The upstairs bar at Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point was packed last week, but it wasn’t the beer that brought the crowd; it was Israel.
The discussion group “4 Rabbis, 5 Opinions,” which comprises Rabbis Josh Snyder, Jessy Gross, Etan Mintz and Daniel Burg, each from a different denomination, hosted a talk the night of Feb. 26 all about the Jewish state, from the SodaStream controversy to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and even Hillel’s decision last fall to block “anti-Zionist” individuals from speaking at any Hillel.
“I was very proud,” said Mintz of the SodaStream Super Bowl commercial, featuring actress Scarlett Johansson. Leading up to the game, Johansson’s
appearance in the ad had been the subject of a lot of attention when she dropped her role as a global ambassador of Oxfam International over the humanitarian organization’s protests to her endorsement of SodaStream, which operates a factory in the West Bank.
On the other end of the spectrum, Snyder questioned whether Johansson’s decision to stick with her SodaStream gig was more political or financial.
“Did this get over-politicized?” he asked, adding that the two conversations that stem from the settlement debates focus either on who is to blame or where to go from here. “I want to have more of that conversation,” he said of the latter option.
When Mintz mentioned a February Haaretz article that suggested Palestinians enjoy the presence of Soda-Stream far more than resent it, the conversation turned to information and how much the American Jewish population really knows about day-to-day life in Israel and the surrounding areas.
“There is a lot of spin to every story,” said Gross, who noted that the year she spent living in Israel only added to her confusion about what life is really like on both sides of the issues. “The question is: What do we really know?”
“Talking about Israel is a Jewish conversation,” he said, adding there are political issues, but that cannot overpower the Jewish connection to the Jewish state.
When conversation turned to the Pew survey of American Jews and the connection young Jews feel to Israel, Burg offered an explanation.
“We were expected to grow up and buy into a narrative as if we grew up [during] the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War,” he said. “We need to find a narrative that works for younger generations.”
For attendee Sarah Edelsburg, who moved to Baltimore from New York just over four years ago and has made a point to explore the different streams of Judaism available in Baltimore, her connection to Israel defies any narrative.
“I always love talking about Israel,” said Edelsburg. She has attended other multidenominational discussions in the past, but this one really caught her attention.
Everyone has their own experience that shapes their connection with Israel, she said, but with half of her family living in the country, her experience has drawn her closer than many.
Said Edelsburg: “My blood lives there.”