Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ode to the Proud Jew

To all the proud Zionists at UC Berkeley,

Today at 5:00am in Berkeley, California, after an all-night show trial, the ASUC student senate passed an anti-Israel divestment resolution for the second time.

The Daily Cal student newspaper had a live stream of the senate meeting on their website. Watching a few seconds was enough to remind me of the first time. All my worst memories from Berkeley came flooding back in an instant. I couldn't keep watching.

I'm not writing today to recount the story of last time. I tell you this for one reason only: so that you will understand the depth of emotion I feel when I tell you that you are my heroes.

It's kind of absurd, when you think about it. A group of 20 otherwise normal college students, most with no particular knowledge of or interest in Israel, finding time between getting drunk and studying for exams to sit on a stage and vote to divest funds from companies doing business with Israel, as if they had such funds in their control (they don't). And they felt important doing it. It's not surprising that a court so detached from reality has no qualms about ignoring truth in order to feel a sense of self-righteous justice.

They also happened to vote during the meeting against recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Thanks ASUC, but I think the Jewish people will be just fine without your validation of our right to national self-determination.

So all night this court convened, before a crowd of hundreds of participant-spectators, as the Jewish community of Berkeley was subjected to all manner of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic vitriol. One obvious question stands out:


Why bother? Go home! Study your biochemistry, have a good night's sleep, and let these hooligans and fools put on their anti-Israel hate fest unhindered! It's a question I asked myself many times when I was an activist at Berkeley.

The answer is a little voice that lives inside every proud Jew. A voice that had been silent for centuries, drowned out by other, louder voices: assimilation, subservience, and fear.

But with the start of the Zionist movement, a peculiar thing happened. The little voice of Jewish pride awoke and started to yell with all its might. The old way of timid piety and silent martyrdom withered and died, and the Jewish nation shook off the dust of the diaspora and rose to its feet. And the music of Basel drowned out the echoes of Kishinev.

The little voice was tempered in the fire of the Shoah, and was heard screaming all the way at the gates of the Warsaw Ghetto and on the decks of the Struma, as the fighters and the ma'apilim died with Hatikvah on their lips.

That same voice, the Voice of the Proud Jew, now taken for granted in a world where the Jewish nation once again has self-determination in its ancestral homeland, is the one living in each and every one of you.

I know how tough it is to stand up for Israel and Zionism at Berkeley: the emotional pain of being in such a hostile space as last night's meeting, the frustration of always being on the defensive as malicious slander is slung at you and your country, the feeling of futility as your carefully chosen words fall on deaf ears, and a very tangible alienation from friends, colleagues, and professors, who see Israel differently from us and choose not to disagree civilly.

For this, every one of you, whether you lobbied your ASUC representatives, spoke at the meeting, organized in the community, wrote about your thoughts, discussed the issue with your fellow students, or even simply liked a Facebook page, you are a hero in my eyes. Thank you for listening to that voice.

This is probably not the end of the road for the BDS struggle in Berkeley, and as you continue fighting, I want you to remember something. From over here it's clear that the tangible effects of one more divestment resolution passing is far from earth-shattering. The real significance to this day is how hundreds of proud Jews were willing to put themselves into a difficult situation, simply for the principle of standing up for themselves.

Today you showed your intelligence, creativity, and passion. You showed your commitment to truth, to intellectual honesty, to your identities, and to Israel. You banded together as a community, and stayed positive through the challenges.

I'm incredibly proud of you.

Thank you, kol hakavod, and good luck.