State of the Jewish Union

The following is an unretouched verbal snapshot of an international NGO gathering in Europe:

An Israeli is at the podium. He is young, bright, Western trained, and served a prior Israeli administration as an Oslo negotiator. He tells those assembled that he is prepared to give Europe a taste of what it is like to like as a Palestinian under the Occupation. He will gather other like-minded Israelis dressed in IDF uniforms. They will from human barricades across some of Paris’ busiest arteries, turning them into “checkpoints.”

Two Arabs sit in the audience. Arab1, wearing a confused look on his face, turns to Arab2, and asks, in Arabic, “Who is this guy?” Neither Arab even suspects that one of the people sitting within earshot works for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and, more importantly, speaks Arabic.

Arab2 responds, “He’s Israeli. But it’s OK. He’s on our side.”

Arab1 thinks for a moment, and offers his assessment, with a smile, “Itbach al Yahud! – Kill the Jews!”

This vignette speaks volumes about the current state of Israel, Jews, and Judaism in the world arena. All the pieces are there: naïve Israelis doing the bidding of the enemy, a host of governmental and extra-governmental agencies eating it up, a proud and vigorous antisemitism that relishes its new freedom after having been bottled up in the decades after the Shoah, and the new antisemitism propelled by exploding Islamist extremism, riding atop a culture of incomprehensible primitivism.

Earlier this week, I sat through one of the most painful mornings of my life. For about the past two years, I have spent increasingly more time with the Simon Wiesenthal Center. (I came to Los Angeles to pursue my first vocational love: teaching Torah. How I got moved to international Jewish political affairs is a story for a different occasion.) For the first time, all the key personnel from around the globe who work in the areas of social and political advocacy came together to tell the others what they have done in the past year. On hand were office heads from Europe, Canada, Latin America.

By the time I had to make my presentation, I could hardly find any breath to carry my words. I had been crushed by listening to an inventory of the current machinery meant to harm Israel and harm Jews. (This identity is crucial. Those who wish to dismantle or harm the State of Israel wish to burn Jews. The two cannot be separated, except by the evil fools of Neturei Karta. Different parts of our community can debate whether it is good, bad, or terrible for a secular, often anti-religious state to become identified with Jews and Judaism, but realpolitik is not about debating societies. We need to recognize our enemies, and act accordingly. You can be a diehard follower of R. Yoilish zt”l and still understand that there are people poised to do us in.)

Typically, I eat bad news for breakfast. My day is spent learning of attack after attack, outrage after outrage against our people. To be sure, there are positive moments that punctuate the mind-numbing stuff – there are absolutely wonderful people to be discovered in the most unlikely of places, who devote their lives to fairness and decency, sometimes focusing primarily on helping Jews. Still, if I did not have emunah, faith in Hashem’s promises to His people, and access to tefillah, prayer – our most valuable Weapon of Mass Reconstruction – I would likely either have to quit, or go mad.

I thought I had heard it all. I was not prepared to hear what I heard from my colleagues. Stories about what is really going on in Muslim neighborhoods in France, and the skyrocketing fascination of non-Muslims with Islam, including conversion to its ranks and terror training in Iraq. Video from the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil – hundreds of motivated, clean-cut kids from around the world calling for the destruction of Israel, and supporting Hamas. A major conclave of dozens of NGO’s, purportedly meeting to address all that ails the world that drafts an eight-point action plan. Eight out of eight points deal with Israel.

I have forgotten more than I remember, probably as a psychological defense mechanism. In a room full of professionals, I was not the only one who reacted this way.

The most gut-wrenching of the presenters sank back into reflection at the end, and put it well, even if many didn’t understand the language. We should not overly despair, he said. The bottom line is wir zinnen doh – we’re still here, despite all attempts to the contrary.

In our circles, we would say Netzach Yisrael lo yishaker!

But what does the Ribbono Shel Olam expect of us? Without question, those who realize the immensity of the hatred and the sakanah must take their personal avodah more seriously. Perhaps that is why so many don’t want to learn about these problems.

A few weeks ago, I wrote what was probably the least-well received piece I ever wrote. I’m not even going to link to it – I don’t want the discussion to turn to that issue. I was motivated by my personal experience with a variegated portion of the American religious community, and relationships with some people (admittedly, non-frum) of exemplary devotion to Israel and Jews. The reactions against my piece clearly came from people who also cared to the core about Jewish survival, so I found whatever they wrote excusable and tolerable.

I also found them frustrating. With so much energy and passion available, why do so many of the jobs that we need done bederech hatevah remain unfilled? Why are people staying up late writing into Jewish media, rather than monitoring the general media, the college papers, the websites, the blogs, the talk shows? Why have the Palestinians succeeded in telling their “narrative” in so many places, that by now it is often the only one that is ever heard on campuses and colleges? Why have so few of us taken the time to learn the language of the enemy, so that we can have the tools to refute their claims with more than righteous indignation?

HKBH promises Moshe that He will redeem His people from tachas sevel Mitzrayim – from the unbearable oppression of Egypt. The Chidushei HaRim says that a prerequisite of geulah is feeling that the status quo is unbearable, that we cannot accept it or come to grips with it.

I fear that many of us were brought up to believe that the world at large is expected to be a dark, oppressive place, one step removed from moving towards genocide. Because we expect it, we find it acceptable. This is wrong. We may have to accept it, but we dare not find it acceptable.

If we learn not to, we may be moved to asking ourselves how to contribute our own talents and energies – even beyond our davening and learning – to the war that is upon us.

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19 Responses

  1. mb says:

    mb asked rhetorically

    “What should Israel do teshuva for?”

    The tens of thousands of men, women and children who have had their lives tragically and violently cut short comes to mind;

    Every life lost is tragic, but how many tens of thousands,as you say, do think have been lost defending our homeland?
    Don’t bother, I’ll tell you. Sadly, one.
    3000 Americans died on 9/11. One day. In World War 2, 3000 Jews died every day for 5 1/2 years.
    So, I’ll ask another rhetorical question. How many more Jews would have died if the State did not come into existance in 1948? Remember shortly after the war ended, 1500 Jews were murdered in a Polish blood libel pogram.

  2. L Oberstein says:

    Despair is a justified emotion when realisticly assessing the enemies Klal Yisroel faces. I once wrote Rabbi Berel Wein and asked if he could give me some basis to hope for a better situation in light of Israel’s demographic and myriad other challenges. He wrote me back that we can look upon our generation like the generation of the Juidges. There was no total solution but there were long periods of peace. He wrote that we would muddle through and eventually peace would come. It gave me hope.

  3. Jacob Haller says:

    mb asked rhetorically

    “What should Israel do teshuva for?”

    The tens of thousands of men, women and children who have had their lives tragically and violently cut short comes to mind; not to mention the endlessly rehashed political “antidotes” which means giving up more and more historical property, furnishing the opposition with firearms and taking in thousands of their self-styled refugees.

    Of course the achievements you mentioned are breathtaking but could also be lost in a heartbeat if not utilized for the purposes they were given; Chasdei Hashem.

    The call for T’shuva should not of course be limited to the myriads who reside in the Eretz but for all of Klal Yisrael. Areivim Zeh l’Zeh.

  4. mb says:

    mb, what do your Rabbi’s recommend that Israel do now, besides teshuva?

    Comment by YM — January 16, 2008 @ 7:54 am

    I have no idea what they would say, or even need to say.

    What should Israel do teshuva for?

    My Rabbis who longed for a Jewish State and supported its creation would probably stand in awe of its achievements that must be way beyond their wildest imagination. That its creation, 60 years ago, just 3 years after the Shoah, should turn into such a miraculous success is staggering. Whether its the ingathering of 6 million exiles ( no I’m not a messianic Zionist), the paradise that they built with its incredible innovations in the fields of science, technology,medicine and agronomy for example that have done so much for humanity. Or the incredible, unprecedented growth in Torah learning, that has affected the whole of the diaspora. Or a place where the out-marriage rate is lower than amongst the Cheredim of Brooklyn or Stamford Hill. I could go on but I feel it is falling on deaf ears. Is it perfect? Nowhere near it. But it is perfecting.

  5. Ken Applebaum says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s comments remind me of the famous point made by R’ Chaim Voloziner on the Mishna as the end of tractate Sota which, after describing some of the terrible signs of the days immediately preceding the advent of Mashiach, concludes that “we can only rely on our Father in heaven.” R. Chaim says that this last clause in the Mishna is also one of the signs of those days, i.e., the Jewish people in the main will not make efforts to address the problems and adversaries they face in the period prior to Mashiach, but rather they will say that everything is from Hashem so there’s no need for action. Of course, R. Chaim says, this outlook is erroneous; we are obligated to do what we can to help ourselves and our brethren, and only then can we leave the rest to Hashem.

  6. YM says:

    mb, what do your Rabbi’s recommend that Israel do now, besides teshuva?

  7. Ori says:

    I admit it, I misunderstood Moshe Potemkin. I thought he said it was bad that people believe in hashgacha pratit in everything, and I was wrong.

    At least I don’t have to actually eat crow, since it’s not Kosher ;-).

  8. Ori says:

    Chaim Davids, I think you read too much into Moshe Potemkin’s comment. He didn’t say that there is no hashgacha pratit (= G-d getting involved in our lives). He said that it is bad that people believe that everything is hashgacha pratit: belief that everything is hashgacha pratis (i.e., there is no teva) has gotten pretty popular.

    Doing mitzvot is good, but G-d also expects us to do some of the work to save ourselves. If your child is ill (lo aleynu – may it not happen to us), you pray for healing. You might give tzedakah or perform other mitzvot – but you also go to the doctor. Doing mitzvot does not mean you trust that you will merit a miracle that will suspend the laws of nature.

  9. Moishe Potemkin says:

    Moshe Potemkin says that the belief in hashgacha pratis is increasing now, which is for “the worse.”

    I was unclear, then. The fact that hashgacha pratis exists has been interpreted by the Ramchal and others as meaning that there is no link between what we do al pi teva and what happens as a result, with effort only serving as almost unrelated hishtadlus.

    Others (including the Ramban, interestingly enough), while obviously avowing hashgacha pratis, accept the concept of teva as well. (That would be why, for example, Yaakov prepared to fight and bribe Eisav, in addition to his tefillos.)

    I didn’t mean that an increasing belief in hashgacha pratis is for the worse. I meant that Rabbi Adlerstein’s observed reduction in efforts done al pi teva is probably one of the costs (along with enormous benefits) associated with the increased adoption of the Ramchal’s derech. But I was not sufficiently clear, and I appreciate Chaim’s help in clarifying myself.

  10. mb says:

    As Jews, therefore, we shouldn’t have gone for having a secular state, as our Rabbis recommended.

    Comment by YM — January 14, 2008 @ 12:20 am

    Your Rabbis perhaps. Mine were all for it.

  11. Chaim Davids says:

    Moshe Potemkin says that the belief in hashgacha pratis is increasing now, which is for “the worse.” I believe it is a big problem to say that believing in hashgacha pratis is “worse.”

    At the end of Parshas Bo the Ramban says anyone who does not believe in hashgacha pratis and clalis has no chelek in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu.

    HaShem is our sole protector. We must do the mitvos and we will be saved. This is not bubbymeisas. It’s who we are.

  12. Yoel B says:

    Garnel Ironheart’s mention of “From Time Immemorial” is very well taken, (as is his pointing out the sad lack of anything better since) but there are some flaws in Joan Peters’ work that anyone using her work in hasbara should know about. They were discussed by Daniel Pipes in a lengthy review article in the July, 1984 issue of Commentary Magazine.

  13. YM says:

    I read a facinating article in the Atlantic Magazine written in 1961 (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/196110/gellhorn). The world seemingly understood the truth back then. The problem is that on a derech teva level we should have killed all the Palestinians, but we are Jews, and we don’t do ruthless mass murder. As Jews, therefore, we shouldn’t have gone for having a secular state, as our Rabbis recommended.

  14. Charles B. Hall says:

    The worst criticism of Israel by Jews that I have found on the internet is in the comments section of the Arutz Sheva web site. The vitriol directed toward the Israeli government is unbelievable — and on a site that purports to be orthodox and Zionist.

  15. IlanaF says:

    My parents (non-religious) were one of the couples fighting against the non-Jewish media (in this case, the BBC) for their gross misrepresentation of the facts. They were completely, undeniably and without a doubt unsuccessful. Every letter, every file of information, every complaint to OfCOM etc was returned with ridiculous and idiotic replies, probably written by a student doing work-experience.

    Although there is a level of derech hateva that is required, there is an overwhelming sense of hashgacha which is the only explanation for this ‘failure’ on the half of my parents.

    They don’t give up though. Even having made aliyah they are still slogging away, writing, writing, writing. And good on them. Someone has to do it.

  16. Moishe Potemkin says:

    With so much energy and passion available, why do so many of the jobs that we need done bederech hatevah remain unfilled?

    For better or worse (this is probably an example of “worse”), the belief that everything is hashgacha pratis (i.e., there is no teva) has gotten pretty popular, and is frequently assumed to be the only acceptable view.

  17. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Lo Yanum v’lo yishan Shomer Yisrael.

    Having said that, I can suggest a few reasons for why the Arab side has hijacked the debate against us:
    1) He who screams loudest has the floor. Our enemies are prepared to scream, kick, and bomb to get their point across. We, being civilized, are not. If you’re a foreign minister of a left-tilting European democracy, who are you going to side with? The Jews who will shrug when you turn them down or the Arabs who will burn entire suburbs to the ground if they don’t get what they want?
    2) Ignorance on our behalf – there is a book called “From Time Immemorial”. Despite being over 20 years old, it remains the most relevant book on the subject, exposing the myth of “Palestine” and revealing what a huge fraud it is. How many Jews on campus or in community organizations have read it? Even heard of it? Remember our enemies have no trouble inventing “facts” and lying outright to win an argument. How can someone who doesn’t know the facts compete?
    3) Setting the terms of the debate – Schopenhauer noted that the way to win a debate is to sneakily get your opponent to agree to your core principle by offering to debate him on corrolaries of that principle. The debate should be: Is there such a thing as “the Palestinian people” in the first place? Instead, by debating with “the Palestinians” we have lost that debate and conceded all the real points to them.
    4) When the very government of Israel actively campaigns for our enemies, refuses to find efforts to rebut them and treats the most patriotic elements of the Jewish people with disgust and suspicion, exactly how are we supposed to win the argument?

    I had a similar reaction to Rav Adlerstein’s after reading “The Secret War Against The Jews”, another must-read. However, in every generation they rise against us to exterminate us and we survive. There is only one reason for this and we must redouble our faith and practice to maintain His support in these times.

  18. Avi says:

    Would you, or someone you trust, consider e-mailing articles in the general press (along with their respective editors’ e-mail addresses)to an e-mail address list of volunteers? The volunteers could either respond directly, or e-mail their responses first to the article-sender for editting? (I’m sure you recognize this as a model used by one of your fellow Cross-Currents bloggers in a slightly different context.)

  19. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein said above,

    “Why have the Palestinians succeeded in telling their “narrative” in so many places, that by now it is often the only one that is ever heard on campuses and colleges?”

    I already noticed this trend on campus in 1970-1972, and it was spearheaded by doctrinaire leftist faculty members, both Jewish and non-Jewish. There are more of these lately and on more campuses, and administrations have often followed the same path (some corrupted by Arab money or their prospects of getting it). Possibly, American campuses will soon be irretrievably into PC-ness and bias against Israel and its supporters. If so, Jewish students aiming for the professions will need to find safer havens to earn their degrees.

    As for our need to give the non-Jewish (and some Jewish!) media an earful of the truth, we grass roots Jews will need more than exhortations, we need workable game plans.