American Jews Can’t Be Silent

Writings Writings and Lectures

Published: Lilith Magazine

Architect Esther Sperber addressed a rally for Israeli democracy in New York, March 26, 2023. Here’s part of what she said:

I am here because I am very worried. I was born in Jerusalem, the oldest of ten children. I studied architecture at the Technion and came to New York to do a master’s degree at Columbia where I met my husband. Together, we raise our two daughters, who attend a Jewish day school, and we belong to a liberal Orthodox synagogue.

I am here because I am worried for Israel and I am worried for my own family. The political is personal.

I am worried for my father, Rabbi Daniel Sperber, esteemed professor, Israel Prize Winner, and eminent Torah scholar. He believes in the value of K’vod Habriyot, the dignity of every human. On this basis, he formed an independent Beit Din—religious court—to free women who were not able to get a divorce under the Israeli rabbinical court. Under the new laws women’s rights will not be protected.

I am worried for my mother. My mother made Aliya in 1969, bringing with her a deep American commitment to civil rights and feminism. Under the new laws, minority rights will not be protected.

I am worried for my sister Avigail in Tel Aviv, a documentary filmmaker and a proud lesbian mother of two sons. In 2005 she formed an organization for Orthodox and formerly Orthodox lesbians and non-binary people. I am worried for Avigail because the freedom of artists and LGBTQ people will not be protected.

I am worried for my brother David, studying at HUC to become a Reform rabbi, because religious rights and pluralism will not be protected.

I am worried for my brother Yossi, principal of an Israeli secular high school, because the rights of secular Israelis will not be protected.

I worry about my sister Shoshi, who is on the far left, and my adopted sister Ariella, who needs a lot of welfare support. Their rights, too, will not be protected.

My sister Sara and her family live in a settlement by the Dead Sea. She is a centrist religious Zionist, and although there is much we disagree on, we love and respect each other. I worry for Sara because the rush to pass these terrifying laws is tearing Israeli society apart, bringing unprecedented financial instability, and rocking the always precarious security in the region.

But I am also worried about my sisters and brothers here in the American Jewish community. Why are you silent? We American Jews have something unique to contribute. We have been on the front lines calling out hate speech and hate crimes, protecting the separation of church and state, women’s rights, voting rights, minor- ity rights, and supporting immigrants and asylum seekers.

We Jews in America who love Israel should be proud of our values and speak up clearly. Speaking up at a time like this is supporting Israel, democracy in Israel.

Photo by Oz Benamram

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