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Angela W. Buchdahl
Israel (Parashat Lech L’cha)

Angela W. Buchdahl  |  November 4, 2011

This is the week that Abraham starts a new religion. God says, “Lech l’cha, me-artzecha, u-mimoladetcha, u-mi-bait avicha: Go forth, from your land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.”

Rabbinic commentators have a field day with this formulation. The Torah is spare in its words, so why use three different constructs for leaving home?  Why not just say, go forth from your land?  Many commentators say the repetition of terms—land, your birthplace, your father’s house—convey the depth of the sacrifice, leaving his home to go to this land that he does not know.

Also, the cluster of words conveys the many layered ways we connect to our home.  We often connect to the land itself: the trees and mountains, the East River, the smell of a place.  But it’s not just the land: we also connect to our birthplace, which evokes all the happy childhood memories we have whenever we pass a field, or schoolhouse, or the lake we swam in as children.  And our father’s house means the people in this home, our family, our friends, those that we love.  A place is not just a place: it is multidimensional over time, space, and memory.

Abraham was asked to leave all this behind—his land, his birthplace, and his father’s house—to go to the land that God would show him, this place called Canaan, the place that would be Israel.

Fast forward to last night. We had more than three hundred people here for a fascinating panel discussion, deftly moderated by our member Abby Pogrebin, with some intellectual luminaries of the Jewish world talking about the future of Jewish continuity.  One of the great laments of the panelists was the current generation’s lack of connection to Israel.  Peter Beinart, in a lightning-rod piece in the New York Review of Books last year, wrote, “Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal.”

The politics in Israel are so fraught and seem sometimes out of line with our democratic values.  The situation seems hopeless and frankly, many American Jews simply have Israel fatigue.

The panelists didn’t offer a solution to the problem, but this week’s parashah tells us one:  remember that our connection to a land is multi-dimensional.  And yet, why do we only engage with Israel on a political level?  Think about how disastrous it would be if we only knew America through its politics.  Shameful corruption scandals, debilitating partisanship that hinders our ability to get anything done—why just today in the news, a Republican candidate’s taking a private jet sponsored by the ethanol association in order to get, surprise, ethanol credits!

If we judged America only by its politics, you better believe that we could feel disconnected, embarrassed and feel that America didn’t align with our values.  But we know better: we know this place, we love this land, and we love our democratic history, too.

What if we spent less time focusing only on the politics of Israel and got to know Israel in all its facets?

Did you know that…

Israel is on the forefront of environmentally sustainable farming, growing things in the Negev where the only scarce water around is brackish.  Yet, they’re figuring out how to make the desert bloom.

Tel Aviv is one of the most gay-friendly cities, with the most progressive gay rights in the world.  And Palestinian and Arab gay youth have found refuge in Tel Aviv from their own communities where they would be put to death for being gay.

Israel has one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world.  You saw a glimpse of this with their amazing rapid response to the Haiti earthquake.  New advances are discovered regularly and here’s the kicker: everyone is served.  Everyone, regardless of income and ability to pay.  Everyone, including Arabs and Palestinians who are regularly brought over from the West Bank and Gaza for care.

Israel will be the first country in the world to have country-wide infrastructure for electric-car use in order to wean Israelis off their dependence on oil.

Israel was one of the few countries in the world to take in thousands of Darfur refugees.

Are you feeling disconnected now?  Or are you feeling proud?  It’s time to put on your 3D glasses and see Israel as more than just a political quagmire.  There are miracles happening in Israel every day!

Let’s learn about them. Read Start-Up Nation if you want to be inspired or David Grossman’s To the End of the Land.  Go pick up an Idan Raichel CD and you will have insight into the marvelous multicultural mix of modern-day Israel through some great pop music.

And visit.  Nothing beats going to Israel itself.

Lech L’cha.  Go, go to this land, this place of our people’s birth, to our ancestors’ home—this is Israel.  It is multifaceted and rich and miraculous.  It is so much more than just the violent depressing stories you read about.  Abraham and Sarah were commanded to go there by God.  It was a place they did not know.  But God said, Go, and you shall be a blessing.

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