Bonfires, Forest Fires, and the People We Dislike

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, December 23, 2022 / 28 Kislev 5783


Summary: Today’s Oasis focuses on lessons about community that we can extrapolate from the newly-announced ruling coalition in Israel.

Reading Time: Four minutes

Two days ago, Bibi Netanyahu managed to form a new right-wing governing coalition for Israel. Within this coalition are individuals such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, both of whom hold racist ideologies and whose policies, if implemented, risk alienating Israelis, Palestinians, and important ally nations. While parliamentary systems have many checks and balances against extreme actions, and while the bark of Israeli political rhetoric is often worse than its policy bite, I find myself quite worried about what this ruling coalition could mean for Israel, for non-Orthodox Jews, and for a future viable Palestinian state. My concerns are not specifically or only about a difference in worldview or the set of policies that such values give rise to; I grow wary at any group, social, or political philosophy that seeks to exclude and harm those who don’t look, believe, or think as they do. Some of Israel’s far-right parties seem to be heading down that path. For lovers of Israel, it will be important that we follow the news closely and reach out to our region’s Council General to share our concerns.

I want to reframe this moment in Israeli politics in a manner that can remind us of where we are, both in America and globally, by focusing on one aspect of what community is.

Community is the thing we build with people who are different from us, maybe even with people we don’t automatically like or get along with. That is one of the fundamental differences between a friendship circle and a community. What is true for communities is even more true for countries; it is why our age of polarization is so unsettling, for we have lost a certain faith and trust that we can live peaceably with those who think differently than we do. This in turn reduces our willingness to compromise. Nothing new here.

That said, every meaningful community and country has borders; some of those are physical or geographical, while others are the limits of competing values. As the global population has increased, so too has the ability to customize the experiences we have and the items we buy. With enough market share, it seems that we can tailor our lives into a bespoke group of people, ideas, and experiences, precisely because there are enough people with similar interests. When we talk about “finding our people,” we often mean something along these lines—finding individuals who are sufficiently like us that we don’t need to exert much energy to get along with those who are different from us. It is likely that we all need both sorts of experiences—those in which we can gather with our landsmen, our tribe—and those in which we engage to build a shared present and future with those who are dissimilar.

One of the most challenging and fundamental questions for us all is determining when we need to fight, and when we need to build bridges. Stated theoretically, there have to be instances in which the stakes are so high that we must resist a given policy or candidate with all of our power. If that is the case, there must also, of logical necessity, be moments when building bridges and seeking common ground is more important.

It seems that we have lost the capacity to tell the difference between a conflagration, like our massive Western forest fires, and a trash-can fire. For a certain type of person, every battle and issue feels so urgent that it is natural to seek a scorched earth policy of resistance. I blame part of this on the capitalistic model of customization I alluded to above. We have become so accustomed to the idea that we can get exactly what we want, that we seem, as a species, less capable than ever of accommodating differences. This creates a vicious downward spiral.

There are no easy or direct answers here. As American Jews, we have only very indirect ways to nudge Israel in the ways we want, yet we ought to take hold of them when they present themselves. Our Israel360 Committee, for example, is selling private-label Neveh Shalom extra-virgin olive oil from a collective of Israeli farmers. All the olive orchards are west of the Green Line, in undisputed territories. It is our small way of supporting a geographical vision of Israel that preserves land options for Palestinians. Will buying this oil on its own achieve that? Probably not, but the oil is delicious, fragrant, and was harvested and pressed a handful of weeks ago. It is not easy to procure fresher olive oil. Additionally, a small sum from the purchase price of each 750 ml tin supports our Israel360 programming, which is informed by our vision of a larger community, one in which multiple perspectives are presented.

Here is the link for the olive oil:

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk will resume in the new secular year. Happy Hanukkah and a healthy 2023.

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