By Joshua Maxey
On November 2, I landed at Ben Gurion Airport for the first time. This being my first trip to Israel, I was filled with many emotions. I decided to keep an open mind as I joined twelve young adult leaders on a journey to learn more about Israel, Zionism, and why Jews in the Diaspora, especially in the United States, should be engaged.
Through the Just Zionism trip, I was able to learn from many different people who are fighting for peace in Israel while also fighting for greater understanding and unity amongst us all. We met with members of the Reform Movement in Israel as well as Palestinians and Israelis who work together to build relationships between their cultures. Before landing, I admittedly did not know a lot about Israel.
This trip offered me and the other participants the opportunity to experience Israel through the lens of social justice and balance, respecting differing points of view. When we arrived, I was awestruck by the number of leaders working for peace. These leaders are working for a more just and equitable Israel and there are many organizations that recognize must be at the table to create real change and bring about reconciliation.
My biggest takeaway as a gay, Black, and Reform Jewish man is that Israel is messy. There is no question about this. How else would you describe a nation that has had five elections in the past four years and managed to elect a regime filled with racism and populism? How else would you describe a government that has no codified constitution and is filled with religious fanatics that may think my right to exist or even be a Jew should be questioned?
However, it is in its messiness that I fell in love. Upon first arriving, my first experience was touching the land and making a connection. Rabbi Joshua Weinberg took us on a journey through mountains and even through a cave. Being afraid to ruin my shoes, I walked barefoot on the land. With the dirt, rocks, water, and soot under my bare feet, I was able to let myself go and surrender to a higher purpose.
I was home and my home is messy.
In the messiness I saw family, I saw a land that I connected to. I felt hope. As American Jews, I believe it it’s our responsibility to not only care about Israel but pay attention to what is happening.
We have an obligation through ARZA and the World Zionist Congress to make sure that the values and principles of the Reform Movement, which advocates for a place in Israeli society for people like me, are helping to shape policies and are invited to be a part of the conversation.
Many people have asked me how I feel after leaving.
I feel hopeful.
I feel hopeful that the many organizations we met with and their leaders are able to continue to have these very difficult conversations.
I feel hopeful that there is a rise of young people who are willing to sacrifice familial relations and customs for peace.
I am hopeful that the Reform synagogue of Beit Daniel, where we attended Shabbat services and witnessed a group of diverse new Jewish converts publicly declare their acceptance of Judaism, will continue to inspire its young adult population and let all of Israeli society know that in Judaism, in Israel, we all have a place and home.
Joshua Maxey is the Executive Director of Bet Mishpachah, DC’S LGBTQ+ synagogue. Josh moved to the Washington, DC area in 2015 to join a local volunteer program where he volunteered for a year at a local organization assisting the unhoused in our community. Josh has a passion for Tikkun Olam and working to create spaces of belonging within the Jewish community. Josh currently is a member of Washington Hebrew Congregation where he sits on the SEA Change Racial Equity Committee, Co-Chair of the Internal Recommendations Committee, organizer of the Jews of affinity space as well as serves on the 2239 Young Professional Steering Committee. Josh is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington; the National Bell Festival, an organization that works to restore bells and towers throughout the Washington, DC area; and Franciscan Mission Service, an organization that sends Catholic lay volunteers to the DMV area and overseas to serve in impoverished communities. Josh is originally from Rochester, NY.