Guest Column: NIF Represents Our Most Essential Jewish Values
Editor’s Note: This op-ed was written in response to “Commentary: The New Israel Fund Does NOT Support Israel” by Kobi Erez on Nov. 1, 2018.
Metropolitan Detroit forged my Jewish values. When I think of Torah, I think of Saul Rube’s Talmud class at Hillel Day School. I think of endless stories, discussion and questioning. I think of being endowed by our community with an incredible opportunity: the chance to learn, aspire and improve. And it’s this very same aspirational notion — harnessing Torah in pursuit of our best selves — that’s inspired my sister’s pursuit of the cantorate and her Judaic studies at Hebrew Union College.
Political, labor and cultural Zionism, as conceived by the early founders of Israel, was meant to liberate Jews from the age-old ghetto mentality of weak, helpless victim. It set out to prove that Jews were not doomed to be subjects, and that a people whose reality had always been defined by oppressive forces could at last become a community steeped in choice, with the power to construct its own political history.
It sought to accomplish this by creating a Jewish citizen, a Jewish government, a Jewish army. But while so much progress has been made — and Israel’s achievements are too many to count — these is still much work to do. Israel, for all its accomplishments, remains a country disproportionately governed by religious law, which prohibits equal protection for each denomination of Judaism and applies unequal public services to its non-Jewish minorities. That’s why it’s crucial we remain steadfast to our Jewish values, appreciating all that Israel’s done right while continuing to move the country forward.
The New Israel Fund is an extension of these values. Not only in terms of its civil society-building in Israel, but also because NIF represents the most essential principles shared by our community — from a commitment to social justice and egalitarian society to the advancement of individual freedom and democratic law. The older I’ve grown, the more I’ve come to believe that maturity lies in holding multiple truths simultaneously. That patchwork quilts are inherently, richer, warmer and more full of beauty than uniform single-stitch. It’s a rare organization that embodies this kind of nuance, which is one of the many reasons I’ve been drawn to the New Israel Fund.
It’s for similar reasons that I was drawn to Tel Aviv — a city that’s played a surprisingly formative role in my life. I love the bauhaus of Kikar Bialik, the children and grandkids playing in Habima and the worn Democratic socialist architecture west of Ibn Gvirol. But the real reason I love Tel Aviv is because it embodies, more than anyplace I’ve ever been, the spectrum of human emotion. It makes me feel warm, hopeful and endlessly vital while existing just 15 miles from the occupation. It’s impossible to live in Tel Aviv without thinking critically about all those who can’t; about the overbearing influence of the rabbinate on everyday life; about the South Sudanese refugees who trekked through Sinai in search of a future for their children. In short — the city’s just like a person. It embodies beauty, blight and a willingness to recognize its shortcomings in pursuit of something better.
It’s this same maturity and authenticity that draws me to the New Israel Fund. And it’s one of the many reasons that all Jews can feel at home in this community. NIF is an organization that actively chooses to embrace complexity rather than the dogmatism that too often dominates our political and religious landscape. Just like Tel Aviv, it holds multiple truths simultaneously.
That’s what enables NIF to unequivocally condemn Palestinian terrorism while supporting organizations — like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the country’s equivalent of our ACLU — that advocate on behalf of all prisoners’ rights. It’s what enables NIF to explicitly oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) while supporting nonprofits that advocate for both an end to the occupation and egalitarian rights for non-Jewish Israelis. And it’s what makes it possible for NIF to champion organizations like B’Tselem, which shine light on human rights abuses in the West Bank while proudly supporting Zionism, the IDF and our collective Jewish homeland. Because NIF realizes that simplified attack ads, dogmatic beliefs and blanket generalizations are not the way to exercise our Jewish values.
So my hope is that we all continue investing in this kind of nuance. In the conversation and improvement that will make Israel a more admirable country, and the Jewish community a more admirable family. The New Israel Fund provides this space for me and so many of my peers; it’s no accident that it’s one of the few organizations where Jewish millennials can thoughtfully engage with their heritage. NIF provides a home for us to meaningfully connect with Israel without checking our values at the door.
But we can’t operate in this space alone. It’s inherently communal work, requiring habitual support and understanding from friends, parents and grandparents. With politics both at home and in Israel embracing extremism and misinformation, we’re increasingly nearing a point of no return, which makes it more important than ever to foster the sort of thoughtful nuance that NIF represents. It’s not only what the moment requires, but exactly the kind of dynamic community that Jewish millennials are searching for.
Michael Brodsky is a regional board member of the New Israel Fund. He currently works as vice president at Countable, a civic technology company that makes government more transparent and accessible. He previously worked with a foreign policy think tank in Tel Aviv and holds a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, where he wrote his dissertation on pre-state Israel.