Here's the second part of my reflection for the rabbi, this part on the Jewish holidays this spring:
I’ve been enjoying reading Arthur O. Waskow’s Seasons of Our Joy; I haven’t read through the whole thing but am rather reading about each holiday as it comes up (and I also read through the introduction that gives an overview of the Jewish year). And I loved Ira Steingroot’s Keeping Passover; he has a wonderful voice! I will confess, however, that I found the idea of fully celebrating Passover rather overwhelming, and ultimately all I really did was go to Temple X's second night Seder, which I enjoyed (although I found the omission of the Exodus story in that celebration somewhat strange). I decided not to beat myself up for this half-hearted celebrating, figuring that fully celebrating the holidays is probably the sort of thing that one grows into over the years. And of course Steingroot is very gentle, asking people to try something new for Passover observance each year; I have plenty of room for that growth in observance next year!
At our last meeting, you had urged me to do something to recognize both Yam HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). I decided that education was the way to go in both cases, so over the course of the spring Dylan and I watched the five-part BBC/PBS series The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama. (I also have started reading Schama’s accompanying book.) The last episode in the series was about the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, an episode that showed me how very little I knew about the history of Israel.
To begin remedying that ignorance, and to further mark Yom Ha’atzmaut, I then read Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, which I found mesmerizing. His argument is that Israel is existentially a land of fear – the fear that “My beloved homeland will crumble as enormous Arab masses or mighty Islamic forces overcome its defenses and eradicate its existence” (xi) – and of occupation – “As malignant as it is, occupation has become an integral part of the Jewish state’s being. … Although I oppose occupation, I am responsible for occupation. I cannot deny the fact or escape the fact that my nation has become an occupying nation” (xii). My Promised Land is an episodic history of Israel from 1897 to 2013, and much of that history was unknown to me; honestly, one of the most valuable elements of reading this history was regularly returning to and examining the map at the beginning to figure out where each new episode was taking place. I’m embarrassed at how little I knew about both the history and geography of Israel, and Shavit remedied some of that ignorance but also showed me how much more there is for me to learn.
I was quite surprised to see the book get a mixed review in Tikkun (in Spring 2014, the first issue we’ve received in our subscription); the reviewer characterizes Shavit as writing from “the perspective of the center-right in Israel, which is currently the mainstream perspective there” (73). I wouldn’t have thought to characterize him that way, since he supports a two-state solution and is a columnist for Haaretz, which he describes as “Israel’s leading liberal newspaper” (xiii). He also says that, as a columnist, he “challenge[s] both right-wing and left-wing dogmas” (xiii). But I’m also realizing that Tikkun is super-left-wing, so maybe from their perspective he is center-right. Clearly of the many things I have to learn about Israel, one thing is the political climate and the spectrum between what is considered right- and left-wing. The Tikkun review also says that Shavit “romanticizes Israeli history” – which I agree with, even from my limited knowledge, but that seemed to have more with his creative nonfiction writing style, which I found really engaging – “and presents a picture of Israel that thrills apologists by contextualizing all that is hurtful in ways that soften moral outrage” (73). And that last point I don’t think I agree with, because he himself obviously feels plenty of moral outrage about, for example, Israel’s decision to pursue nuclear weapons capability. And he enumerates the deaths on both sides of the 1936-38 Arab uprising, with sentences such as “In just one month [in fall 1937], the number of innocent Arab victims surpassed the number of innocent Jewish victims” (76). What Tikkun calls “soften[ing] moral outrage” I’d call recognizing the nuance in a complex situation.
So now I have to decide what my next educational step is in learning more about Israel. I have thought about reading Leon Uris’s Exodus, although I have much greater patience for didactic fiction of the 19th century than of the 20th century. (Give me Uncle Tom’s Cabin over The Jungle any day.) I’m interested in the edited collection Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine, which was written by a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers, but I’m not sure that I know enough to fully appreciate that work yet.
Back to the topic of holidays, I went to Shavuot services but couldn’t work myself up for the all-night study session, even though I love the idea of it! But next year, Shavuot begins on a Saturday night, and so I’ll plan on staying up late studying (although still not all night).