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Excerpted Comments from and About the World-Wide Conference of Jewish RC Leaders

The Jerusalem Forest, Israel, September 29-October 4, 1996

"When I first heard that the Conference would be held in Israel, there was no question in my mind that I would attend-a hundred-and-twenty-five Jews from fourteen countries, all together in Israel, led by Harvey and Cherie . . . . Just as deeply as I know that it's okay to be a Palestinian, Christian, Arab, or Muslim, for the first time, being with a majority of Jews, I could feel it was okay to be a Jew . . . . Just like everyone else, with all our patterns and difficulties, it's okay to be a Jew . . . . At the Conference, Harvey referred to the oppression of Mizrachi Jews as a quasi-racism, and he underscored the class-based nature of the oppression of Mizrachi Jews and Palestinians in Israel . . . ." (Jennifer Wexler, Boston, Massachusetts, USA) . . . .

"The RC Jewish Leaders' Conference in Israel provided a profound contradiction to Jewish internalized oppression . . . . We arrived in Israel at a very tense moment that only highlighted the need for the work we had come to do. Only days before the Conference, seventy Palestinians had been killed as violence erupted in Jerusalem and a state of emergency was announced. The increased security at the airport and throughout Jerusalem was a daily reminder that our work was not complete-that the systematic daily oppression of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli Government continued. A number of the delegates, both before and after the Conference, participated in demonstrations in Jerusalem sponsored by Peace Now . . . . Beyond any one single issue that was emphasized during the week by Harvey, myself, or anyone else, the Conference gave us a chance as Jews to know each other, to fall deeply in love with one another, and to glimpse the power of our relationships . . . . Some key themes were 'to recognize how far we've come,' 'real security lies in being principled,' 'ending classism is a key component in Jewish liberation,' 'building a world-wide Jewish movement includes communication with Jews from every country,' 'racism must be ended, particularly racism towards Arabs,' 'we need to launch a movement for Jewish educational change.'" (Cherie Brown, Washington, DC, USA) . . . .

"Israeli Jews and Jews from around the world got very close that week. It was easy to see, as a Diaspora Jew, how much our presence meant to the Israelis-what a contradiction it was for them that we were there. This was also true for the Jews from Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Argentina; over and over again we could see how being together broke right through the isolation which they live with as Jews in their countries. It was a rare and wonderful treat to have an opportunity to sit and talk with Jews from those countries and exchange ideas and information over a meal . . . . Like everyone else, Jews like to be liked. However, centuries of anti-Semitism have left their mark on us, and some of us become quite terrified at the thought of not being liked. Engaging in behavior which might invite outright criticism or attack may seem completely beyond our capabilities. Harvey called us all to task on our opportunism: allowing our desire for comfort or security to compromise our integrity. I think many of us were appalled to recognize how much opportunism pervades our decisions, our actions, our very life choices. It is clear that in the United States opportunism drives our national and international policy, and of course it seeps into all of our homes and institutions twenty-four hours a day . . . . It was inspiring and energizing to be 'called' on our opportunism by Harvey. It became obvious that opportunism is a poison in our own lives and has devastating effects on the lives of others. If we were to act all the time on the basis of our knowledge of The Right Thing to Do, on the basis of our integrity and not on the basis of what is comfortable, what a difference we would make in the world! And how quickly! . . . ." (Pat Fischer, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA) . . . .

"I live in France . . . . I'm a Mizrachi Jew from Tunisia . . . . Going to Israel and meeting with Jewish leaders from all over the world was a major event in my life . . . . I felt right at home! The very first contradiction I was faced with was seeing Harvey wear a kippa in the dining hall on the first evening. He wears it like no other Jewish man-with pride and joy. I had never seen an ally wear a kippa this way either; they are usually embarrassed. Harvey wasn't, and that was a wonderful contradiction . . . . Harvey finally reminded us, as a fierce and ruthless ally to Jews, that something was not correct when we were not challenging Israel's policies and were allowing imperialist countries to subordinate Israel to their policies. We were reminded what a powerful group of people was sitting in that room and how terror was still keeping us locked into living with this kind of situation . . . . Terror is making us act in some strange ways in order not to feel or face how big our lives could be. This is mostly what I took home with me, and it's been good to actually sit down and put it on paper . . . ." (Maika Haddad, Paris, France) . . . .

". . . Key Issues for Israeli Jews: 1) Israel has a Jewish majority and a Jewish government. We live by the Jewish calendar, speak Hebrew, and are connected to the landscapes of our culture. On the other hand, Jewish internalized oppression is the norm and the pattern of our establishment and government, while we isolate ourselves from non-Jews and the contradiction we could get from them. People here are warm, open, helpful, honest, and cooperative, but we also criticize and attack each other. The diversity of the population brings cultural richness, but we are separated in many ways: Jews from Palestinians, Mizrachim from Ashkenazim (with sub-divisions within each group), secular Jews from religious Jews, and along class lines; 2) Palestinians and Mizrachim are oppressed by racism and classism, both of which are denied. Israel also exploits and oppresses foreign workers who have arrived in large numbers in recent years; 3) Israel is continuing to rule over another people and the territories in which they live; a process has begun towards a solution, but much progress is still needed; 4) Israel lives with an ongoing threat of war and terrorism which from time to time is reinforced by actual events, keeping our terror chronically restimulated; 5) The centrality of the army affects politics, separates groups, wastes resources, and reinforces the oppression of both women and men. Society and parents raise boys to be soldiers. Men serve three years in the army and then, for many years, one to two months every year in the reserve forces; 6) Israel serves as a pawn in international games, and her government colludes in a misguided attempt to find security; 7) Despite the improvement in Israel's international status, anti-Semitism is still expressed in the world's attitude toward Israel-criticism and attacks, de-legitimization, and disappointment when Israel fails to meet the high expectations . . . ."(Michal Rosenzweig Goffer, Ofer Kornfeld, and Miri Sager, Israel) . . . .

"The Jewish Conference in Israel was an amazing event. The high standard set there for liberation work in RC has already been a helpful inspiration for other liberation struggles, and personally, it gave me a well-appreciated boost. It was also a wonderful, international "love fest." I loved being with Jews from many parts of the world as we enjoyed each other and laughed together in Israel. Many thanks to the Israeli RC Community for beautifully hosting the event . . . . Many parts of the Conference were focused on the actual current situation for Jews-something which is not always immediately obvious. Cherie offered a close look at the policies of Jews since the Holocaust, which I and others found extremely enlightening and useful. Many of these policies, which have been intended to give Jews greater security, when examined closely, can be seen to actually lead Jews into a less secure position. Since these policies are based on feelings of insecurity, these feelings of insecurity must be discharged (i.e., contradicted) so that scarier-feeling policies can be adopted which will lead to greater real security. (This is a situation shared by many other oppressed groups.) This understanding led to counseling on noticing we are secure-not an easy task for Jews . . . . The attention to integrity, specifically looking at where we compromise our integrity for comfort or act out of opportunism, meant that we challenged some of our most protected patterns. Harvey and Cherie's leadership on this issue provided models that I think everyone there will remember for a long time. They demonstrated that we all have the ability to notice, discharge on, and of course change our behavior where we rationalize acting on patterns. I was struck by the widespread nature of this issue and came home wanting to counsel people from all groups on it. I was also struck by how much actual security we had with each other at the Conference, to be able to take this relatively easily. Finally, I appreciate the legacy of Jewish tradition-of trying to do the right thing-which makes it a little easier to agree to venture into protected places of deep humiliation and hurt." (Joan Karp, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) . . . .

". . . At the Conference, I grasped for the first time the cost to me and other middle-class people of class oppression. I understood the devastating bargain that middle-class people make by trading our vision of a big life, of real connectedness, of our true selves, for the illusion of security through economic comfort . . . . I began to understand the phenomenon of opportunism, in which we betray one another, accept false choices, and defend incorrect policies in order to protect ourselves from having to face our terror, humiliation, and grief . . . . I've noticed that the issue of wanting is a key one for many Jewish women. Many of us seem to be very confused about what we can want and expect and have for ourselves. We've gotten the message that our role is to take care of the needs of others-the needs of our people, of our parents, of our children, and of the men in our lives. There has been very little space for figuring out what we might want, much less going after it. I know that I have done my share of whining about not getting small wants fulfilled because I couldn't figure out how to go after the big wants in a powerful way . . . ." (Ruth Hartman, Hayward, California, USA) . . . .

"Opportunism-or the rationalization of incorrect policy or actions to stay comfortable, popular, or maintain patterns in some way-is a key part of any oppression. We must be thinking about the next steps in liberation programs for the ending of opportunism. It was inspiring to watch Harvey's interruption of Cherie's internalised opportunism and then Cherie's courage, honesty, and integrity in correcting her opportunism. It seems we must take big risks to actually bring about the world we talk about. Harvey challenged us to remind ourselves of integrity, honor, and courage, including in the smallest experience; to leave every place in better shape than we found it . . . . All places and countries are fully home for Jews. A part of the internalized oppression is feeling that we always need a place to run to rather than focusing on building a safe place for Jews everywhere. This became particularly clear to me as I visited my relatives in South Africa (where I was born) and noticed how, rather than building the new South Africa, many are moving to Australia and elsewhere because it does not feel safe in South Africa. This is a big issue for Australian Jews. Australia is seen as one of the safest places for Jews, and people immigrate from far and wide to hopefully finally find a safe haven. We know the policy (that every place should be made safe for Jews), but seldom discharge on the reasons that we or our families moved to where we now live. It was wonderful to see the demonstration with a South African expatriate who was deciding to return to South Africa. It looks to me as if this terror is not available for discharge unless we decide to stay (or go back). This is work that really needs to be faced in Australia for individual re-emergence and to encourage correct policy in the wider community . . . . It was thrilling to be at the conference with four other Australians and our beloved New Zealander. Placing ourselves in the centre of an international Jewish liberation movement is a wonderful contradiction to our isolation 'down under' on the edge of the world . . . ." (Lyndall Katz, Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia)



Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00