A National Return to Hashem – The First Step
The almost wall-to-wall fury of the world community against Israel’s boarding of the Mavi Marmara surprised even some veteran advocates for Israel, who daily trudge through the slime of international hatred of the Jewish State. There was something almost other worldly about the fevered attacks from a world that can take years to react to the slaughter of innocents by the thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. (In a relatively recent listing of the number of deaths in trouble spots around the world in the last half century, the Middle East conflict is ranked…..49th.) The throngs gathered in capitals around the world to pounce upon Israel with only isolated calls to first learn of the facts. Even if one were not frum and already disposed towards such a view, one could come to the conclusion that hatred of Jews was a cosmic force, an inexplicable part of the fabric of the universe.
The world is not yet ready to march on Yerushalayim, in the manner of the haftorah on Sukkos. It doesn’t have to. It merely has to turn Israel into a pariah state, cut down on economic and cultural cooperation, and increasing isolation will convince a few Israelis here and there to give up the battle and move to Tarzana. This, in turn, will but a dent into the standard of living for those who remain behind, and convince more yet to emigrate. The effect will snowball, until Israel becomes an unsustainable state.
The previous few lines encapsulate the current strategy of what is called the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions), and is what Palestinian leaders are looking to as far more effective than armed struggle against a superior military force. It will succeed, c”v, unless Israelis can once again act with the resilience and fortitude they did when putting the State together. It is insufficient for us in the Torah community to look smugly at the inability of Israel’s secular left to motivate another generation. The ship is sinking, and we are on it.
The secular left is not all of Israel, or even close to a majority. The greater number are still believers in G-d, even if estranged from observance. We need to find people who can reach them, who can make them believe in themselves again as special people with a special history and a special mission. The best vehicle, of course, is full commitment to Torah. But for those who are not yet within hearing range of our message, we need to find ways to remind Israelis what they are going through. The following piece by Dennis Prager, reprinted from the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, is a brilliant articulation of a message that needs to be brought to our non-observant brethren in Israel:
Anyone who has the chutzpah to write a public letter to 6 million people needs to explain where he is coming from, so permit me to briefly identify myself.
I am an American Jew — a proud American and a proud Jew. As I told an audience of Israeli Americans, I have two fathers — Avraham Avinu and George Washington. Born three months after Israel was born, I, unlike 2,000 years of Jews before me, have never known a world without a Jewish state. I was raised in Hebrew-speaking religious schools and in a Hebrew-speaking summer camp, have been to Israel about 15 times and made a documentary in Israel during the height of the terror attacks in Jerusalem (“Israel in a Time of Terror”) on how you cope with terrorism. While I have strong opinions on settlements, peace, territory, etc., unlike many American Jews I do not express them publicly. I do not believe it is the business of any American Jew to tell a mature democracy faced with threats to its existence what policies it should follow. Living in the safety of America, 10,000 miles away, I won’t tell you — whose lives are on the line every day — what you should do.
But there are things I would like to say to you that have nothing to do with policy matters. They are about God, the world, Europe, America and Christians.
I fully understand why most of you are not particularly religious, even why many of you are anti-religious. You were raised that way, and the models of Jewish religiosity you often see in Israel are not particularly inspiring. The religious parties in Israel are often corrupt, and they seem to exist primarily to enrich religious institutions; many religious Jews live on the dole; and while there are many inspiring Orthodox Israelis — a disproportionate number of the best and brightest in the army, for example — the fact is that Judaism is rarely made intellectually or morally relevant to you.
I am not writing to make you Orthodox (I myself am not Orthodox — I call myself “religious non-Orthodox”). Rather I am writing to ask you how you cannot see the transcendent — specifically the divine role of the Jews — in your situation. I want to know how you explain to yourselves your isolation in the world (and how you explain the American exception to this rule).
The Jewish state is in exactly the same situation as the Jewish individual was in Europe before the Holocaust. The individual Jew in Europe was demonized and dehumanized despite his enormous contributions to Europe’s culture, science and thought, and despite his moral decency. Today the Jewish state is equally demonized and dehumanized despite Israel’s essential decency and its utterly disproportionate contributions to mankind’s well-being. Just consider how many Israeli scientists have developed medicines and medical technology that save countless lives around the world. Whose hospital was the most effective in Haiti in the first days after that country’s devastating earthquake? How much technological innovation comes from your little state compared to almost any country in the world?
And yet you are truly hated. Genocidal Sudan is elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the misogynist primitives of Iran are elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, but Israel is the one country that is never elected to these U.N. commissions and has been the most censured country in the history of the United Nations.
The question is, why? Why is your tiny decent state the most hated in the world? Could it be because you are the one Jewish state? If there is a more convincing reason, I have yet to encounter it.
The secular founders of Zionism and of Israel were certain that if the Jews had their own state, the Jew’s situation would be normalized — Jews would have a state like every other people and no longer be strangers in others’ countries — and Jew hatred would die out. They were right about part one, wrong about part two. The Jewish state has indeed normalized the Jews’ situation — but Jewish normalization means being hated for being Jewish, whether as a state or as individuals.
This is not easy for you to hear, and it is not easy for me to write. But the Jews, as flawed as we are, serve as a moral pole on the world’s moral compass: The worst individuals and the worst groups hate the Jews. It is a lousy role, but it cannot be avoided. Ever since the Jews brought the morally judging universal God and the morally demanding Torah and Prophets into the world, we have been hated. In a brilliant play on words, our rabbis wrote 2,000 years ago that the sinah (Hebrew for hatred) against Jews comes from Sinai, where the Jews received the moral code known as the Ten Commandments and, tradition holds, the Torah.
Like it or not (and what normal person would like it?), we are God’s Chosen People. But Israelis, because they are well educated and because European Jews founded the state, are profoundly secular and reject any religious/moral role for the Jews. You founded a Jewish state ethnically, but you looked to Europe as much as Judaism for your social values.
And now look around. Your support does not come from the secular Europe so many of your parents identified with but from the most religious of all the great nations on earth — America.
Given your views on religion, it probably seems odd, if not embarrassing, to many of you that the most fervent supporters of Israel in the world are deeply religious Christians.
But it is not odd and surely should not be embarrassing. The people who affirm what we in America call Judeo-Christian values, i.e., values emanating largely from our Torah — the only words inscribed on America’s national symbol, the Liberty Bell, are from the Torah — are far more morally clear than nearly all the secular professors at Oxford, the Sorbonne or America’s elite universities. The greatest antipathy to Israel in the Western world emanates from the secular university, while the greatest support comes from religious Christians and other conservatives (including secular ones) who share the Judeo-Christian value system.
This ought to have a very big impact on you. Hundreds of millions of human beings want your country destroyed, some by peaceful means (as if that were possible) and most through genocide.
And a major source of their support comes from those who hold values you most respect. If it were up to many of Oxford’s professors, you would cease to exist.
Perhaps you should reconsider your secularism. As I said, this is not a call for you to become Orthodox. It is a call for you to take the God of Israel, His Torah and His values seriously. Without God, it is impossible to understand why the Jewish state, of all the countries in the world, is the most hated. And without God, there is no solution.
For the skeptics among us, I remind you of the words of the Meshech Chochmah in Nitzavim, s.v. veshavta:
This, then, is what is implied by והשבות אל לבבך : Ahavas Yisrael is etched into the heart [of each Jew]. When he listens to that which was carved into his heart at Sinai, and remembers his [original authentic] thinking – then he will certainly “return to Hashem your G-d.” After he returns to his people, he will certainly return to his G-d.
May HKBH give us all the vision to find each other, and through that, to find Him.