If Not Now is an American Jewish progressive activist group opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The If Not Now movement consists of young Jewish Americans who demonstrate against politicians, US Government policies, and Jewish institutions perceived to support the “apartheid” behavior of Israel toward the Palestinians, primarily through direct action and media appearances.
If Not Now was founded four years ago to protest American Jewish institutional support for Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge, where following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Israel set out to destroy the tunnels Hamas built in Gaza with the sole aim of infiltrating into Israel. If Not Now’s first action was to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, for all Palestinian and Israeli victims of the war outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York City.
Regardless of my feelings toward If Not Now, the group has every right to exist and promulgate their views. So too, for that matter, does Lehava, a group from the other end of the political spectrum have every right to exist, however odious its views. For the record, Lehava sees Christians as “blood-sucking vampires” and maintains that “Christmas has no place in the Holy Land.” Recently Camp Ramah found itself in an imbroglio when it included If Not Now in its camp curriculum. Facing enormous pressure to remove If Not Now from its programming, Camp Ramah recanted.
Lest they commit another egregious and unacceptable faux pas in the future, Camp Ramah’s leadership would do well to ask itself whether Jewish parents send their children to summer camp for the purpose of gaining an understanding of Palestinian suffering rarely, if ever, addressed by the American Jewish establishment. I may be totally off base, but it seems to me that in addition to being with friends and not having to worry about dietary laws, a good many Jewish parents send their kids to summer camp for swimming, boating, bonfires, and color wars. When all is said and done, parents send their children to summer camp to escape boredom that usually descends upon teenagers and pre-teens by the end of the first week of summer vacation.
Providing a forum for the wrongs and atrocities (I’m being facetious) committed against the Palestinians by the Israelis opens up a Pandora’s Box. If it’s kosher to include discussion/study about Palestinian victims, shouldn’t it be equally kosher to include discussion/study about German victims of the Holocaust? In the German city of Dresden, well over 20,000 Germans were killed within a 24 hour period in February 1945, as close to 4000 tons of high explosive bombs and other incendiary devices were dropped over its skies by the RCAF and the United States Army Airforce. Surely, many of the victims were innocent Germans. Perhaps at the next Yom HaShoah commemoration, Kaddish should be recited in memory of the innocent Germans who lost their lives in WWII. Better yet, with Tisha B’Av being observed in the very midst of camp season, isn’t it time that in addition to mourning the destruction and loss of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, that we also mourn the deaths of innocent Jews, as well as the deaths of innocent Babylonians (First Temple) and the deaths of innocent Romans (Second Temple), in that there was a high likelihood that casualties were borne by innocents on both sides? Why must the memories of innocent Germans of WWII, innocent Babylonians and innocent Romans of first and second Temple period be obliterated, as we champion the poor Palestinians?
Eight weeks of summer camp is an extremely short period of time to infuse Jewish teaching into the minds of children and adolescents. With a plethora of subjects available to its educators, ranging from ancient Midrash to Jewish American Biographies, one would think that the staff of Jewish summer camps has a challenge of cramming so much into such a limited time. If political viewpoints are of such critical importance to the curriculum of a summer camp, better the campers should learn about the political differences that raged among Jewish leaders as Jerusalem was besieged by the enemy.
Once upon a time, Camp Ramah was the single most successful story of the Conservative Movement. In eight weeks of summer, its counselors imbued more Judaism in their campers than the vast majority of Conservative rabbis imbued in their congregants week after week, year after year. Perhaps controversy and politics should be avoided at all costs; perhaps practice and ritual should be incremented at all costs. The results may very well be priceless.