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The Unthinkable

 

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This last Chanukah, I met an Israeli friend of mine at a Chabad celebration, ahead of lighting the first candle of the menorah. Unlike other Israelis around town, I don’t know this man for that long, but we are fast becoming friends. He’s lived here long, he’s around 60 or so, and from a few political tidbits I heard him say, I assumed he’s moderately—not extreme, like most Israelis here—right of center politically. It was therefore doubly shocking to me that, as we were waiting for the ceremony to begin, and as naturally the discussion drifted towards Israel—he had told me already that he has family and relatives all over the country there—he suddenly looked at me straight and asked me this: “Do you think Israel was a mistake?”

I looked at him dumbfounded; this question came as such a total surprise to me. I said “N0 WAY!” But he persisted, saying, “C’mon, don’t you think so?” I reiterated, saying no way it was a mistake. He asked for an explanation. At that crucial moment the ceremony, led by Rabbi Mendy Cohen began, and I not only turned my attention to that, but told my friend that this is not the right time and the right place to discuss such a serious matter. We are celebrating a big win, after all; a miracle, if you prefer. Sometimes, somewhere else, maybe we’ll come back to that topic and that question. As it happened, the ceremony took a detour towards a magician for the kids, and I decided to leave early.

His question was on my mind, though, and so was President Obama unusually urgent, primetime speech that evening to the nation. But then, during the early part of the following week, or the one after, a title of an article in the online Tablet Magazine caught my attention. It boldly proclaimed this: “Thinking the Unthinkable: A Lamentation for the State of Israel,” by Ron Rosenbaum. I thought the post was somewhat long and protracted, but in short, it lays claim, analysis and some facts to the idea that Israel would not last long. I did not have the stomach for the article that evening, but was bothered by it all week nonetheless, and later—finding a connection between that article and my friend’s question—came back to it and read it again at length.

I realized then that there is a straight-line connection between the question and the article, and that I needed to address it. I thought at first that I never before encountered such a question and an assertion, but then remembered that more than ten years ago, when I was the Executive Director at the UC Davis Hillel, a Jewish professor once, at a faculty discussion group we had there, voiced the same concern. I believed he questioned whether Israel will survive even the next ten years. Well, it did. And it will survive much longer. And it was most defiantly not a mistake.

Here’s why: Israel was created, and established anew as a safe, secure home for the Jewish people. For all the Jewish people, the world over. As such, the Zionists’ vision and dream was justified by any measure known to mankind: Historically, religiously, heritage(ly), socially, humanly. As well, the argument can be made that Herzl‘s dream had already been accomplished, its premise and promise already fulfilled. As it happened, however unfortunate we may consider it, the Jews coming to their ancestors’ land (among them my parents, survivals of the Holocaust), intending on establishing their home there and working the land, did not find it entirely barren (as the legend has it), and most definitely not empty of people. Arab people lived in what was then called Palestine for many generations, and while some stayed, many fled or were forced to flee when Israel was created and fought for independence. It is my belief, always was, that unless Israel—its leaders and people—realize the need to grant those Arab inhabitants of the land equal rights, and a state of their own side by side with the state of Israel, the whole Zionist endeavor comes, indeed, into question.

And in that question’s footsteps, comes the question of survival, too. Unfortunately, the leaders and people of Israel, with active support of American Jewry, are moving farther away from that understanding—Herzl understood that, and so to a degree did Ben Gurion—and from the realization that unless the Palestinian conflict is solved, the question of Israel ultimate survival and justification remained open as well. In that sense, one begins to understand why such “unthinkable” questions and lamentations are being raised by well meaning people. Jewish people. Moreover—indeed, in spite of myself—it brings validity to the question of Israel’s survivability. And I suppose what my friend had really meant, asking that troubling question. In the sense, therefore, if it will not survive, then it was a mistake.

Well, I don’t think so. It was not a mistake, and it will survive to celebrate a hundred years in existence. However, putting that innermost optimism aside—as well as the many arguments why it might not survive, which Ron Rosenbaum had listed and analyzed in his article—I believe that the failure of the Israeli and Jewish people to understand that their refusal to acknowledge the right of the Palestinians to have a state of their own—not just paying lip service to it once in a while, as they have the tendency of doing, but acting upon this understanding, and from a position of strength—is pulling the rug out from under the entire Zionist endeavor. It endangers it greatly, and brings people—good people—to raise these troubling questions. It is also the first order of business for the state of Israel to take care of, more important to its survival than even the nuclear threat, the BDS threat, the anti-Semitic threat and so on and so forth.

And who is wiser, or was ever wiser, than Hillel the Elder, Hillel the Wiser (I carry his name proudly, young and unwise that I am in comparison), who said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

And learn we must, if we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Because after the Maccabees, and after Bar Kokhba, we still experienced 2000 years of diaspora. And putting it in that context, that of the Miracle of Chanukah—I consider the uprising and the fight for liberation much more a miracle than the fantasy story, which I like nonetheless, of the oil lasting eight days—I begin to understand why my friend asked that question. Maybe it was the right time even. We have to make sure this time that Israel is not just a miracle. A passing victory. A short-lived success story. But a sustainable existence. A reality forever.

* The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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2 Responses

  1. My friend,,,,,,,, is your dissatisfaction with Israel’s refusal to “give away the farm” in a one-sided peace “agreement” with the P’s going to be the only topic for your blog? How about writing about a different current event in the Middle East each month?

  2. perhaps a mistake to establish a refuge for the most persecuted people on earth in the very midst of the most savage people on earth.

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