If I were to sum up my brief trip to Israel during this time of crisis in one word, that would be it.
I went to Israel this month because I felt it important to be with my friends and family, so that I could bridge some of the gaps that exist between Israel and Jews elsewhere during challenging circumstances, and because I believe there are times when one needs to stand up and identify with the Jewish people in a very real way.
Israelis — used to being standouts in ways both good and bad — are feeling increasingly isolated. From their perspective:
• They are surrounded by neighbors that don’t and may not ever recognize their right to exist in a Jewish state.
• The world holds Israel to outrageous standards (even higher than Israel holds itself) when it comes to fighting for its survival.
• Anti-Zionism is a convenient mask for anti-Semitism, which is not ever going away and is rearing its ugly head in places like Paris and college campuses across the U.S.
• Even friends who should have Israelis’ backs don’t.
Perspectives may become narrower in a crisis, but I am not sure they are wrong on any of these fronts.
Just watch the news and you might get the impression that the incessant rocket attacks on Israel are incidental and that innocent people in Gaza are suffering not just at the hands of Israel, but because of Israel.
Somehow, conveniently, you don’t hear about the extensive tunnel systems that currently house thousands of rockets and Hamas leaders in hiding — while their people form human shields, with rocket stockpiles underneath hospitals and schools, and with several branches reaching into Israel for the sole purpose of launching a devastating terrorist attack. Nor do you hear that it is Hamas that is refusing ceasefire approaches.
News coverage doesn’t focus on how Hamas runs a government that seems blind to the suffering of its own people and uses its own people as fodder, because Hamas is committed to one thing only — the destruction of Israel.
While the loss of life in Gaza is truly regrettable, rationally it’s hard to come up with an effective alternative to Israel’s course of action here — which is one reason why the Left and Right in Israeli politics are pretty much unified in approach right now. I fear that many of those who criticize Israel in these circumstances don’t actually care about Israel, i.e. whether it exists or not, or don’t fully get it.
I have believed for a while that in part because we are so very comfortable in America, it is harder to recognize that there is evil in the world. Liberal tendencies lead us to say that different ideologies and religions are equivalent, and when we see people act out (i.e., terrorists), we make excuses and say…well, there are good (insert label here) and bad (insert label here), and we just need to focus on the good ones and maybe the bad ones will go away.
That is a convenient projection, but I am not at all sure it reflects reality. The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call for many in the United States. There is an enemy and it is growing. Israel, which is in a pretty bad neighborhood, sees these threats first-hand. Ultimately, we may be doing ourselves a disservice because eventually, if not sooner, these enemies will turn their eyes on the United States as well.
Yet, despite all it faces, Israel has built a remarkable society, with a joie de vivre and technological scene to rival any other place in the world. And there is no question that one can be safe traveling there. Sadly, this country has learned to deal with all sorts of risks and threats in ways that probably make it safer than visiting certain parts of Monmouth County.
It is perhaps ironic that the original term denoting the first Jew, Abraham, was Ha’vri — the one who crossed over and stands apart. That’s who we Hebrews are. In this isolation, we stand apart even today. But, as with Abraham, we do so for good reason, to model to the world how to behave in challenging times.
Which brings us full circle back to isolation, and not quite in a good way. At the moment, Israelis are a bit shell-shocked, and turning inward. Everybody knows someone called up to fight or be deployed near the Gaza Strip. The news is on all the time, everywhere.
Which brings us to the question of what we can do.
Stay informed. Learn more. Educate yourself and others. Jewishmonmouth.org/crisisisrael is a great place to start, and there are links there to other resources.
If you know someone in Israel, reach out. Call. Send an e-mail. The connection will be very much appreciated.
Donate to our Israel Emergency Campaign, providing humanitarian help to those most affected by the rockets and fighting in the South. You can make a secure donation on-line at jewishmonmouth.org/donateisrael or call the federation office at 732-866-4300.
Visit. If not now, then soon. Our Central Jersey Mission in October (jewishmonmouth.org/israelmission) is a great occasion to come, and we will soon be sharing info on other opportunities as well. You can be safe, have an amazing experience — and connect with your extended Jewish family in meaningful ways. This is especially important now, as family should reach out to family to show they are not alone.