In a fascinating and enlightening oped at the Huffington Post, Rabbi Arthur Waskow explores the difference between ‘the state of Israel’ and ‘the people of Israel,’ and explains why the former must give way for the latter.
What does it mean to be “Israel”? We must remember that there is an “Israel” broader than the State. “Israel” is the name of a People also. And we must renew for ourselves the meaning of calling ourselves the People Israel. That name comes from one of the crucial stories in the Bible. It was the story of our ancestor Jacob. His name meant “heel,” and he was indeed a heel – – a sneak, a greedy grabber, a liar, a thief. But at a crucial moment in his life, he was moved by fear of the brother he had cheated and by guilt for his own behavior to turn from struggling against his brother to wrestling with the God Who, he felt, had shaped his world into impossibility. “Why,” he demanded, “was I caught in the trap in which to become the person I truly needed and intended to become, I had to lie and cheat? Why was the universe set up that way?” To raise that question meant to wrestle God. And from that wrestle he rose with a new name: “Yisra’el,” or in English “Israel,” “Godwrestler.” Once “Jacob” had become the Godwrestler, he was able to feel compassion for the brother he had feared, and he was able to inspire compassion from the brother he had robbed. That moment opened up for us the possibility of a new kind of peoplehood. For more than two millennia, we have called ourselves the Godwrestling folk. At this crucial moment in our lives, we need to turn away from robbing our Palestinian cousins and lying to ourselves. We need instead to wrestle with the God Who offers us a choice: On the one hand, the trap of being the liar, the robber, the oppressor; on the other hand, the open path of freedom. “Min hameytzar karati Yahh; anani ba’merchav Yahh. From the Narrow Place I cried out to You, the Breath of Life; You breathed back into me the breath of broad and open possibility.” (Psalm 118) First we need to cry out, to Wrestle and take the chance, even the likelihood, of being wounded as our forebear was. From knowing our own wound, learning to know the pain of others who are wounded. Becoming the Wounded Healer, not the heel. In the moral and ethical disaster of the Israeli election, the State chose to betray its own name and to act like the Heel Jacob rather than the compassionate Godwrestler. Since the State called “Israel” has betrayed its name, the People Israel must renew the meaning of our name.
The piece goes on to offer detailed suggestions for how that might happen and is well worth reading in full and sharing with others, so we may start the dialog.