A Love Letter To Our Community


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.

8 thoughts on “A Love Letter To Our Community

  1. Hi
    I have just read the article, above, and was moved to say Thank You from the bottom of my heart. I have witnessed with total shock and horror the actions of Israel as they oppressed the people of Palestine, a fellow Semitic race, and felt powerless to d anything worthwhile. With the jewish on board, I srael has been able to totally close down any opposition by cynically and cruelly coopting the suffering of the Holocaust like a shroud which was thrown over dissenters. Many times have I been called an anti-Semite when nothing could’ve been further from the truth. The jewish community has always been a wondrous silken thread through society, in the arts, philosophy, politics, drama, etc, etc. It was the shock of the stark contrast between the holocaust and the willingness to cause suffering of equal measure that I railed against. And always I felt that a solution had to come from the jewish community – and here you are. Magnificent!! Please keep me informed of your work. It is such a relief to see you emerging like a butterfly from a dark, forbidding cocoon!! Hope you don’t mind but here is a naive poem of mine wherein I tried to express my feeling about this situation. best wishes and much love, Chris.
    A redundant wire fence
    spans the wasteland
    broken, ragged, torn,
    like a discarded fishnet.
    102fm plays Hatikvah
    as five-thousand go hungry.
    Lain awkwardly in the coils, limbs awry
    once a decent soul
    now his head bloodied and holed
    lies an Arab youth, cold, in the shadow of a child
    A mother looks on, sobbing
    paralysed by shock, her energy spent,
    and her dignity near death.
    She pisses where she sits
    and prays that a plague be sent.
    The stench is vile but all the while
    soldiers smoke cigarettes by the wall
    discussing crude ballistics
    and easy girls in Tel Aviv
    A little to the west
    the Munch-Scream souls of Birkenau
    groan in their tightly packed space
    disgusted and pained, demanding to know,
    “Is this all it meant, all of that
    What are they doing, our own
    Remember the queues, those showers
    It can’t have been for this.
    Whatever it was for, it wasn’t this
    Those times, a justification for this!”

  2. No one is immune to human nature. We are natural killers and exploiters and we didn’t make it to the top of the food chain by being nice. We need to change but first we have to be honest about what we are and have been.


  4. Have you taken a look around the Middle East. Israel has look angelic compared to any its neighbors That’s not to say it’s an angelic country, but context is important. The Palestinian shave blown opportunities for peace tie after time. Acts of terror from Hamas destroyed the Israeli peace movement and drove the country right. It’s hard surviving in the Middle East. It’s not for the giant hearted.

  5. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/29/left-jews-labour-antisemitism-jewish-identity
    Let’s imagine for just a moment that a small but vocal section of the left was consumed with hatred for one faraway country: barely an hour could pass without them condemning it, not just for this or for that policy, but for its very existence, for the manner of its birth, for what it represented. And now let’s imagine that this country was the only place in the world where the majority of the population, and most of the government, were black.
    You’d expect the racist right to hate such a country. But imagine it was that noisy segment of the left that insisted it would be better if this one black country had never been created, that it was the source of most of the conflict in its region, if not the world. That its creation was a great historical crime and the only solution was to dismantle it and the people who lived there should either go back to where they – or rather, their grandparents or great-grandparents – had come from; or stay where they were and, either way, return to living as a minority once more. Sure, living as a minority had over the centuries exposed them to periodic persecution and slaughter. But living as a majority, in charge of their own destiny – well, black people didn’t deserve that right.
    And now imagine that the people who said all these things insisted they had nothing against black people. On the contrary, they were passionately against all forms of racism. In fact it was their very anti-racism that made them hate this one black country. Their objection was only to this country, its conduct and its existence, not to black people themselves. You surely were only inventing this horrible accusation of racism to divert attention from the wicked black country and its multiple crimes.
    Most on the left would give such a view short shrift. They would be suspicious of this insistence that loathing of the world’s only black country was separate from attitudes to black people in general, especially because most black people had a strong affinity with this country, seeing it as a constitutive part of their own identity. The left would not be swayed by the fact these critics could point to a handful of black activists who shared their loathing of this country and wished it gone. They would want to listen to the mainstream black community and be guided by them.
    I could keep going, but you get the idea. Jews have watched the events of recent days with a weariness that might surprise many, given how shocking they must seem: the sight of Ken Livingstone suspended by the Labour party over antisemitism, along with the Bradford West MP, Naz Shah. Weary because they have known of these attitudes, indeed warned that they had found a warm space to incubate on the left, for many, many years.
    I’ve written about this subject long enough that I think I can anticipate the counter-arguments. The hardcore anti-Zionists will tell me that my analogy of a hypothetical sole black country to Israel, the world’s only Jewish country, only works if this imaginary land was guilty of in-built discrimination against a non-black minority and was founded on the forced dispossession of the indigenous people who already lived there.
    This, we are told, is what makes Israel a special case, uniquely deserving of hatred. This is what animates Livingstone’s long-held hostility to Israel and what lay behind Shah’s past call for the “transportation” – a word with a chilling resonance for Jews – of Israel to America.
    All but the most blind supporters of Israel will acknowledge the country’s discrimination against its Arab minority: indeed, among the most effective, practical campaigners against it are pro-Israel groups such as the New Israel Fund. The same goes for the post-1967 occupation of Palestinian territory.
    But neither of these problems are rendered logically inevitable by Israel’s existence. Israel could define itself as a Jewish country and still be inclusive towards its non-Jewish minorities, just as Britain is still shaped as a Christian country – with a Christian calendar, an established church and with the cross at the centre of its national flag – and yet has managed to become, after centuries of struggle, an equal home for non-Christians too.
    Ken Livingstone must be thrown out of Labour. He’s had his last second chance
    Jess Phillips
    Read more
    As for the notion that Israel’s right to exist is voided by the fact that it was born in what Palestinians mourn as the Naqba – their dispossession in 1948 – one does not have to be in denial of that fact to point out that the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and countless others were hardly born through acts of immaculate conception. Those nations were forged in great bloodshed. Yet Israel alone is deemed to have its right to exist nullified by the circumstances of its birth.
    The point is, mainstream British Jews – including the 93% who told a 2015 survey that Israel forms some part of their identity as Jews – can take criticism of Israeli governments and of Israeli policy over many decades. Lord knows, they dish it out themselves.
    But what they hanker for is a left that treats Israel the way it treats any other country with such a record – as a flawed society, but not one that is a byword for evil, that is deemed a “disease” (as it was by a caller to a 2010 show on Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster, without objection from the host, Jeremy Corbyn), whose very right to exist is held to be conditional on good behaviour, a standard not applied to any other nation on Earth.
    And here’s why. Because though Israel’s creation came at a desperately high price for Palestinians – one that Israel will one day, I hope, acknowledge, respect and atone for through word and deed – it is impossible for most Jews to see it as a mistake that should be undone. And in his perverse way, Livingstone showed why.
    His version of history was garbled and insulting, suggesting that the Hitler who had already written Mein Kampf had not yet gone “mad” and was “supporting Zionism” – as if there is any moral comparison between wishing to inflict mass expulsion on a minority and the desire to build a thriving society where that minority might live.
    But his key mistake was also the most telling. Livingstone said Hitler had wanted to pack Germany’s Jews off to “Israel” in 1932. But there was no Israel in 1932. It would not come for another 16 years – too late to provide refuge for the 6 million Jews, including 1 million children, who by then had already been murdered by Hitler.
    The question to Livingstone and all the other anti-Zionists is this. Given their belief that Israel’s creation in 1948 was a mistake (or a “travesty” in Livingstone’s words), do they believe it would have been a mistake for Israel to have been established in the 1930s, when the world’s nations had made it clear they had no intention of taking in the Jews? If the answer to that question is yes, that Israel should never have been created, then Livingstone and those like him are saying they would have denied those 6 million the one lifeline that might have saved them.
    Bad form, I know. Jews are not meant to “play the Holocaust card” in these discussions. Even though it explains why most Jews will defend Israel’s existence even when its daily reality can sometimes fill them with despair.
    And this is what we want from the left. Some understanding and even empathy for the experience that gives us this connection to – this need for – Israel. While we’re at it, what would also be welcome is the same courtesy the left admirably extends to other minorities.
    On the left, black people are usually allowed to define what’s racism; women can define sexism; Muslims are trusted to define Islamophobia. But when Jews call out something as antisemitic, leftist non-Jews feel curiously entitled to tell Jews they’re wrong, that they are exaggerating or lying or using it as a decoy tactic – and to then treat them to a long lecture on what anti-Jewish racism really is.
    The left would call it misogynist “mansplaining” if a man talked that way to a woman. They’d be mortified if they were caught doing that to LGBT people or Muslims. But to Jews, they feel no such restraint.
    So this is my plea to the left. Treat us the same way you’d treat any other minority. No better and no worse. If opposition to racism means anything, it surely means that.

  6. Thank you, If Not Now, for this moving message. Just when I feel isolated and spirits low, I am reminded of why I am a member of the movement for peace and justice for all, both Israelis and Palestinians. Thank you, thank you.

  7. http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-an … -palestine
    The student organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is prominent on many college campuses, preaching a mantra of “Freeing Palestine.” It masquerades as though it were a civil rights group when it is not. Indeed, as an African-American, I am highly insulted that my people’s legacy is being pilfered for such a repugnant agenda. It is thus high time to expose its agenda and lay bare some of the fallacies they peddle.
    • If you seek to promulgate the legacy of early Islamic colonialists who raped and pillaged the Middle East, subjugated the indigenous peoples living in the region, and foisted upon them a life of persecution and degradation – you do not get to claim the title of “Freedom Fighter.”
    • If you support a racist doctrine of Arab supremacism and wish (as a corollary of that doctrine) to destroy the Jewish state, you do not get to claim that the prejudices you peddle are forms of legitimate “resistance.”
    • If your heroes are clerics who sit in Gaza plotting the genocide of a people; who place their children on rooftops in the hopes they will get blown to bits; who heap praises upon their fellow gang members when they succeed in murdering Jewish school boys and bombing places of activity where Jews congregate – you do not get to claim that you are some Apollonian advocate of human virtue. You are not.
    • If your activities include grieving over the woefully incompetent performance by Hamas rocketeers and the subsequent millions of Jewish souls who are still alive – whose children were not murdered by their rockets; whose limbs were not torn from them; and whose disembowelment did not come into fruition – you do not get to claim that you stand for justice. You profess to be irreproachable. You are categorically not.
    • If your idea of a righteous cause entails targeting and intimidating Jewish students on campus, arrogating their history of exile-and-return and fashioning it in your own likeness you do not get to claim that you do so in the name of civil liberty and freedom of expression.
    • You do not get to champion regimes that murder, torture, and persecute their own people, deliberately keep them impoverished, and embezzle billions of dollar from them – and claim you are “pro-Arab.” You are not.
    • You do not get to champion a system wherein Jews are barred from purchasing land, traveling in certain areas, and living out such an existence merely because they are Jews – and claim that you are promoting equality for all. You do not get to enable that system by pushing a boycott of Jewish owned businesses, shops, and entities – and then claim that you are “against apartheid.” That is evil.
    • You do not get to justify the calculated and deliberate bombings, beatings, and lynchings of Jewish men, women, and children by referring to such heinous occurrences as part of a noble “uprising” of the oppressed – that is racism. It is evil.
    • You do not get to pretend as though you and Rosa Parks would have been great buddies in the 1960s. Rosa Parks was a real Freedom Fighter. Rosa Parks was a Zionist.
    Coretta Scott King was a Zionist.
    A. Phillip Randolph was a Zionist.
    Bayard Rustin was a Zionist.
    Count Basie was a Zionist.
    Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. was a Zionist.
    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Zionist.
    Indeed, they and many more men and women signed a letter in 1975 that stated: “We condemn the anti-Jewish blacklist. We have fought too long and too hard to root out discrimination from our land to sit idly while foreign interests import bigotry to America. Having suffered so greatly from such prejudice, we consider most repugnant the efforts by Arab states to use the economic power of their newly-acquired oil wealth to boycott business firms that deal with Israel or that have Jewish owners, directors, or executives, and to impose anti-Jewish preconditions for investments in this country.”
    You see, my people have always been Zionists because my people have always stood for the freedom of the oppressed. So, you most certainly do not get to culturally appropriate my people’s history for your own. You do not have the right to invoke my people’s struggle for your shoddy purposes and you do not get to feign victimhood in our name. You do not have the right to slander my people’s good name and link your cause to that of Dr. King’s. Our two causes are diametrically opposed to each other.
    Your cause is the antithesis of freedom. It has cost hundreds of thousands of lives of both Arabs and Jews. It has separated these peoples, and has fomented animosity between them. It has led to heartache, torment, death and destruction.
    It is of course your prerogative to continue to utilize platitudes for your cause. You are entirely within your rights to chant words like “equality” “justice” and “freedom fighter.”
    You can keep using those words for as long as you like. But I do not think you know what they mean.
    Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning

  8. As a descendant of an ancient Mizrahi Family, whose Grandmother survived the Arab attack on Hebron in 1929, I say it is important for all the Westerners here to actually learn to speak, read and write Arabic, learn what “Dhemmitude” was. The so called “Oppression” of Arabs (until 1964, there was NO “Palestinian people”, there were populations that lived in the Mandate for Palestine, from the Roman/European geographical renaming of the Kingdom of Judea, post Roman Occupation-Conquest). That alone demonstrates the level of ignorance of the Western Jews posting here. The last time the Ashkenazim embraced “Haskala”, and refused their reality as an Ethno-Relihious People, and enacted their own divorcement from their identity in favor of their “Citizenship” and their “Ethno-Religious Identity” from each other, and with that, full assimilation, well Napoleon enacted this in europe, the outcome being Shoah. And that can happen again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *