Rabbi David Basior shows up, and speaks out, when he believes people are being treated unjustly. He is the rabbi at Kadima Reconstructionist Community, a progressive jewish community in Seattle.
Ainsley Meyer: You advocate on behalf of a lot of really progressive causes what compels you to do that?
Rabbi David Basior: My ancestors. My Jewish tradition. The teachings of my childhood, my grandparents, my parents, my kids. I come from a people who’ve been sort of an underclass, or a used class, or a persecuted class in lots of different societies. Particularly myself as an Ashkenazi, mostly European, jewish heritage.
There’s been so many fighters and resistors who didn’t just fight back against the system in ways that we think of as activists today, but spiritual resistance, also. They’d hold on to tradition and unabashedly stay themselves.
A.M.: That’s really beautifully put. What do you think it takes to open conversations that make change?
D.B.: It means getting extremely uncomfortable. There’s a character in the Torah named Nahshon, I believe he’s the head of the tribe of Judah. They’re at the shores of the sea and he’s there and he’s like, ‘Well, it’s not gonna split itself’.
So he walks into the water up to his knees and it’s not splitting. It’s up to his waist, his arms, then his shoulders, and it’s still not splitting. Finally when it gets up to his lips he recites a passage from “The Song of the Sea” and only then does it split.
We have to wade in. We’re gonna feel really alone and uncomfortable. It’s probably cold. I mean actually, it’s the Middle East, so maybe not. We need to fill our mouths, then let those words out. There are different ways to do this and there are lots of politics around how we say those words. Because of both my identity and positionality as a rabbi, I don’t have to yell as much to get heard. There are others who won’t get heard unless they yell and persist. I want to honor all those different ways and own too where I am in my community.
A.M.: How do you sustain yourself, being that voice in the room that’s having to speak up and make people uncomfortable? I know that isn’t easy.
D.B.: When I disagree with someone publicly, the next step for me is to call that person and say, “We should meet up." I find a lot of strength in finding humanity and commonality.
But then I also build community with other people who want that conversation opened up. Having my home community where what might feel hard in a certain meeting feels easy and celebrated in another meeting. Having Kadima being explicitly an organization that is against the Israeli occupation, for example, means that there’s some safety there that isn’t found in other spaces. So having a base where I can be both safely Jewish and have that politic, just as an example, re-energizes me.
A.M.: When did you start becoming critical of the Israeli occupation?
D.B.: I didn’t really see it until the fall of 2005. I worked for some more establishment Jewish organizations and had gone to Jerusalem to pursue Jewish learning. Every Thursday afternoon I went to East Jerusalem to do demolition profiles. I would meet up with a family whose home was on a list by the Jerusalem municipality to be demolished. I would listen and write their stories, that were then used for fundraising and legal fights. I listened to maybe hundreds of Palestinian families whose crime was basically being Arab and living where their ancestors lived. The only word I could come to for what was happening was racism.
That was really a sad reality for me as a Jew who wasn’t brought up to be critical about what was going on there. A few years ago, I went there and it was sort of the first time I flew there just to be in the West Bank. It felt different and important. There’s a lot of really amazing work happening to resist the occupation.
A.M.: What would you say to readers who are interested in understanding what you’re talking about more?
D.B.: You know when you asked me about opening up conversations that are usually shut down? It’s about asking ourselves, “what conversations am I not having?”
We need to recognize the things we’re ignoring. That one feels a little harder and can only be discovered through a little bit of actual inquiry and reaching out of bubbles. Capitalism does not set us up very well to be able to do things that are out of our usual. So let’s help break that a little bit.
Have a meal with your neighbors.
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