Benjamin Miller recently returned from the J Street Education Fund’s first leadership mission to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Ben, a Washington, DC resident and President of Western Development Corporation, wrote the following about his experience:
I am an entrepreneur, a newlywed, a political moderate, and a young American Jew. After September 11th, a job took me to Copenhagen where I studied a new language with other recent immigrants. There, I befriended a warm, Princeton-bound Palestinian who shared his story and his sorrow. Ever since, I struggled to reconcile my Jewish heritage—triumphant in human achievement and spirit after the greatest adversity—with the grim day-to-day compromises of a political Israeli state. To me, some of the cynical trade-offs Israel makes in the name of security did not live up to the deep humanity of Judaism.
Earlier this month, J Street offered me a unique opportunity to travel with them to Israel to meet the top leadership in the region – from Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni to Salam Fayyad and Queen Rania of Jordan. It was one of the greatest experiences I ever lived and wish every American Jew could have shared this one week with me. I could spend pages describing the countervailing opinions, facts, and arguments.
But it was not my time with world statesmen that finally reconnected me to my faith. It was a Tel Aviv Shabbat service filled with singing, dancing, and little children tottering about a rec-room library that reminded me of the natural connectedness of the Jewish people. And it was an oath from a young Palestinian, who could more easily have remained a fighter than become a peace activist. He said, “We young people are not responsible for the past, so we don’t have to be victims of it.” We can put aside the anger, recriminations and violence of the past and instead commit ourselves to building two states living in peace side by side.
These two experiences distilled for me a way forward. We, the next generation of American Jewry, are part of this struggle. We offer fresh enthusiasm for peace and for a Jewish state representing our humanity. With our Israeli and Palestinian peers, we can show that the past is not prologue. We can lead, and they, our parents, will follow.