Foundation of Truth: Celebrating Israel Independence Day and 20 days of the Omer 5780, Yesod ShebeTiferet

Today is twenty days, which was two weeks and six days of the Omer, in the year 5780. יסד שבתפארת. Yesod ShebeTiferet. Bonding of Beauty. Foundation of Truth. It is also the 5th day of Iyar, which means it is Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut.

A short meditation

Find the foundation of truth within your life. Do not be alarmed if that foundation shifts. Embrace your people and love them fiercely. 

Am Yisrael Chai!

and now for the longer (yet still abbreviated) story of how I became a Zionist…

The Season of Birthdays

Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom is celebrating its 105th birthday. My partner is slightly younger than that. Today, Israel honored its fallen soldiers. Tonight, we begin to honor Israel Independence Day

Such important book ends for me. Peace and Justice Studies, my college major led me to see a women’s peace organization as the perfect landing place for my intellectual and activist pursuits at the end of four years at a women’s college. I learned how the UN operates. How civil society engages with the international apparatus. Most importantly, the limits of holding countries accountable to international law. 

WILPF saw the opportunity to advocate for the passage of UN Security Council 1325, the first to acknowledge the connection between gender and security issues. The UN Security Council has now passed ten resolutions relating to the women, peace, security agenda. Of course, none of this means anything unless we implement the vision of these resolutions and insist on women’s equal involvement in every level of government. The other major program of WILPF, Reaching Critical Will, focuses on disarmament and arms control, including banning nuclear weapons. 

My life as a peace activist

For a long time, my life revolved around WILPF. I joined the national, international, and local boards of directors. In 2007, I led a workshop in Bolivia to convince explain how blogging would be a great way to expand our activism on global policy issues. I crafted e-newsletters and formal statements to support the organization’s agenda. I even tried to participate in a capacity-building mission to the WILPF Middle East sections. Potential funders deemed my participation problematic. They saw me as biased and chose to defund the mission. They claimed my insistence on separating the words “Jew” from “Israeli” (especially within the context of activism in the United States) proved a bias in favor of Israel. None of these people who made those statements had observed me engaging directly with women from the Middle East at the WILPF triennial congress in Bolivia. 

At the time, I could not see the anti-Jewish bias inherent in the BDS movement. I actually took a paid job at another women’s peace organization after that incident. The organization had multiple campaigns, including BDS. My focus was ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing the money home for the needs of American cities. All of my years of peace activism culminated in 2011 with the passage of an anti-war resolution by the US Conference of Mayors

Providing tools rather than grassroots leadership

My focus shifted again when I went to work for NationBuilder in 2012, a tech startup designed to allow people to harness the power of online organizing to create tangible change in their communities. I let go of my political activism and focused on creating software based on the principals I had learned from my years as an activist. 

Formally renouncing membership

In 2017, realizing BDS was no longer a movement I could endorse, I formally separated from WILPF. This included recusing myself from my “lifetime membership.” WILPF was my home for 18 years before I realized I needed to move forward without it. At the time, I wrote the following:

Confronting the antisemitism of progressive spaces is painful and exhausting. 

It took me a long time to see past the rhetoric of the left and understand Zionism is the rational, reasonable desire for Jewish political sovereignty. Just as I defend the need for women’s spaces while acknowledging the rights of trans folks, intersex folks, and men, I will defend Jewish spaces.

I know how divisive this issue is within the Jewish community and beyond it. I am not going to stop working for peace and justice. I am choosing more carefully how to do that. 

I can no longer ally myself with organizations that support BDS, even if my involvement has nothing to do with their work regarding Israel / Palestine. Therefore, I am giving up my life membership in Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. This won’t mean much to most people. It is the end of an era for me. Shabbat shalom.

Zionism: Jewish self-determination and self-preservation

The hatred of Jewish people and Jewish civilization has been a constant since the Roman Empire. Zionism is one logical way for Jewish people to combat Jew hatred.

Jewish people wanting political freedom is not racism. Yet, many people describe Jewish settlement in Israel “colonizing.” Archaeological evidence proves Jews have a longer continuous history on the soil than any other group.

And yet, it is also true that Israel is a refuge for Jews from around the world. Just as we have been thanking God for thousands of years for making us Israel (one of the traditional morning prayers, using Israel as a collective name of the Jewish people); so too in the modern era have we made a state to support our continued existence as individual humans and as a collective people. 

After the pandemic, I pray I will be able to go to Israel

The reality is, I have never been to Israel. Birthright started right before I graduated college. At that point, I had no interest in a propaganda trip. I had already been called a self-hating Jew for years. By the time my understanding changed, I aged out of the free trips. My seminary was designed for mid-career transition. While we are encouraged to study in Israel, it is not required. And frankly, as the primary parent of young children, I have no idea how I would actually spend a summer away from them at Pardes

Last year, I participated in an inter-seminary student seminar from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I drank from the pools of Ahad Ha’Am in an overview of Jewish philosophy course taught by the incomparable Rabbi Tal Sessler. And I’ve been swimming in Jewish history, first from Dr. Joel Gereboff and now learning details of Israeli history from Dr. Bob Levy. So there is so much more I could write about Israel’s Independence Day specifically and Zionism generally. For now, I needed to provided a bit of an overview of my journey to this truth. 

Foundation of Truth: Justice, Peace, and Freedom

Throughout my life, the pursuit of justice, peace, and freedom guided me. Not merely the absence of war, but the development of deep peace. Engaging all people in social and political decision-making. Where all people have their basic needs met. Long before universal basic income there was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted the same year Israel became a state. it guarantees all people economic, social, and political rights. 

My journey is a particularly convoluted path. Part of me has a deep fear that my previous activist life will keep me from finding paid work once I become an ordained rabbi. Perhaps this blog will make people wary of employing me. This much is true: writing words into paragraphs and sharing my ideas with the world is an activity that brings order to my world and joy to my soul. 

I pray that by sharing my journey with you, you feel a little less bound to the person you are today. May we each take the opportunity to grow into the depths of ourselves. May we be fearless when given the opportunity to overcome the limits of our previous identities.

Previous ruminations on 20 days of the Omer

5779 / 2019: Deep beauty in nusach and theatre.

5778 / 2018: Depression is a sin.

5777 / 2017: Creating a daily practice.

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  1. Melinda Rosenthal

    You just about had me in tears. I realize there is so much more I want to know about YOU, and your journey to becoming a rabbi. And, you do have 3 of my favorite guys who I miss. But I do get to see on FB. Since reading your texts on FB it has opened me up to you, to your brilliance. You have talent, and I’m not easy to impress. My former husband was/is a agent/manager for writer’s and directors in the film and tv industry. I’ve read more scripts in my life then I’ll ever remember over 30 years. Ken, my husband would always say, you’re the toughest critic. So….that’s a long way around, that you can write. You have a special gift. I’m excited for you, to see where this will take you. Going to Israel is like nothing else. Once Covid is under control I look forward to seeing you and your family. Until then, know my love and prayers are with you and your ‘boys.’ Melinda💕❤️🙋‍♀️🙏🔯

    • C.J. MinsterCheng

      Aw, thank you so much, Melinda! To be honest, my reflections on the Omer and (when I am able) in the morning, are fairly personal. Also, focusing on the broader picture is easier than focusing on my journey at the moment. My brain is primarily focused on trying to get Jack to finish his daily assignments and wondering if I will finish my homework before my classes. Now to try to read about life in Israel after the Yom Kippur War…

  2. Beautiful, so wonderful for you to share your growth and journey. I hope you get to experience Israel with your family.

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