Rabbi Charley Baginsky, 2 May 2017
Two years ago we were preparing for the Day of Celebration 2015. The theme we had chosen was Israel. As the day came ever nearer tensions in Israel and Gaza were becoming worse and worse. There was much soul searching as to whether or not we had made a grave mistake choosing this theme and whether it was at all appropriate to have the words celebrate and Israel side by side. This question is often raised at Yom Ha’atzmaut, how do we celebrate the birth of the State of Israel while still providing space to be critical of actions of the Israeli government and to acknowledge the spectrum of views held within our movement.
Interestingly, this year our choice of title for the Day of Celebration seems even more prosaic. ‘Liberal Judaism, Political Judaism?’ This conference will be held a matter of days after a snap General Election and will feature many excellent speakers whom I am sure will have much to say on the topic. But there remains a profound question of whether or not there is an innate dialectic between a topic with which we may struggle and the word celebration.
I am a Zionist. For me this means a fundamental belief in both the right of the State of Israel to exist and furthermore that its continued existence and development is an important part of my Jewish identity. Does this mean I always agree with the actions of her government? Of course not. Does this mean that I will not advocate, campaign and educate on the issues I feel will hold her back from being the State I would like her to be? Of course not. Nevertheless, as I maintained two years ago, not only will I be celebrating her birth I will be celebrating being part of a movement that provides the space for these discussions to take place, a movement who believes strongly in multiple voices being heard and constantly seeks opportunities to be part of a dialogue and does not shy away from it.
Similarly, we could have chosen a topic for Day of Celebration this year that allowed us all a pat on the back for our achievements, successes and growth, and while we must make time for this, we must also challenge ourselves to be better, do more and reach out further.
I am biased, I grew up in this movement and its continued development and impact continues to delight and amaze me. But I always want us to celebrate that which I believe is unique to Liberal Judaism, the striving to be in the words of Rabbi Danny Rich “the constructive irritant”.
This is the title of my session in fact on Day of Celebration where we will look at Liberal Judaism’s engagement with Israel. Irritant – pushing for more, asking hard questions and demanding answers. Constructive – never being only a movement of words, but one of actions, creative, dynamic and active and wanting to be part of the solution.
Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the day where we celebrate the birth of a State which has achieved so much in such a short time should be celebrated, embraced, enjoyed. We have 364 other days to be part of a dialogue and engagement on what the future will look like. However, unless we look for that with which we celebrate and love our future engagement with Israel is bleak for critique is most constructive when it come from a place of caring. In this light the Day of Celebration is a true reflection of what it means to be a Liberal Jew, we are celebrating our ability and strength to ask ourselves deep and searching questions and then to ask where can we play our part within that.
Of course, there is always time for fun, social events, networking, learning and music…. If you have not booked your ticket yet then do so now! Do not look back on June 12th and say why was I not part of the conversation?
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