This is a guest post by Mara Baron. Mara recently returned from six months in Akko, teaching English and volunteering at nonprofit organizations focusing on social justice and human and civil rights in Israel. Her greatest interests lie in the conflicts unfolding in the Middle East, and she hopes to one day be a part of the process of finding peace.
Sunday evening during the J Street conference in Washington DC, I struggled to stay concentrated. After a previously inspiring day; exhaustion had suddenly sunk in. I was about to succumb to my daydreams when a social justice activist from Texas energetically bounced on stage to give her “Coming Out” speech. She spoke about her concerns telling her parents, friends, and community that she was in fact pro-J Street.
The passionate heartfelt confession of her fear of “coming out” as a J Street supporter mirrored my own fear, one stemming from a past career with a pro-Israel organization that strongly disagrees with J Street. One day at work last year, I mentioned that I would be attending the 2011 J Street conference. Gasps. I was asked, “how can you despise Israel so much?” and “I didn’t realize you hated being Jewish.”
Another part of my fear, formed in my subconscious, was inherited from my grandparents, both of whom were liberated at Auschwitz. They constantly tell me that I must support Israel because there are many Nazis and anti-Semites still in the world today.
Supporting Israel. Well, that’s exactly what I am doing when I come out and say that I am pro-J Street.
I want to support an Israel that abides by Jewish values, instead of an Israel succumbing to religious zealots who interpret the Torah and its laws in an acute manner. These people are forgetting the main point of the Torah, of being Jewish, and one’s Jewish values. The basis for all of these is love, like any religion, and respect toward others. As a Jew, whose people have been discriminated against throughout our history, we should be the examples of combating hate crimes and discriminatory laws – not encouraging them.
I love the J Street conferences because, when I’m there, I’m not alone. At the J Street conference, there is a room filled with people, Jews and non-Jews, who believe in a better Israel. They believe in an Israel based on Jewish values; where honoring your neighbor is a priority. Where Tikkun Olam (making the world a better place) means making the entire world, regardless of one’s religion, culture, background, race, or any other difference, a better place
I constantly read the news, mainly regarding Israel and its neighbors, and I’ve felt increasingly alone, as a Jew who supports “the other.” I bond easily with my Arab friends when we talk about the way in which the Israeli government is slowly taking democracy away from its citizens and non-citizens. The world, and all that lives in it, are part of G-d’s creation and as a Jew, I want to respect that.
Although I have been a participant of all three J Street conferences in Washington DC, none of them moved me as much as this past one. It was titled “Making History” with an emphasis on the phrase “The Future of Pro-Israel.” Throughout the weekend I participated in many sessions and discussions. I’ve always appreciated the sessions regarding the Palestinian perspective, and this year was no different.
Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-Executive Director of George Mason Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution emphasized the fact that time is running out for a two-state solution, and that we must act now. In a time where Palestinians are staging non-violent protests, where Israelis are planning on continuing their tent protests from last summer, and where Hamas leaders are speaking about a two-state solution, Abu Sarah declared that this was the time to act.
It was wonderful to hear from a Palestinian that Palestinians want a two-state solution, and he went further to emphasize that Palestinians do not want to discuss peace, or hold peace talks–they want action. From Palestinians and from Texans, the same message: The time is now to present to the world that I am pro-J Street and Pro-Two-State solution, and the time is now to do something about it.
The phrase “coming out as a J Street supporter” has stuck with me. Maybe it is because this activist from Texas put my secret thoughts into words, or maybe because the situation in Israel is not getting any better, but whatever the reason, her speech inspired me to become more active in J Street Minnesota. I am no longer afraid to tell my Jewish community that I am a J Street supporter, because I truly believe that supporting J Street will help bring peace and stability to Israel. And isn’t that what we all want in the end?
I am ready to fight for a better Israel, and that is why I am participating in J Street’s Future of Pro-Israel campaign. I am signing the Future of Pro-Israel’s Vision Statement, where a Jewish and democratic state of Israel lives next to a democratic state of Palestine, and I’m signing because it is the best option for Israel’s future.
Please join us at the Sabes JCC Monday, May 7 at 7:00pm for a community town hall kicking off J Street Minnesota’s Future of Pro-Israel campaign.