things differently. We have to rather change the paradigm, incorporate multiple strategies, and be creative. We must employ all of our resources in this struggle for the hearts and minds of the Jewish and non-Jewish communities to support and believe in Israel.
The evening sped along, and soon we were having discussions. While speaking passionately and trying to provide basis for my arguments, my message was reaching some, but not nearly all, of the listeners. I had failed to estimate the level of internal conflict that the young professionals in the audience had themselves about Israel. I had given them a presentation that I give to groups of solid Israel supporters who are looking for a new way, to be better.
I was also unaware that the Rachel Corrie play had been a major issue in Seattle. In fact the Corrie play had been huge. Rachel Corrie went to school at Evergreen College, Washington, and so there was a feeling that she was “one of ours” from the Washington activist community. It is my opinion that the play is propaganda, and I let that be known, to the chagrin of a portion of the audience. And while my opinion was in the minority, I did succeed and getting the discussion flowing about Israel and activism.
Even with the very strong bias against Israel that abounds in some segments of the community and the city, I am optimistic about the potential of developing a stronger pro-Israel activist base that speak the local language. StandWithUs is has also just launched a new regional office, headed by a veteran Jewish community activist. Young Jews are realizing that many of the critics of Israel, don’t see a need to the state at all, and this scares them.
I was treated to one of the best soy cappuccinos ever and was treated with amazing respect by the Federation and YLD staff. Besides opening for Dennis Ross, reciting Yiddish Zionist Poetry, and being back in the Northwest, the trip afforded me time with some very special Jews that are serious about their Jewish identity and doing creative things. Brian Judd of almostkosher introduced me to the folks behind Seattle’s Jew-Ish.com. Jew-ish is sponsored by the folks that publish the Seattle JTNews | The Voice of Jewish Washington, The Guide to Jewish Washington, Northwest Jewish Family, and The Calendar to Jewish Washington. It is a great starting point for young adults that is edgy, not preachy.
Thanks again to Brian, Michael, Rachel and the whole crew for their efforts to make my trip to Seattle so special.