I want to talk about Israel.
It's not that I just started caring about Israel. But pondering the nuclear deal with Iran, has led me to a deeper appreciation than ever of our Zionist roots. Israel and Israeli history has become my obsession. It led me to a conference in Washington, DC, in which a number of writers and thinkers shared their views.
Today isn't about politics or world events. But this is about my own renewed appreciation of the depths and importance of Zionism.
We cannot separate ourselves from the Zionist endeavor. We may have different opinions; we should have different opinions. But Zionism is part of the Jewish soul.
We sometimes fall into the trap of considering it a modern concept, dating to nineteenth century and Theodore Herzl.
But Zionism has always been part of the fabric of Judaism.
Ancient Zionist Roots
In our psalms:
We are told to rebuild Jerusalem and go to her.
We cry out: "If I forget you, oh Jerusalem, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth..."
Or sing: "When we returned to Zion, we were like dreamers..."
Zionism began when God directed Abraham to leave his homeland and go to the land of Israel. Zionism continued when God sent Moses to free us from slavery and bring us to the Promised Land.
Zionism continued through two exiles, when Jews struggled to return to the land of our past and future, to the land God chose for us.
Israel... is the Jewish heart.
Today, it's easy for us to take Israel's existence -- and Jewish survival -- for granted. After all, we came through the Holocaust -- ravaged and decimated -- but we survived. And in America, we feel,especially safe. If Hitler couldn't destroy us, no one can... Right? (Pause)
An example, in 1975, the UN decided Zionism meant racism, though that vote was rescinded -- sixteen years later. But this attitude contributed to worldwide condemnation of Israel for saving it's Jews.
Here's the story: a plane had been hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. Non-Jewish passengers were set free. But the terrorists held the Jewish passengers as hostages at the airport.
And so, on July 4, 1976, Israeli commandoes swooped in to rescue them. The world jumped in to criticize Israel for its commando raid without the permission of the Idi Amin's Uganda...
Even though Israel saved Jews being held captive by terrorists in an airport in a hostile country... Israel routinely does its best saves to Jews in danger. It happens... still ... more than we'd like to think.
For two thousand years, it became for too many... a metaphor without substance, a hope devoid of reality.
But reality set in and grew more dangerous. By the nineteenth century, European Jews became increasingly aware of this danger. They saw ... that Europe was not a place for Jews to flourish. Growing numbers of European Jews saw -- knew -- that Jews had NO future in their native lands.
They saw no future anywhere else. Yes, for many, there was America. But they knew the arc of Jewish history. Jews had originally been invited to England, France, even Poland -- in fact, to much of Europe.And then, we were expelled from most of western Europe and then persecuted in Eastern Europe.
However, the drive toward Israel -- Palestine as it was then called -- was larger than even the need for a safe haven. Israel was our homeland. The Jewish soul never forgot it. It called to us across the millennia. Through the ages, we yearned for the land of Israel. We yearned for Zion.
Even here, in the golden medinah, by the late 1800's, a small number of Jews turned their faces to Zion. The American Zionist movement gained traction in the early twentieth century when notables like Louis Brandeis began publicly speaking out.
On the Edge of Extinction
Israel - the safe haven -- was really anything but safe. What was safe about staking a future in a small, largely undeveloped piece of land – a desert land dominated by the Ottoman Empire in the middle of the Arab world?
The early pioneers from Eastern Europe faced hardship after hardship. Sometimes they enjoyed good relations with their Arab neighbors. All too often, hostilities flared.
But they saw all too clearly the coming extinction of European Jewry and the lack of a future there..But even they did not envision the enormity of the Holocaust…
Zionism drove large numbers of Jews to undertake an impossible mission: creating the state of Israel.
Because only Israel …stood between the Jews and oblivion.
Dayeinu, that would have been enough. But the early Zionists believed that only in Israel, could a Jew be a Jew. And there had to be a “new Jew” – strong, assertive, even willing to do hard hard labor and work the land. A "new Jew" no longer afraid to openly identify as a Jew. A "new Jew" that would never allow another holocaust ...
The Really Big Big Picture
Israel's victory in the Six Day War further strengthened Jewish morale. We really could survive... Today, we are so sure of Jewish survival that we may not realize that our own destiny is linked to Israel's.
As I say this, I do understand that Israel is a deeply flawed, divided nation.
So is the United States.
And so are the Jewish people.
When it comes to the U.S. and the Jewish people, flaws and divisions do not weaken our loyalty, our allegiance.
Why is it often different with Israel?
I don't pretend to have the answers to Israel's many dilemmas. But I want us to go beyond politics-- which are incredibly complicated in Israel.
Israel Stands at the Core of Jewish identity
1. In our history: Israel was our birthplace, and in the days of the Messiah, will be our final destiny.
In Israel, time as we know it vanishes as we revisit our history, the source of the Bible. In Israel, ancient texts come alive and revitalize our understanding of Torah .. and of ourselves.
If not for Zionism, many of the world's Jews would be ... well... dead ... or at best, persecuted. Starting even before statehood, Israel has absorbed millions of Jewish refugees.
Let me repeat that. Israel has absorbed millions of Jewish refugees. Our brethren had no other place to go. And lest you think that Israel is no longer needed as a place of refuge, take a good look at modern Europe. Anti-semitism IS on the rise there - and it still can be deadly.
2. In our identity: The fledgling state of Israel created a new paradigm for Jews. We could be strong and proud! Israel constantly reminds us that we are not victims.
3. In our language, how we communicate.
- in Hebrew. We have a language that unites us. We nearly let that slip away. You see, the more we found ourselves dispersed among the nations, the more we developed a variety of dialects. Jews of a given region had a common language, but those dialects didn't connect us to Jews outside a given area.
Now, we all have Hebrew, the language of our both ancient and modern Israel -- the language of Torah -- the language of the Jewish soul.
4. And in our relationship and covenant with God... A
Throughout the Torah, we see, again and again: the land of Israel is part of our heritage. Israel is both His gift to us and our responsibility.
Can we not care?
We call to mind Isaiah, who cried out: “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, For the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still.” And Dr. Seuss, who wrote in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
Like the Lorax, I ask you to: just care.