A Love Letter To Our Community

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Dear American Jewish Community,

(Photo Credit: Gili Getz)

This is a love letter. And we mean LOVE in every sense of the word. The type of love that draws you close, makes you want more and yet can hurt you so deeply. This is the type of love we and other members of IfNotNow DC brought to a mass public seder at the doors of Hillel International on the morning of April 19, three days before Passover.
This love is complicated and disturbed by our community’s support for the inhumane occupation of Palestinians. For both of us, our Jewish identity has at times come into deep conflict with our desire for justice in Israel/Palestine.
We were raised to believe that Israel was a utopia and solely a victim and it was our duty as diaspora Jews to protect and defend the state. Then we learned a more complicated tale, a tale that included the horror and daily nightmare of the occupation for Palestinians. That’s when the heartbreak began. We felt betrayed by the American Jewish community, and we felt that everything we had learned about repairing the world came into contradiction with the community’s support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Our hearts broke and it was hard to look at you. It was hard to believe that you would support a state without question that contributed to the suffering of the Palestinian people. It was hard to believe you could do such a thing. Through our community’s history of trauma and persecution, could we really be the perpetrators of oppression ourselves?
What lesson did we learn from our pain? That no group of people should suffer based on its identity? Or that Jews should militarize and try, futilely, to use domination to push the fear away?
We’ve always wanted to feel at one with our Judaism – but something didn’t feel right. With every Israeli bombing campaign, every bleeding Palestinian child and wailing Palestinian mother and father, the victim-blaming or silence from our elders grew more and more horrifying. We always wanted you, Jewish community, but it hurt to see our community provide Israel unwavering support after every atrocity, be it denying equal water access to Palestinians, restricting movement, or excessive use of force and military power.
Then we found each other, and others within this community who grappled and struggled like us. This led us to IfNotNow, an emerging movement led by young American Jews to end our community’s support for the occupation. And we’ve been building and growing together, because so many of us are so in love with you but so heartbroken.
Ahead of Passover, along with five other IfNotNow leaders, we blocked the doors of Hillel International, and we weren’t alone. Surrounding us were 90 other young Jews singing and participating in a Liberation Seder. And past that were hundreds more people from around the country standing with us. Folks in Boston, New York, Chicago and the Bay Area also held Passover rituals at various American Jewish institutions. Hundreds of Young Jews deeply in love but needing to make this relationship work in a way that both fulfilled our needs for community and Judaism, and supported freedom and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Jewish institutions are in crisis right now, wondering how to attract young people. Let us tell you: We will not be drawn into long-term commitments to Jewish institutions by happy hours, or by Jewish ritual acts that lack relevance and leave us ignoring the moral crisis that plagues our spirits. Anti-semitism is still alive today but to think that the only way to protect ourselves is to overpower another people is not only outdated but ineffective. We see the fear in our community so clearly; the fear of even having the conversation about what it means for the militarized Jewish state to be at constant war against an economically impoverished people.The fear of seeing ourselves as an oppressor and the fear of humanizing Palestinians which would lead to the acknowledgement of their suffering while recognizing our own so we can collectively heal.
The mainstream American Jewish community would be so much more vibrant if it overcame its fears, held our people in our inherited trauma, and challenged us to rebuild our Judaism through empathy and love.
Fellow Jews, we implore you to join the growing call for freedom and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis. Let’s make this relationship all it can be.
In love and hope,
Sarah Brammer-Shlay and Sam Jewler

Sarah Brammer-Shlay was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to DC in 2012 to participate in AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with an undergraduate degree in both Jewish Studies and Political Science. She spends much of her time organizing with IfNotNow DC and works in the Labor movement.
Sam Jewler is a community organizer working with people affected by the housing crisis in Washington, DC. He grew up going to Hebrew school, had his bar mitzvah in DC, participated in Hillel at Oberlin College, and has found IfNotNow to be the most fulfilling and meaningful Jewish experience he has ever had.