This is the second part of a 2-blog series. They were both prompted by a recent debate I attended given between two Jewish scholars – Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart . I found their opinions about Israel to be extremely thought-provoking. In Part I, I concentrated on the subject that many think when they hear Israel mentioned – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lots of people, never reflect further than the dispute. While I’ll touch upon it in the beginning – the emphasis in this blog is on heart – both Israel’s humanity, and those that care.
Have you had the time to look at the 5 minute video above? I would encourage you to do so. Colonel Richard Kemp, the Commander of the British Army in Israel speaks about his wartime experience and what he saw with his own eyes during the Summer of 2014 – Operation Protective Edge.
If you recall, I was there too, with my family on vacation when the escalation started. Nothing prepares you for touring extraordinary sites, mingled with cowering in bomb shelters. When we were there, we had so many amazing experiences and learned so much, that I’m writing my book “Blasted from Complacency.”
As missiles exploded around us, we learned about the exceptional lengths that Israel goes through to avoid injuring innocent Palestinians. What other country, sends leaflets, texts and calls people on their cell phones warning them that they are about to be bombed? These are notifications to Israel’s enemy trying to avoid civilians from being harmed. It’s unbelievable, but Israel does this!
Suffice to say, I’m talking here about the state of Israel. The only democracy in the Middle East. The occupied territories is not part of the original state of Israel – it’s sort of a no-man’s land and consequently the governing of the territory and the people, suffers from its formal lack of identity. See Part I.
Israel is a country founded on, and living by its Jewish traditions and heart. Given what it has endured, its existence is a miracle. It will continue to depend on the courage, spirit and brilliance of its citizens and those that care about Israel, for its survival.
There are nearly 8.6 million Israelis, as of September 2016, and almost 75% are Jewish.1 That in itself is unique – a country with an established religious identity. Peter emphasized that “In a post Holocaust world in particular, it’s important to have one country in the world that has the protection of Jewish life as its mission statement.”
For many over the years, particularly in Western countries where Jews celebrate the same freedoms as others, we wanted to believe the cry, Never Again! However, there has been an extreme rise of antisemitism throughout the world – often expressed as anti-Israel. We see the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction – Israel) signs with Nazi swastikas painted on Israeli flags and accusations of apartheid. When I see these heinous signs, they impact me in my kishkas (gut) – as intended. In New York, in November, the Anti-Defamation League is sponsoring a conference on antisemitism today, with a chilling warning. The conference is called Never is Now!
Another amazing thing about Israel is that it has put out its welcoming mat to Jews from all around the world. Not only in smaller migrations more easily absorbed into the fabric of the small nation, but in large swaths of immigration periodically through its inception until today. Israel is only a little over 8 thousand square miles2 – about the size of New Jersey. What a beautiful, multi-colored, kaleidoscope of ever-changing diversity.
Danny pointed out the huge population growth that Israel has undergone in its mere 68 years of existence. “Israel absorbed its now 8 million people – more or less [current population], since its 800,000 people in 1948. It has increased 10 fold in about 70 years and no other country has done that.” An important distinction that he points out is that “The vast majority of people who came, came from countries that there was no democratic vote whatsoever. All those Russians, North Africans, Ethiopians, whatever you want to say of all those kinds of people, they didn’t come from a democracy.”
When you think about it, this astounds me. These immigrants didn’t speak the language and came from such different cultural experiences, often with economic hardships.
The Ethiopians lived in grass huts in their homeland and were uneducated. Israel rescued 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from the famine in the mid-1980s.3 Again in 1991, in a massive 36-hour rescue operation just before the Ethiopian government was about to topple, 14,325 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted by Israel to their new home.4 Today there are more than 125,000 Beta Israelis.5 These are black Jews. How did that happen?
The Jews had been spread throughout the Old World during numerous times of persecution so there were large groups in the Middle East, Germany (centuries before the Holocaust), and Spain. There were also smaller groups in India, Greece, Italy, Yemen, China and Africa.6
Peter acknowledged that he thought it is “truly an extraordinary thing to get on a plane to go to a Jewish state and see Jewish communities from all over the world who would never have met one another, that have grown up, emerged and completely survived jumbled together.” He continued, “Yelling at each other, creating something very fundamentally old and very fundamentally new.” I believe his comment about yelling at each other, was referring to the age old debates while discussing and learning Torah. Students challenge each other defending their own interpretation, as they learn.
Danny rejoiced as he recanted the magic of how on the first night of Shavuot, in the heart of Jerusalem, people gathered to learn Torah. Orthodox rabbis teaching, and guys with dark hats, suits and white shirts intermingled with men and women in jeans, t-shirts and iPhones – taking notes. Learning our Bible.
It’s mind-boggling how Israel has coped. They continue absorbing immigrants, balancing daily life and enduring the struggles of a society plagued by years of attacks. This speaks to the tenacity and heart of the nation, guided by Jewish values.
One topic the two men discussed in particular caught my attention. They categorized it as Jewish illiteracy – not in academia – but in what it means to be Jewish. Peter was speaking about the gap of knowledge and feeling for being Jewish of our youth in the diaspora (outside Israel) and its dire ramifications.
He presented a bleak picture of American Jewish kids – “they get dragged to Yom Kippur services every year, there is no sense of joy of Jewish engagement and how you can live your life. And then everyone wails when they marry the Christian girl down the street.”
My American Jewish guilt kicked in immediately. My son went to temple from Mommy & Me through his Bar Mitzvah – check. He goes to Yom Kippur services without argument –phew! Given the fact of the teen years, I was fully prepared to hear some grumbling – but no – Amen.
He has no interest in attending A.Z.A./B.B.G. (Jewish teen youth groups), like we did when we were his age. He doesn’t want to attend any other teen groups either. That’s not my preference, but we have to let our kids find their own path.
I’ve had the talk with him about the continuity of the Jewish religion if Jews didn’t marry other Jews (not fair to put the existence of world Jewry on his shoulders – but what’s a Jewish mother to do – it’s tradition : )
We took him to Israel and he saw the terror Israelis live with first hand – unintentional, check. Taking him to Israel was his Bar Mitzvah present – entirely intentional. All of us being targets for Palestinian missiles was not : (
The real question is have we done enough for him to want to continue to be a Jew and carry Israel in his heart? Oey, only time will tell.
Danny also was concerned about the attitudes of young Jewish kids toward Israel. He pointed to an internet article, “Beyond Distancing, Young Adult American Jews and the Alienation from Israel.” Not surprisingly, he said according to the study, 80% of American Jews 65+ answered the disruption of the Jewish state would be a personal tragedy for them. However, very disturbing was the finding only 50% of Jews 35 and younger agreed. There were audible outcries of concern from the older audience hearing the survey’s result.
Danny continued, he and Peter disagree at this point due to how Peter writes with regard to the occupied territories. Danny objected to Peter’s description of the Gaza strip in his book the “Crisis of Zionism.” Danny said, Peter describes it as “A fenced-in, heinously overcrowded, desperately poor slum, from where terrorists sometimes shell Israel.” I can agree with Danny. Such a cavalier description of the missiles attacking Israel is offensive.
Danny added, “That’s not the experience of parents in Israel – where the playgrounds all have concrete reinforced bunkers so that their kids can get in them within 10 seconds. Not sometimes, but all the time. It’s people living in morbid fear all the time. It’s my personal friend who is the principal of a Jr. High School and he talks to me about what it means to have kids in 7-8th grade who still are wetting their beds at night. Its families that can fall apart because you can’t live like that under that tension. Somebody who doesn’t know the reality as much as you know it, reads that passage and says hum, why is Israel doing that?”
Peter countered, “I find it very condescending to young American Jews to say that the reason that young American Jews are upset about Israel is because of a column they’ve read from me. Right? They are distanced from Israel because of their lack of connection to Judaism. But they are smart enough to understand that holding millions of people for 49 years, it will be 50 years next year under military law without the right to vote as stateless non-citizens is a brutal immoral act that they have a serious problem with.”
And so it goes. Two incredibly bright Jewish scholars with sometimes similar, but often divergent opinions. I appreciate that I had the opportunity to hear them wrestle with real issues regarding Israel. They weren’t afraid to present the heart of the matter, as each saw it. Let both of them live and be well. Let Israel stay strong and adhere to its values of origin.
I invite you to Join Me On My Journey…