No One Owns the Absolute Truth

By Rabbi Stanley M. Davids
and Rabbi Lawrence Englander

HaRav Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, is said to have taught that the Land of Israel does not belong to the Jewish people, but rather it is an organic part of who we are.

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As editors of the newly published “The Fragile Dialogue, New Voices of Liberal Zionism” (CCAR Press), this we hold to be true: Israel in its 71st year needs the liberal, pluralistic insights, the commitment to democracy and to a robust Jewish identity which can only be achieved through an active and balanced partnership with world Jewry, and most especially with expressions of North American Liberal Judaism. And we in North America need a vibrant, pluralistic, robustly democratic and Jewish State of Israel if we are to ensure our own meaningful survival.

There is a diversity of thought within the world Jewish community regarding Israel that emerges out of the engagement of liberal Judaism with the Jewish State. That engagement is marked by passion and an unbreakable connection, by a feeling of unrequited love, by a lack of clarity as to the nature of contemporary Israeli culture, by a sense of being disenfranchised from that decision-making by Israel’s political leadership regarding matters that directly impact us and by confusion as to the extent to which the terms peoplehood, ethnicity and community actually describe our core identity.

There is also a diversity of thought within Israel regarding the degree to which an interactive, trusting partnership with world Jewry is essential to the security of the Jewish State, as well as to the shaping of its national soul. This is especially true regarding the manner in which liberal Jews globally are viewed as having (or not having) a place of honor and of respect around the Israeli decision-making table.

This also we hold to be true: We are in crisis. A crisis of understanding. A crisis of communications. A crisis of civility and of mutual respect. That crisis has been well documented and needs no repeating here. The impact of that crisis has similarly been well documented in all of its deeply disturbing aspects.

What then can describe the current nature of a liberal religious Zionism? That is what we set out to discover.

Is there such a thing as a liberal, far-left religious Zionist who embraces the possibilities of BDS? Is there such a thing as a far-right religious Zionist who views the One State Solution as the only reasonable goal to pursue? Is environmentalism a core liberal Zionism concern? Is the campus the bloody battlefield of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic challenges as some of our major Jewish organizations assert, or is reality far more nuanced? Can we phrase our liberal religious Zionism in contemporary theological terms as well as in better-known geopolitical concerns? Can we educate our senior leadership as well as our Millennials in the art of being open to opinions that they find outrageous, troubling or just simply wrong? Can we educate our children for a nuanced approach to Zionism?

Our work in assembling a truly diverse gathering of deeply caring Zionist voices was challenging. We expected no less. Our hope now is that the Jewish world is ready to consider what we have learned.

*No one owns the final truth. Therefore, the creation of meaningful and substantive dialogue at all levels regarding Liberal Zionism requires a commitment to humility and a willingness to thoughtfully amend, tweak and refocus our own passionately held narratives. There can be no dialogue if all participants are not willing to be open to the possibility of personal change.

*Israeli Jews at all levels of society are painfully and seemingly willfully ignorant of the richness of Jewish life in the Diaspora. North American Jews at all levels of society are painfully and seemingly willfully ignorant of the breathtaking richness of Israeli religious and secular culture. Ignorance makes dialogue impossible. Self-education is critically important.

*We must bring an end to the shutting down of the voices of those with whom we disagree. Boycotting organizations or individuals is a public statement that meaningful dialogue is not valued. We drew a red line: All dialogue partners must be committed to the secure existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State.

*The cascading lack of civility in Zionist discourse parallels such a lack in much of the Western world, most especially right now in the United States. To stem the tide of Jewish disaffection with the Zionist enterprise, we must be willing to embrace a counter-culturalism that pulls us out of the crippling maelstrom of fake facts and debates among the deaf.

The Fragile Dialogue is a concrete effort to strengthen and to redefine liberal Zionism in our own day.

Rabbi Stanley Davids is a past National Chair of ARZA and founded the Reform Zionist Think Tank. He served for 12 years as a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency and as a member of the Executive of the World Zionist Organization.

Lawrence A. Englander is Rabbi Emeritus of Solel Congregation of Mississauga, Ontario and also Adjunct Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Toronto. He is former Editor of the CCAR Journal and is immediate past Chair of ARZENU, the global Reform Zionist organization.