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Time to Take Sides

23 October 2020

Dear Members and Friends,

As a native Russian-speaker and knowing Hebrew just enough to understand speech and text, I often find myself in between two or three opinions. Most clearly it is reflected in discussions around Israel and Zionism. Some of my friends express strong unconditional support of all Israel’s actions, and others are very critical about the current politics. There is a natural desire to belong and be liked by others which often makes me remain silent and not express my views. My inner voice often tells me 'You should be a good person' so I do everything not to upset others.

This week I had a privilege to be one of 524 delegates of the 38th World Zionist Congress. 199 leaders from Israel, 152 from the United States, and 173 from the rest of the Jewish diaspora gathered online to represent their views and interests. I think you can imagine how heated some of the discussions were.

The Zionist Congress was established in 1897 by Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland. Since that time, it has been one of the very few platforms where Jews of all affiliations and political views can be represented and have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard. The congress’s aim is to set a strategic vision for a significant part of the Jewish world for the next five years. Decisions of the congress influence the work of a number of affiliated institutions - The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish National Fund.
This year the Congress was asked to vote on an agreement that would strip non-Orthodox movements and centre-left parties of positions of power.1 It became clear that my natural intention to abstain and avoid conflicts would lead to an unacceptable result for progressive Jews across the world. It was time to take a side and speak out.

In his work ‘The Night Trilogy’, Elie Wiesel - writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Prize laureate, and Holocaust survivor - wrote 'We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere'. 
It was Elie Wiesel’s words that guided me in this complex world of Jewish politics. Being a Progressive Jew often means to be a minority and we often find ourselves in an oppressed and marginalised position. Sometimes we must take sides. Sometimes we need to make our voices loud and clear. Sometimes it is our religious, moral, and human responsibility to speak out.

In this week’s Torah portion, Noah remains silent. When God tells Noah about the plan to bring the Flood and destroy the majority of all living creatures, Noah does not question this decision. What if there were other good people? What if their children were worth fighting for? In the forthcoming chapters, we will read stories of those who choose to speak out and choose to argue with God. For example, Abraham stands for the corrupt people of Sodom and Gomorrah and tries to save as many of them as possible. Therefore, Jewish commentators argue, Noah is called the righteous in his generation only (Gen. 6:9), while Abraham’s covenant is established throughout ‘all generations’ (Gen 9:12). Belief in a better future even when the present is corrupt is what makes our covenant righteous and everlasting.

May these stories help us to understand and be sympathetic to all those who are oppressed today and never be in the position of an oppressor ourselves. May we always find the wisdom to see when to speak out and when to listen, when to vote and when to abstain, when to act and when to step away.

Ken Yehi Ratzon

May this be God’s will

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Igor Zinkov

[1] Read more here: https://forward.com/news/456805/right-wing-ultra-orthodox-parties-accused-of-plotting-takeover-at-world/  

Wed, 28 October 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781