Defending The State of Israel From Afar

Let’s be clear from the start: The defense of the State of Israel, at all times, is the sacred responsibility of every single member of the Jewish people. This does not mean that every action or policy of the Jewish State is perfect, flawless, and therefore, beyond disagreement, debate or constructive dialogue.  


What it does imply is that Israel and its citizens are always worthy of our worry, concern, support and love. This is easier said, than done, especially at difficult times, like during the recent conflict and attacks, both from outside, and inside, her borders. 


What do I believe? I believe that when some Arabs and Muslims chant, “Death to Israel”, they mean it; I believe that when those same people profess, “From the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea, Palestine will be set free (of Jews)”, they mean it; I believe when they scream, “Death to the Jews” they mean it. I believe every word of it, of all of it. 


It is hard to contemplate making peace with those who openly and explicitly wish to deny your very existence, those who wish to wipe your people off the face of the earth, and every inch of your control of your ancient homeland along with it. I wish it were not the case, but thousands of rockets launched into Jewish population centers, directed purposely against civilian targets, seem to send a very clear and unmistakably similar and consistent message. It is important that we acknowledge that message and the reality that it presents and portends for us, as well as for countless generations yet to follow us. 


We have been given the extraordinary privilege of living in this moment of history: The realization of the hopes and dreams of all the generations that came before us: To witness the recreation and the reestablishment of the State of Israel, the sanctuary of safety and the place of refuge for the rescued fragments of our people, scattered, often persecuted, for centuries.  


And, God forbid…there for us, as well, should that day ever come… 


That hope, that dream, is always at risk of perishing. As my dear friend’s father often said to him, “ Son, you never want to wake up some day and find out there’s no longer a State of Israel.”  


That reality came frighteningly close to reality, in 1948, and again in 1967, and especially close, in the Yom Kippur war, in 1973. 


I have thought of that statement often in recent days. Where would my family go, in times of rising anti-semitism? Where would you, or your family choose to go, if that time ever arose, for you, or for any of us, or for all of us? 


But even if we weren’t Jews, how many of us would be willing to endure thousands of rockets sent to our cities from abroad, or violent protests from within, before demanding that our leaders and our government called upon our military to rise to respond to defend us, to shield us from harm? 

Shouldn’t we consider the same for our Israeli brothers and sisters, who regularly must send their own children into harm’s way, to defend their homeland, and its inhabitants? 


There’s a Yiddish saying that professes, “ Es iz shver tzu zein a Yid: It is (especially) tough (at times) to be a Jew”. But it’s also an honor. The world still prefers the Jew in the role of victim. It is not always comfortable with the image of a Jew who is strong; a Jew who stands up, courageously and unapologetically , to defend a nation, and its people.  


Our children, at the appropriate age, and stage, need to be taught this lesson as well, alongside the joys of Judaism and the celebrations of Jewish culture, holidays, history and heritage.  


Yet their relationship to the images they see, and the rhetoric they hear, and their own experiences of the Israel they have come to know, are far more complicated, and complex, than they were for us. We need to recognize that reality, as well.  


We need to recognize that their concerns for the wellbeing of others is also a Jewish value, promoted by our sages and our sacred texts and traditions. We need to create safe space for them at the table of Jewish communal dialogue and discussion. We need to welcome their voices; not squelch them,  nor censor them. We need to listen to them, not just lecture them.  


This is not easy to do. But it is the right thing to do. For them, and for us. 


This is incredibly hard for me to acknowledge and accept. I am the rare Reform rabbi who is not sure of the possibility of a workable two state solution. I strongly support the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem. And I am a believer in an extremely hard line and strong show of Israel’s resolve in a very tough neighborhood.  


All that being said, we need to open our ears, and our eyes, and our hearts, and our minds, to the realities expressed by those of the emerging generations about Israel, in their own ways, and in their own time. We need to make every educational resource available to them, from grade school through graduate school. 


They will come, in time, to be the greatest representatives of defending a Jewish Homeland for the Jewish People, their people.  


But only if we show them how: by listening to them, by learning from them; not by lecturing to them, nor limiting them. 



Rabbi Mark Schiftan is the Senior Rabbi of the Temple 


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