Posts Tagged ‘Zionism’

Jerusalem Day

Though officially, Jerusalem Day ended hours ago, I’ve been thinking of it all through the daylight hours today.

In Hebrew, it’s called Yom Shichrur Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Liberation Day (rather than Reunification Day, which many people use).  I like the word “liberation” and its meaning.  Yes, Jerusalem was reunified as a result of the Six-Day War, but Jerusalem (and the rest of Judea and Samaria) were actually liberated, meaning that free access to holy sites was restored (at least until the self-delusion of Oslo), free passage was made possible between Israel and these places and with it, increased opportunity for development and improvement of quality of life.

Of course, many of us believe that this liberation didn’t go far enough; these lands weren’t annexed, and in the corrupt, incompetent hands of what would one day style itself the Palestinian Authority, freedom has been severely limited.  (The Jewish areas, under the control of a politically liberal Defense Ministry, have also been choked off, especially of late, from realizing their potential due in part to a dogged insistence that these lands must remain in escrow for a twenty-third Arab state.)  The Arabs here are not much freer under their current government than they were under the neglectful thumb of Jordan.  Had Israel chosen to annex these lands and enfranchised part or all of their inhabitants, history might have been quite different, both for Jews and Arabs.

But even this partial liberation has made its indelible mark on the Jewish psyche.  We are no longer living in a Jerusalem that is not really Jerusalem.  Our Jerusalem, that we built and rebuilt and rebuilt again is in our hands.  We are free to live in any part of it, including those parts which were once Jewish, but over time were overrun by Arabs.  We are free to excavate and explore our history there, uncovering archeological evidence which confirms our presence and sovereignty there dating back 3000 years.  We are free to visit its historical and holy sites, to restore them and provide access to them for tourists, pilgrims of all faiths, and residents alike.

Madmen talk of redividing the city, of awarding half of it (including the Old City, which never saw an Arab before the seventh century) to terrorist organizations committed to Israel’s destruction, in which to build the capital of their new Islamist state.  Such madmen, though, underestimate the bond between the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem.  They haven’t prayed for 2000 years for a return to Jerusalem.  They haven’t asked God every day to bless this city, or prayed for its rebuilding.  They don’t see it mentioned over 600 times in their holy books.  In short, because it isn’t theirs, they can talk of dividing it, Solomon-style, between the two peoples who claim it.  The difference, of course, between the Solomon story and contemporary Jerusalem is that the baby was in Solomon’s hands when he suggested cutting it in half.  With Jerusalem, it’s in our hands.  We are the rightful heirs to it, and we’re not about to let it go.

As God’s hand was clearly behind our liberation of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel (as beautifully documented in Jameel’s post for today), so may it continue to be as others try to take it from us.


Read Full Post »

Daniel Gordis, author of Saving Israel (which I reviewed last year) and able spokesman for Israel (even if you don’t agree with everything he says) spoke to a recent delegation of J Street’s Leadership Mission to Israel.  Although he was encouraged by other advocates for Israel not to address them, he took the opportunity to make good on his principle of talking to people he doesn’t necessarily agree with, and to say to their faces exactly why he disagrees with them.  It was a smack-down of the highest order, and entirely worthy of Gordis and Israel’s cause.  (My, my.  Bibi and Danny kicking tushie for Israel in less than a week.  Be still, my beating heart.)  Here are a couple of highlights:

You believe that people who are not willing to make major territorial concessions to the Palestinians right now are not serious about a two-state solution. You think that those of us who claim that we favor a two-state solution but who are not willing to give up the store at this moment are bluffing. Or we’re liars. Or, at best, we’re well-intentioned but misguided. But bottom line, if we’re not willing now to make the concessions that you think are called for, then we’re not really pursuing peace.

But that is arrogance of the worst sort. Does your distance from the conflict give you some moral clarity that we don’t have? Are you smarter than we are? Are you less racist? Why do you assume with such certainty that you have a monopoly on the wisdom needed to get to the goal we both seek?

. . . . .

I still remember the first time I was struck by this tendency of yours to assail Israel when you’d been silent about what Israel’s enemies were doing. It was the first day of the Gaza war at the end of 2008. Sderot had been shelled intermittently for eight years, and relentlessly in the days prior to the beginning of the war. It was obvious that this couldn’t go on, for the first obligation of states to their citizens is to protect them.

For years, Israel had been failing the citizens of Sderot. But when Israel finally decided to do what any legitimate state would do, J Street immediately called for a cessation of hostilities. The war was only hours old, nothing had been accomplished and the citizens of Sderot were still no safer than they had been. But J Street had had enough.

Why? Why had you said almost nothing for all the years that Sderot was being shelled, but within hours of the war’s beginning were calling for it to end? What matters more to you – the safety of Israel’s citizens, or advancing your own moral agenda in our region of the world?

. . . . .

If the way that you’re framing the issues is no longer the way that Israelis and Palestinians are discussing them, is it possible that you are not even addressing the core issues that matter to the people actually in the conflict? Perhaps the time has come to ask yourselves what matters to you more: actually moving the policy needle, or assuaging your own discomfort with the undeniably painful complexities of this conflict. If what you want to do is affect policy, how effective would you say you’ve been thus far?

Read the rest for yourself.  You won’t be sorry.

(hat tip: Jeff W.)

Read Full Post »

With Naqba Day coming up (when Palestinian Arabs commemorate the catastrophe of the founding of Israel), Im Tirtzu has published a pamphlet exposing the lies and distortions which make up the Arab “Palestinian” narrative.  Westbankmama provides a brief summary in English of the 70-page Hebrew pamphlet, outlining the main ideas of the document.  In short, they are these:

1) The Arabs attacked the Jews.

2) The Arabs fled.

3) Who is really a refugee?

4) What about the Jewish refugees?

5) The Arabs sided with the Nazis.

Two points that might prove of greatest interest to those unfamiliar with the facts behind the rhetoric are #3 and #4.  In defining refugees, “for every other refugee the world over, the status is just for a person with a long past in a region, and the status is for the person actually displaced. But for the Arabs displaced by the War in 1948, the status has been extended to those residing in a place for just two years, and the status was granted to his children and grandchildren.”  And while the actual number of Arabs displaced (under the universal, and not the revised definition of “refugee”) in 1948 was 560,000, there were 900,000 Jews expelled or forced to flee Arab countries in the decade or so following the foundation of the State of Israel.  In other words, as Westbankmama writes, “for every Arab refugee there are 1.5 Jewish refugees. All of the Jewish refugees were absorbed, mostly by Israel.”

For those who read Hebrew, the pamphlet can be found here.  I also echo Westbankmama’s sentiments that this pamphlet should be translated into Arabic and Farsi and disseminated on the Web.

Read Full Post »

The Cap’n and I attended Peach’s second grade class’s ceremony marking Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror) and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day) this morning.  To see the little girls reading Psalms, enacting a soldier’s leaving home and family and returning safe and sound (baruch Hashem), remembering each of the five members of the Fogel family who were murdered in Itamar, parading in costumes from dozens of countries from which Jews made aliyah in the last 63 years, and doing a dance with Israeli flags ending up in formation of the number “63” was a sight we did not even imagine when we made aliyah nearly five years ago.  Seeing Peach among other Israeli kids, seeing how Israel  is not an abstraction for her but her home, hearing her fluent Hebrew, seeing how she understands the Jewish people’s connection to this land, our history here, the Torah, and the injustice of those who would kill or expel us from here, is so much more than we ever bargained for.

I began to tell the kids at dinner last night, after we had stood for the 8:00 PM air raid siren ushering in Yom HaZikaron, the difference between the day here and Memorial Day in the US, but I just couldn’t.  When kids and their families here commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of terror, it’s Avraham David Moses, an Efrat teen who was murdered in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva massacre a couple of years ago; Shmuel Gillis, the Efrat oncologist who was shot on the road (inside the Green Line) on his way to work at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital; Yosef Goodman, the son of the owners of our local pizza shop, whose parachute got tangled with his officer’s, and who cut the strings of his own chute to save his officer’s life, falling to his own death; and Daniel Mandel, whose mother works at the same company as the Cap’n, who was killed in the line of duty when searching for wanted terrorists in Nablus in 2003.  Soldiers are not boys from Kentucky and Nebraska who volunteer for an army career, but whom we’ll never see.  Soldiers are Tzvi, Honi, Natan and Doron, Re’ut and Miriam, the boys and girls who live on our street.  White sales, parades, and government commemorations on national television are far more removed (for better and for worse) than what our children experience now.

Living in Gush Etzion is an amazing experience.  We are near where King David was born, and possibly where he herded sheep in his boyhood.  We are near the path that Avraham likely followed when traveling to Jerusalem with his son Yitzhak in the akeida (binding) story.  We are across the road from one of the battlegrounds of the Chanukah story, where the Jews fought Assyrian Greeks riding war elephants, and where Elazar, brother of Yehudah Maccabbee, was killed.  And Gush Etzion was the scene of fighting in May 1948, when the Jordanians overran the land Jews had purchased and farmed for years, and massacred the remaining fighters.  Visitors to Kfar Etzion, a kibbutz which has a field school and a heritage center, can learn more about the foundation of the kibbutzim here and their destruction in the War of Independence in a video presentation which takes place right over the bunker which sheltered Gush Etzion’s last fighters.  The following video tells a similar story:

May the memories of the fallen be blessed, and may we live to see the end of the need for such sacrifice.

Read Full Post »

One of the highlights of having relations visiting us in Israel is having the excuse to go out and be tourists.  We live here, we know how blessed we are to live so close to so many amazing historical and archeological sites, yet as it does for most people, life usually gets in the way.

When my parents were here for a couple of weeks, I emailed work to say I was unavailable, and took my parents to the Sorek Caves, the Herodion, the Israel Museum, Mahanei Yehuda (the Jerusalem outdoor market) and the City of David.

The City of David had a particularly glaring moment in the sun a few months ago, when Lesley Stahl brought her  “60 Minutes” crew to do a spot on it for the show.  My blog post of that event highlights some of the more absurd things she said, being much more interested in the sensational political angle (real or imagined) of the site than what it had uncovered.  So after lots of hoopla, none of it substantial (except in the minds of those making it), I was glad at last to tour the site.

Back in 1997, when the Cap’n and I were in our salad days, we used to get shopped and cooked for Shabbat by Thursday night so we could go out Friday morning and see something new.  One Friday morning, we took a walking tour with Ziontours in the Old City of Mount Zion and Silwan, which took us as far as the stairs leading down to the gate which opens to Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a man-made tunnel dug to allow water to flow to the ancient, First Temple-era city of Jerusalem to enable it to hold out against siege.  Our guide at that time told us that it was believed that King David’s palace lay in ruins under the hill we passed on our right when descending to the gate, but that excavation had barely begun at the time.

Fast forward 14 years, and it’s a major archeological park with excavated ruins of what is believed to be either the Palace of Zion (the Jebusite palace where David probably initially took up residence while building his own palace farther up the hill) or David’s palace itself; a structurally intact private home located near the palace owned by one Achiel which represents the design of hillside homes of the day; seals which belonged to officials in the court of David who are mentioned in the Bible; excavated tunnels used first by Jebusites and later expanded by Israelites as part of their water collection and retrieval system; part of the Siloam Pool which was used as a communal mikvah; and part of an excavated road which is believed to lead from the Siloam Pool up to the Temple Mount.  The excavation site is across the Kidron Valley from an area that is currently crowded with Arab homes, but at one time was a Jewish burial ground (being part of the Mount of Olives, which is still the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world), and at one time housed Yemenite Jews who were driven out during the Arab riots of the 1930s.  (Check out the City of David’s website here.)  A 3-D film precedes the guided walking tour through the site, signage is fair (though one gets much more from the experience with a human tour guide), and on a sunny day, the lovely landscaping of the site is breathtaking.  Pottery shards date the site to well within David’s time, and among the odds and ends of implements uncovered in the dig was a lice comb.  (Some things never change.)

In other words, what Lesley Stahl and her crew missed by focusing on politics is the most intensively excavated archeological site in Israel (and perhaps the world), as well as the most important archeological find in Israeli history.  What has been uncovered there confirms that much of what is recorded in the Bible is based on historical fact (with new things being uncovered as the dig progresses), and that Jews have had a continuous presence in Jerusalem for over 3000 years, including sovereignty over it predating that of any other claimants.  These findings are accepted by all major, mainstream archeologists and undercut efforts by Arabs to dismiss claims of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem, so perhaps it’s no wonder that Lesley Stahl glossed over them in favor of listening to whinging Arabs instead.  (She also glossed over the fact that she and her camera crew were attacked by Arabs the minute they stepped out of their cars to film at the site and had to call City of David security to assist them.)  The fact that neighborhood leaders of both Jewish and Arab residents have complained in recent months about the rabble-rousers from outside the neighborhood entering it to cause problems and try to make it into a flashpoint is testament to the fact that the City of David is a barely-noticed example of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.  Had she wanted to, Stahl could have made her piece about the fact that Jews and Arabs live together in harmony near this remarkable archeological site.  She could even have focused on the site itself, and what it has uncovered.  Instead, she chose to air, alongside her interviews with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the site’s excavation head, and an angry Arab, the Pallywood video that hit YouTube a few months ago of a Jewish man and his son being stoned in their car in a meticulously choreographed and filmed incident which was intended to show how ruthless and evil Jews are when beset by innocent Arab children frustrated by the Occupation.  Her choice of angle, in other words, abandoned intellectual curiosity, science, history, human ingenuity, the thrill of discovery, and journalistic integrity, in favor of joining the ranks of the angry rabble.

But no amount of fact-fudging or petty politicking could change the fact that as I walked through both the wondrous ruins and the small, but stunningly beautiful street of Jewish homes and lovingly tended gardens, much of the sadness, anger, and angst I had been feeling for the previous few weeks melted away, and I was able for a morning to reconnect with our indisputably ancient Jewish roots in this land.  Regardless of what Lesley Stahl, the Western press, envious Arabs, or international “peace activists” may say, we have been here for countless generations, and will be here for countless more.

Ruins of private dwellings, City of David

Read Full Post »

A letter from a reader

I recently received the following in my email inbox.

My dear Shimshonit,

While monitoring the activities of my employer’s forces as reflected in news outlets, blogs, and YouTube (such a delightful source of devilry!), I recently came across your blog.

You caught my attention for your spirited defense of history, truth, and fact, especially in relation to Israel.  Really, dear lady, I should have thought someone with your educational background and relative sanity would have more sense.  After all these years, do you still not recognize the futility of such an exercise?

Since I know you yourself have admitted that news agencies are not about news, but about advertising, readership, and ratings, it amazes me that you still think it worthwhile to get frothy about what they print and say.  Do you think for a moment that you—a Jew, an Israeli, a settler even—could possibly alter the ossified mindset of those who oppose you in the court of public opinion?  Do you not know that my employer’s most dedicated servants, in the guise of the “humanistic,” blindly underdog-loving Left, are far more numerous, influential, and powerful than you?  Can you not accept that facts and history have no bearing on the rest of the world, which is too busy concocting slanderous accusations at Israel to see the slaughter that takes place at dozens of other flashpoints on the globe, too set in its ways to listen to others’ opinions, and too lazy to open a book whose recorded facts might challenge its assumptions about the Middle East?

No, Shimshonit, it is time you learned some home truths about this ridiculous planet you live on.  First, you are not popular now, and never will be.  You are a Jew (and a Jew by choice, which I for one will never understand).  And Jews, if you haven’t realized this by now, are crafty, devious, deceptive, and not to be trusted.  This is why, no matter what you say about how you live and see the world, you will never be believed.  You say Arabs have benefited from Israeli rule of Judea and Samaria through jobs and an improved quality of life, and that many would rather live under Israel’s orderly government than a corrupt, chaotic Arab one with no system of universal justice?  You point out that the Palestinian Arab refugee problem was never solved by Israel’s Arab neighbors, who were the ones who created the refugee problem in the first place?  You point to the agreement signed at the 1920 San Remo Conference as evidence that the Arab Palestinian homeland is located in modern-day Jordan, and not in Judea and Samaria?  You point out that Israel’s national claim to Judea and Samaria goes back thousands of years, as opposed the Arab nationalist claims which never existed?  You insist that Jewish holy sites be considered Jewish despite rival Muslim claims, many dating from as recently as 1996?  But my dear, as a Jew you are partial (and your religion is, as always, sadly out of fashion), as an Israeli you are a member of that rogue nation, and as a settler you will always be an extremist, prone to violence and racism.

The religions that oppose you are Islam, Christianity, and secular humanism.  Each has adherents as zealous as the most zealous settler, but their creeds are not your creed.  Their mottoes include slogans such as, “If you can’t convert the Jew, kill him,” “Love your neighbor and hate the Jews,” and “Zionism is racism.”  Anti-Semitism (cleverly disguised as anti-Israel sentiment) inhabits every fiber of their being.  So complain all you like about Israel’s harsh treatment in the press, in the UN, and even in the United States, but don’t claim to be surprised by it.  And whatever you do, don’t think of accusing them of anti-Semitism.  That’s just the sort of thing you Jews accuse anyone of who points out your flaws.

Allow me to give you some friendly advice from someone who takes a genuine interest in your welfare (at least as it concerns your relationship with my employer and his minions).  Give up your blog.  It’s fruitless my dear, and very bad for your blood pressure.  And the next time you sit and wonder if this is all a bad dream, if you’ve been wrong all along and Israel really is the demonic state everyone says it is, embrace that feeling.  And above all, remember what former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: “Can the whole world be wrong?

Your affectionate reader,


Read Full Post »

Jewish American radio host Dennis Prager has a video in his series “Prager University” which seeks to describe “The Middle East Problem” in brief.  Here it is, the Middle East conflict, in six minutes:

Prager aptly describes it as an easy problem to describe, but a difficult problem to solve.  One side wants to exist in peace; the other side wants to destroy it.  The rest is commentary.  Now come to Israel and see for yourselves.

Read Full Post »

Abbas and the Jewish state

With the building freeze over for several weeks, Israelis living in the West Bank have been watching PM Binyamin Netanyahu to see if he will buckle under US pressure and reinstate a building moratorium to try to keep Abbas in his seat at the peace negotiations.

Yesterday I learned that Bibi had offered the Arabs an additional two months of no settlement building in exchange for an official Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.  Personally, I was thrilled.  I know many people who think Bibi is slippery, and as weak as any Israeli PM in the face of American pressure.  But for some reason I can’t quite pin down, I believe he’ll do the right thing.  He’s cool-headed under pressure.  He doesn’t lose sight of Israel’s goals and role in history as the cradle of our nationhood and current homeland for Jews everywhere.  He knows his support base and weighs their needs and expectations carefully in making his decisions.  Because of this, despite being what many would call “hawkish” (a ridiculous term, since the “dovish” left has never succeeded in making peace either), Bibi enjoys a stable coalition in the government, and a generally satisfied—if slightly leery—base among the electorate.

I was also not surprised at the immediate Arab rejection of Bibi’s offer.  Critics of the current negotiations have stated that Arafat painted any successor into a corner by declining the offer of land and limited return of refugees to Israel, and refusing to end the conflict.  If Arafat did not accept that offer, the pundits say, Abbas cannot accept anything less.  In addition, Abbas has no mandate to lead the Palestinian Arabs, since his term of office expired in February 2009, and he’s remained in office, postponing elections indefinitely, for 20 months.  Instead, he repeatedly threatens to resign and dissolve the PA if his every demand is not met by Israel and the Americans.  And when he’s not threatening to resign, he’s been shopping around the Arab League for permission to dissolve the talks anyway.

So who is really interested in peace here?  Bibi has called his bluff.  He agreed to the 10 month building freeze to coax Abbas to talk.  Abbas waited until one month before the freeze expired to pull his finger out and get on a plane.  Now he’s miffed that the housing freeze isn’t being reinstated just to keep him at the table.  And for the first time in a long time, an Israeli prime minister has turned the tables on an Arab leader and made a clear, simple demand: recognize the Jewish state for what it is.

But Abbas can’t turn his back on the great aspiration of the Palestinian cause: to one day rule over all of Israel.  Their idea of a one-state solution is one with no overt Jewish symbols, Jewish curriculum, or Jewish law of return.  In other words, a state to be ruled by its majority, which in time, they expect, will be Arab.  Failing that, their idea of a two-state solution is a Palestinian state alongside an Israel that is democratic but not expressly Jewish, so that the remedy for a Jewish state could eventually come in the same way as for a one-state solution.  This is not paranoia; it’s fact, stated very clearly in the PLO charter (which has never been revised or discarded), and the raison d’etre of Hamas.

Those who despise Israel will find a way to blame Bibi for the probably breakdown of these talks.  Indeed, he’s already been excoriated (not least by Israel’s leftist press) for the offer, which they see as a “political ploy to sabotage the talks.”  (It just goes to show that Israel can expect any demands it brings to the table to be rejected automatically, whereas Palestinian Arab demands are part and parcel of any peace negotiation, and Israeli compliance with them is expected.)  But those with eyes to see will witness the fact that Bibi takes peace seriously, and Abbas does not.  Bibi is willing to give as well as take.  Abbas believes it is Bibi’s job to give, and his to take.  Bibi is willing to work to see both nations settled successfully in their own lands.  Abbas will only work toward the PLO’s goal of seeing every dunam of this land successfully in the hands of the Arabs.  Bibi’s goal is to end the conflict.  Abbas refuses to declare an end to the conflict until the Jews have been rendered powerless and are at the mercy of the Arabs.  Bibi’s plan will allow Arabs in Israel to remain Israeli citizens.  Abbas will not allow a single Jew to reside in a future Palestinian state.  I don’t know about you, but if no peace breaks out as a result of these talks, I’ll know whom to blame.

I have blogged previously (here and here) about recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.  For further reading on the subject of Israel as a Jewish state, Emmanuel Navon recently wrote a blog post explaining the meaning of “Jewish state.” This post by Lurker on the Muqata blog discusses the new, hotly-contested loyalty oath for new citizens of Israel, including a discussion of the nature of Israel as a Jewish and “democratic” state.  Sort of.  And while some Arabs may anticipate the opportunity to open new hostilities in a third “intifada,” this Arab writer thinks that’s a bad idea.

As my mother-in-law always says at the conclusion of any political conversation, “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

Read Full Post »

Jewish histories seem to have a theme to them.  I remember reading Solomon Grayzel’s History of the Jews and his beautiful introduction in which he states clearly his thesis, that whenever a door was closed on the Jews somewhere in the world, another was opened.

Abba Eban too has a theme in My People—that no matter where the Jewish people found themselves, no matter how well or how ill things were going for them, deep down their spiritual life was still rooted in Eretz Yisrael.  This is not surprising given Eban’s contribution to the founding of the State of Israel and his service in many capacities, including as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Ambassador to the US while simultaneously serving as a liaison officer to UNSCOP (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine).  He was a master of the English language (and nine others besides), a fact which becomes clear in this fluid, incisively written history.  It also accounts for the facts he chooses to include in his uncluttered, well-digested narrative.  He stresses the dignity, ethical foundations, flexibility, work ethic, diplomatic skill, and worldwide network of fellow Hebrew-speakers that allowed Jews to move from place to place and re-establish themselves, create successful business ventures, and act as diplomatic and economic liaisons between countries and societies (e.g. European Christians and Arab Muslims).  He also makes clear the Jewish claims to return to the land of Israel and the evolution of Arab attitudes toward this claim, from a willingness to compromise (Palestine only having been in Arab hands for 400 of the past 4000 years of historical record) to a rejection of their former support for a Jewish National Home and insistence on being awarded Palestine to compensate for the lands Britain and France refused to give them after World War I, and an attitude that persists to this day “that sovereignty belonged to Arabs wherever they were and to Jews nowhere at all.”  He also spells out in detail the chipping away of Britain’s post-Balfour promises to the Jews, including “the exclusion of Transjordan from those provisions of the Mandate which referred to the establishment of the Jewish National Home,” the closing off of Palestine to Jewish immigration in the Jews’ greatest hour of need (the Shoah), and its refusal to protect the Jews during Arab riots and massacres, or even to let the Jews protect themselves.

Jewish histories are often hard to read because of the necessary exploration of the destruction of Jewish life in the Holy Land, the expulsions, the Inquisition, the Shoah, and the seeds of the current conflict over Israel’s existence.  To live as a Jew in the 21st century is to study the alternately glorious and horrific past, and to hope tentatively for a glorious, more secure future.  It’s to be told to quit whining over the Shoah, that it never happened, that it wasn’t as bad as it’s made out to be, or that an even bigger, better one is on the way, so get ready.  Eban writes something about the Shoah that I think describes well how it fits into the modern Jewish psyche:

Jewish history and consciousness will be dominated for many generations by the traumatic memories of the Holocaust.  No people in history has undergone an experience of such violence and depth.  Israel’s obsession with physical security; the sharp Jewish reaction to movements of discrimination and prejudice; an intoxicated awareness of life, not as something to be taken for granted but as a treasure to be fostered and nourished with eager vitality, a residual distrust of what lies beyond the Jewish wall, a mystic belief in the undying forces of Jewish history, which ensure survival when all appears lost, all these together with the intimacy of more personal pains and agonies, are the legacy which the Holocaust transmits to the generation of Jews grown up under its shadow.

Much has been written about the possibility of creating a single state here, democratic, with Arabs and Jews participating fully in the political process.  I think it is easy to imagine that from a distance.  Doesn’t that happen, and with Christians and others besides, in the US?  Isn’t that happening (albeit with some serious problems) in Europe as we speak?  Why not in the Middle East?  Eban writes of the Jewish and Arab nationalist movements following in the steps of the nationalist movements that created much of the European landscape in the 19th century, and as the Middle East was redrawn following World War I and the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire.  Neither the Arabs nor the Jews envisioned the other as full participants in their own society: the Arabs because the Jews would once again be relegated to dhimmi status as infidels (if indeed they were allowed to remain, which is not part of the current Arab Palestinian dream), and the Jews because after living for nearly 2000 years as guests in other countries, being tolerated when they were needed and either expelled or killed when they were not, it was time to return Home, to have a small—but to them significant—piece of land on which to build a state where they were welcome, not tolerated; in which immigration quotas which had spelled the doom of millions in Europe were lifted forever; where they could build a society centered around their language, their religious roots, their history, their ethical values.  Addressing the impression given by Arabs that this land is rightfully Arab, Eban writes, “[T]o be Middle Eastern does not involve being Arab or Moslem.  It is not an offense against the Middle Eastern tradition for a non-Arab and non-Moslem sovereignty to live and flourish in the original home of Hebrew memory and thought.  The question is not whether Israel will change its special nature, but whether the Arabs will come to terms with Israel as it is.”

It sometimes seems, especially from an Israeli vantage point, that the discourse on the Arab-Israeli conflict is really a way of voting, populating, or recognizing Israel out of existence.  (All this because open war and terrorism have not succeeded in eradicating it.)  And yet, UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted unanimously on 22 November 1967, made clear that “[w]ithdrawal from occupied territories was made conditional on the establishment of peace, the total abolition of belligerency, and the establishment of secure and recognized boundaries.”   Absenting the conditions laid down—i.e. establishment of peace, cessation of violence, and creation of secure borders—withdrawal is not an expectation.  Nowadays, as then, Israel’s friends and not-so-friendly acquaintances have pushed it to take “risks” for peace (many of which Israel has taken, and gotten bloodshed instead of peace).  Indeed, Eban’s following words could have been written as easily today as decades ago: “[A]dvice tendered to [Israel] from safe distances on how to be secure without resisting Arab assaults was received with robust skepticism.  Popularity was important; but it was more important to be alive than to be popular.  A weakened, vulnerable Israel attracted more affection than a strong and resistant Israel.”

Eban’s telling of the story of the Jews follows their fortunes as they were forged as a people, established themselves in their own land, dealt with the tensions of their location as powers rose up and jockeyed for position around them on all sides, the loss of their land, their sojourns in other countries among other peoples, and their eventual return to their homeland.  Given what the Jewish people endured, achieved, and—uniquely among dispersed peoples—survived, their return to the Land of Israel is a great gift—a miracle, a mitzvah to perform, and a tremendous relief.  Never again to have to depend on the whimsy of governments and hostile majorities, and to be reunited with the land of our birth, are not something the Jews should be expected to give up.  Part way through the War of Independence in 1948, Eban writes, “While Arab armies invaded Palestine, the Security Council met to debate whether a breach of peace had taken place, as the Americans charged.  The Americans demanded sanctions and a cease-fire; Britain opposed.  Arab delegates promised peace only if Israel’s independence were rescinded.  The Israeli answer was brief.  ‘If the Arab states want peace they can have it.  If they want war they can have that too.  But whether they want peace or war, they can only have it with the State of Israel.’”  Later, he states, “Israel would have preferred to flourish in peace with her neighbors.  But she was also capable of flourishing without it.  Behind the shield of strong military defenses, with an eye vigilantly fixed on hostile frontiers, Israel went on with its work.”

The saddest thing about reading history?  One might just as well be reading a newspaper.

Read Full Post »

Settlements 101

I recently renewed contact with a secular friend from Tel Aviv on Facebook.  He asked if we’re ever in Tel Aviv so our families can meet each other.  I said we’re not there often, and at the moment don’t all fit into our 5-seater sedan to drive there (despite Banana’s helpful suggestion that we strap Bill’s carseat to the roof of the car).  I asked him, in turn, whether he and his family would come to see us in Efrat, and he responded that they couldn’t, that it’s Palestine, and that he would have to bring a passport.  He followed it up with a little lopsided smiley-face (colon-close parenthesis).

But still.

I know the settlements are a popular whipping-boy these days.  There are those who like to say that they are the chief object that stands between humanity and Middle East peace.  They like to say that settlements are a shameless land grab on the part of the Israelis in an effort to deny the Palestinians their rightful land for their rightful (and as yet imaginary) state.  There is even a European who works with the Arabs in “Palestine” who encourages Israel to continue building the settlements so they’ll have something substantial to give up on the day when the Arabs finally pull their finger out and decide to concede Israel’s right to exist.

But I’d like to point out a few things about settlements for those who may not have thought the issue through very carefully.

First of all, settlements didn’t exist in British Mandatory Palestine.  There were Jews and Arabs dotted all over the landscape.  There were times and places where they got along and even went into business together, and there were times when they did not, when the Arabs became violent and slaughtered Jews under the unconcerned nose of the British.

Settlements were also a non-issue in 1948 and 1967 when surrounding Arab nations decided to gang up on Israel in the hope of taking the rest of the land, something they (except for Egypt and Jordan, in popularly unsupported peace treaties with Israel) never gave up on to this day.

Settlements only became an issue when the Jews had control of land lost by Arabs in their desperate bid to destroy the Jewish State.  This was a “humiliation” for the Arabs, a major loss of face, and their further attempts to topple Israel from the outside (the Yom Kippur War) and the inside (two terror wars, popularly known as “intifadas”) show their insistence on getting what they imagine is theirs back.

But it’s not theirs.  Not anymore.  The Bible says it’s ours.  The archeological evidence of Jewish life everywhere say it’s ours.  The British Mandate said it’s ours.  Our presence here for thousands of years says it’s ours.  And our win—and their loss—say it’s ours.

This is not to say that there aren’t some Israelis interested in a two-state solution.  But this does not involve restoring a sovereign nation to its land; it’s giving a gift of land to a people to whom it doesn’t currently belong.  It’s not the right of aggressors who lose to have land held for them in escrow indefinitely.  If anything, the settlements should be seen as an incentive for the Arabs to come to the peace table.  The longer they wait, the more we’ll build in the settlements.  They are not a bargaining chip; they are a ticking clock.  And if the Arabs choose to dally instead of make peace with us, eventually there should be no land left for them, and they should consider going elsewhere to establish their national home.

Contrary to the way the West chooses to view Arabs, they are grown-ups, they are smart, and they are capable of seeing that their choices come with consequences.  To behave toward them as though they are tantrumming toddlers, possessed of limited faculties, is patronizing.  They are like anyone else; they respond to incentives.  If you make clear to them that they stand to gain if they act in their own interests now, you may be more successful than if you coddle and do their bargaining for them, scold and humiliate the Israelis, and do everything else possible to maintain political and diplomatic instability in the region.

Settlements are not the issue, and never have been.  As  Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon said in a recent interview, “In Judea and Samaria, if you are talking about peace, there is enough place for Jews and Arabs. If you are talking about war, it is more complicated. How much open space do you have in Judea and Samaria? Quite a bit. What percentage of the territory do the Jews control? Five percent. That is what everything hinges on?”  In Ya’alon’s view, even in the eventuality of a land gift to the Arabs, not one settlement should be uprooted: “I don’t even want to talk about territorial withdrawals in an age in which the withdrawal from Lebanon strengthened Hizbullah, and the withdrawal from Gaza strengthened Hamas to the point where we have the second Islamic republic in the Middle East – the first in Iran, and the second in Gaza: Hamastan. That is opposed to our strategic interest, and to the strategic interests of the west.”

It’s time to stop perseverating on settlements and start perseverating on what is REALLY the issue: peace.

Read Full Post »

I’ve long been a card-carrying religious Zionist—one of the few labels I’ll allow myself.  As such, my tent is firmly pitched in the camp of those who believe that the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 was not just a happy event, but the work of Hashem and—dare one hope—the beginning of the geula, our redemption.

In today’s Jerusalem Post, I read a letter to the “In Jerusalem” section addressing the issues haredim have with Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day), including the fact that religious Zionists refrain from saying Tahanun on that day.  According to the letter’s author, Shira Twersky-Cassel,

In Midrash Shlomo, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Rivlin, part of a large contingent of Vilna Gaon students that settled in Jerusalem in 1812, wrote that during the Omer they did not say the Tahanun on two special days.  ‘These are ruled by compassion…and therefore untouched by the klipa [the unclean spirits that damage the soul].’  These two days were the 20th of the Omer 5 Iyar and the 42nd day of the Omer 27 Iyar.  A century later, on 5 Iyar 1948, the State of Israel was declared.  On 27 Iyar 1967, Israeli paratroopers broke into the Old City of Jerusalem, freeing the city from the 19-year Jordanian occupation.

There are times when Judaism, Jewish history and practice take my breath away.  This is one of those times.

Read Full Post »

Caution: Movie spoiler

Back in 1999, the Cap’n and I saw the film “Sunshine” in the movie theater.  It tells the multi-generational story of a Hungarian Jewish family’s rise from provincial distillers to movers and shakers in the nation’s many disparate governments.  In the film, each generation finds itself limited by its Jewishness and is persuaded first to change its name, then its religion, and finally abandon its identity as Jews altogether.

The tale of assimilation disturbed us the first time around, but this time even more so from our standpoint as ex-Diaspora-dwellers.  The Sonnenschein family’s loyalty to the Austro-Hungarian emperor, then the Socialists, (taking a break from loyalty during the Fascist government), then the Communists proves unfounded in every case, and only one character, Valerie (in the second generation of the film’s focus), manages to stay true to her identity as a Jew and remain aloof from disappointed loyalties.

I don’t love to think about anti-Semitism.  I don’t like to think of its still flourishing, or lurking under the surface in contemporary societies.  But the anti-Semitism that exists in so much of Western society these days, especially on liberal college and university campuses (wearing the thin cloak of “anti-Zionism”), proves the point made by Alvin Rosenfeld, the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and professor of English at Indiana University, that “Nazism was defeated in Europe nearly 65 years ago.  Anti-Semitism was not.”  (Rosenfeld is founder and director of the new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism at Indiana University.)  This makes the claims that so many have made in the last century—that Berlin was the New Jerusalem, that Hungary was the Promised Land, that Jews have found their last, best home in America—all the more unsettling.  There may not be Crusaders marching across the countryside with their priests’ exhortations to “kill a Jew and save your soul” running through their heads, or goose-stepping Brownshirts chanting “Juden raus” down the city streets, but it is clear from the sorts of guest speakers invited to university campuses (David Irving, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad) that the hatred and lies used to perpetuate anti-Semitism are just as protected as the truths of what happened in Operation Cast Lead, if not more so.

In that kind of climate, Jews can’t help but wonder what it takes to garner acceptance.  Some, as ignorant about Israel as the average American, hop on the bandwagon and denounce the Jewish State.  Others, believing the canard that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, blame Israel (and by extension, the Jews) solely for Middle East unrest, the Palestinian “refugee crisis,” stealing land rightfully belonging to Arabs, and worldwide terrorism.  Still others find their support for Israel flagging in the face of the constant barrage of hatred and libel, and just don’t have the strength to fight it anymore.

Jews have always been suspected of dual loyalty.  I think it was Alan Dershowitz in his book Chutzpah who described being asked by more than one person, “If the US and Israel went to war, whom would you support?”  In some sense, it puts even more pressure on Jews to support and be active in their Diaspora societies, to show their loyalty to their host country.  In every case I’ve ever heard of, that participation and patriotism has been genuine, and one always hopes and expects that it will be taken as such.

And yet, it isn’t always.  It seems a small step for the second generation in “Sunshine” to change their last name from Sonnenschein to Sors, and the glee with which they skip down the stairs of a government building after officially making the change shows that they believe that will be all that will be asked of them for acceptance and promotion in Hungarian society.  But then the next generation rises, and a young fencer cannot even win a match against a Gentile, much less fence in the most exclusive club, without converting to Catholicism.  When he makes the change, he is greeted by the General who directs the exclusive Officers’ Fencing Club who tells him, “You made the right choice; assimilation is the only possible way.”  This Sors’s single-minded pursuit of success (and total lack of connection to his Jewishness) becomes apparent when he discusses a letter he has received from one of the fencing coaches who has fled to Algiers after the rise of the Fascists.  Here is the conversation between him and the General:

“He’s a traitor, sir.”

“It’s not that simple.  The Baron’s wife is Jewish, so his children are considered Jews.”

“He’s a traitor, sir.”

“Anti-Semitism is the creed of resentful and unsuccessful people.  It’s a shared madness which the Baron couldn’t accept.  But we have.  The worst thing about anti-Semitism is that it’s a philosophy of philistines.  It’s in bad taste.  I don’t know how much longer I can go along with it.”

In the very next scene, the Sors family sits around the radio listening to the new “racial laws” of Hungary, desperate to find grounds on which they themselves are exempt from the new legalized exclusion and persecution of Jews.  As disgusting and irrational as the laws themselves are, the family’s belief that they are safe because of their service to the country is just as irrational.  In their own way, they too have accepted the racial laws.  Rather than view the Big Picture and ask themselves, “What the hell happened to this country we thought was so great?” they wring their hands and look for any way they can to try to stay true to a country that no longer appreciates them, and perhaps never did.

Of course, their exemptions and safety are short-lived.  Shortly before the fencing champion is rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, he has a final conversation with the General, who says, “Sors, something I once said to you—that assimilation was the right choice.  I want to ask your forgiveness for having said that.  I was profoundly wrong, and I apologize.”  That the Gentile General can bring himself to apologize for having encouraged Sors to do what thousands of Jews had to do to participate fully in European society is marvel enough.  And yet, knowing Sors as the viewer does, he would never cling to something as meaningless and inconvenient to him as his Jewishness just for its own sake.  His ambition was too great, and his attachment to Torah too little.

By the end of the Communist era, the family is decimated, their generations of heirlooms and possessions looted, lost, or hauled away with the trash.  All that remains to the last living member is a letter written by his great-grandfather containing his ethical will, describing his creed of justice, humility, and Jewish identity.  In it Emmanuel Sonnenschein has written, “Never give up your religion—not for God; God is present in all religions.  But if your life becomes a struggle for acceptance, you’ll always be unhappy.  Religion may not be perfect, but it is a well-built boat that can stay balanced and carry you to the other shore.  Our life is nothing but a boat adrift on water balanced by permanent uncertainty.”

The movie ends on a note of hope as the last living member of the family returns to the government office to change his name back to Sonnenschein.  He is unlikely ever to be as religious as his forebears, or to desire the power and possessions they once enjoyed, but armed with his great-grandfather’s prayers for his son, he once again has a sense of who he is, and what his life is a part of.  For years he has made himself into what others expected or wanted him to be.  The viewer gets the sense that he needs only his own acceptance now, and not that of others.

While a great story, and beautifully acted and filmed, “Sunshine” depressed the Cap’n and me even more than last time we watched it.  Not for ourselves—we are happily installed in the great Zionist Paradise, get all our holidays off without being snarled at by secular Jewish bosses who say, “Well, I’M working on Yom Kippur.  Don’t see why you can’t,” spend a fraction of tuition of our Diaspora friends, and live a stone’s throw from the holiest city on Earth.  But thinking of our friends whose kids in college and university are subject to disgusting anti-Semitic bias from fellow students and professors, who themselves are professors and make a concerted effort not to get drawn into discussions that are heated and unproductive, and who are so used to the vicious anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) articles published by The Boston Globe and The New York Times that they’re surprised to see anything published at all that is fair to the Jews, we find ourselves incredibly grateful that the REAL Jerusalem is within our grasp, that the Promised Land is ours once again, and that the Jews’ last, best home is once again the one given us by Hashem Himself.

Read Full Post »

The Cap’n and I often hear Jews in America say, “Well, I’d really like to make aliyah, BUT…” and after the “but” give lots of reasons.  Some of them make sense (elderly parents to care for, well-established careers that it would be impossible to replicate in Israel or to continue remotely or by commuting) but some of them are downright ridiculous.  Here is a list of the top 10 dumb excuses people give for not making aliyah:

1. Parnasah. One of the reasons one needs so much money in the US to be Jewish is because a house in the eruv, Jewish day school, Jewish summer camp (if you take advantage), kosher food, shul dues, regular entertaining, and getting hit up for mikvah renovations cost a lot of money.  In Israel, one can save around 95% on tuition.  Real estate (outside the main population centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) is not nearly as insane as in frum neighborhoods in the US.  Camps are cheap and plentiful here.  There’s a shul (or two, or fifty) in every neighborhood, and dues are a fraction of what they are in an American shul.  Kosher food is available everywhere here, and shopping in a shuk can save a family a lot of money.  The government pays for mikva’ot and their maintenance.  And guess what?  You can AFFORD to have more kids here because of it.  Those who live in America and have to make their child-bearing decisions based on their finances would be free here to choose based on what they want and what Hashem gives them.

2. The rabbinate’s treatment of converts.  As if the American rabbinical establishment loves converts so much.  If certain Batei Din aren’t bad enough in the way they conduct conversions, there have been many American rabbis who have notoriously abused their positions of power with regard to women, children, and converts (including talk of revoking conversions for women who wore pants after conversion—the brazen hussies!).  There are mean people everywhere.

3. Hebrew.  Duh, you’re Jewish.  It’s your JOB to learn Hebrew anyway.  Why not use the Holy Tongue everyday rather than just for special occasions?

4. Fear of terrorism. Ahem.  September 11, London Tube, Madrid commuter train, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur,…  And no one with the name of Umar who paid cash for a one-way ticket and had a bomb stashed in his underpants would have been allowed on a plane bound either to or from Israel.  Period.  It is interesting to note that despite all the awful stories that make it out of Israel, life expectancy in Israel is higher than in America.

5. Fear of IDF service. This sticks in lots of people’s craw.  But there are a few things to consider.  One is that besides gan, this is one of the great social foundations in the life of an Israeli.  Boys become men there, friendships are formed, skills learned, all while ensuring every day that Israel continues to exist.  Everyone wishes that service in the IDF wasn’t mandatory, but no one can deny its necessity.  You may be familiar with the observation credited to Shira Sorko-Ram (in the Maoz Israel newsletter, May 2004), “If the Arabs put down their weapons today there would be no more violence.  If the Israelis put down their weapons today there would be no more Israel.”  Need I say more?  And if someone doesn’t agree with the role the IDF plays in turning settlers out of their homes, there’s nothing like being a fully enfranchised citizen to give weight to one’s opinions.

6. Israel’s hostile neighborhood. True, Israel doesn’t have many friends in the Middle East.  Over time, however, that may change.  In the meantime, thanks to peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, there is a bus that departs from central Jerusalem for Cairo every day, and Petra is only two hours from the border crossing at Eilat.  In addition, beautiful beach holidays in Cyprus and Turkey are available, Europe is only a time zone or two away, and Israel itself boasts plenty to keep a family busy on the holidays.

7. Expectation of downsizing. Many people don’t like the idea of coming to Israel because it may mean having to live in smaller quarters than they have in America.  This is true for some, but certainly not for everyone.  We increased our square meterage from what we had in the US when we made aliyah to a rented apartment, and again when we bought a cottage (semi-detached house with garden).  Some people want to live in a McMansion, however, and there are a number of neighborhoods with such absurdly large houses here in Israel.  Rampant consumerism has gained some traction in Israel for those who wish to adhere to it as a value.  But most people find they can do with less, and the upside of that is that cleaning for Shabbat takes less time.

8. No Sunday. When can you go to the mall/make day trips/get together with friends from out of town?  I know, this is a tough one.  But if a family can be shopped by Wednesday and cooked by Thursday, then Friday (especially in the warmer months) is a great day for that.  People usually only work half-days during chol hamo’ed (if they work at all then), and life is short enough that everyone bailing on work and school once in a blue moon could be nice.

9. I already spent a year in Israel.  Why should I live there? Because you probably came as a young person and enrolled in one of the many fine programs that allow young people to experience life in Israel in a well-structured, guided, sheltered environment.  Those are great, but to ask why you should live here, especially if that program year was a great year for you, is like asking, “I went on a date with this great guy.  But why should I marry him?”  Because he’s great.  Because he is your soulmate.  Because Hashem created him just for YOU.  And because he loves you more than anyone ever will.  How many people can you say THAT about?

And the biggest, all-time dumbest reason not to make aliyah:

10. Concern about the noise of IAF flyovers. (I swear I am NOT making this up.)  I’m afraid I have no response.

I know there are people who will read this and think, “But I still don’t want to go.  I like Israel, but not as much as where I am living.”  Okay.  But let’s break it down a bit more.

For those who believe themselves bound to perform mitzvot, this is a biggie.  So big, in fact, that it’s the one exception to the laws against writing on Shabbat, allowing a Jew to instruct a non-Jew to write in order to purchase property in Israel.

Another blogger (I can’t remember which one; chime in if it was you, and give a link to your post) once wrote about why more people don’t make aliyah.  For every reason listed, she determined that fear was at the root of the reason.  This is compelling.  Even the excuse of inertia, for people who would like to come here to live but never seem to think it’s the right time, is a form of fear.  Some reason that their finances are not in order, or that the kids aren’t the right ages, or their career is just taking off.  These, when examined closely, often boil down to a type of fear.

The Cap’n and I took years to come to the decision to make aliyah.  We had many of the excuses others have, plus perhaps a few more.  But we also had a strong desire to live here.  It was only after a Kol Nidrei d’var Torah given by a friend that we reframed our thinking.  He defined timhon levav in the liturgy as refraining from doing that which one knows to be right because it is easier to stick to the status quo.  When we heard that, we realized that the time had come to look into aliyah seriously.  The following Yom Kippur, we were in Israel.

I need hardly say that Israel is special.  As I’ve said many times, Israel may not be the only place for Jews to live, but in my opinion, it is by far the best place for them to live.  Israel is by, for, and about the Jews.  Nowhere else is.  It is flawed in many ways, and one of the best ways I can think of to find solutions to those flaws is to have bright, principled, well-educated Western technocrats come and build, develop, and improve the country.

When I look at my life in the context of the rest of the world, I felt my existence in America to be very small and inconsequential.  Outside my immediate circle of friends and community, my life made very little difference at all.  Here, however, an individual can rise to make a tremendous difference, both to the country and to the Jewish world in general.  To be part of it is to be part of one of the greatest experiments in Jewish history.  The last time Jews returned to Israel in any numbers from an exile was the return from Babylon in 536 BCE.  Even then, after only 50 years of exile, people were comfortable, established, and totally unmotivated to return to the land where only a half-century earlier the Jews had wept to leave.  Now, after nearly 2000 years of some of the most dolorous years in Jewish history, and some of the most shameful years in human existence, to have this land to return to is (to my eyes) clearly the work of Hashem.  Some might smile and say “thank you” politely, but decline the gift.  To me, though, the right thing seems to me to accept the gift and cherish it.

It is true that coming as adults (as opposed to kids, or young singles), we are limited in some ways in our ability to fully integrate as Israelis.  I can converse in the language, but have few Israeli friends.  But I have a wonderful English-speaking community which feels blessed to live here, and I feel very much a part of society here despite my own limitations.  Our children, however, are one of the main reasons we came here to live, and they feel very much Israeli.  While we are instilling in them the manners and values of Western society, they are fluent in Hebrew, have Israeli friends, and have few memories of America.  They will be the first generation of true Israelis in the family.

Like the old man who planted a carob tree knowing he would not live to see it bear fruit, we have brought our children here to bloom in their own lifetimes.

Read Full Post »

No escape

The Cap’n and I were delighted and honored to receive a visit recently from the rabbi of our congregation in America.  Usually his trips to Israel are scheduled down to the last minute, but this time he was able to spare enough time to wipe some hummus with us at our home in Efrat.

When the Cap’n and I made the decision to make aliyah a few years ago, we had to decide where to live when we arrived.  We discussed the matter with our rabbi, who strongly discouraged us from coming to live in Efrat.  An American family he knew had lived in Efrat in the early 2000s when there were frequent road closures, suicide bombings, and the road into Jerusalem was a shooting gallery every night from 8 to 11 PM (in time for the news).  The couple, our rabbi told us, had left Efrat and returned to the United States because they could no longer handle the grief and stress of attending a funeral every week.

We listened to him, and for a host of reasons (including his advice) chose Beit Shemesh as our home for our first two years as Israelis.  But during our second year, when we were weighing where to make our home for the long-term, we began shopping around for a community and this time decided to consider Efrat again.

We are very glad we did so.  The proximity to Jerusalem is a great benefit for shopping, culture, and history.  We are better located to see and entertain friends who come to Israel to visit.  The climate is the best in the country.  There are dozens of choices of schools for our children.  We got much more home for our money here than we could have anywhere else we looked.  And when we spoke to Efratniks about their experiences during the Second Intifada, they told us about how the community bonded together, how the Emergency Medical Center was built to enable people to receive emergency care in the Gush when the roads were not safe for travel, how two widows whose husbands had been killed on the roads had outfitted a building at Gush Junction to serve coffee, soup, cake, and snacks to the soldiers whose job it is to keep us safe, how amateur music, drama, and dance performances were put on in the Gush to lift the spirits of the residents, how on several occasions armed residents closed down the road to Jerusalem at the Efrat junction and refused to let Arab or U.N. vehicles pass to let them experience first-hand the inconvenience that Jews experienced regularly, and how—remarkably—only a handful of families left the yishuv during those difficult years.  Many people we’ve talked to knew the American family who left, and told us that that family had been unhappy living here even before the Intifada began.

Our rabbi reminded us on his recent visit of the family who had left.  I can imagine how difficult it must have been to lose members of such a small community.  But I can also see that if everyone responded to the violence by pulling up stakes and going back to Chu”l, there would be no Israel.  Before the Cap’n and I decided to move to Efrat, we had many conversations about our concerns and feelings living out here.  We discussed our options if there is to be a Third Intifada.  Heartened by the accounts of those who lived through the last one and our optimism with the current government, well aware of the risks attending living (inside the Green Line) within rocket or mortar range of Arab population centers (or even just driving in this country), and steeled by our resolve to live in what we consider our land in the company of some of the bravest and most admirable people we’ve met in Israel, we have decided that if times get bad again, we will not flee, but will stand our ground.  To leave is to let our enemies win.  To leave is to abandon Zion.  We are not fighting Rome; we will not be led off to exile and slavery in chains.  We are here, and we are right.  We don’t want to live anywhere else.

And if we forget thee, O Jerusalem, may we be consigned forevermore to a life of sawdust-tasting pita, grainy hummus, and two-day yuntif.

Read Full Post »


The following video appeared on a friend’s Facebook page.  I have watched it several times.  Watch it for yourself.

I know what this video is supposed to do.  It’s aimed at Jews in the Diaspora, and is meant to give them a sense of pride that these days is either strained or absent.  It is meant to portray Israel as a highly ethical place, full of brainy people working to cure disease, make people’s lives better—in short, to save the world.

But I think it’s ineffective.  I find the facts in it interesting and I agree that Israelis have made remarkable progress in the fields of science, technology, and medicine.  But it saddens me at the same time.  Jews have always contributed significantly to these fields (and dozens of others).   Why should that be a reason to like them, or Israel?  Of course, for most people on this planet, it isn’t.  Equally remarkable is how ethical the Israeli army is (sometimes too ethical, in fact), especially compared to Israel’s enemies.  How would a video of Israeli soldiers walking back to Israel from Operation Cast Lead play among Diaspora Jews (or anyone else)?  Not so well, I think.

I find increasingly that the slogans to “support” Israel trouble me too.  What other country in the world needs to be “supported”?  Does Turkey need people’s support?  Does Bulgaria?  Does anyone talk of supporting the Congo?  Why do people talk this way?  Because Israel is the only country in the world whose existence is daily called into question, and whose disapproval ratings justify in people’s minds talk of its illegitimacy.  China does some pretty nefarious things; does anyone talk of supporting or not supporting China?  Is China’s right to exist called into question because of its human rights record, executions of political prisoners, or use of heavy metals in manufacturing children’s toys?

I understand people’s hesitation to talk of liking or disliking Israel; it sounds too much like saying you like or dislike Jews.  And there’s good reason for that: for most people, it IS saying you like or dislike Jews.  (And these days, I really don’t know which is worse.)

I would like to see a world in which people resign themselves to the facts, i.e. that Israel exists (just as America exists, Italy exists, Libya exists, and you and I exist).  I would like to see a world in which Israel would be accepted in the family of nations even if its scientists weren’t smarter, its army wasn’t more ethical, and its citizens no more productive and normal than those of any other country.  I would love for the countries of the world to see Israel as just another country, but of course a country that would view us that way…just doesn’t exist.

I tire of hearing of the pro-Israel rallies, the pro-Israel lobby, pro-Israel politicians, pro-Israel films (such as “The Case for Israel” making the rounds now), and “support Israel” buying campaigns.  I know Diaspora Jews are doing their best to contribute to Israel’s economy, bolster its public relations, and show us they love us from afar.  But I sometimes wonder if they are busying themselves with these activities because they think it makes an impression on the rest of the world, or because they are trying to persuade themselves that Israel is worth supporting.

From where I stand, Israel is all right.  It may make mistakes, have crooked politicians, or look incredibly backward sometimes.  But I think it’s doing a great job under incredible pressure: pressure, I would add, under which no one else lives.  I don’t have to prove to anyone that it has a right to be.  It’s my home, it’s a good place, and it’s not going anywhere.

Diaspora Jews, take note.  Israel exists.  It’s here.  And it’s here for you—no one else.  Love it if you will.  Come live here if you will.  But don’t worry what everyone else thinks.  The world doesn’t like the Jews—or Israel, now—any more than it ever did.  But it would be nice if the Jews at least liked themselves.

Read Full Post »

In a shiur given on Parshat Yitro a couple of months ago, our friend and teacher Rav Binny Freedman focused on the Israelites’ conduct in the battle against Amalek.  He suggested that it was this battle, and not all of the plagues and wonders in Egypt (including the Exodus itself) that moved Moshe’s father-in-law Yitro and inspired him to join the Israelites in the desert.

The Israelites did not defeat Amalek in the desert.  They did not destroy them, which has led to the Jews being saddled with the mitzvah of destroying Amalek up to this day—a mitzvah of which we are reminded annually at Purim.  The Israelites merely repelled Amalek (much as we did Hamas in Gaza a few months ago).

What was so much more significant about the battle with Amalek than the plagues in Egypt?  For starters, the battle with Amalek was waged by the hands of the Israelites themselves; the plagues were Hashem’s work.  Yitro was a Midianite priest, and probably had some sense of the power of God.  But the sight of a ragtag bunch of ex-slaves, freshly liberated from their toil, fighting a great enemy who preyed on the weakest and most vulnerable of an already weak and vulnerable people, and holding their own in the bargain—I can understand how that could make an impression.

Rav Binny brought an interesting 20th century source to his shiur.  The leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, Mordechai Anielewicz, was killed during the course of that uprising.  But among the rubble of Mila 18, the headquarters of the uprising, his diary was found.  In it, Anielewicz had made an entry shortly after the first days when the Nazis attempted to enter the ghetto and were repelled.  Anielewicz wrote that after all the hype and propaganda about how invincible the Germans were, he was astonished that a bullet could actually kill a Nazi Übermensch.  The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was not successful in saving Jewish lives, but it did show that a handful of Jews were capable of holding the Nazis at bay for longer (three weeks) than the entire Polish nation, which lasted all of one week in the 1939 German invasion.  (I would add that five years later, the same rabble of ex-slaves that escaped the ovens of Europe found themselves facing another supposedly invincible army, mustered from seven Arab states.  They did not destroy those Arab states, but they did forge a state of their own in their midst.)

What was so remarkable to Yitro was that a people could change from being downtrodden for hundreds of years and rise up to defend themselves.  By the time Mordechai Anielewicz and his fellow fighters scattered around Europe in bands of partisans rose to the challenge, it had been thousands of years of persecution and murder. Rav Binny pointed out that Operation Cast Lead (the recent Gaza war) was not a separate war from those in Lebanon, or 1967, or Yom Kippur, or even the Arab uprisings in 1929 and 1936.  It’s all one war that started as soon as Jews from other lands began coming back here in numbers.  And it’s not over yet.

Today is Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for the Fallen of Eretz Yisrael.  It is dedicated to the memory of the soldiers who fell in battle in Israel’s too many wars, as well as to the non-combatants who died because they were Israeli, including the most recent casualty, 13-year-old Shlomo Nativ z”l of Bat Ayin, a settlement across Gush Etzion from Efrat.

I grieve that we live in the times we do.  I grieve that Israel and the Jewish people have as many enemies as they always have (and perhaps even more).  I grieve that Israel has to dedicate such a large percentage of its budget and resources to keeping its citizens alive and safe.  I grieve that the degrees of separation between Jews anywhere in the world and Israelis who have lost loved ones to war and terrorism are so few.

But at the same time, I am grateful to live in a time when Jews have our own country, our own government, our own defense forces, and the will to defend ourselves against those who wish to hurt or destroy us.  I set aside today as a day of sadness, but also gratitude.  We still need Hashem, as the Israelites in the desert needed Him, but we are no longer helpless.

Read Full Post »

In commemoration of Yom HaShoah today, I’d like to address a commonly held myth:

Many people (including Iran’s Ahmedinejad y”s, if you can call him a “person”) have made the claim that it was guilt resulting from the Shoah that forced the otherwise rational members of the United Nations to vote in favor of the 1947 Partition Plan, which led to the foundation of the State of Israel.

These people are wrong, and on every count.

At the time of the Partition vote, the Shoah was only the most recent in a long history of oppression of Jews.  If Europeans wanted something to feel guilty about, they had countless oppressive measures, pogroms, and expulsions from their own history to choose from; they didn’t need the Shoah.

In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British promised “a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object,” then did everything within their power to thwart that aim, including severely restricting Jewish immigration (including Jews desperately trying to flee the ovens of Europe), giving away land they’d promised to the Jews to the Arabs instead (modern-day Jordan was to become part of Jewish Palestine), and preventing the Jews from defending themselves against Arab aggression and violence.  The Jews had been well on their way to creating a state before the Shoah began.

The dastardly deeds of the Germans are well-documented, and their toadies, the Vichy government in France, outdid themselves to cooperate with their occupiers.  For its part, the United States government remained unconcerned about the plight of the Jews, concentrating their efforts on winning the war (a productive aim) but also refusing to admit Jewish refugees starting in the 1920s and continuing until after the war (a much more sinister policy, and one directly responsible for countless Jewish lives lost).

What Ahmedinejad and his ilk really mean to say is that had the West taken the attitude that the Arab world did–that the Jews were a people to rid themselves of to make way for a Middle East dominated by Arabs–they would never have allowed their guilt to get the best of them, and would have stood back and allowed the Arab masses and their armies to finish Hitler’s work of making the world Judenrein (as, indeed the West did, and the Arabs somehow did not).

The Shoah did drag world anti-Semitism out into the daylight for all to see.  The actions of the British, the Germans, the French Vichy government, and the United States, with their active or passive participation in the Shoah, demonstrated as clearly as could be the reason why the Jews needed their own state.  And yet even then, the Jewish State was not a shoo-in; Jews had to lobby hard for the necessary number of U.N. votes to make a fraction of their dream (and Britain’s broken promise) come true.  Doesn’t sound like the world’s guilt was all that overwhelming to me.  They stood by while 600,000 Jews (one-tenth of the number slaughtered by the Nazis) cobbled together a defense force to salvage their lives and their dream.  They stood by while over 900,000 Jews were forced to flee Arab nations in the 1950s and 1960s.  They stood by while Jewish civilians were shot and blown to bits in the intifadas of the last twenty years, only pausing long enough to write the PLO checks and let their hearts bleed for the poor, oppressed Palestinians.  And they are standing by now while Iran arms itself with nuclear weapons, which Ahmedinejad y”s says he hopes he will get the chance to use to wipe Israel off the map.  They will always stand by; of that you can be sure.

Even if the guilt purportedly felt by the U.N. members did inform their choice to vote for the Partition, it certainly didn’t create the State of Israel.  The Jewish State was created by those who fought against the eight Arab armies that tried to take away the few scraps of land the U.N. had tossed to the Jews.  The fact that the rest of the world had stood by while their families were deported and murdered in Europe only toughened the Jews’ resolve to establish a country of their own.

Place yourself in the shoes of one of the U.N. ambassadors on the eve of the vote.  If you voted “no,” you’d be part of the bloc of normative nations (i.e. Jew-haters) who were poised to deny the Balfour Declaration, which was formalized by the League of Nations in 1922.  If you voted “yes,” you’d be part of a lunatic fringe which planned to affirm the Zionist dream.  Regardless of which side you found yourself on, if you knew your job, you knew that there was no way a tiny population of Jews surrounded by hostile Arabs was going to get its wish.  Even a “yes” vote was sure to be overruled by events which, in fact, took place, rendering your vote moot.  You would have known that the Arabs would not accept such a victory for the Jews, and would saddle up as soon as they could get organized.  Imagine the surprise that must have greeted those who had voted “yes” when the Jews actually emerged alive and with enough contiguous land to call a state!  For the record, no country has ever been founded by a U.N. vote.

I’ve never been able to find a satisfactory explanation for why the rest of the world dislikes Jews so much.  But the fact that their behavior shows this to be true makes it impossible for me to believe that any feelings of guilt (real or faked) have influenced their conduct with respect to Israel.

On this Yom HaShoah, let’s put that myth to rest once and for all.

Read Full Post »

Whose Israel?

I read in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post that liberal Jews in the United States are concerned at the gains right-wing parties made in the recent national elections in Israel.

I can understand this.  Some of the interests of Diaspora Jews lie in making conversion easier, relaxing the standard of “Who is a Jew?” in Israel, gaining recognition for their movements, and expanding their presence in typically Orthodox Jewish territory.  In most cases, the right-wing parties (that are in some—but not all—cases more traditionally Orthodox in identity) do not represent those interests.

I remember the first time I came to Israel as a Reform-identified Jew (and not a halachic one) how annoying it was to have less identified (but born-) Jews whispering behind my back, obsessed with my non-halachic status, and to know that I could not marry here, be buried Jewishly here, and that my children (IY”H) couldn’t either.  When I would speak about the importance of making Israel accessible to all Jews (even ones like me), I was usually told by others that if liberal Jews want to change Israel’s laws and make things more accessible for themselves, they should make aliyah and change things from within rather than try to do so from without.  I found this attitude unfair and annoying, not least because the people who would say such things did not themselves make aliyah.  Israel, I thought, was supposed to be here for me and for all Jews, no matter how secular or liberal.

I’ve spent more than a decade thinking about this issue, trying to sort it out, and I have come up with the following: While I find it regrettable that so many Jews feel shut out of Israel’s inner workings, I have come to see another side of the issue from living here.  Here are some of the points that have become clearer to me over the years:
1) Americans and, in many cases, American Jews, do not always understand the complex nature of Middle Eastern society, and as such, often overlook the painful reality that the vast majority of Arabs (inside and outside Israel) do not want Jews living here.  Period.  This misunderstanding of the reality of life here can lead to liberal Jews in America (and other places) taking a left-wing position in Israeli politics that is completely contrary to Israel’s security requirements, which are much better represented by the right-wing parties here.
2) Israel represents many things to Jews around the world: it is our long-awaited return to our land, our triumph over those who would like to destroy us, and a wellspring of Jewish inspiration with its revival of Hebrew, its learning institutions, and its archeological discoveries of our past.  Being all of these things, though, I fear sometimes that Israel is viewed by liberal Jews as a gigantic Museum of Judaism, to be funded and visited at intervals, but not to be lived in.  But those of us who live here feel differently.  We have renounced our residence in other lands, and have thrown in our lot with the fate of this tiny country.  For us it’s a real place we’ve made our home, not a museum.  As such, it makes sense to us that those who would like to influence the country to meet their own needs should commit themselves wholeheartedly to the country by making aliyah.

I am disturbed to find myself adopting the attitude of people I found so insensitive and hypocritical all those years ago.  I do not mean to suggest that Jews in the Diaspora have no business here or should not concern themselves with what happens here.  On the other hand, when all is said and done, protecting the lives of Israelis is more important than chipping away at the rabbinate’s power over conversions or trading land for peace (things which many Israelis would also like to see achieved).  When liberal attitudes motivated by self-interest lead to calls for divestment from companies that do business with Israel, accusations of war crimes as a result of defensive wars, and calls for arms embargoes to Israel (while Israel’s enemies continue to be outfitted by Russia), I have to wonder whose side such people are really taking.  In the end, I still believe that the people best qualified to decide what is best for Israel and Israelis are Israelis.

Our lunch host yesterday told us that he had read Rav Hershel Schachter’s criteria for voting in Israel: a) those who live here; b) those who keep Shabbat; and c) those who are married to Jews.  While one can take issue with any of these for a variety of reasons, the overall message is that only those who are truly committed to Israel and the Jewish people are in a position to steer its fate.

I don’t blame Diaspora Jews for being concerned about decisions made in Israel that affect them; that is certainly their right.  But they should also recognize that the power to influence Israeli politics is in their hands, if they want to seize it.

Read Full Post »

When there was no Israel, wasn’t every Jew a Zionist dreamer?  Every prayer service includes prayers for the return to Zion and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Did they ever wonder what they would actually do if there was an Israel to go live in?  Was there any point?

Jews are all commanded to keep the Sabbath and observe the laws of kashrut.  Those are subject to so much interpretation that some people have chosen to pile stringencies on top of stringencies while others claim that the text justifies their ignoring all statutes except not cooking a kid in its mother’s milk.  But the commandment to settle the land—is that open to the same amount of interpretation?  It’s d’oraita (from the written Torah) and pretty clear on the page (Num. 33:53).  And yet how many Jews observe it?  

Conversely, Jews may live in Israel and still commit sins.  (We do, after all, have prisons here too.)  So is the commandment to live in Israel just another commandment?  It would certainly appear so, at least in most people’s minds.

Whereas keeping most of the commandments is possible anywhere in the world, this one is place-bound.  If you want to start keeping kosher, your shopping patterns and how you do things in the kitchen probably need to change, but you can still remain in your home and shop at the same supermarket (depending on how well-stocked it is with kosher food).  To observe the commandment of yishuv Yisrael (settling the land of Israel), you have to get up and move, meaning in some (but not all) cases changing your job, leaving relatives and friends, and making a new home for yourself.  Kashrut asks much of a person; aliyah asks much more for this one mitzvah.  

And yet.  I wonder if living in Israel does more than fulfill the commandment to settle the land.  What does having a Jewish State mean in the world?  It provides a refuge for Jews from anywhere who are oppressed or seek a place where they are freer to live as Jews.  Ensuring that a Jewish State exists for them surely fulfills the commandment "lo ta’amod al dam re’echa" (don’t stand by while your neighbor’s blood is spilt; Lev. 19:16).  It does the same for other countries who suffer natural disasters when Israel’s medical teams turn up immediately afterward to set up field hospitals and distribute humanitarian aid, and for as many as it can of the Sudanese refugees who have dodged bullets passing on foot through Egypt seeking humanitarian asylum.  One mission with which the Torah charges the Jewish people is to be an "ohr le’goyim" (a light unto the nations; Isa. 60:2-3).  While Israel falls short in this function in many areas, the list of medical and technological advances achieved by Israelis is extensive.  It is also an island of justice and freedom of the press in a sea of oppressive dictatorships.  More than once in the past year, when reports of the ongoing investigations of Prime Minister Olmert have appeared in the press, Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu-Toameh has reported that rather than thumbing its nose at Israel’s governmental follies, the surrounding Arab world looks with awe and even admiration at the transparency that exists in Israeli society, and wishes it had the same opportunities to bring its own corrupt leadership to justice.  And while Jews in the Diaspora can have as little or as much to do with one another as they wish, to belong to a community or not, to have good relations with other Jewish groups or not, in Israel Jews are forced to come together and work as one to steer the (sometimes tottering) Jewish State—a prime example if there is one of the mitzvah "v’ahavta et re’echa c’mocha" (to love one’s neighbor as oneself; Lev. 19:18) or, to paraphrase, to get along with one’s neighbor whether one wants to or not.  

Without its own country, the Jewish people has no official representation in the world.  If they are powerless, then they are at the mercy of their fellow citizens.  And if they are fortunate enough to rise to positions where they have some influence over the government, they are accused of exerting a foreign agenda.  To live in Israel is to be enfranchised as a Jew like nowhere else.  While making the commitment that aliyah requires is not to everyone’s taste or in everyone’s personal or financial interest, it does serve to fulfill a number of important mitzvot in ways unavailable outside Israel.  

So must everyone be a Zionist to be a good Jew?  Maybe not.  But it sure helps.

Read Full Post »