Jews for Justice – a Quaker view

October 5, 2010
Richard Kuper

the-friendJews for justice

Stevie Krayer charts her journey for peace and justice

21 September 2010

As I write this, we are halfway through the holy week of the Jewish New Year, culminating on 18 September in the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur. Once again this year, I shall be fasting on that day.

Although I am ethnically Jewish, my family didn’t observe this fast when I was a child. I was brought up in a secular household where Yom Kippur was just a good excuse for my father to wangle a day off work! I only got into the habit of fasting on Yom Kippur in 2002, and have maintained it ever since. Why 2002? Because that summer, I had the privilege (and pain) of participating in an international Quaker working party that spent three weeks in the Middle East, studying the knotted conundrum of Israel and Palestine. That, incidentally, was also the first time I had visited Israel.
For the first time, I saw with my own eyes the brutal realities of the Occupation, and listened to dozens of eloquent voices, mostly Palestinian or Israeli, mostly speaking up for peace and justice. I was confronted with the bigotry and double standards widespread in the Jewish state. I found myself alongside Friends (and others) who had been involved long-term in the region and who were able to teach me, from a gentle yet principled Quaker perspective, about much that was hidden from an ignorant observer like me. Among them was Jean Zaru, the remarkable Palestinian Quaker activist who is widely known and admired, by readers of the Friend among others. We ate together, talked together, wept together. When I invited the group to celebrate my birthday with me, Jean seemed a little unenthusiastic – then she confessed to me that my birthday fell on the same date that her brother had been ‘disappeared’ by the Israeli authorities. Yet she embraced me, a Jew, and even called me her sister!

After that, how could I continue to sit on my hands as I had done all my life, swallowing my outrage at the actions of the Israeli government? I looked for ways to be part of the solution. I gave talks about my experience. I wrote letters: to the Israeli embassy, to my MP and my prime minister, to the press – even to The Jewish Chronicle. I supported the Ecumenical Accompaniers to Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) initiative. I did advocacy and fundraising for the Israeli organisation New Profile, which helps refuseniks and, in Quakerly fashion, works long-term for the demilitarisation of Israeli society. I tried to boycott goods from illegal settlements. And I signed up to a British organisation called Jews for Justice for Palestinians. I was thrilled to discover that there was a movement of Jews like me, who wanted to stand up and say ‘Not in my name!’

And I fast on Yom Kippur. I do it in grief for the moral distortion of Jewish life across the world caused by defending this unequal conflict. I do it in solidarity with the empty bellies of Gazans. Above all, I do it to identify myself as a Jew – in that long tradition of Jews who care about justice for all, not just for Jews. Of course, a day’s fast is not going to change the world. It’s not going to ensure that the current talks will be any more successful than the previous rounds. It’s just a symbol. The sin for which I am atoning is not mine, but it’s a burden I feel called to share in. And I’ll continue to work, and to pray, and to fast, until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream’.

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