From the Editor | The Place Where We Are Right

By | Nov 10, 2021
Nadine Epstein: From the Editor

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.
—Yehuda Amichai 

I have been editing Moment for so long now that I can close my eyes before a story is published and see the letters to the editor and comments that we are going to receive. Come to think of it, as a lifelong member of the tribe and the daughter of a (female) JCC executive director (a job not for the fainthearted), there has never been a time when I have not been able to hear the arguments gushing from all directions and feel them running through me. By now, the diverse opinions and beliefs of the American Jewish community are rivers etched into my soul.

So please bear with me as I prophesy about some of the comments that we are going to get in response to this issue (some, I’m sure, from people I admire and love). Our “Big Question” for this issue, “What should the role of American Jews be with respect to Israel today?” promises to be a lightning rod. Even the wording of the question will be parsed and criticized; indeed, that wording was subject to much internal debate among our staff.

This new iteration of a longtime question was inspired by my conversations with young American Jews during last May’s outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas, yet another eruption in a long chain of unsettling moments between Israelis and Palestinians. Some of the people I spoke with viewed the conflict in terms of social justice for the Palestinians, while others were more focused on the existential threats they saw facing Israel and were upset that the Jewish state bore the brunt of the blame. All of them longed for answers and solutions even though there are no easy ones to be found. Most wanted to take action: to help in some way, and to figure out what their role should be, if any, in shaping Israel’s direction and future. Of course, young people are not the only ones grappling with these questions. American Jews of all ages and inclinations are, even if they are less vocal about it.

So, inspired by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s 1965 poem, “The Place Where We Are Right,” we have plowed the ground. Some of the voices we have brought to light are young, some are old, some are established, some less so. Some of them might be disturbing to you and evoke outraged comments such as:

How dare you include opinions from Jews who fight on behalf of BDS?

How dare you include opinions from Jews who don’t believe Israel should be a Jewish state?

How dare you include opinions from Jews who believe that Israel has a historical right to the West Bank and Jerusalem’s Temple Mount?

How dare you include opinions from Jews who think we should disentangle ourselves from Israel’s future?

Yes, these are among the views you will encounter, and it behooves you to give them a hearing. Why? It is extreme views that often end up leading the conversation and twisting the arc of history.

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Recognizing them helps clarify where the center is. This is important because most of us are born with “center-of-the-universe syndrome”—we think that wherever we stand is the center.

Broadening the conversation makes it possible for us to recognize where we fit on the spectrum and, hopefully, to question what we think and why. We need to ask ourselves: Where does common sense end and zealotry begin?

The “Big Question” on Israel is not the only provocative piece in this issue. In “The Ghosts of the Khan of Ajjur,” Arieh O’Sullivan introduces us to some of the specters of Israel’s past—in particular, to the ghosts of an Elah Valley Ottoman-era castle where he once lived. An Israeli TV broadcaster, tour guide and adventurer with an irreverent sense of humor, O’Sullivan explores the meaning of Zionism and the complexities—and impermanence—of land ownership in Israel.

Robert Siegel’s book review of A Conspiratorial Life: Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism gives astounding insight into the complexities of conservatism in this country. To me, it’s a reminder of how the battle over FDR’s New Deal remains central to politics in America. Sarah Posner’s column picks up the story with the worrying reemergence of one form of seemingly vanished right-wing extremism, “replacement theory.” In his column, Shmuel Rosner traces how the iron grip of Israel’s rabbinate may finally be weakening.

“Ask the Rabbis” explores how Jewish communities should deal with unvaccinated members, while “Moment Debate” shines light on the pros and cons of the filibuster. There are tensions in the tunnels beneath Jerusalem and a Muslim diplomat leading the charge against antisemitism at the UN. We include lighter fare as well: new fiction, the groundbreaking art of Judy Chicago, the meaning of the word “Talmudic,” recommendations for your holiday book-giving, the cartoon contest, Spice Box and a delightful paean to brisket, just in time for Hanukkah. I don’t eat meat anymore, but I got a kick out of reading about the history of brisket and learning the difference between the Ashkenazi Jewish “Grandma” version and Texas Barbecue. I am so much wiser now!

Enjoy—and a happy and safe Hanukkah to all!

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One thought on “From the Editor | The Place Where We Are Right

  1. Lawrence Jurrist says:

    Susie Linfield was by far my favorite contributor to the article on the role of American Jews with respect to Israel. She had really original and important observations to make. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Alina Jacobs, who had much more concern with Palestinians than with Jews, American or Israeli. And then there was Peter Beinart. How did such an intelligent man, a man whose writing I used to hunger to read, become so, well, silly? His yearning for justice is understandable, but might we have some practical suggestions on how two peoples who’ve been at war for 150 years will suddenly morph into Belgium?

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