Seven resolutions for troubling times

By Andrew Rehfeld

With the passing of U.N. Resolution 2334 and the start of a new administration in Washington, we have seen a growing division among American Jews concerning Israel. This division is increasingly along partisan lines and proceeding with greater intensity.  

From my experience as the CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis (the Federation), I know that our community shares a broad commitment to a secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel. This commitment is perhaps best captured in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence: We support Israel for the protection, flourishing and sovereignty of the Jewish people in a manner that ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.”   

I believe that our disagreements should be understood as disagreements about how best to achieve these shared aims. 

As our divisions are intensifying, I am also gravely concerned about the growing climate of anti-Semitism, hate speech and action. These incidents have shaken my confidence in the security of our people and other minorities. Even in our own country. 

As members of this community, we have a responsibility to recognize the growing threats we face and to treat each other with decency and respect. We must not alienate one another at exactly the moment when we need to recognize our shared fate as Jews and our shared responsibility to others.  

In the spirit of the secular New Year, I suggest seven resolutions we might follow to help keep these common goals in mind.  

1)  Address the substance of the discussion, not the people involved. Our disagreements about Israel are real, substantive and worthy of debate. Questioning the motives and character of those with whom we disagree does not help us resolve these disagreements; it weakens our ability to collectively act.  

Calling opponents “self-hating Jews,” “kapos” or “racists” perpetuates a culture of hate and undermines our ability to support Israel. Let us resolve to take our disagreements about the issues seriously and make arguments about ideas rather than denigrate the people with whom we disagree. 

2) Hold each other accountable for good behavior. In an era of decentralized social media, we must all take responsibility for creating a culture of respectful dialogue. 

If you receive communications that belittle others or mock opponents, let the writer know you object. If a post on your Facebook page or social media questions a person’s character or motive, is insulting or bullying, delete the post, and ask the writer to explain instead why he or she disagrees with the person they are attacking. 

3) Avoid informational echo chambers that reinforce your own point of view. It is easier than ever to read news and commentary that reinforces your own views rather than exposing you to alternative ideas. Make a commitment this year to go beyond your usual sources for the news. You will at least deepen your understanding of opposing arguments and be able to effectively advocate for your own position. At best, you will learn something new. 

4) Commit yourself to learning about Israel. Take advantage of our community resources, including the Federation’s SHMA! Speakers Series and our Center for Jewish Learning. Read the Jewish Light on a regular basis. Attend the Jewish Community Center’s book and film festivals. Consider enrolling your children in one of our community’s day schools. Talk to your rabbis and clergy as resources, and draw on your synagogue’s adult education classes.  

And if you are interested in reading, I highly recommend Daniel Gordis’ “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn” and Gadi Taub’s “The Settlers and the Struggle Over the Meaning of Zionism.”  

5) Support the people of Israel. Join the Federation in our work to identify, review and fund social service, education and civil society projects in Israel. Our funding supports new immigrants, the poor, victims of domestic abuse, Jewish educational projects and Israel’s democratic civil core, including Arab-Jewish coexistence programs and programs that strengthen religious pluralism in the Jewish State.

6)  Engage! Although the Federation does not routinely take positions on politics and policy, we encourage others to engage in these areas. Start with the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), a beneficiary agency of the Federation that takes a broad representational approach. 

Other key organizations include the AJC, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the lobbies AIPAC and JStreet. Each of these offers a different path to supporting Israel and advancing Jewish values more generally. This is a partial list; there are many more.   

7)  Travel!  Make a commitment to visit Israel in the next 24 months. Join your congregation’s next mission or the Federation’s community mission Feb. 25-March 6.  Use the Federation’s Israel Center to create meaningful travel experiences and find limited funding. (For more information on our community Israel Mission, contact Israel Center director Karen Rader, 314- 442-3756.)

Finally, I invite you to start the year together as a community. Join us at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the J’s Staenberg Family Complex, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, to hear Dennis Ross speakaboutthe challenges and opportunities for the Mideast with the start of Donald Trump’s administration. Co-sponsored by the Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the J, the event will also include a celebration of the life of former Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The St. Louis Jewish Community is remarkably diverse and vibrant. Amid that diversity, the Federation is committed to fostering a sense of collective responsibility to one another in order to serve the highest ideals of our tradition.  

Israel is a critically important part of our work. We must not let our disagreements about how best to support its flourishing undermine our shared goals. I hope you will join me this year in resolving to do your part to help us build a stronger community.