I’m a Jew
I’m a Rabbi
I’m a Zionist
And I’m a Settler
Now let me tell you what that means
-Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger
I took some KIVU Gap Year students to visit Rabbi Schlesinger last spring on a tour through the Holy Land. Many of you who follow my writings know how interested I am in seeing the world through the eyes of others.
It’s just too easy to come up with ‘Bumper Sticker’ answers to how the world turns, and when you take the time to explore some of the most complicated global issues through the eyes of another; you find out how truly similar we all are.
Rabbi Schlesinger has lived in a settlement in Israel for the last 30 or so years. As he explained his faith, his nation, and his outlook on the world, it was riveting to hear the passion behind his life.
I’m a Jew
He started by helping students understand what it meant to be Jewish. While most Americans understand Judaism through the lens of religion, he explained several different ways to be Jewish without adhering to the faith. You can be Jewish by nationality. You can be Jewish by genealogy. You can be Jewish by faith. But all are considered the same. In other words, you can be atheist and Jewish at the same time. (let that simmer in your brain for a bit.)
But the most interested part of his explanation of religious Judaism was when he said, “As a Jew we are a collective of people. When Abraham walked this very trail behind my house, I walk with him there. When God took the Jews out of Egypt, I was there with them. And when Hitler tried to destroy the Jews in the Holocaust, I was there too.”
It was the first time I’d ever thought about the Jewish people as a whole, and it became very clear.
I’m a Rabbi
He told us what it meant to be a teacher of the faith. He has studied the ancient texts, and spends an incredible amount of time understanding the implications of being a religious Jew in the Holy Land.
“One of the most famous Rabbi arguments I’ve studied is when a group of religious leaders sat down to study one of God’s commands. One Rabbi explained God’s command one way, while another had a totally different interpretation. And then God came to them and said, “These AND Those are the Word of the Lord.”
In other words, He told us how complicated understanding God’s commands might be. Often we try to make faith a black and white issue, but God might be saying, “YES” to both. (more on that later)
I’m a Zionist
This is probably the second most controversial part of the Rabbi’s life. Without going into great detail, A Zionist is one who believes that God has given the Jewish people the right to be in the Holy Land. Through prophecy and current geo-political environments, a Zionist reads the Torah to leading a group of people to have ownership over a certain Zip Code on the planet. There are Jewish Zionists. Government Zionists. Christian Zionists. And many who believe they have the right to create a pure Holy Land in favor of a certain people.
How this actually plays out in the nation of Israel is up for international debate. And if you’d like to see what it looks like, you’re welcome to come with me on a trip to the Holy Land. I’m really interested in how this plays out and effects not only religious leaders, but political leaders as well. (maybe we can have a conversation about this on a later blog, but it’s important to understand if you’re at all interested in what’s going on in the Middle East today.)
I’m a Settler
And this is probably the most controversial part of the Rabbi’s talk. A Settler is someone who has a specific ideology to go into the lands of Israel/Palestine, and create communities that are specifically Jewish.
“I came here in the 1980’s with the idea that my people were actually returning to a homeland. The Dry bones of the Holocaust only a few years early were rising up and becoming a significant people in the world. Who could have ever imagined?”
And that’s again a simplification of what actually was going on, but the Rabbi’s story was compelling.
And then he said something totally inconsistent with the stories of other Settlers I know.
“Just a few months ago, I was invited to a Barbecue with Jews and Palestinians. My family urged me not to go, as the Palestinians are always out to harm us. But I felt the urge from the Lord to Go and see what might happen.
When I arrived to the venue, the first person I met was a Palestinian man. We exchanged pleasantries and I thought, ‘I’ve never known a Palestinian who might be so kind.‘ And then I met another family with children who looked much like my children.
We talked about where we grew up, and we found out we lived very close in our childhood years.
After several hours meeting these people, I was shocked at how much I was beginning to care for them as people. They were actually becoming my friends.”
And that’s where the conversation took a turn.
“You see, although I believe God has brought us back to our homeland, our worldview didn’t actually take into consideration there were other people here already. There were people who had family homes. There were people who had businesses. There were people who didn’t fit our narrative, and we just chose to look past them.”
My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here was a man who didn’t have to, in any way acknowledge “the other” but was humbly now willing to build the bridge of friendship with someone who might be considered his enemy.
“God has given us a command to love ‘the other’ and we’ve failed.” he said.
I’m so thankful for my friend Rabbi Hanan. He has given me so much hope for peace in the world, especially in a place where conflict seems to thrive. And for my own life, I’m looking for those places where PEOPLE don’t fit my narrative. I’m actively looking for those places where I’ve marginalized people for the sake of my own ideology.
If you want to see a place where men are doing exciting things in the name of Love and Peace, look no further. Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger is one of my heroes of faith.