Like many Jewish leaders, I have devoted the majority of my professional life to advocating on behalf of my denomination. Sometimes the need is concrete, other times ideological. From supporting the worldwide network of the 600-plus Conservative kehillot to agitating on behalf of a Judaism that is pluralistic, intellectually compelling and rooted in tradition, my religious identity is often inextricable from my personal Jewish “brand.”
Much of this is unavoidable. Not a month goes by without an invitation to speak about a topic of endless fascination to the Jewish public: the current state of Conservative Judaism. Whether joining together with the heads of my sister organizations to construct a wide lens view or honing on a particular geography — I will be moderating a panel discussion on the renaissance of Conservative Judaism on Manhattan’s East Side in December — I declare myself, time and again, a spokesperson for Conservative Judaism.
But I was reminded of the limits of denominationalism this past week in the course of my hastily arranged Solidarity Tour to Israel on Day 7 of Operation Pillar of Defense. Organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, I joined with a group of North American Jewish leaders from United Synagogue to the Union for Reform Judaism to the Orthodox Union to the Jewish Federations of North America and other Zionist groups.
Together, we visited the mayors of the cities most affected by Hamas missiles, the injured civilians and soldiers, the damaged property, the brave Israeli citizens under threat of extinction every single day. Together we met with Israeli president Shimon Peres. Together we boarded buses from Ashkelon to Beer Sheva to Jerusalem, united as Jews, representatives of our denominations, yes, but stripped of the agendas that occupy us back in our offices in North America.
Since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, fighting around the Israel-Gaza border has been intense. The death toll stands at three on the Israeli side and 13 on the Palestinian side. A few minutes a rocket wounded ago three Israeli soldiers.
In the last 24 hours, 138 rockets from Gaza has struck Israel and Israel has targeted 156 sites in Gaza. Israel appears to have achieved some of its significant aims, in assassinating Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari and eliminating large stocks of Hamas’ long-range rockets which it feared could be used to retaliate deep in to Israel.
And so the question is: What does Israel want now? How long will it continue with its offensive?
Israel’s security cabinet is being vague in the information put out to journalists today. It decided “to continue vigorous action against the terrorist infrastructures operating from the Gaza Strip against the civilian population in Israel in order to bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel.”
Unless the aim is to end Hamas rule in Gaza which seems highly unlikely, there’s no single moment when a light flashes in Israel announcing “Game Over” or “Misssion Complete.” The various comments of Defense Minister Ehud Barak don’t give any better insight in to what is planned. Naturally, the concern isn’t that this information isn’t being made public, but rather that it stands undecided.
After Operation Cast Lead, it was widely said that Israel didn’t know when to stop and try to calm the situation. This time around, Hamas, having been humiliated with the killing of such a high-profile leader will need to appear vengeful to its followers, and will be hesitant to stop firing. The ball is in Israel’s court, but is a firm game plan there too?