Struggling to connect with the UN

Rachel Petroff Kessler
November 28, 2011
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A few years ago I took a tour of the United Nations. I took a lot of pictures and recall having a generally enjoyable afternoon. But to be perfectly honest, deep thoughts about the United Nations cross my mind approximately once every blue moon. I am probably one of the people Steven Bayme is thinking of when he writes in his piece “Recognizing Israel, Recognizing Palestine: Legitimate or False Parallels” that the UN’s actions towards Israel have come to be viewed by most American Jews as merely an unpleasant sideshow.

Yet I’m not even sure that this statement goes far enough to describe the depth of my disengagement with the UN, whether on matters related to Israel or otherwise. I really don’t pay much attention at all to the actions of the UN at all, and when I get e-mails urging some sort of action on my part to protest some sort of anti-Israel stance on the part of the UN, I am most likely to click through to the next e-mail without a second thought.

This might be odd, because in many ways the mission and message of the UN are right up my alley. International cooperation, peacekeeping, advocating for the well-being of vulnerable populations – I am on board with all of these things (shocking, I know). But clearly, that’s not enough. The UN’s stance towards Israel has kept it from having a venerated status in my eyes, but the truth is, I too hold Israel to a higher standard. Even though I don’t want to see Israel condemned on the world stage, I want to see Israel behaving differently (though for different reasons I’m sure – my criticisms come from a place of wanting the best possible future for Israel, not a desire to delegitimize her very existence). Condemning those who condemn Israel’s actions thus leaves me feeling like a hypocrite, and I have simply taken the easy way out, by simply disengaging.

The articles in this month’s issue of Sh’ma were highly instructive, and highlight some of what is so important about the UN, particularly for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. They have inspired me to follow news about the UN more closely. But realistically, I know there is a limit to how many causes I can be passionate about (and my time to devote to this causes even more limited), and I’m afraid that the actions of UN just aren’t likely to make the cut.

Two post scripts – perhaps irrelevant, but certainly entertaining:

PS. A few weeks ago, an episode of NBC’s Community was structured around a Model United Nations competition.  Check out a clip from the conclusion here. If you don’t watch the show, don’t worry about trying to figure out what’s going on – just wait for the professor’s description of the UN at the end of the clip – it lends an (admittedly hyperbolic) voice to my wonder about what real world relevance the UN’s condemnations even have.

PPS. When I told my husband the subject of this month’s issue, he recalled the original Batman movie, in which the leaders of the UN are dehydrated, and it is up to Batman and Robin to save the day. When rehydration occurs, the men around the table have been mixed up, such that they are all speaking the wrong language. But while it is immediately clear to the on-lookers that something has gone awry, they are fighting so vigorously that they don’t notice! Watch it here.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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