Letter to a Jewish Girl

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who went to Jewish Day School, Jewish Summer Camp, and Jewish Youth Group, spent her gap year in Israel, and is fluent in Hebrew.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl whose Nefesh b’Nefesh application is still in progress.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who was trained in Israel advocacy and who once said that wherever she stands, she stands with Israel.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who attended AIPAC conferences and distributed resources made by StandWithUs, CAMERA, the David Project, and Palestinian Media Watch.

Girl firing an assault weapon

The author participates in the IDF's Gadna program on Camp Ramah’s Poland-Israel summer trip in 2008. Credit: Becca Rosenthal.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who once said that Jews in Jewish Voice for Peace weren’t real Jews before ever meeting a member.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who made it her mission to understand the Palestinian narrative as well as she understood the Israeli one so that she could better combat the other side’s arguments.

I write this letter with tears in my eyes.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who chose to spend a year living multiple perspectives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by spending a year studying in Jordan and then in Israel in order to reconcile them in her own head.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who was nervous when she was told in Jordan that she would spend four months living with a Palestinian family and was further worried when she first entered their home and saw artwork featuring the Dome of the Rock plastered all over the living room.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who thinks that Arab mothers make Jewish mothers look ambivalent about feeding their children.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who could buy the East Jerusalem home that her Jordanian host father was born in and has not been allowed to visit since 1967.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who cannot see Zionism as anything other than a system in which her 2,000-year connection to the land of Israel trumps the fact that her Jordanian host family is truly from the land of Palestine.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who continued to take notes in class with an AIPAC pen.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who learned that many diasporic Palestinians have a Palestine-shaped hole in their hearts that cannot be filled by any argument for Jewish self-determination.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who spent seven months in Israel unable to forget about her Jordanian host family and feeling more internally conflicted as a Jew in Israel than anywhere else in the world.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who was so afraid to be alienated from her Jewish community and risk not being allowed to reenter Israel as a result of publicizing her political opinions that she seldom blogged, or posted pictures while studying in the only democracy in the Middle East.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who felt guilty saying “Next Year in Jerusalem” with her Israeli family in a settlement during Passover.

Graffiti of a crying Statue of Liberty

Graffiti on the wall in Bethlehem. Credit: Becca Rosenthal.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who spent Yom Hazikaron walking on Jew-only roads in Hebron and along the separation wall in Bethlehem.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who threw away her AIPAC pen.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who spent Yom Ha’atzmaut crying in bed because she couldn’t celebrate the birth of Israel after seeing what Zionism looks like from the standpoint of its victims.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who still can’t stop smiling at the thought of Kabbalat Shabbat in Jerusalem.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who spent her summer teaching English in two Arab-Israeli schools and living with Palestinian citizens of Israel.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who didn’t want to believe her Arab-Israeli students when they told her she was the first Jew they had ever met that was nice to them.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who felt ashamed to be a Jew for the first time in her life when her Palestinian-Israeli host families stopped going to Jewish-majority towns after “Operation Brother’s Keeper” began.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who watched the death toll in Gaza climb while thinking “not in my name,” but didn’t post an image with that phrase as her Facebook profile picture for fear that it would negatively impact her job prospects within the Jewish community.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who looks at both Israelis and Palestinians and sees her people.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who returned to the U.S. not knowing with whom she could talk that would understand.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl whose synagogue invited her to speak about her experiences in Israel after her gap year but told her that speaking about her research in Jordan was too “controversial.”

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who’s been looked at square in the eye by a member of her community and told that anti-Zionist Jews should not be welcomed in his Jewish community.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who will neither go to a pro-Israel rally, a pro-Palestine rally, protest, or a counter-protest for fear of being seen by friends on either side, next to either flag.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl whose Zionist father told her to not finish her sentence because he wants to continue to love her.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who looked at her mother with tears in her eyes after coming out as a non-Zionist, said I love you, asked her mother to say the same, and continued to cry as her mother left the room.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl whose mother later said I love you, and you make it hard.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who thought J Street was a group of self-hating radical leftists and then found herself looking at them from a political position further to the left.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who won’t join Jewish Voice for Peace because of the way it is stigmatized within her own head, even though she often agrees with them ideologically.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who was afraid to put her name to this letter for fear of being deemed too controversial to be hired within the American Jewish community.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who debates the news schizophrenically with herself inside her head.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who was told that her politics went wrong when she let a few experiences with “good Arabs” distract her from the bigger picture.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who needed to find a Jewish community with which she didn’t have to be sure of her opinions relating to Israel-Palestine and could instead listen and learn from others.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl whose father helped her pay for the ticket to the Open Hillel conference because he understood her need for community even though he disagrees with her politics.

I write this letter for the Jewish girl who found that Jewish community with Open Hillel.

Hoping that this letter helps catalyze difficult conversations about difficult topics, I proudly sign my name,

Becca Rosenthal

(To read more about the Open Hillel movement, return to the Open Hillel table of contents.)

Becca Rosenthal is a senior Middle East Studies major at Claremont McKenna College. She plays guitar and rugby and is an Open Hillel organizer.
 
tags: Israel/Palestine, Judaism, Vision for Israel/Palestine, War & Peace   
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34 Responses to Letter to a Jewish Girl

  1. Drew February 2, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    What a self centered and ridiculous letter. Perhaps you should stop feeling sorry for yourself and realize that Jewish Voice for Peace is comprised of hateful racists working toward the elimination of Israel entirely. JVP’s allies are engaged in the subjugation of women, violence against the LGBT community and extreme anti semitism. The author of this article should consult a history book and a map.

    • E Kramer February 5, 2015 at 6:23 am

      Ms. Rosenthal, thank you for your heartfelt and very personal piece. I am grateful to you and the other contributors to this set of articles in Tikkun, which collectively illuminate the history of a non-Zionist Jewish point-of-view and may, I hope, lead many away from a kind of willful blindness.

    • Sarah February 6, 2015 at 8:24 pm

      Very upsetting to read.

    • Sarah February 6, 2015 at 8:26 pm

      I second that, Drew.

    • Carol February 9, 2015 at 10:58 am

      I feel so sorry for you, Drew. What an absolutely beautiful brilliant letter this is. Maybe you will be the Jewish boy who finally sees the truth through all of the fraudulent propaganda spewed out by the Israeli government. A growing number of Israeli Jews would agree with this letter in its entirety. Open your eyes Drew!!!!!!

  2. Rabbi Arthur Waskow February 4, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Dear Becca, First of all, tears. Secondly, awe & wonder. Seems clear that your stay in Jordan was crucial in opening your heart & mind to all the sad and horrifying contradictions– sooooo, what led you to do that? Given what you write about your family’s views, what moment of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Interbreathing Spirit of all life, the Wind of Change, blew its way into some window you left open? Or propped open? — I ask because we need to know what makes possible an open heart on this or for that matter other issues where it seems there is no way beyond the barricades.

    Thanks, shalom, salaam –Rabbi Arthur Waskow

  3. Liadan February 5, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Oh Becca…Bless you. I cried for and for myself. I have both Israeli and Palestinian relatives.

    I have been where you are. You are courageous and righteous.

    The wars have never been about religion. I know Palestinian Jews (not Shephardim-Palestinian!).

    thank you for being an anti-Zionist Jew.

  4. Ariel Meyerstein February 7, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Kol Hakavod. I have never read a single piece of Jewish-related writing of any genre that so eloquently conveyed my own struggles over my identity and relationship to Zionism for most of my adult life. We should be pen-pals (I also have a piece in this Tikkun special edition, by the way, but your writing is far more poetic and inspiring).

    May you maintain your strength to seek the truth and to know yourself, to bear witness, speak your conscience, convert others to a more righteous path infused by Jewish values, and refuse to be silenced. B’hatzlacha. Ariel

  5. Paul Goldstein February 7, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    It’s sad to me that too many seem completely unable to grasp the fact that one can have sympathy for the Palestinian Arab situation, and still simultaneously embrace the Zionist vision of a perpetual Jewish democratic state in the Jewish ancestral homeland. This girl could adopt a position of working for peace and reconciliation, in such a way as to accommodate the national aspirations of both the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab peoples. Instead her newfound anti-Zionism, a betrayal of her own people, is the full equivalent of the anti-Arab anti-Muslim bigotry found among many right-wing extremists on the pro-Israeli side.

    • Caroline February 8, 2015 at 7:44 pm

      I think the point is she’s still not sure what she thinks and is still figuring that out. She didn’t call herself an anti-Zionist, but calls herself a “non-Zionist,” perhaps reflecting that she doesn’t feel comfortable calling herself a Zionist in this moment. She never said she thinks “the national aspirations of both the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab peoples” shouldn’t be fulfilled…maybe she has thoughts on that issue, I don’t know.

  6. Sara-Rivka Bass February 7, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Its as if I wrote this myself. I am always afraid of voicing my opinion on social media, because I am going into Jewish Education. But I find that if I dont, I can’t live with myself. Kol Hakavod.

  7. Yosef February 8, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Do you also write this letter to the thousands of Jewish civilians who have been brutally murdered by Arab terrorists?

    • Carol February 9, 2015 at 11:29 am

      When and Where?

  8. Wayne February 9, 2015 at 7:45 am

    I write this letter to the Jewish girl that is so filled with prejudice against her own people that she feels compelled to think of Jews as a contaminant, as ‘settlers’ instead of the rightful land owners.

  9. Ephraim February 9, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Did anyone else scroll down and get disappointed that there was no actual letter to read?

  10. Armen February 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    So, you claim your “Jordanian host father” was born in “East Jerusalem.” That’s interesting, given that the only time in history that “East Jerusalem” was part of Jordan was when it was OCCUPIED from 1948-1967 (Jordan obtained the land through military conquest). Before that, it was part of the British Mandate and, before that, the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, as far back as the 1860s, before even the first Aliyah, census data shows that Jerusalem had a predominantly Jewish population. Maybe if you learned some of this history you wouldn’t be so quick to characterize the Palestinians as the “victims of Zionism.” In fact, they are the victims of the Arabs refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state.

  11. David Barg February 9, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    I expected to see the signature of Kayla Mueller at the bottom of the page.
    Perhaps after some additional years if experience the author will recognize she was a pawn in the game being played by her handlers, or that she ran into the small minority of Arabs who recognize a Jewish right to life. I say minority because there were elections in the Palestinian Territories, legitimate elections-ask Jimmy Carter-and the vast majority voted for Hamas to be their elected government. It was the only productive act in the entire Bush Presidency, and it confirmed just what Israel is facing.

  12. Larry Saltzman February 9, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Welcome to the truth. Welcome to freedom. You are brave and have written a beautiful letter. May you inspire more Jews to make the journey you have made. A fellow Jew

  13. Aaron Karas February 9, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    I write this comment for the Jewish boy who has experienced all of the things in the first half of this poem. For the Jewish boy who realizes that no country is perfect, and that Israel is no exception to this rule. And for the Jewish boy who takes different narratives into account and wants to work towards improvement in the country that he loves with all of his heart. I write this NOT for the Jewish boy who gives up hope, the hope that his ancestors have had for over two thousand years, and instead of trying to create change, vilifies Israel and encourages the ever-growing anti-Zionist world that the Jews have no place in this world, and certainly not in our homeland. Because that Jewish boy has no right to be proud of his Judaism.

  14. Danny February 9, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I felt much of my own story in yours.

  15. Rebecca February 9, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this Becca. My experience is so similar. I wish I had your courage.

  16. Judith Acker man February 9, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    This is a fabulous letter as long as there’s a rocky patient going on in Israel all the Jews of the world are in dangerr

  17. Carolyn February 10, 2015 at 5:26 am

    It is disheartening to read many of the comments here. Some of you have taken away a message of hate, rather than taking away the actual message of her letter: love and understanding.

    This letter was not written by a ‘self-hating Jew’. This was a letter from a human being, in the hopes that another, will find a way to see the humanity in their ‘enemy’.

    She is asking that people research, understand, and appreciate BOTH perspectives. She asks that others connect with BOTH sides of suffering. Since this letter was directed to the Jewish girl- no doubt bc she is both a female and a Jew- she is asking her to let go of the Israeli narrative, and search for truth.

    If you cannot bring yourselves to do so- let alone grasp this simple concept- the blood will be on your hands.

    • WAYNE February 11, 2015 at 6:19 am

      Attributing the clerical fascist and apartheidist policies of fatah and hamas to Israel is not only dishonest, but is not indicative of any genuine interest in achieving peace.

      Until the US/EU governments stop funding and propping Nazi-spawned governments, there cannot be peace, nor should there be peace (which would entail Israel allowing Muslims to slaughter and rape Jews, putting the Jewish ‘dogs’ back in their place).

    • Armen February 11, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      I think you need to re-read the letter. It was written by someone who has concluded that Palestinian Arabs are poor innocent victims and Israel is an oppressive and evil regime – all because her host family in Jordan was nice.

  18. Meredith Pass February 10, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Thank you so much for this piece. I am Jewish and completely support justice in Palestine. Solidarity

  19. Emily February 10, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    I’ve never found a piece of writing that more accurately conveyed my personal struggle with my Zionist upbringing and my place in the Jewish community. I also studied in Jordan when I was in college and came out of the experience feeling confused and alone. Every word of this letter rang true.

    I’m so relieved to know that others have felt this way and are working to create a safe space for folks like us to discuss these issues without fear of resentment or retaliation. Thank you so much.

  20. Joni G. February 10, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Yes. Oh, yes. Thank you for this, Becca.

  21. Ivan Kattan February 10, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    Carolyn, you nail it. Is not about them or us or for that matter finding the truth(who’s ) is about looking at the humanity of others. Shame on you Drew….stop hating and start seen this problem as a human and understand that we all are only looking for a better life.

  22. Anon February 10, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    Just want to point out the arrogance behind this piece – basically, implying that bringing up her personal empathy for Arabs will “catalyze difficult conversations.” Just because you came out on the far-left of views doesn’t make you enlightened – it just means that when you weighed your own personal experiences, your policy preferences were more pro-Arab than the average Jew. While there are certainly many Jews unwilling engage with the other side, there are also many of us who are smart enough to recognize the things brought up (e.g. that Arabs suffer as a result of this conflict) and still come out moderately pro-Israel.

  23. Josh February 11, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Hi, as someone living in Israel i feel it misleading to speak about the negative experience only from the arab side, while failing to mention the thosands of rockets that were fired at Israel during the operation (when only the palestinian death toll grow), and failing to mention the terror attacks commited by some of those palestinian where inocent jews were killed, including a baby that was run over, and a group of praying jews that were attacked while praying in temple

  24. Noname February 11, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    I too would like to hear why Becca went to the Middle East as Rabbi Arthur questioned – with or against her views – if we can understand what makes both sides listen and see for themselves the other side – we are sorted.

  25. Gary Kamen February 12, 2015 at 9:28 am

    thank you Becca for that amazing and deep article. I am a Jew who chose to move to Israel from the United States. My children study in a school where Arabs and Jews learn together in both languages. There are only 7 schools such as this in Israel, but this is a growing community of people proving that we can live together in peace and acceptance. Please continue to hope and speak up. I truly feel that Jews can learn to accept and live equally in Israel with Arab Israelis and with our neighboring countries. Look at these 7 schools and believe.

  26. Rebecca March 15, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Dear Becca,
    I have been reading your piece over and over again for over a month now. I feel the same sadness and relief each time I read it; I share such similar experience and feelings, from my wholly Jewish and Zionist upbringing, to the alienation I now feel from my friends and family. Thank you for your vulnerability, and expressing yourself in such a meaningful way.
    Rebecca

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