J Street: Tell me about your connection to Israel.
Laurie: I grew up in a typical 1980’s Reform Temple in the New Jersey suburbs. I had Israeli cousins who would visit regularly, but I didn’t really build a relationship with Israel until I traveled there in high school with NFTY. It was a wonderful opportunity to experience Israel in a meaningful, learned and spiritual way. By that time, I already had a strong relationship with Torah and Judaism, and a real sense of peoplehood and community. I always had a sense that I was part of something bigger. Israel fit very naturally into that.
J Street: What drew you to J Street?
Laurie: Throughout my childhood, even in my Reform Temple, I was taught the very traditional, Zionist narrative, and it wasn’t until I was in college that I really learned about other perspectives of what has happened throughout Israel’s history, both Palestinian perspectives and alternative Jewish ones. I was really shocked to hear this other side and became a bit disillusioned. I didn’t know what to do with my ardent Zionism. How could the Israel that I loved do not-perfect things? How could my teachers tell me “facts” that weren’t true? I spent the first half of my 20’s figuring that out. But I didn’t give up on my Zionism–I became a progressive Zionist.
For some people, Israel is the exception. They’re very liberal, but Israel is different because it’s in a tough neighborhood, and it’s the Jewish people–I can understand that point of view. But for myself, I had to reconcile these parts of my identity, what it meant to be a Zionist, a liberal, a Jew, a feminist and an American.
So I was thrilled when J Street was founded. I had been involved with other Jewish pro-peace groups and interfaith dialogue groups before and throughout rabbinical school, and I had also worked in politics, so advocacy was very natural for me. Coming here to DC for this pulpit presented some great opportunities for activism. I joined the J Street rabbinic cabinet, got involved with the local chapter and went to the last national conference, and have lobbied Members of Congress on advocacy days.
J Street: How do you talk about Israel as a rabbi?
Laurie: As a rabbi, I talk about Israel, but I do it very carefully. There are a wide range of views at my synagogue, and I think it is really important for rabbis to model respectful dialogue. It matters more to me that they care about Israel than what individual opinions they have. As a people, we don’t agree on anything. Why should Israel be any different? But how do we honor majority and minority opinions and really listen to each other, instead of shouting each other down? It’s no secret what my views are, but I don’t usually get on the bimah and tell people to write a letter to the prime minister about this or that. I talk more generally about how to engage with Israel. How do we as Jews respond to particular unique challenges? We need to speak in a way that we can hear each other, and have a safe Jewish space to struggle with the real challenges we face, and not expect easy answers.
J Street: What motivates you to work for a two-state solution?
Laurie: As Americans, we want what’s best for America, as Jews we want what’s best for Jews, and as Zionists we want what’s best for Israel. It just so happens that all of these lead to the same thing, which is the two-state solution. We can actually work together to achieve what’s best for everyone. It’s not an either-or thing. We all know what the end game is, we just need the courage to get there. I really do believe that. We need the hope, faith and stamina to get there. I ask, how much longer are we going to take, how many people are going to die, while we keep delaying the obvious?