One Congregation’s Experience of a Nine-Week Study of Zionism Unsettled
December 11, 2014
(Narrated by one of the two class leaders)
Our church has held an Interfaith Exchange week with a local synagogue 30+ years. In the aftermath of the June 2014 GA divestment vote, the leadership of that synagogue severely chastised us and, seeking to explain the Presbyterian fall from favor, pointed to the January 2014 publication of Zionism Unsettled and several reviews that had branded it as “anti-Israel” and “anti-Semitic.” Although most of us had previously been unaware of ZU, several church members ordered a copy, the Adult Education Commission proposed a class to study it, and two of us were asked to facilitate the class. The class was publicized as open to all, including non-members. We ordered 20 copies of ZU since our Sunday morning classes normally pulled about 12 members. At the first meeting 30 people came and we quickly rush-ordered another 20 copies. By the fifth week around 40 people were regularly attending.
Two Palestinian Christian families, members of the congregation, attended all nine sessions. Highly articulate, they spoke with great authority of their experiences both in detail and in the larger context. Some class participants were members of Sabeel, Jewish Voice for Peace, and a signer of Kairos U.S.A. This was the first time all these individuals had an opportunity to meet together and it made for a very dynamic class with lots of discussion.
Early problems were logistical: finding a room for our unanticipated size and securing booklets, finding a DVD that would work— (now the free DVD can be viewed on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes) -- and finding time for the facilitators to prepare adequately for each meeting. Hoping to generate discussions outside the boundaries of the classroom, we gathered email addresses and hoped to create a modified chat-room type discussion, with me as the moderator sending blind copies to all on the list. An email “discussion” did not occur, but people sent me many important news items and videos which I bcc’d to the group. We also used the list to distribute some published criticisms of ZU that were sent to us by the leadership of our neighboring synagogue. One of these was an open letter from a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Chris Leighton. We then discovered it was part of an exchange that included three responses to ZU critics by Rabbi Brant Rosen. The juxtaposition of divergent views was extremely valuable for class understanding.
The sessions concluded November 30, 2014. Many people indicated their appreciation for the course and what they had learned. Although ZU seemed to indicate that a two-state solution was no longer viable, members recoiled from the likely outline of one state, undemocratic and unequal, and so tried to resurrect the two-state concept. At our final session people suggested groups worthy of ongoing support. As we look ahead we anticipate some discussion within our church, since those people who might have been critical of ZU did not attend. We also anticipate further discussion with our friends in the synagogue.