Living with Fear
Not for seventy years have the magnitude and multitude of threats hovering over the heads of world Jewry equaled those of the present. A few weeks ago, Rav Shalom Yosef Elyashiv reportedly told Rabbi Noach Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah, that Jews have not been in such danger since the Holocaust. (That conversation was confirmed to me by senior personnel at Aish HaTorah.)
One prays that Rav Elyashiv did not mean that the threat to Jewish lives parallels that during the Holocaust, though he was primarily referring to the threat posed by a nuclear Iran to more than five million Jews in Israel. But in one sense the threats today are even worse than then: Today every Jew in the world is a potential target; there are no safe havens beyond the reach of our enemies.
That is the first lesson of last week’s tragic events in Mumbai, India. True, Chabad shlichim (emissaries) place themselves in some of the most vulnerable places in the world. But Mumbai is one of the world’s largest cities, not some far flung, isolated center. Every Jewish institution anywhere in the world is similarly a potential target.
News reports from India indicate that at least two of the terrorists were British citizens of Pakistani descent, just one more proof that every Western democracy today harbors its own Muslim fanatics. Iran has planted “sleeper” terrorist cells around the world waiting to be activated. The 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of the Jewish community center, in which 85 people were killed and over 300 wounded, shows the lethal power of such cells.
IT BECOMES CLEARER with every passing day that the world will not take the collective action necessary to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capacity. A recent paper on Iran prepared for President-elect Barack Obama by a group of former U.S. diplomats and academics concluded: (1) any military attack on Iran would almost certainly fail in its goal of significantly setting back Iran’s nuclear weapons program; (2) economic sanctions have very little chance of success; (3) American threats to date are “not cowing Iran and the current regime is not in imminent peril.” Taken together those three points basically amount to a declaration that the United States can do nothing to keep Iran from going nuclear.
But that should not worry us, conclude the report’s authors, because Ahmadinejad is not the one calling the shots on Iran’s nuclear program, but rather Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. The latter, we are told, is a “cautious decision maker who acts after consulting advisors holding a wide range of views . . . ,” despite his admitted proclivity for “frequent and hostile rhetoric directed at the West.” In other words, Khamanei does not appear to be a complete nutcase, and therefore will not expose his country to nuclear destruction.
If such thinking jives with the incoming president’s — and there is every indication that it does — Israel will find itself in the cross-hairs of a nuclear Iran within a year or two. Even if Israel had the capacity to significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program, there is no chance that either Ehud Olmert or Tzippy Livni would order such an attack before the new American administration enters office, or that any Israeli government would do so in the face of the active opposition of the incoming administration.
As if Iranian nukes were not enough, the new American administration will likely pressure Israel more heavily than ever before to retreat towards its 1949 armistice lines – albeit with the support of most American Jews and “pro-Israel” Democrats. The incoming foreign policy team almost uniformly subscribes to the view that solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict holds the key to the success of American foreign policy in the Middle East. And the solution to that conflict is believed to lie in getting the signatures of some Palestinian leader, no matter how shaky his status, and Israel’s prime minister, on a comprehensive peace treaty.
At the very least, a renewed American determination to settle, once and for all, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict signals a return to the Oslo process of irreversible Israeli territorial concessions in return for unenforceable Palestinian undertakings by leaders who lack both the will nor the power to make good on them. Israelis have not forgotten that Oslo claimed nearly 1500 Israeli lives in terror attacks.
The new national security advisor General James Jones has advocated the replacement of Israeli troops in the Judea and Samaria by NATO troops. But casualty-adverse international peacekeepers have repeatedly — most recently in southern Lebanon — proven themselves unwilling and incapable of defending Israel. The late Abba Eban once described such troops as an umbrella that is folded when it rains. Even with the best of will, NATO troops would lack the on-the-ground intelligence gathering capacity that has enabled Israel to so dramatically reduce the terrorist threat from Judea and Samaria in recent years.
The likelihood of immense American pressure on Israel for further territorial concessions, on the model of the earlier “successful” withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza, and Iranian nukes are, first and foremost, of concern to the Jews of Israel (though Iran is busily working on intercontinental ballistic missile capacity). But terror attacks on Jewish institutions threaten Jews everywhere, as does the global financial meltdown that has wiped out great fortunes and retirement nest eggs alike.
The drastic cut in philanthropy for Torah institutions occasioned by the meltdown could not have come at a worse time for the Torah community in Eretz Yisrael, which faces its own special challenges. Kadima leader Tzippy Livni and her henchman Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On have declared war on the chareidi community in retaliation for Shas’s refusal to join a Livni-led government. At present, the yeshiva budget for the coming month is zero. Kollelim are closing, as funding from abroad dries up. Even as many kollel families face the loss of their main source of income, the job market for first time job seekers is contracting, as unemployment rises.
Surveying the all the sources of tension with which we are all living, I asked a well-travelled rosh yeshiva over Shabbos what hope he sees.
He replied succinctly: “For one who is not a ma’amin (believer) – none.”
In Tuv’cha Yabi’u, Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein brings a description of Chevlei HaMashiach in the name of Rebbe Elimelech M’Luzensk. Reb Elimelech compared Chevlei HaMashiach to a rope that Hashem is holding on one end. Suddenly He starts to shake the rope. The reshai’im are affrighted, and take the shakng as a message to jump off. The righteous, however, realize that there is no choice but to hold on even tighter to the rope that Hashem is holding.
We have no choice but to hold on to Him with all our might.
This article appeared in the Mishpacha, December 3rd 2008.