Watching Social Media can certainly shape the way you think about certain issues. After all, we’re friends often with people who think like us, talk like us, post like us, and believe the same things about the world we do. But what happens when you have the solidarity to sit an listen to another story?
Last week in Jerusalem, I had the honor to listen to a different side of a complex situation in the Middle East.
There’s no question the region of Israel is plagued by neighbors who want to destroy her. But there’s also another side of the story. The history of how Israel came to be in relation to her neighbors is a story many of us never get a chance to hear, and more of us just don’t take the time to understand. Many of my friends in America have little time to dive deeply into actual context in order to understand the “other” and so we look for short soundbites that help us make sense of the world through the eyes of “good” and “evil.” But what if it’s not that easy? What if the world truly is more ‘grey’ than we’re willing to give credit?
That’s why I cherished the time we spent with Israeli Sociologist Jeremy Leigh. Jeremy works at The Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion. AND..he’s probably one of the smartest guys I know on the issue of Israel, Judaism, and the inner workings of the Israeli Social World.
Jeremy began our seminar with an overview of Who is Israel? And he identified 4 different tribes we don’t often hear of.
- Secular Israel – Characterized by Zionists who identify themselves with the nation state. These are Israeli’s who have little to do with religion, and are characterized by the social equality and statehood. Mainly made up of Ashkenazi Jews from Northern Europe, Secular Israel is only concerned with Statehood.
- Jewish Zionists – led by Theodore Herzl are those who have figured out how to give a religious orientation to the Jews returning to the land. These are those who believed in some sort of Messianic beginning and hopped on immigration to Israel for religious reasons.
- Ultra Orthodox Jews – These are those who live in Israel because they live there. They don’t adhere or believe in anything messianic. They don’t believe in any sort of Zionism or Statehood. They refuse to serve in the army, and don’t buy into anything to do with any official Jewish government.
- Arabs still living within the boarders. These are the people in Israel that were caught in the borders after 1948. They are second class citizens identified by their passport which reads 02. The Jews in Israel travel under a citizenship labeled 01 which affords all the rights to buy land, build businesses, travel freely, and live within the official laws of the land. These Arab citizens live under a different set of rules, and life holds a few more complications when trying to sign a lease for an apartment, move through the country, and be afforded those same rights as 01 citizens.
If you’re anything like me, I sat at the table with my jaw wide open. The differences in the people groups begins a conversation about identity. Which part of a country do what people belong? So much of my up-bringing taught me that Israelis were Israelis. But that would be like saying all Americans are…well…Americans, when we know there are different ideas behind what it means to be American. (I know there are some easy differences to articulate. But for this short blog we’ll stop short of describing those.)
These four differing identities are trying to make up this experiment in Israel started officially in 1948. Now that several generations and almost 70 years have passed, you can see the complexities jump right off the page in the description of each group.
If you ever have the chance to go, you’ll see this world play out in the different cities you visit. Tel Aviv is as secular city as I’ve ever seen. Characterized by Legal Prostitution, Night Clubs on every corner, and beaches populated by the skimpiest swim attire I’ve ever seen would seem more like the French Riviera than a religious country.
And then you travel to Jerusalem, and you encounter the most religious ultra orthodox who have no regard for statehood as they worship near the Western Wall.
It’s no surprise there is a conflict of people groups because they see the world in such differing ways. And then you throw in the constant worry from violent uprisings both from within the ranks of extremist on all sides, and Israel becomes this cornucopia of conflict never quite being able to put her thumb on who she is.
Of course there are incredible people living in each one of these tribes. There are people who long for a peace filled world free of violence, and there are those in each tribe who think violence is the only answer to claiming their position.
The main think I learned from Professor Leigh was this: You can’t simply group all Israelis under one banner. Some are religious, many have no desire to be, Some are interested in self, and many are interested in the good of the “other.” There’s no way to brush a broad brush stroke over any group of people. And so it’s up to you and I to simply figure out what it means to love our neighbor, love our enemy, and listen well to the joys and pains of our friends.