The following pieces are based on presentations given by Cherie Brown,  Board Chair of Brit Tzedek's Chapter Development Committee and Tammy Shapiro, Executive Director of the Union of Progressive Zionists at Brit Tzedek's Grassroots Leadership Training Institute on June 22, 2008.

Cherie Brown: American Jewish Psychodynamics around Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Tammy Shapiro: Building Bridges to Young Adults: Brit Tzedek and the Union of Progressive Zionists

American Jewish Psychodynamics around Israeli-Palestinian Peace
By Cherie Brown

There is nothing more fraught with emotion in the Jewish community than issues surrounding Israel. This presents major challenges for those of us organizing for Israeli-Palestinian peace. There are four psychological dynamics common among American Jews that I believe contribute to this difficulty.  I will outline these dynamics and specific steps we can take to address them so as to successfully organize in our community.

1. Swinging between simplistic optimism and inconsolable despair

I have seen so many instances during my lifetime in which Jews latch onto unrealistic hope about what it will take to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. For example, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat flew to Jerusalem in 1977 in the first visit of an Arab leader to Israel, people around the world began celebrating: "The conflict's over!" Then again, when the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed and Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin had their historic handshake on the White House lawn: "The conflict's over!" I even heard a few people say it following the 2007 Annapolis conference: "The conflict, finally, is over."  This kind of simplistic optimism about where we are and what it will take to reach a final peace agreement often leads to great disappointment.

These unrealistic hopes too often change to despair at the first sign of difficulty where we find so many in our community focusing on the other side of the dynamic. There are no Palestinians to talk to, Israel cannot afford to take the risk of land for peace and so on.

To counter these dramatic swings, one of the most important jobs we in Brit Tzedek have is to always offer realistic hope about what it will take to reach a peace agreement; if we are unrealistic we can be dismissed. We must be honest about the real difficulties on both sides. We don't want to overlook encouraging actions nor do we want to over-paint the picture of what's going well, because you will raise people up only to let them down -- and a people in despair often cannot rise to the challenge of the difficult work of peacemaking.

2. Acting as if on “the fringe”

The second dynamic among many Jews, particularly those who have spent years trying to resolve the conflict, is to operate as though we belonged on the fringes of society. The psychological dynamic is that we recreate our isolation on the fringe even in a situation when we have an opportunity to be at the center because it's more comfortable and familiar to be in the minority. It can seem almost unbearable to imagine that we could be in the mainstream. We have to instead carry in our minds the perspective that we are the center of the community. We have to dare ourselves and our community to win, to actually succeed in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

3. Showing feelings of hopelessness as a sign of success

In my experience with the conflict, I have found that often when you give people hope regarding the conflict, they often hand back hopelessness –all the ways it can’t be true. The very moment that someone is communicating their feelings of hopelessness is a very powerful moment that actually means that we are succeeding. By allowing the feelings of hopelessness to rise up and be presented, we’re being told: “I dare you to make me hope.” In that moment when can’t think of anything to say, we must strive to listen and remember that in fact we may be succeeding.

4. Wanting to leave before the work is done

Given the Jewish people's history of being kicked out of country after country, many of us  carry within us a very deep belief that we always have to be ready to leave -- our homes, our relationships, our political activism -- at any moment. In our Brit Tzedek workshops, many activists ask questions like: "How do we get people to join?" "How do we get people to stay?"  "How can we help the Jewish community understand that beyond signing petitions, beyond attending the occasional event, joining means you're staying, in effect saying: "I commit to see this through, this is my home."

When we hear the hesitancy with which we're all so familiar, it doesn't mean we've done something wrong -- it means we're up against an internal Jewish recording, one that says: I have to go now, I can't commit. I have to keep one foot in, one foot out. Thus, the more that we offer people small signs of commitment, it makes it a little easier for them to close that back door -- but if it feels too much like a leap, people won't do it.

Four things, then: offer realistic hope, dare ourselves to claim in our hearts (not just in our words) that we are in the center of our community; know that when people hand us their hopelessness, that means Brit Tzedek is succeeding; and offer people small, winnable first steps, so that the very notion of joining Brit Tzedek doesn't play on that internalized need to be ready to leave.

If we bear these dynamics in mind, and meet them in our organizing with creativity and courage, we will all be served -- Brit Tzedek, the Jewish community, and the Israelis and Palestinians who so long for peace.

Building Bridges to Young Adults: Brit Tzedek and the Union of Progressive Zionists
By Tammy Shapiro

My name is Tammy Shapiro; I'm the director of the Union of Progressive Zionists, a national network of student activists which was founded by four progressive Zionist organizations, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, Meretz USA and Ameinu. UPZ works with the entire Pro-Israel, Pro-peace movement. UPZ and Brit Tzedek have similar strategies and we work closely --literally, as we share an office in New York –which has been great. On the ground, local Brit Tzedek chapters and UPZ students are able to work together in a really great way. We have a strategic relationship, which is what I want to talk about today.

UPZ's focus is on campus organizing, a major focus of the Jewish community in terms of Jewish continuity in the next generation. College is a place where people are figuring out who they are, what they think. The experiences they have influence the rest of their lives. It's a great place to build leadership skills, and it's a place where organizing can be fun and creative; it's often the one time in our lives where people with different opinions and backgrounds are in one place, as part of the same community, and forced to interact.

Campus organizing is different than community organizing and we need our own movement. We are working with a community that is actively seeking a voice for their generation, surrounded by other people who are equally passionate about their own causes. We are the future of progressive politics, and as Jewish organizers, this is particularly important as our community struggles with the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. College graduates who have spent time advocating for peace and justice with UPZ are thus primed leaders for the future of our movement.

It's therefore very important that UPZ works with the community strategically, to the benefit of both community and campus activists. The more we are able to cooperate, the more likely students are to continue in the movement once they graduate.

At the same time, it's important that we remember that many progressive American Jews have reached a point of real frustration with the traditional Jewish organizing community, choosing to back away from issues of concern rather than deal with a hierarchy that doesn't speak to their needs or concerns. Our strategy in UPZ has been to gather people who have been alienated along with those who remain engaged, join forces, and replug ourselves back into the Jewish community to give ourselves a voice.

So how can UPZ campus groups and Brit Tzedek chapters work together to reach larger audiences, to achieve a community of advocacy? One advantage that UPZ brings to the equation is that students have many resources at their fingertips, and we can really share these resources with the community. We have Hillels and faculty and student government, and it's really easy to get space on campus. So when we're doing an event, it's really easy to do it on campus, especially in small college towns, where you might as well invite the community, and vice-versa. So, we can do joint programming easily, reaching a broader audience and taking on less responsibility for each organization. Lunch events and afternoon events are easier to do on campuses, as well as educational programming. But it's important to remember that students are in classes all day long, and if they're going to add another "class," it has to be really unique, relevant, a known political figure, or innovative ideas that they won't necessarily hear in the classroom. 

One advantage that Brit Tzedek brings to this cooperation is your long-range relationship with your members of congress. UPZ doesn't have enough time with any group of students to, for instance, establish relationships with elected officials. But our activists are definitely likely to want to meet with their representatives, a thing they can do by joining your efforts.

It's also important to remember that a lot of the students are really looking for emotional support, as well. This is really difficult work. I think all of us know that, and it can often be very alienating from progressive friends and Jewish friends. By our local activists reaching out to work together, we are also providing real support for the people doing this hard work.

Once people leave college, the challenges are larger. Finding people in their twenties, particularly if they're unaffiliated, can be difficult. You're not going to find them at JCCs or synagogues. You'll find them at places like Moshe Houses, Avodah, Hebrew and day schools where many work as teachers, Jewish nonprofits, post-college opportunities in Israel , social justice oriented minions and communities, rabbinical schools, and Birthright.

But in spite of the challenges, it's important to make the effort -- remember: Jews in their twenties, people who are recent graduates, have just broken up with their community of four or five years, and they're looking for something to fill that gap. So if you can do programming that is not just something to do, but something where you can come and make real relationships with people, find support for being in a world where we may be facing anti-Semitism and questions about what it means to have a relationship with Israel as a progressive Jew -- that's how you're going to attract my age group.

So the most natural thing for our two organizations would be to work together on local programming and involving students with Brit Tzedek's political advocacy campaigns, and then continue to work together to engage new graduates and the young alumni with political advocacy. Our Birthright students and alumni are often up to age 26, and masters students interact with our work on campus, and our own social networks, people in their twenties play an important role, too.

In short, UPZ can act as something of a training ground for our entire movement’s future leaders, and Brit Tzedek, and the entire movement, can work with us strategically to strengthen all of our organizations. By working together, we will strengthen our message, and also help build a new generation of progressive Jews with the values, goals, and mindset that will be important to continuing the work necessary to achieve a just, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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