We didn’t solve the problems of the Middle East at lunch today, but we had a good talk about our feelings regarding Israel, being Jewish, not being Jewish, and several other things — none of them being my possible upcoming oboe piece. I brought my oboe to the Contemporary Jewish Museum today, and even a music stand, but my thoughts and emotions centered on Israel — so, to a large extent, that’s what we talked about.
We agreed that we don’t like being yelled at. We talked about the possibility of there being many “centers” for the world’s Jewry — in Israel, and also throughout the rest of the world. (Someone mentioned that there is now a thriving group of Israeli Jewish emigré artists in Berlin — which reaches such a rarefied level of irony, I can barely begin to think of it.) I asked people what they thought of Israel, and how they were raised to think about Israel. There was a lovely range of ages, from (I’m guessing) about 13 up to (perhaps) 80-something. I felt nervous about bringing up this subject, especially as people came there (I think) expecting a lot of “riffing” and light banter on my part. There were at least three families there, including the parents of my rabbi (the father is a rabbi as well).
One theme that emerged (and I may be speaking more for myself than for others) is the sense that, in so much of our lives, and in so much of the world, we are engaged in a battle against fundamentalisms, against orthodoxies that seek to be the supreme power. No orthodoxy speaks for me. At the same time, I feel the importance — and others as well — of tradition, continuity, narrative. I found myself longing to do something real — not just talk, but action: something that, even if only in a very incremental, personal way, seeks to assert my own bit of agency. I recalled that politics is about power, and that democracy is about dialogue and improvisation, and I felt, in advance, the difficulty of sustaining action (especially in the absence of an all-affirming ideology).
I passed around my notepad and people put down their email addresses for a little elist, so we could continue the conversation on the Intertubes. I had a thought that perhaps we can link our little group with another little group in Israel.
We all enjoyed our food in the beautiful space of the CJM lobby. I worried that people were not perhaps getting what they wanted out of this event. But then, this is what the event turned out to be: a conversation on this day, regarding things we cared about. And could this be very wrong?
Next Monday at noon, I’ll be hanging out at the CJM Café again for lunch and conversation. Perhaps people will show up again. Maybe we’ll talk more about this stuff, maybe about other things. Maybe we’ll talk about other things that turn out to connect to these things. Going back to Berkeley on BART afterwards, I felt keen to bring the idea of “practice” into the ongoing conversation. I was talking with my brother Jacob about this recently — how I have a hard time just going forward, one step at a time, without any particular joy or feedback in the interstices; how it is hard sometimes to believe in the goal. And yet, as we spoke, I felt the joy and the hope.
What right do I have to want to contribute to peace in the Middle East? I don’t know. I have some thoughts, but I don’t know.