When God asked Cain of Abel’s whereabouts, his haunting response was the rhetorical question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain and God both knew what had become of Abel and Cain’s response has been read as a guilt-ridden deflection from the true answer: Yes, we are all our brothers keepers.
As a Diaspora Jew, so too, I am responsible to my Israeli brothers and sisters. The understanding of our relationship as family contextualizes the obligation. I cannot force my sibling to act, but I am certainly invested in her welfare. I do not walk in my sibling’s shoes, but if I see him appear to go astray I am duty-bound to voice my concern. Whether my perspective is accepted or rejected, I am compelled to share my thoughts because I care. This is harder to do however when I feel my voice is rebuffed or my views disrespected, when it feels as though my sibling acts with the arrogance of the prodigal son. But my love for my brothers and sisters obliges me to speak nonetheless.
It is in that tension that we find ourselves now. Chemi Shalev, the eminent Israeli journalist, is right to express his concern that we in the United States are not speaking up forcefully enough. But an Israeli prime minister that foments the political divide among American Jews and a chief rabbinate that expressly refuses to acknowledge my practice of Judaism are but two ways my voice is repressed. And yet I must speak.
I care deeply about Israel, both the state and the aspirations it represents. Israel is a homeland to my people. It is deeply rooted in my narrative creating profound meaning. Israel is also a refuge for my people from a hostile world. Equally important, Israel is also a place where Jewish values might live and thrive. These values include belief in the sanctity of human life and a system of laws that guide just behavior. These principles guide a place where they can be lived and realized, no longer the province of a powerless people. Rather than a nation like all other nations, Israel is a light unto the nations.
Israel can be a beacon of hope, striving to better herself through the proper treatment of her citizens and the protection of the weak. She is to be a nation of laws equally applied, a country striving towards the highest moral standards internally and externally in her treatment of friend and foe alike.
Sometimes Israel falls short. It is our responsibility to lovingly speak out when she does, based on our deep caring for Israel and what Israel means to us and to the world. And we must continue to speak up undeterred by those who might find us an annoyance or at odds with their particular worldview.
For me, I support the Israel Religious Action Center, Hiddush, the New Israel Fund, the Hand In Hand School and the Galilee Circus, all designed to support cooperation and a shared society. I visit as frequently as I can. I speak out both in support of things I believe are right and critically of things that are not. I am my brother’s keeper.