Friday, March 27, 2009

Why Rabbi Marmur loves Israel

Rabbi Dow Marmur was the Senior Rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto for the period just before I arrived there. As a result, I never got to know him well, but I did to some degree. He's a wonderfully smart man, and a keen observer of things around him; I grew to always appreciate his insights.

He lives half the year in Israel, and when he's there he writes regular missives (always 1 page) about Israeli society, politics, etc. He is often pessimistic (as he readily admits), but I'd say not in a dour kind of way. More in a clear-eyed, "I see the problems and I'm going to talk about them" kind of way. Given the situation of late - the aftermath of the Gaza war, the lack of positive peace talks with the Palestinians, Iran, the new government - Rabbi Marmur has had a lot to complain about in recent weeks. So, I was surprised to get from him, this morning, an article talking about why he loves Israel so much. Coming from someone is so honest about Israel's failings, it was especially poignant (to me, anyway). And because, as he says, he avoids most of the cliches on the topic, I found it very interesting, as well. With his permission, I'm posting it here, for your reading pleasure:


If things are so bad in Israel, why are they so good? I imagine that some who read my pessimistic reports want to know. In view of my often critical comments about Israeli politics they’re entitled to wonder why I spend so much time there. What follows is an attempt to provide an answer without resorting, I hope, to the standard clich├ęs, even though I may not necessarily disagree with the popular sentiments they express.

  • Things are so good in Israel because I feel engaged in its future and free to express critical opinions about it. As I belong to Israel, so does it belong to me and to everybody who shares in its destiny. Feeling so much a part of my fellow Jews, whether or not I agree with them, I’ll continue to oppose those who, in the guise of piety and fidelity to Jewish teachings, want to keep me out because I’m a Reform Jew.
  • In Israel I live Judaism not only in my home and in the synagogue but in the street and in everything in which I’m involved, good and bad.
  • I’m constantly amazed at the human ingenuity that has created this modern state. Israel celebrates the human spirit at its best and, alas, also at its not-so-good. But all of it is real and open to the scrutiny of Jewish teachings and the experience of Jewish history.
  • I’m committed to Israel because I know that, without it, I’d have to choose between the Scylla of assimilation and the Charybdis of the ghetto, the two monsters that threaten Jewish life in the diaspora. In both situations I’d be considered, in the words of Hannah Arendt, either a parvenu or a pariah. My love of Israel differs at times from ways others express it, because I believe that defending every Israeli political and military action harms it instead of helping it. To love a country isn’t to be a mental and emotional slave to those who rule it, even if they’ve been democratically elected.
  • I believe that the future of Judaism is bound up with the future of Israel. In view of what we’ve been through as a people and considering our condition in today’s world, I’m convinced that without Israel Jews would soon become a quaint curiosity, like the Amish, and Judaism a museum item.
  • Being free from the fear of both assimilation and ghettoization I’m in a better position to care about others. Living among my people makes me more sensitive to the needs of all peoples, because I feel I’ve a share in the affairs of the world in ways that parvenus and pariahs don’t. Particularism is the twin of universalism, not its enemy.
  • Though it’s no longer fashionable, I still believe that modern Zionism is the liberation movement of the Jewish people. Because I’m committed to it, I see it as my responsibility to champion the liberation of all peoples, not least the Palestinians. My hope is that, instead of seeing Zionism as their oppressive and imperialist enemy, Palestinians will come to recognize Israel as an opportunity that, all rhetoric notwithstanding, their Arab and Muslim brothers have hitherto denied them.
  • There are many beautiful places in Israel but for me Jerusalem is special, both in its physical beauty and in its link to the past. Here heaven and earth meet and holiness is in the air, even if car fumes pollute it. Living in Jerusalem is a unique privilege.
  • Five of the ten members of the immediate family with which my wife and I are blessed live here.
  • In the words of Amos Oz: I love Israel even when I can’t stand it.

Jerusalem 27.3.09 Dow Marmur

1 comment:

c said...

I agree with the Rabbi. I felt a lot of the same when I lived there. There is much going on there I found problematic and uncomfortable but I feel that we (the Jewish people) have a responsibility to make the world a better place and Israel is the first place where that must happen. We must learn to live what we believe and there is always a connection to strangers there that is not felt amongst Jews in the US. The kehillah permeates every interaction, good or bad, and there is definitely something Jewish in the air in the holy land.