My Jewish Journey, My APN Story

Stephanie Breitsman

As I get ready for Middlebury College’s summer Hebrew immersion course in preparation for beginning rabbinical school in fall 2019, I am reflecting on my APN story.

For pretty much everyone I grew up with, my Presbyterian parents in particular, my decision to become a rabbi comes as a surprise. A few years ago, before I came to work at APN, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it myself.

I began attending Hillel events in college at the same time that I started studying Arabic and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Initially, I found it difficult to embrace conversion wholeheartedly because of the conflict between my spiritual and cultural attraction to Judaism and my strong criticism of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

While I was living in the West Bank in the summer of 2014, the IDF set off sound bombs and tear gas outside my window as it raided Ramallah at 3 am every night for a week. That first night, I was more afraid than I had ever been, but the next day at work I realized this was normal for my Palestinian colleagues. While strongly committed to Jewish values, I was deeply conflicted about embracing Judaism when I saw, up close, such abuses committed by the Jewish state. And as a person committed to ending the occupation, would I be accepted by the Jewish community?

Working with Americans for Peace Now (APN) and its Israeli sister organization, Shalom Achshav, for the past two years has helped me reconcile my feelings about Israel’s political realities with my Jewish values and my belief in what Israel can be. The work of APN and Shalom Achshav embodies what it means to live one’s Jewish values, to use them to guide collective action and policy. These organizations have taught me that Israel can and must be true to the Jewish and democratic principles on which it was founded by reaching a negotiated peace accord with the Palestinians, resulting in an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.

Perhaps most important, APN and Shalom Achshav have taught me that it is neither weak nor naïve to talk about hope, even as extremists are gaining power in Israel, among the Palestinians, and here in the United States.

APN has been an important part of my Jewish journey. It showed me that there is a Jewish community that is also deeply troubled by the occupation and motivated to end it because of its Jewish values. This community has become my home and celebrated with me as I converted to Judaism, became a bat mitzvah, and was admitted to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

APN is a bridge between the Israel that was and the Israel that can and must be as it navigates the troubled waters of zealotry and xenophobia that so characterize the Netanyahu government.

Help us build that bridge.

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