What IfNotNow appears to not understand as an organization, and as individuals, is that effective problem-solving results from a proactive approach rather than a reactive one.
If you’re a member of IfNotNow and you’re reading this, your jaw may have just dropped. How dare he say that? Our protests and demonstrations make a huge difference and show the Jewish community exactly how we feel! Indeed, they do.
However, protests and demonstrations are inherently reactive. In two examples, I’d like to describe actions taken by IfNotNow and propose a constructive alternative action.
A recent story that has been relevant internationally is the “Birthright walkouts” that have happened twice. Staging a walk-out or boycotting is reactive. It is important to note that Birthright is a Jewish heritage trip, and nowhere is there any sort of guarantee that the conflict will be discussed. Furthermore, it’s a free trip and, by walking out, participants are forfeiting a ticket home.
If you choose to go on the trip, being proactive would include asking questions and having conversations about difficult topics with people outside of the trip. You don’t need to abandon the trip — there are plenty of ways to arrange to meet people in the designated free time provided.
If you’d rather not go on the trip at all, then being proactive could mean organizing a similar trip that highlights the conflict completely. Creating a trip that highlights the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative simultaneously would have a greater impact and would likely be supported more than a walk-out “protesting the occupation.”
Another recent event was an IfNotNow protest at Hillel Day School during its Israel Independence Day celebration. This action represented an ignorance and indifference to the audience before whom they stood. Perhaps IfNotNow did not consider that they’d be presenting themselves in front of children too young to comprehend their words. There were also Israeli children, Israeli parents and Israeli teachers present at this celebration. If IfNotNow did consider this and chose to hold their demonstration there anyway, it would be reasonable to question the character of IfNotNow and its constituents.
In this situation, being proactive would have involved reaching out to Head of School Steve Freedman and setting up a time to meet and discuss how Israel is taught in Jewish day schools. The way in which IfNotNow protested lessened its legitimacy and credibility as an organization, and likely diminished its ability to have a positive impact on the way in which people are educated about Israel.
Israel education is still presented in a way that makes the Jewish people and the State of Israel appear to be the underdog, which is not the current reality. There are constant threats, but as Israel has repeatedly shown, it is fully equipped to defend itself.
Many of the people at the forefront of creating the curriculum to educate Jewish people about the State of Israel were of a generation that experienced the Holocaust, witnessed Israel become the Jewish state and grew up observing Israel struggle to grow while simultaneously defending itself in continuous wars.
Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy for some young Jewish progressives to distance themselves from Israel. They were born into a world where Israel is already ours; they don’t know what a world without a Jewish state looks like. Their immersion in social justice, social change and progressivism appears to have led to a disconnect about what it means to be a Jew in the larger multicultural world.
We are hardly 73 years removed from the greatest tragedy in human history, and it happened to us. In those 73 years we have gone from losing more than 6 million people to having more than 6 million people in a country that we can call our own.
The Jewish people’s greatest attribute is unity. When that unity is lost, only the worst can come. Every exile, persecution or large-scale misfortune took place at a time when the Jewish community had self-divided. Whether that meant converting under the pressure of the Christians, Catholics or others who kicked us out of their countries for thousands of years or even leaving Judaism behind, believing that it could help them survive, it happened because our own religion seemed like the problem, not the answer.
The sense of community and the feeling of unity is passed generation to generation when decisions are made for the future — and not for the present. The people who brought Israel into existence decided how it should be taught and supported it through their lifetimes were not thinking of themselves; they were thinking of their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren.
In a time where anti-Semitism is an issue rather than a reason to execute Jewish people, it’s easy to take for granted how lucky we are to live in a time where we have a place to call home.
What I ask members of IfNotNow and other social justice organizations to consider is not the current situation, not your own feelings and not the expressed opinions of your organization; think of your children, think of your grandchildren and think of the future of the Jewish people.
You can love Israel. You can hate Israel. You can disagree with Israel, or you can support Israel with no second thoughts. Regardless, your actions should reflect what you want for the Jewish future, not what you might want for yourself right now.
So, I guess, to answer your original question, “If not now, when?”
Sometime soon. But be patient.
Jeremy Rosenberg of West Bloomfield is a student at Wayne State University.