Moving from a blind love to a more valid love

31 Aug


Rishon beach Rachel Bonder

Rishon LeZion beach. (Photo credit: Rachel Bonder)


A summer Israel program participant reflects on her experiences, her connection to Israel and Zionism, and Israel education

by Rachel Bonder

Along with my growing appreciation for my Judaism, I have found a new appreciation for Israel that I did not know was possible to have. For my entire life Israel has been a dream destination to me. My mother is a proud Zionist and a proud Israel advocate. She has always updated my family on Israeli current events. The first time I went to Israel the feelings I experienced were indescribable. The sound of the Hebrew around me and the kosher food on every corner, I felt like I was truly home. After that trip I had been to Israel another two times. The first trip I would describe as a tourist trip, touring around the most popular sites of the country. The second trip was a mission trip, visiting different projects my community has started and supported. The third trip was another tourist trip with my school. And this was my fourth time in Israel. I knew it would differ from all of my other experiences, but I did not quite know how. The narrative of our trip was “The Many Faces of Israel.” We visited a Catholic Church, a mosque, a Druze village, a Circassian village, and African asylum-seekers in south Tel Aviv, and we had a panel with both Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel. All of these experiences were extremely eye-opening. They reminded us that although we were in a place where we finally were not the minority, Israel was still home to many. Over this trip I had become aware of the flaws of Israel. Israel is not a perfect country by any means, but my love for Israel has not wavered. If anything, my love for Israel has grown stronger. I have realized that my love for Israel before this trip was almost a blind love. I was made aware of the positive aspects of Israel on my previous trips, but rarely the negatives. Now that I am more aware of Israel’s flaws and mistakes and my love for the country is still strong, it feels as though my love now is more of a valid love. This trip has truly allowed me to strengthen and develop valid opinions on a country that I like to call my home and I will never forget it. 

Rachel Bonder is a student from the Greater MetroWest NJ Jewish community.


Thoughts on the matzav

15 Oct

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As the wave of terror continues to engulf the streets of Jerusalem and other cities and communities across the country, our minds are filled with thoughts, and prayers for a more peaceful time. Images which we saw through social media shocked us to the core and some footage was eerily reminiscent of our memories from the Second Intifada, which we would prefer to forget.

As ירושלמים (Jerusalemites), we are thankful for the deployment of Border Police and police on the streets of our city but also saddened that we have returned to such darkness – ironically, the armed forces are a potent symbol of our weakness. A decade after the last intifada ended we again remain in a city starved for a solution. Twenty years after Oslo II was signed, there is nothing more final than an interim agreement, which has not brought, and cannot, bring peace.

Our armed forces on the eastern side of the city, in Palestinian neighborhoods and villages which came under Israeli control in the Six Day War, represent something else. These police and combat soldiers staffing checkpoints at the entrances to particular parts of the “undivided” capital are potent symbols of the challenge of Zionism.

From the end of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the Jewish people was able to occupy the moral high ground because we were a people with no power. The challenge of Zionism is how to wield power once again – in this case, power backed by a mighty army and, according to foreign forces, 200 nuclear warheads – in a Jewish way.

How can we, as a Jewish state, impose restrictions on freedom of movement on 37% of the united capital, based on their ethnic identity? How can this possibly accord with our understanding of תיקון עולם (social justice)? On the other hand, Israeli security cabinet decisions cannot be considered in a similar vein to resolutions of a synagogue or youth group board, as they may well result in saving lives or – חס וחלילה (Heaven forfend!) – the spilling of even more blood. There is no imperative to commit collective suicide in order to retain ethical purity. We simply don’t enjoy that luxury.

Did Zionism seek to normalize us a nation or make us an אור לגוים (light unto the nations)? Are we meant to be an exceptional country (in something more important than nanotechnology) or just a state just like any other? How do we balance the need for security with the human rights implications of security policy? There are certainly those who would draw the line differently (whether to the right or the left) of where it has been drawn this week, but, wherever we stand on this issue, we should stand deeply engaged with Israel.

We hope for a day of a perfect Messianic peace – an age of the dove and of the olive branch. In the meantime, we utter a prayer for security and embrace a simple and most basic idea of civic discourse. A new campaign launched by 20-year-old Ofer Gelfand asks people to support the concept of שנאה היא לא ערך, גזענות היא לא הדרך (hatred is not a value, racism is not the way), either by liking his Facebook post or writing the statement on the palm of their hand, photographing it as a “selfie,” and posting it to their own Facebook pages. Wherever we draw the line in regard to the security/human rights dilemma, we should be proud to draw it against racism and hatred. This is just one way that ordinary Israelis have been trying to retain a semblance of sanity during this most difficult week.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide and Director of Teaching Israel.

On sinat chinam (baseless hatred)

12 Oct

by Anonymous

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

On Shabbat I was walking home from shule and I met a long-haired secular hippie scrubbing the pavement of Park Hamesila. I asked him what was written that he was so desperately trying to erase and he showed me: מוות לערבים, בני זונות (Death to Arabs, SOBs). He expressed his frustration that his cleaning endeavors were quite unsuccessful because he was using home-made ecologically friendly cleaning fluid. He shared that he didn’t want to use bleach because it might damage the plants along the old train track. I suggested that he might be interested in attending a Meretz rally after Shabbat came out. He said he was more interested in attending a later rally, which was non-partisan. I averred that everything is political, and that maybe this is davka the time to shout out that we warned that a wave of terror-cum-intifada would be the inevitable result of no diplomatic horizon and that we needed to stand up strongly against the evils of racism without compromise, without talk of Jewish unity, and without displaying any understanding for evil, even when it comes from apparently alienated, misunderstood and disaffected Jewish youth. In response he shared that he had once been dati leumi (national religious), raised on a diet of supremacy masked as chosenness, of the Land in its entirety belongs to us, of Arabs can go to hell. He continued and said that once, while he was participating in tiyul shnati (annual class field trip) in the Old City of Jerusalem, he had kicked an Arab child riding on a toy truck. Why? Not because he was evil but because he had grown up in a particular context and acted without thinking according to the norms and mores of that context. It was the first time he had shared his story with anybody. He was an optimist that people could change and considered himself living proof of his this possibility.

Later that night I went to the Meretz rally, wearing a Meretz t-shirt, along with my kippah. Somebody approached me and demanded that I remove my kippah. I thought that maybe this was a foolish kid who had confused supporting freedom of and from religion with being anti-religious, or perhaps he was a practical jokester. He then added that one can’t be left-wing and religious, and that I should therefore take off my kippah. I refused, explaining that I was proud to be both religious and left-wing. He then replied that he hoped that when the day comes on which the Arabs are slaughtered, his wish is that I should be slaughtered first, because I am even worse than an Arab – I am an enabler. The kid will be drafted into the IDF later this year. God help us all.

On my return to the car, I walked past a girl sitting on a fence, talking on her cell phone. Still wearing my Meretz top as I passed her, she told her telephone partner that a traitor was next to her, a disgusting traitor from Meretz. I asked her what I had done to her that would make her speak that way about a fellow person, a Jew, an Israeli. She told me that I supported the murder of innocent Jews, and that I should be locked up together with ISIS. When I continued to protest (in my thick Anglo accent) she said that I should go back to America. I said that this country was built by olim (immigrants) and that perhaps her grandparents should go back to where they came from, to which she responded that she was a hundredth generation Israeli. God help us all.

So, I not only have to worry about falling victim to Palestinian terror, but also have to worry about falling victim to rightist terror. And the incitement is only one way. Leftists do not call for the murder of rightists. Even when a right-wing counter-protester stood amongst the crowd shouting that we are all collaborators (and we know what should happen to collaborators), organizers simply said that there are some ideological opponents present who should be ignored. What has happened to our society that teenagers think that it is appropriate to speak this way to total strangers? What has happened to our society that people call for my murder without thinking twice? We have learned nothing from either the assassination of Rabin twenty years ago or from the murder of Emil Grunzweig thirty-two years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next political murder is just around the corner. God help us all.

Anonymous is a Meretz activist, who is an oleh from the US, and who is just a little bit scared for his life.

Enough of a Syrian what if…

19 Sep

by Ilan Bloch


Image courtesy of Wikipedia

One of the most inane comments I have heard made in relation to the Syrian conflict goes somewhat along the lines of: thank God we didn’t trade the Golan Heights for peace with Syria because then we would now have ISIS or al-Qaida on the banks of the Kinneret. Even seasoned commentators like Ari Shavit and Shmuel Rosner have made such claims.

But history obviously doesn’t work like that. Yes, if we had traded the Golan Heights for peace with Syria, under Rabin, Netanyahu, Barak or Sharon, and every single thing which has actually happened since 1992-5, 1996-1999, 1999-2001, or 2001-2006, would have still actually taken place, then yes, ISIS or al-Qaida would be on the banks of the Kinneret. But to suggest that a comprehensive peace deal with Syria would have triggered the exact same set of events which no comprehensive peace deal with Syria triggered is folly. Who knows what might have happened if we had agreed to a full withdrawal from the Heights?

This post is not written to suggest that Israel should have agreed to such a peace deal but simply to stress that to disparage those who supported, or were even willing to entertain, such an idea as naïve based on what has happened since not agreeing to such a deal is illogical.

Of course, nobody today proposes that Israel should trade the Golan Heights for peace with ISIS, Jabat al-Nusra or Assad. But, students/tourists should certainly be made aware of the fact that Israel’s unilateral application of Israeli law to the area in 1981 was a move still not recognized by the international community. Moreover, they should understand that if and when Syria stabilizes in the future, the issue may well once again become relevant.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide and the director of Teaching Israel.

Guiding and politics

12 Sep

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Education Minister Naftali Bennett            Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Over Shabbat meals with other educators this weekend, discussion naturally focused on the new school year – and politics (it was Shabbat and we are in Israel, after all!). We discussed Herzl Schubert, a teacher, who was “caught” on camera at a recent Nabi Saleh protest against the encroachment of residents/settlers of Halamish on privately owned village lands, including the al-Qus spring. Yisrael Zinger, the mayor of Ramat Gan, where Schubert is employed, Deputy Mayor Aviyahu Ben Moshe, and many parents, called for his dismissal. The issue hit national headlines with Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich chiming in and supporting firing Schubert. Discussion also covered Avital Benshalom, the newly appointed principal of an Ashkelon school, who had to justify her 2002 signing of a petition supporting the right of soldiers to refuse to serve in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank in order to keep her job, against the objection of parents and Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni.

Interestingly, one of the tour guides at the meal – an olah from the West Coast of the US – said that she wasn’t surprised at all, and that she herself has personally encountered such attacks in her own professional life as a result of her apparent “extreme leftist activism.” Perhaps her activism might be more rightly considered to be “slacktivism,” as my friend has been to maybe two handfuls of rallies and protests during her time in Israel – perhaps one or two a year on average. Taken aback, I asked what had happened to her. She said she was interrogated in a job interview about her political views, even when she continued to answer questions by explaining that she would teach about all political viewpoints and allow students/tourists to come to their own informed conclusions – whether they be right, center or left.

What is so strange is that my friend is on the public record – in writing and at public appearances – as stating that the aim of her Israel education is to help students/tourists develop independent, critical and analytical thinking skills which will allow them to reach their own educated viewpoints – whatever they might be.

I paused and then asked my friend whether she should have asked her potential employer the following question:

“I understand that you don’t want to employ a leftist as an educator because you view her as too political (even though it is clear that her politics do not enter her classroom; indeed her students/tourists move from their previously held views toward greater complexity and nuance, which often includes moving away from the left).

“Do you also have a problem in employing tour guides who say “I’m not a political person; I just want my students/tourists to love Israel, support the government and do Israel advocacy on campus” (perhaps the most politically loaded sentence one could imagine)?

“What about avowedly right-wing guides who explicitly aim to instill right-wing views in their students/tourists?”

No, I didn’t think so.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide and the Director of Teaching Israel.

On dual narratives

25 Aug

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

I have been involved in Israel programs for more than a decade here, and also for many years in Australia, where I was raised. I see this as such an important enterprise because it offers participants the opportunity to undergo a transformative experience, whether in the realm of spiritual-, national- or self-identity development. Spending time in Israel is truly life-changing. Facilitating such an experience can also change the tour guide himself. I certainly feel tremendously affected by my experiences dual-narrative guiding — both from my interactions with Palestinian tour guide colleagues, as well as with Palestinian guest speakers.

I am against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, especially as a precondition for negotiations. This is because I cannot fathom a world where PA rais Mahmoud Abbas will give Israel a kosher certificate for policies which privilege Jewish Israeli citizens over Palestinian Israeli citizens. Moreover, Israel does not need Palestinian approval to define itself one way or another. To suggest as much represents galuti (Exilic) Jewish servility – something which Zionism and the establishment of the State were, amongst other things, meant to redress. And, of course, to make such a demand a precondition for the resumption of negotiations appeared to be a delaying tactic.

But, after recent experiences dual-narrative guiding, together with Palestinian tour guide colleagues, I have changed. I have seen significant disagreements develop between myself, a moderate Israeli Jew, and moderate Palestinian tour guides, as well as Palestinian guest speakers. I see that some Israeli Jews can and do accept Palestinian narratives as legitimate and valid (whether we agree with them or not) but that many Palestinians refuse to accept the fundamental basis of the Israeli narrative as legitimate and valid. They seem to only truly accept Israelis who disavow Zionism. I refuse to disavow Zionism just as I would never demand that Palestinians disavow their most basic truths.

I do not need Palestinians to become Zionists, nor even to accept that the State of Israel should have been established. However, I do need them to appreciate the religious and national ongoing connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. My existence here in Jerusalem is qualitatively different to the existence of the French in Algeria. My roots here are deep and historic. This land is the cradle of Jewish civilization. I do not need Palestinians to agree with my claims (just as I do not believe that the Palestinians are descendants of the Jebusites – a major claim about Palestinian pedigree which I have heard uttered again and again as a basic truth) but I need them to understand that in the Jewish national consciousness I am not a European colonialist usurper who is a stranger to this land. Without this understanding, peace will not arrive.

We do not need to accept the other’s narrative as true but we need to understand it and accept that the other certainly believes it to be true. From there, with competing and clashing narratives, understood and accepted by both sides, we can have the strength to move forward to a better future, in which both peoples can enjoy peace, security and human rights.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide and the Director of Teaching Israel.

It’s not about politics but rather simple human decency

9 Aug

by Ilan Bloch

Things have got out of hand; I don’t think it is a matter of left or right (I don’t think that Menachem Begin z”l or Ze’ev Jabotinsky z”l would have disagreed with anything I wrote below).

Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

1) If you find the comment of Moti Yogev, an MK who is part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, that the Supreme Court acting as the High Court of Justice should be demolished (“the shovel of a D9 [armored] bulldozer should be sent to the High Court”) problematic in the light of democratic norms and mores, and/or

2) If you find that the murder of Shira Banki z”l perhaps did not happen in a vacuum and that Bezalel Smotrich MK, who organized an anti-gay Beast Parade in Jerusalem in 2006, a year after Yishai Schlissel (yimach shemo – may his name be erased) stabbed three people at the 2005 Pride Parade, saying the Pride Parade was “worse than the acts of animals,” sitting in the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, might give some sort of imprimatur for homophobia in Israeli society, and/or

3) If you find that settlers violently rioting against Israeli forces enforcing demolition orders against homes built on privately-owned Palestinian land in Beit El, which had been stolen, and that rewarding this land theft and violence against Israeli forces by authorizing the building of 300 housing units in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank invites further aggression, and/or

4) If you find that Jewish terrorism against Palestinians also does not happen in a vacuum and when, say, Prime Minister Netanyahu – just months ago – called on the (Jewish) electorate to turn up to the polls because “Arab voters [citizens of Israel, with the full right to vote in Israeli elections!] are heading to the polling stations in droves,” that this racist statement may well have contributed to an atmosphere of dehumanization, which allowed Jews – 70 years after we were burned in the crematoria – to burn a toddler alive in Duma last week, and/or

5) If you consider Benzi Gopstein, head of Lehava, saying that it is a mitzvah to burn churches (“Did the Rambam [Maimonides] rule to destroy [idol worship] or not? Idol worship must be destroyed. It’s simply yes – what’s the question?”) as a chilul hashem (desecration of God’s Name)

6) If you think (especially if you are a doctor), along with Dr. Leonid Eidelman, head of the Israeli Medical Association, that force-feeding hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners is wrong (“We will not agree to such a law that places physicians at the front where they don’t belong, both as a group and as individuals, in complete contravention to their professional and ethical responsibilities.”) and/or

7) If you think that Miki Zohar, a Likud MK, comparing Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem to ideological murderers from the right (“There are rotten apples [used to refer to rightist ideological murderers, and left-wing NGO’s] in all kinds of segments of the population, including the left, and I will explain to you why.”) may actually be considered vilification and demonization of, and incitement against, the left

then write to PM Netanyahu ( and tell him that you, as a person with a strong connection to Israel, are concerned/worried/shocked/dismayed, etc. at the state of the nation.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.

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