This op-ed explores how to love your family through political disagreement.
BY EMMA GOMETZDECEMBER 3, 2021
The day I moved into my first college dorm room in New York City, my grandparents surprised me with a gift. They lovingly placed a large book into my hands: Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Mitchell Bard. I’m no historian, but I recognized Bard as the author of several other books, with titles such as The Arab Lobby and Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews.
I understood why they gifted me this particular book. My college has a reputation among Zionists for being antisemitic because of the strong campus presence of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)-supporting organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine. My grandparents urged me to consider the literature, in case anyone wanted to try me on Israel.
What they didn’t know was I am a supporter of the fight against the further destruction of Palestinian lives and borders, and have been deeply critical of Israeli military choices for some time. I left my Jewish youth group at 15 because I was already beginning to have different views on Israel (among other things), but I never told my grandparents. I took the book from their hands, and thanked them for the gift. The next morning, I dropped it off at a public book-donation center.
Since then, my grandparents have been putting more and more information in my hands, including a DVD and a few pamphlets on Hamas left on my bed when I visit, and bringing me downstairs at Pesach to show me a couple of books on Israel. Every time, the most I can do is thank them for their concern, politely decline or brush it off. Normally, I’m very vocal about my political beliefs and deeply outspoken against what I believe to be systemic injustice. But around my grandparents, I can’t seem to squeak out my opinion on Israel and Palestine.
My grandparents are lifelong educators. My grandmother was a grade school teacher and my grandfather was an active rabbi for 36 years. They taught me about the Jewish value of tikkun olam — repairing the world — and they make regular donations to global charities that address hunger, education, climate change, and gender equality. And yes, also to Israel. They see their support of the state of Israel as a contribution to the good of the world, and that’s part of why it’s so difficult to bring up my conflicting feelings.
It’s difficult for me to share my beliefs on Palestine with Jewish people who were denied entry to the United States during the Holocaust, who would have been killed if they weren’t able to immigrate to what is now Israel. It’s difficult for me to talk about how many Palestinian civilians are killed by Israeli forces when the words “Jews will not replace us” were being chanted at a riot on U.S. soil in 2017. It’s difficult for me to write this piece after I’ve been down the white nationalist rabbit hole on Twitter, where bigots call for the destruction of Israel because they think it will mean the destruction of all Jews.
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As my grandparents get older, they’re trying to pass down generations of values. They hand me old possessions, subscriptions to magazines, and photo albums as a way of telling me that they love me and want to stay in my life even after they’re gone. They become more fragile with time, and part of me wonders if I ever have to bring up my real disagreements with them at all. Wouldn’t it be more painful for them than validating for me? I’m afraid that if I tell my grandparents I don’t absolutely love Israel, they will think that I don’t absolutely love them.
Of course, that’s not true. I love being Jewish. I love Hanukkah. I love the prayers L’chah Dodi and Avinu Malkeinu. I love my rabbi, I loved my bat mitzvah, I love gefilte fish and horseradish, I love playwright Paula Vogel, I love Adam Sandler, and I love my family. Judaism has helped me celebrate, grieve, reason, and learn. Judaism is an ancient religion that has spread across the world. A modern border conflict cannot break my connection to that legacy.
As a Jewish person, I’ve been taught that it’s necessary to speak up and act if we believe there is injustice of any kind. We actually have a say in the conversation about Israel, whether we like it or not. I’m sick of having the same conversation with my Jewish friends, about how we’re afraid to bring up our real opinions on Palestine to our relatives for fear they’ll think we don’t care about our religion or families. Jewish people are still a global minority, and I understand that being divided on anything can be scary. Nonetheless, in our faith, it is imperative to stand up for what we each believe is right. And our opinions don’t change the fact that we love our families deeply.
All of my relatives, especially my wonderful grandfather who raised us to learn from and celebrate Judaism, are a part of why it’s important for me to be honest and continue interrogating my opinions on this extremely controversial topic. I hope they can see that the values they taught me still shine through me, even though those values prompted a reevaluation of some of their political beliefs. And anyway, a lot of other Jewish people before me have come together for Palestine. I could get into each of the talking points that I agree and disagree with on the state of Israel, but the point is how standing on one side of a conflict doesn’t have to stand in the way of interpersonal honesty among families.
Around the holidays, we sometimes take on a different version of ourselves to make things easier with family around. For many of us, this will be the first holiday season where we feel safe enough to see our families again. For young people like myself, who have grown and changed over the past years of the pandemic, I want to offer you permission to be yourselves and speak as yourselves, gently and with kindness. For older readers who want a way to reach out to your younger relatives, I hope that you treat their ability to share opinions with you as a gift — just like the gifts you have always given them.
This Hanukkah, while we celebrate the festival of lights and give our thanks for the miracles G-d has given us, my relatives might offer me their opinions on Israel. I will be lovingly disagreeing.
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: The Israeli Government’s Violence Doesn’t Represent My Judaism