Outsiders Have Every Right

Tags: Zionism, Jewish Identity, Tradition

By Varda Epstein

I get it from both sides. Israelis will say about Americans, “It’s easy for you to say. You don’t live here.”

Meanwhile, Americans may say, “I guess it’s none of my business. After all, I don’t live there.”

And then you have the third option: the completely clueless outsider Jews who wag fingers in the faces of Israelis and tell them what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.


But really, when I think about things later, and not just in the heat of the moment, I realize that I want the outsiders to feel they have every right to weigh in on policy and peace and everything in between.

The bottom line is that Israel belongs to all Jews, and not just to those who live there at the moment. In fact, Israel belongs to all Jews past, present, and future, no matter where they lived, live, or will live.

Israel doesn’t belong any more to me than it does to my mom in Pittsburgh. Ownership has nothing to do with where a person lives. And a gift doesn’t belong to me more because I live in one place as opposed to another. So yeah, let Jewish people in Pittsburgh tell my government how to govern. Not a problem.

In telling us Israelis how to live our lives, they, you, (the outsiders) are expressing a commitment.

And that commitment has everything to do with the future of Israel and the connection between the next generation of Jews and the land.

That should be reassuring. It means that even if some disaster should befall Israel, God forbid, there are Jews who will take over the project and resurrect things as they were or perhaps make them better than ever (if such a thing were even possible!).

Of course, there’s always a caveat. You want those who are critical of Israel (and who happen not to live in Israel) to have some understanding of Israeli society and culture. You want them to have tasted amba (mango chutney) and to have heard ululating crowds at a wedding.

You want them to know the long lines you wait in to have some clerk stamp your papers in between long coffee breaks complete with café hafuch and biskveeteem (biscuits).

You want them to know the nastiness of wall-to-wall bodies that have no concept of personal space and yet to experience the kindness of being offered a seat on a bus because you are pregnant or old.

You want them to understand what it is like to travel on that bus knowing that it might be blown to smithereens.

You want them to check for bags left behind on that bus that might be hiding bombs.

You want them to know the helplessness of having rocks thrown at your car for the crime of being Jewish in Judea and Samaria while your 2 month-old baby sits in the back, strapped into her car seat.

In short, you don’t want them to think that living in Israel or making peace is all about hearts and flowers and rainbows and kindness.

People are, by turns, both hard and soft and sour and sweet. Life is difficult and dangerous and filled with a fertile joyousness one never experiences anywhere else, with a sky so blue and so near you could reach up and pull down a star.

You want them to feel what it means to lose someone you love to terror, even though you never want them to feel what it means to lose someone you love to terror. You want them to feel that oneness you experience with total strangers who lose someone, yet they are your family, too.

You want them to feel a little sad all day after a rocket hits a quiet residential street in Southern Israel during the final days of summer vacation.

You don’t want to have to explain why you missed a joke as I did during a virtual meeting with my Kars4Kids coworkers in Lakewood

And then have one of them say, “I wish I thought more about Israel,” because they should be thinking about Israel ALL THE TIME and you have no idea why they don’t pack up and get on a plane for Israel right this minute.

The author's son's bar mitzvah at the Kotel.

Moreover, you want the outsiders who weigh in on things Israeli to know what it is to give things up. Your parents are there, and you are here. You meet on occasion, but it’s not the same. Your kids may grow up without grandparents, and as your parents age, you may not be there to honor them and make the arrangements for their final care. The siblings you left behind may resent you. They don’t know how much it pains you to have chosen between your parents and the land you love with all your heart.

More than anything—most of all, you don’t want them to think that their outsider expectations of how society works are at all applicable to Israeli society or to think that what works in Pittsburgh will work in Raanana. Because it won’t fly.

There are things common to all societies. Of course there are. We all breathe air and eat food. But the fact that something will play in Peoria doesn’t say beans (bupkes) about how it will play in Holon.

Israel is magical. It has a mystique you can never fully crack as an outsider. But I still want you to try. I still want you to care. And I will try not to resent you if you don’t fully understand and even if you miss the point altogether. Because Israel belongs to both of us by blood and inheritance, forever Israel.

And because Israel is forever.



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About the Author

Varda Epstein
Varda Epstein is a writer in love with Israel, a mother of 12, and a grandmother, too. When not battling the trolls, Varda is a parent education expert and writer at Kars4kids, a Guidestar gold medal charity.

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Tags: Zionism, Jewish Identity, Tradition