2016-05-11 / Religion Column

Our Israel connection: Yesterday, today and tomorrow

RABBI DAVID M. WEIS
Cong. Beth Israel- Northfield

I was born into a world where love of Israel and commitment to maintaining a relationship between American Jewry and Israel was automatic. The defining moments in my Jewish journey were so often marked by developments in Israel. In the early years after the Declaration of Independence, Israel successfully airlifted, absorbed and integrated 600,000 Jews forced out of Arab countries. I took pride in the Jewish people and our concern for world Jewry. The June 1967, Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and the raid on Entebbe, that rescued a planeload of Jews hijacked and held hostage by PLO terrorists, in 1976, were crucial times in Jewish history. So soon after the horror of the Shoah, Israel stood strong and resolute against the storm. Israel was and continues to be surrounded by countries and peoples who long for her destruction. Many Arabs in the region see Israel through the lens of a Crusader mindset; given enough time, they imagine, they will drive the foreigners from their lands.

We, however, see Israel through the lens of 3,000 years of Jewish history. We see Israel as our people’s return to our ancient homeland. Israel is the one place in the world where Jews from every corner of the globe find a home. Israel has struggled to build a society that is modern and historic, that is secure and virtuous, and that respects diverse cultures and religious communities. Amidst constant challenges, most Israelis truly want to live in peace with their neighbors.

Israel is not a perfect democracy. Neither is America. Neither is Sweden. Neither is France or England. Let’s not even talk about Iran, Russia, China, Syria, or Saudi Arabia. Israel has racists living within her borders. Israel has ultranationalists who do not recognize any legitimacy in the Palestinian narrative. All of this is true. But Israel also has a democracy where Arab citizens vote; the Arab List has the third largest voting block with 13 members of Knesset.

Is Gaza a mess? Yes, but it is not even remotely entirely because of Israel. Hamas rules the Gaza Strip and has done nothing to advance the economy, build infrastructure or create a better life for its people. This could have been the example of peaceful co-existence that might have been the model for a Palestinian State. But instead, they spend their time and money preparing for their next attack on Israel. If Israel lifted the blockade and opened the borders, I fear there would be a bloodbath.

Is the West Bank making the progress it should? No, but there is still hope that there may one day be a Palestinian State living peacefully side by side with Israel. Given the violent vitriol and nuclear threat of Iran, given the instability of the countries surrounding Israel, given that Hezbollah and its Iranian missiles sit in Lebanon, given the threat of ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Sinai, it seems reckless for any responsible government in Jerusalem to evacuate the IDF from the West Bank, and put Israel’s security into the hands of the Palestinian Authority. There is more that Israel should do to make life better for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and there are myriad voices in Israel and around the Jewish world calling for it. Our tradition’s message of justice and righteousness demands that we do better, that Israel be a brighter light unto the nations.

While this is all true, none of this calls Israel’s legitimacy into question. There are voices around the world, shrill voices on America’s college campuses that advocate the end of Israel. I believe that in many cases this anti- Zionism is really thinly veiled anti- Semitism. Be that as it may, our young people need to see the real Israel. Our kids need to see for themselves the amazing successes of Israeli society. Are there things that Israel can do better? Of course, and I never hesitate to demand that Israel stand for greater justice. I do the same thing in America. While I often say that America has a long way to go to achieve its promise, this great nation is still a far cry more just and more righteous than virtually any country in the world. And so is Israel!

That is why I volunteered to spend winter break on a bus with 40 college aged young Jews on a Birthright Israel trip. I gathered together 20 of my Beth Israel kids, added 20 other college students from around the nation, and I helped lead them on an amazing journey of discovery. I did not sugarcoat the places where Israel has not been as honorable as it should, but I also made the case for the rightfulness, the sanctity and the moral value of the Jewish State. There are few places on earth that have maintained a higher call of justice, especially given the constant threats that she has faced. And there is not an army anywhere in the world that has the code of ethics that the IDF has. I was honored to share our beloved homeland with our young people, showing them the Israel that I love, respect and admire so highly.

While on Har Herzl, Israel’s national and military cemetery, our young people learned the history of Israel’s founding leaders and visited the graves of the brave young men and women who gave their lives so Israel might live.

In Israel, Yom Hazikaron is commemorated the day before the country erupts into a joyous celebration of its independence on Yom Ha’atzmaut. The entire nation stops to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by so many in order that the nation might live. This year, I know that both Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut will be observed by these 40 young people like never before. This year, Israel is more real, more beloved and more understood than ever before, because they saw it for themselves. This year they are more connected and more informed. While sometimes the world clamors for simple answers to complex problems, we remain the voice that demands justice in Israel, and justice for Israel.

If you haven’t been, or haven’t been lately, Israel awaits. Go and discover the miracle. .

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