About five and a half years ago I opened an email from Ilana Sumka. She was planning a delegation to the West Bank, bringing Jews to replant trees that had been uprooted by the Israeli army.
It was just a few months after the war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, and I was still reeling. I saw too much of my Jewish community sit silently, or rally in active support of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip that killed over 2,000 people, 546 of whom were children under the age of 18. I knew that this couldn’t go on.
I spent that summer helping launch IfNotNow, which began as groups of young Jews around the country bringing our grief and our rage to the doorsteps of Jewish communal institutions. We would recite the Mourner’s Kaddish and read the names of all of the Palestinians and Israelis who had lost their lives to the violence. We called for an end to the war and an end to decades of occupation and dispossession that were part of the backdrop that contributed to this horrific moment.
I was looking for new ways to engage politically. I wanted to help shift the American Jewish community’s engagement with Israel and be part of bolder and more ambitious communities of activism which would disrupt the business-as-usual approach I was seeing around me.
Joining Ilana, and 22 other Jews from across the US, Canada and the UK, in the West Bank for the Tree Replanting delegation was a paradigm-shifting moment in that exploration. I had been to the West Bank before as a student and tourist. I had never been before as an activist.
Across those seven days, standing on the rolling hillsides outside of Bethlehem, I experienced those emerging possibilities for new types of Jewish community and activism. The 24 of us were not sitting idly by or in active disregard to the injustice of the occupation. We were literally and figuratively breaking new ground as we planted those trees, building Jewish community that was rooted in living out values of justice and solidarity in the place where it is hardest to do it.
That community and those relationships followed me home, inspiring me in my continued anti-occupation work building IfNotNow, and now in my current work as the director of B’Tselem USA. The lived realities of life under occupation I saw up close and the coresistance partnerships with local activists have significantly shaped and grounded that work.
I know that CJNV has continued to be that for many people. The subsequent delegations have inspired and nurtured powerful communities of Jewish leaders who are at the forefront of much of the anti-occupation movement in the US, and around the world. As a result of their activism with CJNV, they are now much more grounded and focused on the horrors on the ground as they do their work back home.
The communities I have found through CJNV have been incredibly powerful for me to be a part of and provide hope and inspiration during these difficult times. We are fomenting the resilient networks of solidarity and Jewish communities grounded in powerful activism that are needed in the movement to end the occupation.