Conversations With Israel, Part 1: How to Be a Better Activist

In the first installment of a series of conversations, readers are invited to take part, addressing the questions of whether activism still has a place in a world which can seem incapable of change for the better.

This is the first of a series of conversations. Some will have to do with people responding to questions and comments they've come across in this space. Others, like this one, will have to do with people I've happened across elsewhere. One rule here: This will be a place of civility.

Conversation 1: How to be a better activist

Left-wing protest - Tal Cohen - 15.1.2011
Tal Cohen

For the past few days, as soon as it became clear that Israel was hurtling overnight toward elections, I've heard the same phrase at least two dozen times, from as many friends, acquaintances, and vocal strangers:

"Nothing's going to change."

This from all kinds of people. This from some people who truly don't want things to change in Israel – that is, people who may not be crazy about things as they are, but who think that any change will likely be for the worse – and this from others who want nothing more desperately to see real change.

No one, it seemed, held out any hope that anything would – or, indeed, could – be any different.

I've lived here long enough to know that feeling, and also to have been shocked, again and again, by the kinds of change which no one can see coming, that no one is ready for, the kinds of change that can make or break a world and a worldview.

So it was in this spirit of, well, abeyance, that I came across the words of Allen Bennett in a headline in "j.", the weekly newspaper of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area:

"Rabbis retirement plan: To be a better activist than I have been." Allen Bennett, often cited as the first openly gay rabbi in the United States, is leaving the pulpit after 16 years as rabbi of Temple Israel in the East Bay town of Alameda, more years of work within the Jewish community, and a first congregational post as rabbi of San Francisco's

Shaar Zahav synagogue, where his congregants included the trailblazing and doomed city official Harvey Milk.

The paper asked Bennett, a campaigner on behalf of a wide range of civil and human rights issues, his greatest regret. '"I always wanted to be a better activist than I have been,' he said, citing gay rights, anti-war, pro-choice, anti-poverty, immigration, hunger and genocide.

'The list is huge.'"

I don't know Alan Bennett, but I know that he's inspired many people. I am now among them. He's challenged me to think about how someone goes about being a better activist. And there's definitely no time like an election year.

So in the spirit of Alan Bennett, and of a feature that once graced these pages called Make Your Point, readers are invited to become a part of this conversation, addressing the questions of what you can do to be a better activist, and whether activism still has a place in a world which can seem incapable of change for the better.

Your politics are not the issue here. All are welcome. Please make your comments concise, no more than 150 words, and relate to them with the seriousness and respect with which we promise to receive them. A selection will appear in this space next week. To submit a comment, please click here: