During my college days, a dear friend decided to spend the year studying in Israel. He was the seeking type – long hair, tie-died shirts, jeans with holes, the whole getup – but I had the sense that Israel was not in his bones. He had grown up in a suburb of Minneapolis, a few generations removed from the ghetto. I took it upon myself to inspire him to appreciate just where he was going.
An intellectually-minded liberal arts major, I headed directly for my favorite second-hand bookstore. I can still smell the dust today. The shelves were high, the books were old, and the pretense was thick. Among the shelves, in a section labeled "Judaism" with masking tape, I pulled down a book that looked to fit the bill. It was called To Jerusalem and Back and was written by Saul Bellow. A Chicagoan myself, I knew that it would at least be a good read. Bellow is no slouch. A Pulitzer Prize, a jaunty outlook. I predicted my friend would love it.
There are books that change your life, and then there are most books, from which we struggle to remember even small bites. Before I handed over this book to my friend, I decided to take a peek myself. Today, I remember almost nothing of the narrative. I believe Bellow spent a sabbatical year in Jerusalem and noted his impressions. I'd have to read it again to jog my memory. But there are a few lines that stay with me to this day.
And what is it that has led the Jews to place themselves, after the greatest disaster of their history, in a danger zone? A Jewish professor at Harvard recently said to me, "Wouldn't it be the most horrible of ironies if the Jews had collected themselves conveniently in one country for a second Holocaust?"
"The most horrible of ironies." It is a witty statement. One can imagine it eliciting a good chuckle at a cocktail party. But it is also macabre. Yes, it would be the most horrible of ironies if Jews had collected themselves in the one country where they felt they were safe – only to be mowed down once again, murdered on a national scale.
It is his desire to destroy world Jewry and the state of Israel. Why is this so difficult to understand? He says it often.
I am in the news business. The pleasurable part of my job is that I get to read and write for a living. The difficult part is that I read nearly everything to do with Jews, Israel and anti-Semitism. My informed opinion is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad means what he says. It is his desire to destroy world Jewry and the state of Israel. He envisions an Umma, a Muslim caliphate, throughout the Middle East and the entire world.
Why is this so difficult to understand? He says it often. Our good friends at Memri, Palestinian Media Watch, and HonestReporting translate the statements of Ahmadinejad, the Ayatollah and other Iranian leaders. They are not hiding anything. In fact, they are proud of what they believe. So, too, the crowds who come to hear them speak believe that the world would be a better place without Jews.
The most horrible of ironies. Israel was established as a safe haven for the Jewish people. It's more than that: it's also an expression of our national aspirations and our religious yearning. But more and more, I have come to think of Israel as protected national park for the Jewish people. It's the place where the world was supposed to let us live, to roam freely, to romp, to rediscover what it means to be a nation on its own land.
Yes, it's as if we are an endangered species. The Palestinians know it, as does Ahmadinejad. The thing is, we're an incredibly powerful people. We are few in number, as the Torah says, but powerful beyond measure. We have been kicked, but never defeated. The Almighty promises that it will simply never happen.
That's why, lately, the Arab world has returned to the tricks the Nazis used against us. Like the Nazis, the Arab world hopes to so pollute the well of public opinion that, when the time comes to strike, no one will lift a finger to help us. Apartheid. Zionazis. Ethnic cleansing. Genocide. These are all epithets, slanders against the Jewish people without a shred of truth. And yet, just this week, Harvard University hosted a conference exploring the viability of a "one-state solution." In other words, the destruction of Israel. That's how bad it's gotten.
Two of our three children were born here. My son, Shmuel, is nearly two. He has curly blond hair and big blue eyes. He's full of love. The other day while all the kids were eating their morning snacks, he got up and gave everyone a hug. That's Shmuel.
On Friday evenings after I've come home from shul, I give my kids a blessing. I hold their little faces in my hands and invoke God’s blessing of peace. With Shmuel, I tend to linger a moment longer, feeling his soft cheeks, looking into his big, soft eyes. If there's going to be a soldier in my family, it's Shmuel. If he so chooses, my tiny Shmuley might one day be that soldier with a gun, protecting his kindred in the national park for the Jewish people we call the State of Israel.
And I'll be proud of him for that. I'll be proud that he's decided to serve his country and protect its borders. With God’s continuous blessing, the State of Israel was reconstituted for moments like this. We don't need to rely on others to bomb the train tracks leading to Auschwitz. We can do it ourselves – and with the help of God, we will. Mr. Ahmadinejad better understand that. President Obama, too. The Jew will not be the world's sacrifice to the dictators and fascists twice in one hundred years.
Like in days of old, we must not fool ourselves today into thinking that our will alone will save us.
This week we will celebrate Purim, the story of Jewish triumph in the face of impending disaster. Haman was a descendant of Amalek, the tribe that attacked the people of Israel shortly after we left Egypt. God’s name is conspicuously absent from the Purim story, but our Sages teach us that God’s force is everywhere in the story, if we just look. When the Jewish people unified and called out to God, He answered and nullified Haman’s evil decree. Like in days of old, we must not fool ourselves today into thinking that our will alone will save us. Only with true faith in the Almighty and our sincere effort to do His bidding will we once again defeat our adversaries.
The world is concerned what will happen if Israel strikes Iran's nuclear facilities. It will create a wider conflict, they say. Oil prices will spike, the economy will head into a tailspin. Yet the world is failing to see the reality. Iran with a nuclear bomb is going to cost more than a few cents at the pump. Iran with a bomb is the end of global harmony and the beginning of a global conflict the size of which we have never seen.
Wouldn't it be the most horrible of ironies? Yes, it would be, but for irony to exist there must be a situation in which actions taken are the exact opposite of what was intended. Israel was established as a safe haven for the Jewish people. And with God’s help, so it will be. We have not collected ourselves conveniently in one country for a second Holocaust. We have collected ourselves in our homeland to serve our God and to assert our right to be. No one will take that away with us. Not without a fight.