Telling Israel’s Story – Again and Again and….

Until our most recent construction, the synagogue library had a 1967 issue of Life Magazine prominently on display.  On the cover was a picture of an Israeli soldier with the words “Wrap Up of the Astounding War” (click here to see it).  Needless to say, that magazine was telling the story of Israel’s miraculous military victory in the Six Day War.

That telling of the story is the way that I have understood the Six Day War since I was a child learning about Israel.  That is the story that we tell to our children in this community today.

However, we know that there are others telling a second version of that story.  For the Palestinians, 1967 represents the beginning of what they call “the occupation.”  Now, we could have a long conversation about what Hamas really wants and how the pre-1967 borders were only formed as a cease-fire line, etc.  None of that really matters.  What matters is that the Palestinians have created a new narrative – a second telling – and THAT is the version being told around the world today.

The miraculous military victory that allowed Jews to think that maybe the fledgling State of Israel was going to survive has been transformed into some sort of evil, colonial land-grab.  And because we who love Israel have been remiss in telling her story, the world is only seeing Israel from this other perspective.

In the current war between Israel and Hamas, the exact opposite is happening.  Because of Hamas’ repressive policies, journalists and photographers operating in Gaza cannot tell the whole story.  Bits and pieces are starting to emerge about the threats and intimidation of the press, but up until now Hamas has controlled the narrative coming out of Gaza.

Armed with new images and testimony coming out of Gaza, we must now tell the second version of the story.  Israel is surely an imperfect country with imperfect leaders and imperfect soldiers.  However, if one looks at Israel’s intentions, strategies and tactics, it’s pretty clear that Israel is trying to do the right thing in a horrible situation.  We must tell that story.

This week, Jews around the world have begun reading the fifth book of the Torah which has two names – “D’varim” and “Deuteronomy.”  The first name comes from the first unique word in the book as is customary in our sacred texts.  The second name, however, is the Greek version of a Hebrew title given to the book by the ancient rabbis – “Mishneh Torah,” which means “second telling.”

The rabbis gave this name because the Book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ review of the previous forty years in the hopes that the Israelites would keep in mind all the lessons that were learned.  Even though his audience had lived through many of the same experiences, Moses repeated them anyway.  The lessons were that important.

Like many of you, I have experienced some combination of anger, sadness and frustration as I have heard the story of Israel being told by others these last few weeks.  However, we have it within our power to change the way the story is told.  We can do this through social media, letters to the editor, letters to our elected officials as well as talking to our friends and neighbors.  This story is too important to let it be told inaccurately.  So, let’s tell it again and again in order to ensure that the story of Israel will not be distorted by her enemies.




About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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