One of my most vivid high school memories was a discussion at the Reform movement’s Kutz Camp on the biblical character of Noah. I can still see the linoleum floor and feel the A/C blasting in the dining hall’s basement. There, we discussed what it means to be “righteous in his generation,” as Genesis describes Noah.
Of course, my Reform youth movement — the North American Federation of Temple Youth — didn’t leave it there. We were asked, what did we think it meant to be righteous today? How do we prioritize what issues we work on? The rabbis tell us that pikuach nefesh, the principle of saving a life, can triumph over all others. But whose lives do we prioritize?
I’m a proud NFTY alum, active from 2004-2007, including a summer on staff at Kutz. So I was moved when thousands of NFTY teenagers took to the street last month for the March for our Lives. Seeing them fight for improved gun safety laws and the rights of civilians to live in safety gave me a surge of pride and affirmation. My first protests were over a decade ago surrounded by other Jewish teens. It was powerful to see that NFTY continues to encourage teenagers to pray with their feet. I am proud to say that I’ve been shaped by that.
However, some things haven’t changed for the better, including NFTY’s silence on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. In our social justice activities, I didn’t learn about military courts, which send teenagers like Ahed Tamimi into a prison system where torture occurs repeatedly. No one spoke of the war zone that Hebron has become. Though I visited the Western Wall with NFTY in Israel three times, nothing was said of the Mughrabi quarter, razed less than a week after the Six-Day war to make room for what is now the Western Wall Plaza.
Years later, I am saddened but not surprised that NFTY continues to remain silent about the Occupation. Despite the death of over 30 Palestinian protesters by Israeli snipers in the past month, there wasn’t a single tweet or statement, let alone a protest about it. While they have continued to encourage young Jews to protest American gun violence, there has been no outrage over civilians killed by IDF gunfire at the Gaza border.
NFTY taught me Jewish values that were neither regional nor sectarian. We believed we were working to improve the world for everyone. Yet NFTY’s inaction on this issue is itself an action, revealing that when it comes to the Israel and the Occupation, some lives are more valuable than others. That’s not how I was taught pikuach nefesh works.
That’s why tomorrow young Jews like myself will march to the San Rafael office of NFTY and URJ Camp Newman, another site of Reform Jewish youth education. We know there there’s no justice as long as our community supports the Occupation, an ongoing nightmare for Palestinians. We are asking our community to join us in praying with our feet for an end to the violence. We hope our community will join us in the pursuit of justice, the one they taught us so well.