"In USY I served as the Social Action & Tikkun Olam chair of my region; usually that meant raising money and running social justice-oriented programming at our conventions. For the last weekend convention of our year, I had the several hundred young Jews present try to match the peace prayers of different religions to the religious tradition from which they originated, which it turns out is quite hard: every religion prays for peace, and they do so in remarkably similar ways. Some of the participants mixed up the Jewish and Muslim prayers, others the peace prayers of Christianity and Buddhism, etc. I thought it had gone well, but some of the adults supervising the convention were unnerved and angry at me for blurring the lines between Judaism and what they viewed as lesser religions--or the religions of our enemies. One told me that I should devote myself more earnestly to Torah. Another told me that, one day, she hoped I'd find God.
This was one of the smallest possible ways of promoting interfaith tolerance or solidarity, of trying to help us as young people internalize the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians, Americans and (as the Iraq War was then in full swing) Iraqis. But my USY elders were unwilling to make even the smallest step away from a moral absolutism that privileges Jewish lives above all others. And it came after the previous director of our region was fired for her political leftism, and after AIPAC came to our international USY convention to teach us a revisionist history of bloodshed in Gaza and the West Bank, one that painted Israel as blameless. In the years that followed - before joining INN - this kind of obsessive rejection of the values I most prized about Judaism and my heritage (a commitment to justice, a history of resistance) pushed me further and further from Conservative Jewish practice. But I refuse to be pushed out any longer. This is who I am; it is in my family's blood.
I have, in the end, found God. She lives here, now, in the worldwide resistance to the Occupation of which I am a tiny part; in my people's struggle to live righteously; in Palestinians' struggle to be free. She lives, too, in the future, one where all people are able to live full lives, of dignity and mutual care. And she lives in the past, alongside the memories of all those who have spent their lives and deaths in the service of justice.
I do not want freedom and dignity for all tomorrow. I want it now. I urge my coreligionists in the Conservative movement to join me." -Gabriel Schwartz, USY