Building the world we all want


To the editor:

Since Saturday night a couple weeks ago, my phone has barely stopped ringing as I have been part of a volunteer team helping our elders and the most vulnerable in our community book vaccine appointments in a system that is nearly impossible to navigate — in a district that has barely any vaccination sites.

We are doing this because we understand that our systems right now are not helping those who most need them, and because we know that our ability to overcome this virus is contingent on the vaccination of our entire community, city and state.

When I saw the tweet from my representative, Dr. Jamaal Bowman, calling on the Israeli government to ensure Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza receive vaccines too, I understood that he was articulating the same idea that drove me to help here at home.

Israelis and Palestinians alike should receive the same access to life-saving vaccinations during this global emergency. Congressman Bowman’s call is in-line with a vision of a society in which our vaccination efforts and our care infrastructure reach everyone that has been devastated by the pandemic, not just those of us with the most access to resources.

I hold the same values for my community in the Bronx and Riverdale, just as I hold them for our Israeli family and community.

So I was heartbroken to see yet another piece from Rabbi Avi Weiss calling Congressman Bowman out.

While many of us have found our home in Orthodoxy in spaces created by Rav Avi — the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Chovevei and Maharat, the countless students and synagogues that bear his mark, and through the smachot he officiates and the way he shows up for us in vulnerable moments and through his life-long activism — it is painful but important to publicly acknowledge that this letter is part of a pattern of Jewish leaders across our city and country, turning their deep attachment to Israel into bludgeons against a progressive vision for our world.

This visceral fear too often leads us toward isolation instead of toward partnership.

There are many of us here in Rabbi Weiss’ community that are part of groups like The Jewish Vote and Jews for Jamaal, building power toward an alternative vision — one of real solidarity within multiracial coalitions that are working toward everyone’s collective liberation.

A freedom to thrive with universal access to food, housing, health care, and safety from unjust policing and mass incarceration.

It harms all of us — and undermines this sacred work — when we silence, attack, and punish leaders who speak up and criticize Israeli policies. We are building beyond reactive litmus tests and toward a new, more complex — and hopefully transformative — conversation about Israel based on our ability to engage in deep, honest and mutual relationships.

The Jewish community is stronger when our allies and partners — those who fight by our side against the rise of ethno-nationalism, authoritarianism, and anti-Semitic attacks, who showed up for us after Pittsburgh, and who defend the right to freedom and dignity for Jewish people, no matter where we live — are also honest with us. Honest about how they see Israel and Palestine.

When Congressman Bowman advocates for Palestinian rights, we should listen and really hear what he is trying to tell us, instead of offering an alarming shout of “anti-Semitism.”

Listening also enables us to hear the diversity of voices inside our own community. We grow and learn and are better from this kind of honesty. It is the bedrock of partnership and building toward a future where everyone is free.

Building this partnership feels even more essential as we work to move forward as a nation while undoing the damage of the last four years. We know the divisions in our society are not going away. In fact, they are getting stronger.

One of the most concerning examples of this trend is the presence of a supporter of the anti-Semitic Qanon conspiracy in congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene, along with denying the legitimacy of our democratic elections and supporting the violent insurrection at the Capitol, was revealed this week to have said that Jewish “space lasers” were responsible for California wildfires.

It is Congresswoman Greene whose vile, conspiratorial hatred presents a direct threat to our people.

For the last half-century, Rav Avi has demonstrated and modeled and demanded acknowledgement that “Jewish blood is not cheap.” So let us continue this vision and honor the sacred value of all human blood, and the bloods of all peoples crying out from the ground — Black and white, Israeli and Palestinian, gentile and Jew. Let us engage in a process, with partners, that will include all humanity in our vision for a just world.

Riverdale is privileged to have a visionary leader like Congressman Bowman representing us, and leading the charge for real, meaningful policy change in Washington.

It is on us to help build that world we all want to live in.

Maayan Seligsohn

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Maayan Seligsohn,