There are moments of exhilaration in all of our lives. These moments give us the feeling that there is justice in the world and life is surely worth living.
I was too young on May 14, 1948 to appreciate the triumph that most adult Jews felt when, after 2,000 years, a state was reborn. Fortunately, there were events that took place when I was older and more able to feel their import, to feel the thrill that only happens at rare moments.
In 1960, I was a graduate student in a university town in Southeastern Ohio when, out of the blue, I heard on the student radio station that Israel had kidnapped Adolph Eichmann, who was living in semi-hiding in Argentina. Though there were howls that Israel was violating international law and, in truth, I did not know of Eichmann’s involvement in the Holocaust at the time, in my gut I felt that something earth shaking had occurred. His capture, followed by the trial in Jerusalem, opened the mouths of the survivors and revealed to the world the tragedy that befell European Jewry.
And then there was June 5, 1967. After a month of UN inaction and Arab torment (Gamal Abdul Nasser, the president of Egypt and the leader of the Arab world, suggested that Jewish girls wear their prettiest dresses to welcome the “victorious” Arab armies), Israel took the matter into its own hands and in one morning destroyed the Egyptian Air Force and for all intents and purposes defeated the Arabs in one day, not six.
Another such moment came with the exodus of Jews from Ethiopia, named “Operation Solomon,” and a second operation with the equally apt name “Operation Moses.” Initially, many of these Jews had to trek part of the way on foot, risking death in the desert or at the hands of marauders seeking to plunder them of the few possessions they had. Questions were raised as to their authenticity. The Ashkenazi rabbinate, whose frame of reference is primarily Eastern Europe of the medieval period, denied their authenticity but the Sephardi rabbinate, led by Ovadia Yosef, recognized their authenticity and the aliya proceeded. Israel thought its work completed after the two “operations” but, lo and behold, more Ethiopian Jews emerged out of their historical isolation and today there are 130,000 of them in Israel.
I remember when Operation Solomon was publicized, Jews worldwide rallied behind the effort. The UJA added a second line to its campaign designated solely for this purpose. At the time, I belonged to two synagogues, a large one and a small one. (It seems I am always a member of two. It acts as a deterrent from people inquiring as to where I was on Shabbat morning. It is assumed that I am always at the other synagogue.) In the small synagogue, I raised the issue of our participating in the campaign. In true democratic process we enthusiastically supported it and almost 100 percent contributed. I personally solicited 56 members. We felt wonderful.
However, as time passed, Israel lost its enthusiasm for Ethiopian aliya. A law was passed in 2003 saying that only those with Jewish mothers or who underwent an halachic conversion recognized by Orthodox authorities were eligible for aliya. This law was clearly designed to make life difficult for the 3,000 remaining Ethiopians waiting to make aliya, members of the Falash Mura, Ethiopians of Jewish descent who converted to Christianity. It is in clear violation of the Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to an individual with one Jewish grandparent. Some 300,000 Russians who are not Jewish according to Halacha are currently living in Israel. (The same Shas bureaucrats standing in the way of Ethiopian aliya are making life difficult for these 300,000.)
Here we are talking of 3,000 Ethiopian Jews, most penniless because they sold their possessions in anticipation of an early departure, who could easily be absorbed into Israel. Remember, a very poor Israel doubled its population between 1948 and 1952. Now we are talking of a wealthy state, a member of the WTO, unable to absorb 3,000 rapidly, most of whom have first degree relatives living in Israel. Money is being squandered in maintaining them even in miserable conditions, lives are being lost, and why?
Even under Israel’s discriminatory eligibility law, these people have passed the conversion requirement. Those bureaucrats, all religious, so intent on preserving our ethnic purity wantonly disregard the Talmudic injunction that we should strive to emulate God’s attributes, including “v’hu rachum; af ata rachum” (just as he is merciful, so should you be merciful).