A common globe thistle blooms near barbed wire at Gamla, in northern Israel. (Photo/Courtesy)
A common globe thistle blooms near barbed wire at Gamla, in northern Israel. (Photo/Courtesy)

Israel’s contradictions are more obvious than ever — and that’s OK

“Elu v’elu — both these and those are the words of the living God.”
Talmud Eruvin 13b: 10-11 

I just returned from bringing 50 people on the two-week JCC Bay Area Israel Trip. My No. 1 takeaway is that the juxtaposition of contradictions in Israel has never been starker. The trip itself was the essence of “elu v’elu,” Hebrew for “these and those.”

We brought Jews and non-Jews, first-timers and sabras, children as young as 3 and grandparents older than the State of Israel itself.

We prayed at the Western Wall and rode ATVs in the Judaean Hills. We flew F-16 simulators in an air-conditioned mall in Tel Aviv and rode camels at a Bedouin oasis in the desert.

We visited Yad Vashem and Masada, commemorating times and places where Jews had no power, and then went to the Knesset and the Supreme Court, symbols that epitomize controlling our own destiny.

We tasted wine and made chocolate in the Golan, only minutes away from where Israeli soldiers are stationed to protect the northern border from terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

We walked the narrow alleys of Neve Tzedek, where the first Jewish pioneers started the city of Tel Aviv in 1909. And we biked the multi-lane roads of the modern, high-tech city.

We went surfing in the Mediterranean and floated in the Dead Sea. We took a boat ride on the Kineret and went kayaking down the Jordan River, all while learning about Israel’s miraculous desalinization efforts that have allowed it to export water.

Meanwhile, family and friends back home continuously asked if we were OK. They were nervous when they heard about rockets launched from Syria, Gaza and Lebanon. They were concerned when Israel initiated the operation in Jenin to clean out terrorist strongholds. They were worried when they heard about the truck-ramming and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv.

We were doing great. But we retorted, “How are you? We heard about the deadly shootings across the U.S. over the Fourth of July. Are you OK?”

It wasn’t just the inspiring, enriching and fun items on our itinerary juxtaposed with the frightening events captured in the news. It was also the political and sociological moment we found ourselves in. We were there during massive demonstrations protesting the government’s proposed judicial reforms. We saw the elu v’elu in that too.

Many Israelis are ashamed of their politicians, but they have never been prouder of the people of Israel than they are right now. (Americans know what that feels like, too.) Israelis are coming out en masse waving Israeli flags, singing the national anthem and demonstrating their love of their country by protesting.

“The street protests are Israel’s greatest moment since the Six-Day War,” our guide, Abraham Silver, said.

What we must understand is that this juxtaposition is real. Israelis were watching their under-21 national soccer team make it to the semi-finals of the European Championship. But they were also watching the Tel Aviv police chief resign when he refused to smash the bones of the protesters as the Israeli minister of security insisted.

Israel is a country of contradictions, and their juxtaposition can make your head spin. But you can’t taste sweetness unless you know what is sour. You don’t know what is light unless you also know darkness.

Unfortunately, in most American Jewish communities, the conversation forsakes one half of the equation. It’s about the elements we are ashamed of in Israel — or we only talk about Israel’s accomplishments. But the Zionism of today, Zionism 3.0, insists that we hold both in our hands at the same time, elu v’elu.

By the way, American Jews need to hold up a mirror to ourselves and own our imperfections, too. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Zack Bodner
Zack Bodner

Zack Bodner is Chief Executive Officer of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.