Home / Opinions / OpinionsRSS Feed
Lessons for Goldstone’s grandson
April 22nd, 2010
The United Nations-commissioned Goldstone report detailed the three-week war in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 and charged that both Israel and Hamas deliberately targeted each other’s civilian populations and committed war crimes. Judge Goldstone was condemned as a traitor to his people and many in the organized Jewish community shunned him for issuing this report.
Nevertheless, many Jews were appalled to learn that the South African Zionist Federation is threatening to disrupt Judge Goldstone’s grandson’s bar mitzvah ceremony, and some who vehemently disagree with the Goldstone report have publicly declared that the vitriol has gone too far.
The very notion that Jews would protest a grandfather’s participation in or even presence at a bar mitzvah is particularly distasteful. It is one thing to critique Goldstone in the political arena; it is something else to intrude into his private affairs.
This incident, egregious as it may be, did not emerge from a vacuum. It was borne of a climate in the Jewish community that has become increasingly intolerant of dissent. Jews who dare to raise their voices in critique of Israeli policy are often disparaged as traitors and self-hating Jews. They are told, sometimes quite directly, that they are not welcome in our congregations and community institutions.
While there used to be a wide range of discourse on Israel in the Jewish community, Jews with dissenting opinions have either chosen to silence themselves or leave the community.
South African Bet Din head Rabbi Moshe Kurstag, noting the anger that many in the South African Jewish community feel towards Judge Goldstone, said that the agreement for him to stay away “was quite sensible to avert all this unpleasantness.”
Judge Goldstone’s presence in synagogue would certainly be unpleasant for some. But to encourage a fellow Jew to stay away from a family simchah? To deprive a grandfather the joy of watching his grandson read Torah? There is a real cost to avoiding unpleasantness, and it not only affects the personal situation of Judge Goldstone and his family. It erodes our communal obligation to serve all Jews. Closing a synagogue’s doors to a Jew because of his or her position on Israel is destructive to our community.
Ignoring or isolating Jews who hold dissenting views allows us to surround ourselves with people who agree with us, shield ourselves from difficult questions, and avoid the challenge of wrestling with firmly held assumptions.
We do ourselves a real disservice by suppressing the diversity of thought among fellow Jews. We will either alienate so many Jews that our communities will suffer from their loss, or Jewish identity will simply become so bland that it will not be compelling to the next generation of Jews.
It is ironic that the heart of the Goldstone controversy revolves around a bar mitzvah, a sacred life cycle event whereby a 13 year-old becomes an adult in the community and takes on additional religious obligations.
This is an opportunity to become more responsible and to act with greater integrity. It is a time of great celebration. And yet, what exactly are we teaching this next generation of Jews? I am afraid that we have taught Judge Goldstone’s grandson that if you do not toe the party line you will be humiliated, demonized, and excommunicated from the community. What a terrible lesson for a young Jew to learn.
Dissent and free discourse strengthen us as a people. Jews have a long tradition of debate, and the very act of debate has made our communities flourish throughout the generations.
When Jews care enough to carefully engage with each other we create real opportunities for learning and growth. The future of our people lies in our ability to talk to one another, even on issues as difficult as Israel.
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman is spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison.