Why am I drawn to keep watching the videos online of you leaving your Birthright trips to visit with Palestinians? It’s because I feel like I am watching myself, sincerely struggling to do what I felt was the right thing. Even though it was challenging to stand up and speak out, I too felt compelled to make the most open-minded and inclusive choices, hard as it may have been.
I want to reach through the screen and be there with you, embracing the limitless ability to feel another’s pain, that quality of mercy, with which you have been imbued. And when your voice gets tearful and shaky, even though I don’t even know your name, I believe that I do know the inner craving for truth that is compelling your actions.
Your commitment to justice runs deep, as you watch Palestinian people being used as pawns, and you long to learn more and be helpful to those who are downtrodden. I relate this to the genuine interest I had in helping the people of Togo, Africa, through the Peace Corps years ago. Decades and timely issues may separate us, but my feeling is that at the core, we have a surprisingly similar idealism motivating what we do.
What would I want to say if we were together right now? I’m not really sure. Mostly, I’d like to listen to what is most pressing on your heart and mind and explore your questions deeply because I understand how authentic and also how unrelenting they are.
I was searching for the meaning to life as a 20-something, and finally came to the conclusion that it was to be good. Somebody gave me the boring answer that Judaism gives more details about how to be good than any other religion. I soon realized that the statement about the uniquely intricate details in Judaism was accurate. Studying the wisdom inherent in the details of the Torah’s guidelines is what profoundly changed my life.
There were no Birthright trips to leave, but I was certainly ready to give up my birthright before that point. I was also ready to marry a non-Jew because I didn’t see any reason why I needed to be Jewish. Then I got the chance to find out why Jews are widely and repeatedly hated by so many through the ages. Hitler put it this way: “Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish like circumcision.” And yet we are also revered by others who figured out that something extraordinary must be going on.
I came to discover that we are an unusually caring people who are not afraid to swim against the tide when necessary. You and your friends exemplify these traits, and I can’t help identifying with you and caring about you too.
This column was originally published in The Times of Israel.
Bracha Goetz is a Baltimore-based author of 37 children’s books and the new memoir, “Searching for God in the Garbage.”