At our national conference in March, Judy Bloom of San Mateo, California told a crowd of 3,000 people that American Jews have a “sacred obligation” to tell their elected officials “that the only way to bring peace to the Middle East and to keep Israel both Jewish and democratic is through a negotiated two-state solution.” It was her first time attending a J Street conference but hardly her first time in the political arena–Judy served for years as district director for Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) and was actively involved in the Jewish community. Judy told us that she supports peace “in high heels and a suit to show people that their government can help to change the world for the better.”
Watch her inspiring speech at the conference, and check out our interview!
J Street: Tell me about your background and relationship with Israel
Judy: I’ve loved Israel ever since its founding, when I was only four-years-old. My family was very active in the Jewish community and very pro-Israel, and it was a big deal when they had their first opportunity to visit. I remember that my mother was shocked to find on her travels that Israel wasn’t a perfect place. It was as real as any other.
That’s a lesson that I learned when I was very young. None of us is perfect, and the State of Israel isn’t perfect. But that’s why I feel so strongly in tikkun olam, and the Jewish commitment to make the world a better place–“to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” If something bothers me, then I have an obligation to put in some effort to make it right. I believe it’s my responsibility to help make Israel as good as it can be.
J Street: How did you get involved with J Street?
Judy: Over three years ago, I accompanied my friend and former boss, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, on a Congressional Women’s trip to Israel and the West Bank. Ever since that trip, I have been extremely impressed with the dedication of J Street supporters to Israel’s future. Some people in the Jewish community are scared when there is more than one pro-Israel voice. I think that’s wrong. There are many ways to support Israel, not just by unequivocally supporting the policies of the current government.
I think it’s ironic that some rabbis are very open to Jews observing and worshipping in different ways, but are somewhat closed about there being multiple voices on Israel. We know that in the Torah, Jacob was renamed Israel as one who wrestled with G-d. And as a people, we wrestle over everything. We are not monolithic and we are always changing.
At J Street, I can speak directly to my US representative and say what I want to see for Israel, which is a two-state solution so we can have a Jewish state and no longer control the lives of another people in an occupation.
J Street: What was it like to travel to Israel with J Street?
Judy: I’ve been to Israel several times; but I’ll never forget that trip. It was extremely difficult to see the occupation first-hand in the West Bank. I literally cried my way through Hebron. I was so distressed seeing Jewish Israeli soldiers policing the streets and the measures that they take to show that they are in charge. That kind of life does real psychological damage to those soldiers, let alone what it does to the Palestinians.
Of course, there were also signs of hope. Palestinian-American businesspeople who had moved to Ramallah to help invest in the community. I learned about the new Palestinian city of Rawabi. I spoke to Palestinians who are seeking to emulate Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent methods.
And it was very rewarding to see Jackie really dig in and want to learn more about the conflict. I am so pleased that J Street is leading those sorts of trips.
J Street: Can you tell me about your current role with J Street?
Judy: I help to educate J Street supporters about how to talk to their governement representatives. I show them that Congressional staffers are real people–they’re not scary.
I’ve done this work my entire life, and it’s wonderful to be able to support peace from inside the system. As I have often said, I have supported peace and other human rights issues in high heels and a suit to show people that their government can help to change the world for the better.
J Street: What did you think of the J Street conference?
Judy: It was my first conference and I’m very glad I went. I was more nervous than I thought I’d be for giving my speech, but after rehearsing, I just had fun.
It was fascinating to listen to the Palestinians at the conference and discuss these issues without it seeming anti-Israel. I was thrilled to see [Labor MK] Stav Shaffir and hear her feminist perspective.
And it was so important to see so many hundreds of students. It was very painful to see Hillel try to shun them. We owe them our respect. I’ve loved getting to work with Stanford and Cal students in helping them to challenge the community on investments beyond the Green Line. I’m helping them learn the nuances of lobbying and how to ask a question to get the results that you want. If I have anything to offer, it’s that.
J Street: What do you think the role of the Jewish community should be in helping to achieve a two-state solution.
Judy: As a people, we are inexorably tied to Eretz Israel, as our historical and religious homeland. Israel means different things to different people, but we are all partners together. We have to let our friends in Israel know that we have their back, and also ask them to do what’s right with the Palestinians. It is also incumbent on us to let our elected officials know that we don’t agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu on many issues. There are many of us who are pro-Israel and support US diplomacy to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran; many of us who are pro-Israel and who want Israel to stop building settlements; many of us who want Israel to finally have internationally-recognized borders. There are so many people in the Bay area who are starting to speak up who never felt comfortable doing so before.
J Street: What do you hope to see for Israel and Jewish community in the future?
Judy: I hope that in my lifetime, I will see a peace agreement between Israel and her neighbors. I hope that we can both have a secure, lasting, State of Israel and do justice to all the people of the region, treating others as equals. I hope that we can continue to build bridges and learn to respect and listen to each other, between faiths and between Jews. As soon as you come to know someone and humanize them, it transforms the whole way you think and act.