A couple of months ago I was talking to a relative in the Diaspora who was describing to me the recent professional successes of her son. He had been hired by a very successful firm in New York, and in addition to all of the other benefits of such a prestigious work place, the firm was also paying for the son’s plane ticket and new wardrobe. "Did you ever hear of a place that actually pays to bring new people?" she asked with wonder in her voice.
I was about to say no, that this situation was indeed unusual and the firm must really want her son, when I stopped myself. "Yes I have," I replied. "Actually, when I made aliyah to Israel, not only did the State of Israel pay for my flight, they paid for my university tuition, gave me a monthly rental stipend, tax reductions on imported household goods, assured me that if I purchased a home within seven years of immigration I would get special mortgage assistance, and I will get free health insurance coverage for as long as I live, provided by excellent Jewish doctors!" The State of Israel saw in me, a potential immigrant, a valuable Jewish commodity and was willing to invest thousands of shekels in order to encourage and assist in the aliyah process.
I first became aware of my value as a Jew upon becoming a citizen of the State of Israel. One might believe that living in a country where Jews are a dime a dozen rather than a minority, the opposite would occur. But in a land where every Jew makes an important contribution to the well-being and security of the country, the Jew becomes a most priceless asset on all levels. By simply working and paying taxes, or shopping in the supermarket or the mall, the Israeli is contributing to the prosperity of his country and fellow Israelis. When a Jewish family buys or rents a new home anywhere in Eretz Yisrael, that family is fulfilling the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz -- settling the Land -- through the natural act of daily living. When a person attends a yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, or even finds the time to learn Torah a couple of times a week, their immersion in the holy words of Torah combined with the holy land helps to protect the entire nation of Israel from the daily threats that face us all.
Every individual lost Jew is identified on the airwaves and his or her life described by loved ones so that we all may feel as if we lost our own relative.
The most telling example of the value of every Jew in Israel is painfully apparent at the loss of even one Jew to the violence of our enemies. Despite the seeming endlessness of the violence in Israel, death has not become mundane, and we are not numb to the losses of families that we have never met. Our hearts are broken at the knowledge that a family has lost a beloved son, father, mother, daughter, and we weep when we see the bereaved families on our television set. Every individual lost Jew is identified on the airwaves and his or her life described by loved ones so that we all may feel as if we lost our own relative.
It is not only in death that the Israeli Jew is valued, but also in life. Aside from our daily, seemingly mundane contributions of work and home, thousands of security and army personnel devote themselves 24 hours a day to the protection and safety of the country’s citizens, under the auspices and patronage of the Israeli government. I recently experienced this concern for individual safety first-hand in a way that brought this reality home. A couple of weeks ago I visited a friend for the first time who lives in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
I felt ridiculous. There I was, little ol’ me, surrounded by guards sporting flak jackets and sidearms!
The Christian Quarter is mainly inhabited by Arabs, particularly of Christian denomination, and these residents do not view their Jewish neighbours with great favor, to say the least. On the way to my friend’s home we walked alone, since she is very familiar with the area. Leaving the Christian Quarter, however, posed a problem. My friend remained at home and I needed to request security accompaniment since I am not at all familiar with the area and did not wish to get lost in the potentially hostile, and terribly confusing (especially to one with absolutely no sense of direction) alleyways of the Old City. The guards met me at the door to the Jewish home, and away we went. I felt ridiculous. There I was, little ol’ me, surrounded by guards sporting flak jackets and sidearms! Who am I, I thought, that such effort and expense need be taken for my own individual protection? I’m not the prime minister, or even a minister, and here I was protected by seasoned security guards whose sole purpose at that moment was to ensure my safety.
It struck me that my visit to the Christian Quarter was a representative microcosm of the entire State of Israel and its citizens. For the first time I realized that the security apparatus of the State of Israel is not solely an effort at collective safety -- it is to ensure that I, Miriam Schwab, do not personally come to any bodily harm while living my life in the Land of Israel. The Israeli government and the Israeli population, whether leaning politically to the Right or to the Left, will stand to protect ALL of its citizens, whether in the streets of Tel Aviv or in the alleyways of the Christian Quarter, simply because we are Jews. As a Jew, I deserve to be surrounded by security guards when necessary, whether others agree politically or not with my choice to enter the Christian Quarter.
I am aware that Jewish life is valuable in the Diaspora as well, and that democratic governments will equally protect their Jewish citizens from harm. But the difference lies in the motivation and the circumstances of Israel and the rest of the world; the American people no more mourns the loss of a Jew than any other citizen, and the government does not stand on the particular principle that Jewish life must be protected, but that American life must be protected. A Jew in the Land of Israel is valuable as a Jew. Protection of Jewish life is a sacred ideal, both from the physical point of view of the establishment and maintenance of sophisticated security apparatuses, to the spiritual angle of the subsidization of the building of mikvaot, synagogues, and the livelihood of yeshiva students. My value does not simply lie in the fact that I am a human being, an important factor in itself no doubt, but in that I am a Jew. As a Jew living in the Jewish land, my value has appreciated a thousand-fold and a state-body has found me worthy of lifelong investment and personal protection so that Eretz Yisrael may once again be driven by the heartbeat of Jewish life that she lacked for so many thousands of years.