I Want My Children to “Have A Nice Life” – a response to Tom Friedman

Over the years of my Israel activism, I have come to appreciate the observations and insights of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. While I know there are those who think he is not fair to Israel, I disagree. He speaks hard truths grounded in common sense, often in the form of letters to leaders, as he does in today’s column, “Have A Nice Life.” The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project aims to do the same thing, using music as the vehicle. Today’s column gives me an opportunity to respond to Tom’s thoughts, adding my own, which obviously inform the vision and mission of The SRSS Project and our Concerts of Concern.

I have been following Israel affairs my entire life as my family narrative is grounded on the fact that my beloved Pop (Mom’s father) was born in Jerusalem, during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. As a child, I watched in awe as the miracle of the 6-Day War unfolded before my eyes. As a teenager in youth group we sang pioneer songs and liturgical texts, celebrating our return to Zion. As a political science major at the University of Michigan, I focused on the Middle East. I clearly recall watching Begin and Sadat make peace on the small TV in the backroom of the SDT house on Hill St., prior to making my first trip to Israel in the summer of 1979. In the 1990’s, I had profound Israel experiences, complete with trips to Jenin and Jordan, tasting the possibilities of peace. Intoxicated by those moments when the past, present and future merged into one eternal moment, I purchased a second home in the German Colony of Jerusalem in 1999. Friedman’s references to Olmert’s offer to Abbas in September of 2008, with his reference to “a large map upon which he outlined the borders of the future Palestinian state” reminded me of those heady days in July of 2000 when my friend Moti and I looked at similar maps published in the Jerusalem Post. In his letter to the Palestinian leader, Friedman should remind Abbas that his predecessor Yasir Arafat missed a very similar opportunity offered by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, under the watchful eye of Bill Clinton in 2000.

My oldest daughter, her husband and their two young daughters have returned to Jerusalem and like most of the residents of the region, Israeli, Arab, Palestinian, just want to “have a nice life.” However, without “a friendly third-party dose of common sense,”informed by “the reality principle” that nice life feels very far out of reach. In his column, Friedman shares what such common sense grounded in reality sounds like. To Netanyahu he suggests this blunt message from the Americans: “You are going to be a historic figure: the Israeli leader who left Israel with nothing other than a one-state solution, in which Israel will gradually give up being Jewish or democratic.”

G-d forbid such things should come to pass. The mission of SRSS is to ensure that Israel thrives as a modern Jewish democracy. Within the very dangerous neighborhood that is the modern Middle East, Israel’s mission is to be, in fact, a Light Unto the Nations. Sustained periods of war, terror and violence obviously challenge the very foundations of democracy. However, it is in such times that those same democratic values must be preserved. While the mission of SRSS focuses on internal politics, it is with the stated goal of strengthening the voices of moderation within the society. During such times when it seems that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so out of reach, it is crucially important to remind Israel of her foundational principles embedded in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. This is the essence of The SRSS Project and the Concerts of Concern. I am very grateful to Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky and Cantor Natasha Hirschhorn of Ansche Chesed for opening their sanctuary to SRSS on Sunday evening, November 15, 2015 at 7 pm at this crucial moment in our People’s history. If you are in the NYC area, please join us for this Concert of Concern.

My concern for a better life for all who live in Israel and her contiguous countries stems from not just our past and present but also my personal future. As Friedman writes, “It’s true that Israel can survive this war of the knives. But will it thrive? Will it remain a place where you will want to visit and (where my children will) raise their kids? Curious that in the column those words in parentheses are absent but for me they are in fact my reality principle as Rachel and Raffi and their young daughters, Shira and Molly are spending another year in our beloved homeland, this conflicted, tortured and Holy Place. Finally, I remind those who follow the work of SRSS that as Friedman says in conclusion, “Israel is a really powerful country.” It is from that place of power that I hope we can work together to strengthen the moderate voice within Israel, catalyzing what I like to call “The Revolt of the Moderates.” For Shira and Molly’s sake, let the revolution begin.