Tuesday January 17, 2017.
This is a remarkable photo that I encountered this morning in the home of an amazing woman named Amna Knaan. She is an Israeli citizen. She is a Muslim. She is Arab. She is a feminist activist and change maker. And in this photo, she is holding a sign that reads "Arabs and Jews Want Peace."
I'm going to hold off on further reflections about peace until the end of the trip. But I offer this photo of Amna today because so much of today's travel focused on the notion that "Arab" means many different things. It would be a mistake, as a result, to think of all Arabs under a single umbrella.
For many decades, the best example of this in Israeli society has been the story of the Druze.
Here's how my time with this incredible sub-segment of Israel's population got me unexpectedly thinking about the important work of interfaith inclusion we continue to strive to do back home.
Many of us in our group (myself included) have encountered the Druze, and their world famous hospitality, in previous visits to Israel. We have heard of their vaunted sense of service in contributing to the Jewish State (as Arabs) by serving in the Army, often volunteering for combat roles (remarkable given that the Israeli Army often has to militarily engage with other Arabs).
This week's encounter went deeper. We were privileged to hear from Reda Mansour, a prominent Israeli Druze who holds the distinction of being the youngest Israeli ever appointed as an Ambassador in the Diplomatic Corps.
Mansour was teaching us about the Druze and their desire to be an active part of the communities they are living in. Beyond their noted IDF service, he talked about the Druze's longstanding commitment to building institutional relationships with the synagogue and church communities that are their neighbors. The Druze embrace the notion of surrounding themselves with those who are different from them.
Mansour went so far as to suggest a strong similarity between the Druze of Israel, and the Jews of America. Both communities, he noted with pride, have long records of engagement in the surrounding world.
Mansour also reminded us that the Druze have a very strict policy: a Druze cannot marry a non-Druze and remain in the community. Period. And they do not have a mechanism that would be analogous to our sense of conversion.
This seemed paradoxical. On the one hand, Mansour's community was open to assimilation. Young people are not required to dress traditionally. Everyone is expected to engage with the non-Druze community. And yet, their tradition does not seem to be equipped to deal with the social ramifications of that assimilation.
As Mansour repeatedly invoked his assertion that American Jews and Druze were similar, I couldn't help but think that in one respect he was incorrect. We liberal Jews have worked hard to adapt (and we continue to adapt) our Judaism so that it fully engages with modernity. Our ritual practice has evolved. And the definition of a Jewish family has evolved with it. We've made room in our homes, synagogues, and communities for significant others who are not Jewish by birth - regardless of whether they are moved to formally convert. We've embraced this willingness to regularly reform our sense of (communal) self, because we recognize that the survival of a meaningful contemporary Judaism depends on it.
I'm grateful for the Druze for the warm hospitality they extended to our group. And I'm grateful for their devoted service to the State of Israel. But most of all, I'm grateful that our encounter reminded me how proud I am to be part of a tradition that has the capacity to grow, change, and thrive over time.
FOR FURTHER READING
Learn more about the Druze in general. Learn more about their delicious culinary traditions: Tastes from the Kosher Druze Kitchen and Eating Druze.
Learn more about the remarkable work of Givat Haviva, Israel's prominent center devoted to studying and promoting Jewish-Arab co-existence (which I was also privileged to visit this week!).
If you or someone you love is in an interfaith relationship, you might check out these general resources: Reform Judaism's website and Interfaith Family.