It’s easy to forget that Israel is over 6,000 miles away when standing in front of 700 supporters at our annual Yom HaAtzmaut celebration.
It’s moments like these that make me feel like I’ve been a member of the Midwest Jewish community forever. It reminds me what I already know – that the Jewish people are not just a religion, they are a nation. More than that, we are a family. Judaism is what gives us a sense of belonging and identity in the communities in which we live in. This is why it is so important that we never feel divided from within.
This summer’s revisit of the Kotel compromise coupled with the suggested conversion bill unfortunately surfaced a feeling of divisiveness. However, the Israeli government was looking to do the exact opposite; they were looking to pursue a more practical compromise that might have satisfied both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. Attempts to portray it as otherwise only exacerbated the issue and undermined the possibility of reaching any compromise at all.
Like in any family the search for equilibrium leaves some feeling troubled. But as a family, it is crucial to not only have dialogue, but to listen to each other and search for a better understanding of one another. Most importantly, family doesn’t give up on each other, and this situation shouldn’t be any different.
As an Israeli, I am not merely accustomed to self-criticism, debate and disagreement – I encourage it. And I encourage you to also engage in this debate, to empower yourself by using your voice, and to stand up for your beliefs by creating dialogue and understanding. This is the only path to reach equilibrium.
We deserve to find agreement rather than disagreement and compromise rather than confrontation. We have to find a way to discover the one voice within the many voices among us in order to strengthen our roots and proudly assert our Judaism as a unified nation.
My Jewish extended “family” in the Midwest is evidence of the support and commitment to the state of Israel that I represent. I am humbled to visit congregations with siddurim that contain prayers for the state of Israel and for the Israel Defense Forces. When I sit on bimas alongside rabbis of all denominations I am honored to see an Israeli flag flying alongside the American flag. Evidence of the ties between the Jewish community of Wisconsin and Israel can be found in the hundreds who walk for Israel in Yom HaAtzmaut; the partnership with the Sovev Kinneret region; the passionate students at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and University of Wisconsin – Madison eager to educate and advocate for Israel; and our relationships with legislators who are fighting against BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions), and making trips to discover the Jewish national home.
Every day, I experience the support and commitment of organizations and individuals throughout the Midwest who don’t always agree with Israel’s policies or decisions, but who remain engaged.
In the path that we seek, we’ll find challenges, but we will work together and your voice will be heard, loud and clear. Now, more than ever, we want to galvanize your voice in our journey to find equilibrium.
This project called Zionism is a family project. It’s a project of both Israelis and the diaspora, and by better understanding each other, we can proudly flourish in this project.
Aviv Ezra is Israel’s Consul General to the Midwest.