Omer Story Share: Susan Zeiger

I’ve loved reading the words of fellow TOS congregants over the last six weeks. And it’s gotten me thinking about the searching—the wandering—that so many of us do to find a place to call our Jewish “home.”

For me, an authentic Jewish home is a community of searchers where I can bring my full Jewish self—that is, a place where my faith and doubts, my hope and my questions (so many questions!) can all sit together.

Across the decades of my life I’ve been lucky to find such places to call home. One of these, of course, was Ohabei Shalom, the place that nurtured me and Jeff as young parents and helped us raise our sons Dan and Micah to be ethical and loving young adults.

These days an important Jewish home for me has been the community of J Street. My pull toward Israel has been strong my whole life. To my dad and my immigrant grandfather, Israel was a miraculous redemption for the Jewish people. In my twenties I went there—something my mystical Zionist grandfather never got to do. I worked on a kibbutz in northern Israel and backpacked around the country. Like so many others I fell in love with the vitality of this ancient place and its people. But as my sense of connection deepened, so did my doubts and questions. I wanted to understand the West Bank and Gaza, the people who lived on Israel’s margins, a place that no one in my community seemed willing to talk about.

I came home. Just a few years later the rising frustrations of Palestinian people erupted in the first intifada. But I got busy with a career and young children. The questions of my twenties felt too painful and I put them down. I decided Israel just wasn’t that important in my life. But I no longer felt completely comfortable in my Jewish skin. I no longer felt at home.

Then something changed. My sons, wide-eyed TOS first-graders in one instant, were suddenly young adults grappling with their own Jewish identity. They asked, what does it mean for one people’s liberation to come at the expense of another’s? And what if those people are your people? These questions, clearly so very painful for them, were the same questions that had made me profoundly uneasy a quarter century before.

That’s when I found my way to J Street. It’s a community of people, our people, willing to sit with the hard questions and raise them, over and over again, to people in power. Clearly J Street doesn’t have all the answers; they never pretend to. Israeli and Palestinian people are the ones who have to find a way, somehow, to co-exist in their land. But as American Jews, I’ve come to see, we can help them by giving our support to the people of both communities, and by working to influence US actions. “Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Peace” suits me. It’s made me feel at home again. Jewishly at home.